URGENT: CDF responds to ‘dubia’ about the baptismal formula, “WE baptize you….”

I have to issue an important correction.

Back in 2009, I answered a question about the validity of the form for baptism: “We baptize you…”.  I wrote at the time that my first inclination was that that was invalid.  Then I considered the possibility of the “royal we”.

Of course I firmly stated at the time that priests should stick to the form as it is so that there is no doubt about validity.

In 2009 I raised the point that the Trinitarian form seems to be the most important element, given the in the Greek East the form is, “The servant of God is baptized in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.”  Also, the Bull Exsultate Deo of Eugene IV in 1439 states: “Se exprimitur actus, qui per ipsum exercetur ministrum, cum Sanctae Trinitatis invocatione, perficitur sacramentum… If the act which is exercised through the minister is expressed with the invocation of the Holy Trinity, then the sacrament is effected.”  (Cf. DS 696).

So, in 2009, I concluded that “We baptize you…” was illicit but probably valid.

Also, in 2009, I concluded my post with:

If anyone who hears something like is concerned enough to want to raise questions, he should approach the local bishop right away.  If no clear answer is obtained, then the proper dicastery of the Holy See to write to for a clarification would be the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, send exact details about what was said and done in that instance leaving aside speculations or rambling irrelevancies.

TODAY, the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith issued a RESPONSE to dubia proposed about this very formula, “We baptize you….”.

The CDF said that “We baptize you…” is INVALID!

NB: That said, the response, posted in full below, does NOT address the issue of the “royal we” which I brought up in 2009.  That is a lacuna in the response.

And…. this is hugely important…

Anyone baptized with that formula (“We baptize…”) MUST BE BAPTIZED ABSOLUTELY and not conditionally.


RESPONSES TO QUESTIONS PROPOSED
on the validity of Baptism conferred with the formula
«We baptize you in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit»

QUESTIONS

First question: Whether the Baptism conferred with the formula «We baptize you in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit» is valid?

Second question: Whether those persons for whom baptism was celebrated with this formula must be baptized in forma absoluta?

RESPONSES

To the first questionNegative.

To the second question: Affirmative.

The Supreme Pontiff Francis, at the Audience granted to the undersigned Cardinal Prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, On June 8, 2020, approved these Responses and ordered their publication.

Rome, from the Offices of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, June 24, 2020, on the Solemnity of the Nativity of Saint John the Baptist.

Luis F. Card. Ladaria, S.I.
Prefect

+Giacomo Morandi
Titular Archbishop of Cerveteri
Secretary

* * *

DOCTRINAL NOTE
on the modification of the sacramental formula of Baptism

Recently there have been celebrations of the Sacrament of Baptism administered with the words: “In the name of the father and of the mother, of the godfather and of the godmother, of the grandparents, of the family members, of the friends, in the name of the community we baptize you in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit”. Apparently, the deliberate modification of the sacramental formula was introduced to emphasize the communitarian significance of Baptism, in order to express the participation of the family and of those present, and to avoid the idea of the concentration of a sacred power in the priest to the detriment of the parents and the community that the formula in the Rituale Romano might seem to imply[1]. With debatable pastoral motives[2], here resurfaces the ancient temptation to substitute for the formula handed down by Tradition other texts judged more suitable. In this regard, St. Thomas Aquinas had already asked himself the question “utrum plures possint simul baptizare unum et eundem” to which he had replied negatively, insofar as this practice is contrary to the nature of the minister[3].

The Second Vatican Council states that: “when a man baptizes it is really Christ Himself who baptizes”[4]. The affirmation of the Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy Sacrosanctum Concilium, inspired by a text of Saint Augustine[5], wants to return the sacramental celebration to the presence of Christ, not only in the sense that he infuses his virtus to give it efficacy, but above all to indicate that the Lord has the principal role in the event being celebrated.

