Sunday, January 20, 2013


I've been on vacation for the past week at my mom's town home in Augusta (now my own, but it will always be her home as long as I keep it). This morning I went to Mass early and came home and am cooking my Sunday dinner and doing so in quite a relaxing way. I feel like I'm home with my parents and yes, I think they are here!

It is bright and sunny, clear skies and about 55 degrees on its way to the 60's. Early in the week it was 80 and oh so glorious!

But I digress. I'm watching a live broadcast on a local station in Augusta of Trinity on the Hill United Methodist Church, right next door to St. Mary on the Hill Catholic Church. They are perhaps the largest and richest Methodist Church in Augusta and have had their Sunday morning service televised on the same local station each Sunday for at least 50 years or more. They know how to do it and spend quite a bit to be able to do it and their tailor their service not only to the congregation present, but to the TV audience also.

The Methodists in Augusta are a part of the North Georgia Convocation and tend to be more Baptist (low church) in worship and liturgical design than high church or Episcopal. In Macon, though, they belong to the South Georgia District and are a bit more high church in worship both in style and liturgical design.

But again I digress. This morning's worship service included a baptism of an infant.
This church is quite folksy but stays somewhat within the Methodist tradition of worship but with a great deal of flexibility.

There were two ministers perform the baptism. Each took various parts. There was an extremely contemporary renunciation of sin and profession of faith prior to the baptism.

Then this is what I want others to chime in on and it concerns the validity of the baptism.

Then one minister dipped his hand in the water and slightly got it wet and then placed the palm of his hand on the head of the child and then said the following formula and I quote directly from what he said:

"We baptize you in the Name of God the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit."

So in terms of validity, did he use enough "flowing water" and was the slight change in the words of the baptism formula enough to invalidate this baptism?

The reason I ask is that in the RCIA we accept the baptism of Protestants. But we are really clueless about the quirks of congregationalism and the liberties that Protestant ministers take with the words of baptism even if their congregation has words that are like ours but the minister changes on his own.

Should we go back to conditional baptism of all Protestants being received into the full Communion of the Catholic Church? After watching this I'm leaning in that direction.


Henry Edwards said...

"Should we go back to conditional baptism of all Protestants being received into the full Communion of the Catholic Church?"

Yes. Otherwise, what kind of Christian charity are you showing the Protestant who converts, seeking his eternal salvation? It would strike fear in my heart if I had to wonder whether I;d been validly baptized when I came to the Church with a mixed Protestant background in the 1950s.

Rood Screen said...

Dear Father,
This is a very good question. There are some Protestant communities here in the hills where I live who only baptize "in the name of Jesus" or the Holy Ghost. I think we've all assumed that the Methodists consistently do it right. The problem with the one you watched was that the water was not poured. So, it seems there is need to worry a little about "baptized" converts, and perhaps to go back to conditional baptisms, as you suggest.

Gene said...

Tough question. As a former Presbyterian pastor, I would say that most Protestant churches either pour, sprinkle, or immerse and say, "I baptize you in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit (Ghost), Amen." That, in my long understanding, is a valid Baptism.

Now, just as with a Priest who bungles the Mass or takes extreme liberties, we trust that the Holy Spirit still conveys the Graces contained in the Sacrament because our errors do not trump God's will. So, we trust that the stupidity of the minister in question does not invalidate the Baptism.

Methodists are not known for either their orthodoxy or their theological acumen. They basically have no doctrine to speak of, and they take great liberties with every aspect of worship and the Faith. Wesley was also probably psychotic. Of all the protestant churches and sects, the Methodist is probably the last one I would choose if I had to go somewhere else. I would rather handle a rattlesnake than listen to one more smarmy, humanistic line of Methodist drivel.

I have nothing against conditional Baptisms, but I think they are probably unnecessary and, perhaps, would be understood as a negative judgement upon the Faith of presumed Christians many of whom are more devout in their faith than many so-called practicing Catholics.

Rood Screen said...

I think you are right in saying God conveys graces even when the minister errs in certain ways, but the intention of the minister is necessary for the validity of a sacrament. Even if a pagan baptizes a child with the proper form and matter, and intends to do what the Church does in baptisms, then it is valid. But if the intention is lacking in baptism, the Holy Eucharist, matrimony, etc., then the sacrament is invalid.

Gene said...

Fr. Shelton, You are correct of course. I was assuming (perhaps too easily) that the intention of this minister was proper. This is, indeed, a slippery slope. Now, a hard core Calvinist would say that the Sacrament is efficacious despite wrong intention because, again, nothing man does can negate the will of God. God's graces are imparted in accordance with His good and perfect will despite human error. Once the name of the Holy Trinity is called upon and the water is poured, God takes the reins and we become mere instruments of His will. This is still an appealing theology in spite of other problems with Calvin. It has been called "Christological Totalitarianism," but it has precedents in Augustine. Calvin was raised Catholic, by the way.