When celebrating a Sacrament, the Church in fact functions as the Body that acts inseparably from its Head, since it is Christ the Head who acts in the ecclesial Body generated by him in the Paschal mystery[6]. The doctrine of the divine institution of the Sacraments, solemnly affirmed by the Council of Trent[7], thus sees its natural development and authentic interpretation in the above-mentioned affirmation of Sacrosanctum Concilium. The two Councils are therefore in harmony in declaring that they do not have the authority to subject the seven sacraments to the action of the Church. The Sacraments, in fact, inasmuch as they were instituted by Jesus Christ, are entrusted to the Church to be preserved by her. It is evident here that although the Church is constituted by the Holy Spirit, who is the interpreter of the Word of God, and can, to a certain extent, determine the rites which express the sacramental grace offered by Christ, does not establish the very foundations of her existence: the Word of God and the saving acts of Christ.

It is therefore understandable that in the course of the centuries the Church has safeguarded the form of the celebration of the Sacraments, above all in those elements to which Scripture attests and that make it possible to recognize with absolute clarity the gesture of Christ in the ritual action of the Church. The Second Vatican Council has likewise established that no one “even if he be a priest, may add, remove, or change anything in the liturgy on his own authority”[8]. Modifying on one’s own initiative the form of the celebration of a Sacrament does not constitute simply a liturgical abuse, like the transgression of a positive norm, but a vulnus inflicted upon the ecclesial communion and the identifiability of Christ’s action, and in the most grave cases rendering invalid the Sacrament itself, because the nature of the ministerial action requires the transmission with fidelity of that which has been received (cf. 1 Cor 15:3).

In the celebration of the Sacraments, in fact, the subject is the Church, the Body of Christ together with its Head, that manifests itself in the concrete gathered assembly[9]. Such an assembly therefore acts ministerially – not collegially – because no group can make itself Church, but becomes Church in virtue of a call that cannot arise from within the assembly itself. The minister is therefore the sign-presence of Him who gathers, and is at the same time the locus of the communion of every liturgical assembly with the whole Church. In other words the minister is the visible sign that the Sacrament is not subject to an arbitrary action of individuals or of the community, and that it pertains to the Universal Church.

In this light must be understood the tridentine injunction concerning the necessity of the minister to at least have the intention to do that which the Church does[10]. The intention therefore cannot remain only at the interior level, with the risk of subjective distractions, but must be expressed in the exterior action constituted by the use of the matter and form of the Sacrament. Such an action cannot but manifest the communion between that which the minister accomplishes in the celebration of each individual sacrament with that which the Church enacts in communion with the action of Christ himself: It is therefore fundamental that the sacramental action may not be achieved in its own name, but in the person of Christ who acts in his Church, and in the name of the Church.

Therefore, in the specific case of the Sacrament of Baptism, not only does the minister not have the authority to modify the sacramental formula to his own liking, for the reasons of a christological and ecclesiological nature already articulated, but neither can he even declare that he is acting on behalf of the parents, godparents, relatives or friends, nor in the name of the assembly gathered for the celebration, because he acts insofar as he is the sign-presence of the same Christ that is enacted in the ritual gesture of the Church. When the minister says “I baptize you…” he does not speak as a functionary who carries out a role entrusted to him, but he enacts ministerially the sign-presence of Christ, who acts in his Body to give his grace and to make the concrete liturgical assembly a manifestation of “the real nature of the true Church”[11], insofar as “liturgical services are not private functions, but are celebrations of the Church, which is the ‘sacrament of unity,’ namely the holy people united and ordered under their bishops”[12].

Moreover, to modify the sacramental formula implies a lack of an understanding of the very nature of the ecclesial ministry that is always at the service of God and his people and not the exercise of a power that goes so far as to manipulate what has been entrusted to the Church in an act that pertains to the Tradition. Therefore, in every minister of Baptism, there must not only be a deeply rooted knowledge of the obligation to act in ecclesial communion, but also the same conviction that Saint Augustine attributes to the Precursor, which “was to be a certain peculiarity in Christ, such that, although many ministers, be they righteous or unrighteous, should baptize, the virtue of Baptism would be attributed to Him alone on whom the dove descended, and of whom it was said: ‘It is he who baptizes with the Holy Spirit’ (Jn 1:33)”. Therefore, Augustine comments: “Peter may baptize, but this is He that baptizes; Paul may baptize, yet this is He that baptizes; Judas may baptize, still this is He that baptizes»[13].

_____________________

[1] In reality, a careful analysis of the Rite of Baptism of Children shows that in the celebration the parents, godparents and the entire community are called to play an active role, a true liturgical office (cf. Rituale Romanum ex Decreto Sacrosancti Oecumenici Concilii Vaticani II instauratum auctoritate Pauli PP. VI promulgatumOrdo Baptismi ParvulorumPraenotanda, nn. 4-7), which according to the conciliar provisions, however, requires that “each person, minister or layman, who has an office to perform, should do all of, but only, those parts which pertain to his office by the nature of the rite and the principles of liturgy” (Second Vatican Ecumenical Council, Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy Sacrosanctum Concilium, 28).

[2] Often the recourse to pastoral motivation masks, even unconsciously, a subjective deviation and a manipulative will. Already in the last century Romano Guardini recalled that if in personal prayer the believer can follow the impulse of the heart, in liturgical action “he must open himself to a different kind of impulse which comes from a more powerful source: namely, the heart of the Church which beats through the ages. Here it does not matter what personal tastes are, what wants he may have, or what particular cares occupy his mind…” (R. Guardini, Vorschule des Betens, Einsiedeln/Zürich, 19482, p. 258; Eng. trans.: The Art of Praying, Manchester, NH, 1985, 176).

[3] Summa Theologiae, III, q. 67, a. 6 c.

[4] Second Vatican Ecumenical Council, Constitution Sacrosanctum Concilium, 7.

[5] S. Augustinus, In Evangelium Ioannis tractatus, VI, 7.

[6] Cf. Second Vatican Ecumenical Council, Constitution Sacrosanctum Concilium, 5.

[7] Cf. DH 1601.

[8] Second Vatican Ecumenical Council, Constitution Sacrosanctum Concilium, 22 § 3.

[9] Cf. Catechismus Catholicae Ecclesiae, n. 1140: “Tota communitas, corpus Christi suo Capiti unitum, celebrat” and 1141: “Celebrans congregatio communitas est baptizatorum”.

[10] Cf. DH 1611.

[11] Second Vatican Ecumenical Council, Constitution Sacrosanctum Concilium, 2.

[12] Ibid., 26.

[13] S. Augustinus, In Evangelium Ioannis tractatus, VI, 7.

[00923-EN.01] [Original text: Italian]

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21 Responses to URGENT: CDF responds to ‘dubia’ about the baptismal formula, “WE baptize you….”

  1. The CDF– they seem to be on top of things, left to themselves– ought to be allowed to clarify and ‘explain’ certain more cryptic etc pronouncements that have been made at Rome in the last several years.

  2. Eoin OBolguidhir says:

    I’m sure it’s quibbling, but I have to wonder about His Holiness and his right to use the majestical plural.

  3. Josephus Corvus says:

    That’s actually quite scary. How many people, even parents of the kids being baptized, are paying that close attention to what pronoun the priest used? And even if they were, would they have remembered it for any length of time if they were not educated enough to even think about questioning validity? With all the tweaks going on at Mass, I bet most NO people would just assume that it was OK, regardless of whether or not they liked it.

  4. robtbrown says:

    Eoin OBolguidhir
    6 August 2020
    I’m sure it’s quibbling, but I have to wonder about His Holiness and his right to use the majestical plural.

    The first person singular is used because Christ is the principal priest of every celebration of every sacrament–In persona Christi

  5. ArthurH says:

    Some number of baptisms, of which I am aware, had to be redone for the formula used having been…. “In the name of the Creator, and of the Redeemer, and of the Sanctifier.”