Carol H. said...

Father, I'm glad you asked this question, because after hearing last week's readings, I am questioning the validity of my own (Baptist) baptism.

Before I was baptised, my Pastor stressed that baptism DOES NOT WASH AWAY SIN but is a public rite to show that I was willing to "put away the old-man" and to live as a new child of God. He said that my sins were removed when I was "saved." He spoke a prayer while holding his hand above my head which concluded with " the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost." Then as I was dunked he said, "Burried in the likeness of His death," and as I was brought up out of the water he said, "and raised in the likeness of His resurrection."

Since he was not intending to wash away my sin, did he have a valid intent? It seems to me that I was baptised in what I've been thinking of as the spirit of John the Baptist instead of the Baptism of Christ.

This has been making me nervous all week. I'm beginning to think that I am the one at the Wedding Feast without the proper garment. A conditional baptism (in the EF?) would really help to ease my mind.

What do you think? Was my baptism valid? I'm thinking not.

Unknown said...

Fr. McDonald,

I would argue that the baptism was probably invalid. Not because of intent though. It is incredibly hard to gauge intent, no disrespect to Gene or to Fr. Shelton, but we must assume that the intent is there UNLESS it is specifically stated not to be there.

I would question it first on form. The Church is VERY clear on the formula. If a priest were to baptize someone using the words you describe, then it would be invalid. So, I would say that we could stop right there. However, I think that the bigger issue is the matter.

The Church teaches that in order for a baptism to be valid, the water must be "flowing." For someone to dip their hand and place that hand on the head of another does NOT constitute "flowing" water. ERGO....the matter is invalid.

So, I would argue that the child is not baptized. I would argue that if that child were to be received into Holy Mother Church a conditional baptism would be necessary.

Regarding conditional baptism, I would argue that the necessity exists if the one approaching the sacrament cannot properly prove that he was baptized. If he has a thought that he may have been, but can't remember, or that he doesn't recall the formula or the form being correct, it is better to be safe than sorry. For if one who is not baptized approaches and receives the sacraments, he is committing sacrilege and the graces are absolutely not conferred. And we don't want that at all. It is better to be safe than sorry.

Unknown said...


I would argue that you're correct. His intent was not to do as the Church intends. However, if you are concerned, I would approach your pastor and I would ask. If he does not give you a satisfactory answer, then you should approach your chancery and ask the bishop. His rule would be final, and I would accept that. But, talk to your pastor first.

Baptism of desire would not apply, because if you are aware there is a dubium and you do nothing about it, the culpability is yours. Some more liberal theologians will say that you don't need to "redo" it because you already believe, but that is not enough, right? The Sacrament is conferred as an outward sign. Insofar as it is, the sign is necessary. Baptism of desire really and most properly applies to those catechumens who through no fault of their own die before they are baptized. That is when baptism of desire really applies.

Talk to your pastor and bishop. They will give you what you seek.

Hammer of Fascists said...

Carol H.,

I will add this to what Andy has said. For the time being, please don't fret. If this potential problem has occurred to you only recently, and you act within a reasonable time to address the issue, I think that even if your baptism was invalid, you _currently_ have the Baptism of desire. Knowing a little something of both your orthodoxy and your piety, I'm sure your intent has all along been to do the right thing, and I definitely think that that counts.

Conditional Baptism uniformly applied would, of course, alleviate all such problems, but if we're not going to have that, I think the Church must take the approach that when there are rather fine distinctions to be made as to the celebrant's intent, then the recipient's intent (e.g., i.e., Baptism of desire) would be the vehicle through which God supplies sufficient grace to remedy any sacramental defect. (This is more of a pastoral than a theological musing, but if the recipient is genuinely not the one at fault and has done her/his best to follow the formal rules, God isn't going to hold it against her/him.)

A more general comment: While I don't remember my own baptism, it was carried out by an Anglican minister before the groovy weirdness of the '70s hit the Episcopal Church, and I doubt that--outside Catholicism or Orthodoxy--you could find a tradition more likely than the Episcopalians to get intent/form right. Nevertheless, I asked my spiritual director if I should be conditionally baptized, and in fact was hoping for an affirmative response, but knowing my background he said it wasn't necessary. So in light of my circumstances I believe I've done what's required of me. But again, I do believe that uniform conditional Baptism would remove all doubt in all cases. The Church can't possibly police all of the different intents and forms of 30,000 denominations, and so the only way to be sure is to baptize them all. If non-Catholics think that non-ecumenical, well then, they can all of them take the first step by rigorously using the correct form, for starters. And that's not even getting to the intent of the celebrants, which in the case of anti-Catholic ministers isn't ecumenical at all.