    Yeah, really.

  6. Sportsfan says:

    In the early 2000s my wife was asked by our pastor to prepare two young brothers for baptism and first communion. Their mother had fallen away but came back and wanted her boys to be baptized.
    We thought it odd the pastor didn’t ask my wife to prepare them for confession.
    My wife was invited to the baptism and attended. The priest used “We.” My wife noticed. She has a keen antennae for things like that. She asked the priest about it and he admitted that wasn’t the correct formula but said the baptism was still valid. My wife didn’t buy it and contacted the archbishop.
    Shortly after the pastor became decidedly cold to us and we changed parishes.
    I hope they have been baptized correctly.
    If my wife had not attended, nobody on earth would have ever known.

  7. More proof that:

    1. The more you use formularies (Bood of Happy Thoughts, anyone?) written in the local vernacular, the more chances are that liberties will be taken with the formula or creatively ‘edited’ based on personal taste and

    2. You have NO doubt if you use the classical ritual that what was meant to be done was done. I doubt that many clerics would be wise enough to be aware of how to edit words around to meet ‘pastoral sensitivies’.

    It is really that hard to do the red whilst reading the black?

  8. TDPelletier says:

    The argumentation from the CDF concerning liturgical abuse applies equally to other Sacraments, including the Eucharist and Penance. Priests and seminarians should be taught sound ecclesiology : the sacerdotal ministry implies a profound fidelity to the Church who has entrusted much to them.

    ”Modifying on one’s own initiative the form of the celebration of a Sacrament does not constitute simply a liturgical abuse, like the transgression of a positive norm, but a vulnus inflicted upon the ecclesial communion and the identifiability of Christ’s action, and in the most grave cases rendering invalid the Sacrament itself, because the nature of the ministerial action requires the transmission with fidelity of that which has been received (cf. 1 Cor 15:3).”

    The errors that have probably led us to the present situation :
    – the confusion of equality of human dignity with uniformity of roles,
    – the confusion of obediance with submissiveness,
    – the confusion of fidelity to tradition with regression,
    – the confusion of rules with impediments to thinking,
    – the illusion of all-powerfulness following recent human progress (with a concommittant lack of humility of the creature before the Creator).

  9. Gregg the Obscure says:

    i wonder if this was inspired in whole or in part by the bad translation of “Credo” that was in use in the OF Mass for many years

  10. Fryer Eric says:

    This footnote needs to be hammered into the clergy:
    “Often the recourse to pastoral motivation masks, even unconsciously, a subjective deviation and a manipulative will.”

  11. NOCatholic says:

    Josephus Corvus: Besides the baptism of my daughter and several godchildren I was honored to sponsor, I have been present at any number of Catholic NO baptisms over the years. And not once did I ever hear a priest say “We baptize you” instead of “I baptize you”.

    I have heard variant and unauthorized changes in the liturgy from priests, but never that.

    The CDF is right to defend the liturgy. Any occurrence of course, invalidates a baptism and is extremely serious. But I wonder how common it is. Much less than some here might think, I’ll bet.

  12. iamlucky13 says:

    Interesting. I would definitely have thought your earlier view made perfect sense for several reasons. It seems there is actually quite a bit more to consider about this.

    That the CDF concluded this defect must be corrected with an absolute baptism, not a conditional one, strikes me as very emphatic, and does not seem to leave room for doubt.

    And furthermore that Pope Francis agreed with the conclusion pulls the rug out from under anyone who might want to dismiss the CDF’s conclusion as “rigid.”

    Responding to Gregg the Obscure – perhaps that was a motive, but I do not think the exchange of a plural for a singular there is doctrinally incorrect, in contrast with what the CDF is explaining here with respect to baptism. In professing the creed, both the individual and plural pronouns are suited to an action of profession. In baptism, I think the point of the CDF is that a sacrament is an individual action of Christ, performed through the minister. “We” is therefore not true.

  13. jdminer says:

    Father,

    Do you believe this would also hold true for a baptism done in a non-Catholic Christian ceremony? The trinitarian formula was used, but with a “we.” It is a young adult who since converted and has been confirmed. He is only aware that the “we” was used because he has a video of the event.

    [Yes, it would apply to non-Catholic baptism.]

  14. Fr_Andrew says:

    I was just able to fix one of these mistakes tonight using the older ritual.

    When she converted several years ago the former pastor never gave a conditional baptism and never investigated her Protestant baptism, since it was done by her father, a Baptist minister. Sure enough, as soon as she saw this post she called dad. He said he always used “We” because they reject that anyone can act in persona Christi, so they baptize “in the name of the assembly”.

    Now she’s all sorted out.

    Its worth reminding those who have this problem solved that since the Baptism is absolute, when they come for confession no sins from before this baptism are valid matter, since they we just forgiven by the valid Baptism.

    I think we priests ought to take the opportunity to discuss this via sermon on Sunday, because I’d imagine there are more than ya few cases.

  15. KAS says:

    That would be a useful and informative homily, or it might be added to the announcements. Perhaps also insist it be included in RCIA and Baptism prep classes.

  16. JesusFreak84 says:

    The Church usually accepts Protestant baptisms; will that now change if Pastor Mary Pantsuit used “we?” (Are there any denominations where that’s the actual, “proper” text per their own rubrics?)

    I wouldn’t be surprised if I was baptized with this formula, or worse, because I was baptized by the same priest who married my parents with a ceremony explicitly banned by Paul VI in a motu prorio meant to cover mixed marriages between the 1917 Code and what became the 1983 Code, (the Methodist and Catholic parts of the “service” were done in parallel and in series and there were 2 lines for communion…) and the priest told them during pre-Cana that it was just fine to use birth control and such… He clearly didn’t intend to “do what the Church does” with marriage, so why would he with baptism?

    Sincere question: in annulment tribunals, the Church starts with the default presumption of the marriage bond being valid. Does She do likewise with baptism? =-\

  17. tburgar says:

    Father,

    I was a member of a parish where the “We” form was used for years, at least between about 1997 to 2005. When questioned I was told that it depends on the priest’s intention and that there was no need for concern. I later saw that St. Thomas Aquinas actually addressed this issue and considered these baptisms invalid. I could not ignore that in good conscience and wrote the bishop who put a stop to this practice. My question is what happens to all those souls who, through no fault of their own, proceed to live their catholic faith believing they are baptized? The Church cannot supply for the bad form, but could God provide somehow?

  18. Fr_Andrew says:

    While the Church accepts Protestant baptisms in theory (just like there are morally neutral actions in theory), in practice and individual cases there will be circumstances that render a baptism valid, doubtful, or invalid (just like there are no morally neutral actions once a particular act is done, only good or evil).

    The American Church’s practice before the Council was to generally conditionally baptize any convert unless the baptism was investigated and determined to be valid, not to presume validity in particular cases and look for defects. That was probably because, unlike Europe’s somewhat institutionalized and formalized Protestantism, we had some crazy “Christian” sects and travelling preachers and tent revivals, etc.

    It might be prudent to return to that practice…and perhaps even privately ask newcomers from more liberal Catholic parishes about the practice there.

  19. I cannot speak to the souls of those who were “baptized” that way. All I can say is that, at the time, they were not baptized!

    They should be contacted, as soon as possible, or at the very least attempts should be made by both the parish and the diocese, and those people should be baptized absolutely, not conditionally.

  20. Michael says:

    Father Z, what would it mean for later sacraments if someone was invalidly baptized with “we”? Confirmation, for example — would that be invalid?

  21. Yes, I’m afraid so. Baptism is the foundational sacrament enabling a person to receive the others. However, God can do as He pleases.

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