What it comes down to is this: We're not talking Gregorian versus Kumbaya here, or even NO versus EF. Absent universal conditional Baptism, in light of the chaos of the non-Catholic world, the hierarchy, in the name of the false god of ecumenism, is playing Russian roulette with the souls of the laity regarding the gateway to all of the other sacraments. I hope/think that God won't take their negligence out on the recipients where those recipients genuinely don't know any better (partly through said hierarchy's refusal to catechize them properly), but I wouldn't want to be members of the hierarchy when their judgments take place.

Carol H. said...

Andy and Anon 5, thank you both for your insight. Fr. McD is my pastor, so I have already followed your advise!

I came into the Church in Arizona, so I wan't to make it clear that this mistake does NOT lie with Fr. McD.

Now I have another conundrum- does this invalidate my Confirmation?

William Meyer said...

Making conditional baptism of all Protestants converting seems a no brainer. Those who were baptized as infants would have no recollection; the others are unlikely to have a reliable memory, as their minds were certainly not on technicalities. And given the liberties taken in our own liturgy (by people who should most certainly have known better) in the last 45 years, how can we assume that proper forms were followed?

James Igatius McAuley said...

My parish priest when I was growing up, ordained 1944, died 1985, stated that baptism by Anglicans, Episcopalians, Lutherans,and Presbyterians were valid, but not those of Baptists. However, the rule now in the Buffalo diocese is to accept all Protestant Baptisms. However, my current Parish priest does not, and stated it is case by case and safer to do a conditional baptism. As Andy has said, better safe than sorry.

Father, you are right - some Methodist Churches are more Episcopal in approach than others. I have seen some with statuary and crucifixes, and others whitewashed and empty.

James I. McAuley said...

Father Shelton,

Have you ever found a copy of the 1962 Parish Ritual, Benizger, Latin-English?

Pater Ignotus said...

The baptism you describe seems valid to me.

The formula "We baptize you in the name of God the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit" meets our Church's criteria. "Baptism is conferred with water and with a formula which clearly indicates that baptism is done in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit." (Directory for the Application of Principles and Norms on Ecumenism [DE], no 93)

There is no expectation that a non-Catholic minister will use the formula given in Catholic ritual books. That the Methodist minister uses a slightly different formula does not invalidate, or even bring into question, the validity of the sacrament.

His use of water is only a little more sketchy, though I would presume it was used in a way that makes the sacrament valid. Our Church recognizes the validity of "sprinkling" which is analogous, I would think, to this minister's practice. "Baptism by sprinkling, although illicit in the Latin Church, is valid provided the water makes physical contact with the candidate while the Trinitarian formula is being said by the minister."

I don't know how a person can "dip his hand in water" in a way that result in its being only "slightly" wet.

In any event, the presumption made by our Church is that baptism conferred by a Methodist minister is valid. "Whenever doubts arise about whether or how water was used, respect for the sacrament and deference towards these ecclesial communities require that serious investigation of the practice of the community concerned be made fore any judgment is passed on the validity of its baptism." (DE no 95c)

The presumption is for validity.

Pater Ignotus said...

James Ignatius - The rule to presume the validity of Protestant baptisms is not a rule in Buffalo only, but is the practice of the Catholic Church universally. There are exceptions such as Quakers, Salvation Army, Christadelphians, Jehovah's Witnesses, etc, who do not have valid baptism. It seems Buffalo is simply being Catholic in its policy on the validity of non-Catholic baptisms.

And your pastor is assuming too much authority if he is unilaterally determining that "this" baptism was valid while "that" one was not.

Conditional baptisms, when conferred, are regulated by the Diocesan Ordinary and are to be carried out in private, not in public. (DE no 99d)

Anonymous said...

When I came into the Catholic Church in 1964 at the age of 28, conditionaql baptism was the norm, and I in any event did not want the revealing to my relatives (of my conversion) that would have resulted from investigation of my infant baptism. But I was sure then that my grandfather who baptized me INTENDED to do what Christ commanded (end of Matthew) and thought thart that was sufficient. I would say the same about Carol's baptism, though surely her pastor should be the one to advise her.

I am more concerned about the form of the baptism of only laying the wet hand upon the head. My son was baptized by a monsignor who had studied for the priesthood in the early 1930's in Germany and I think was ordained there. He only "swiped" my son with a cloth, and I then and now wonder there was a defect of form.

James Ignatius McAuley said...

Father Mike,

Glad to hear from you. I agree with you, but be assured, my priest is not unilaterally assuming too much authority. Doubtful cases are referred to the chancery.

Now, the following are real baptisms that I have personally witnessed or been credibly informed of. Only in one case did a person later ask to come into the Catholic Church and they were simply baptized, and not conditionally. All of these, were performed by various Baptist ministers - as you know, there really is no uniform Baptist sect.

1.) Baptized with water in the name of God and John the Baptist
2.) Proper words used, baptized with beer
3.) Baptized with proper words, but snakes and water (eewwwh!) -
4.) Proper words used for a baptism of water and the spirit - a mister was sprayed into a fan that blew on the person.

Carol H. said...

It all boils down to this, isn't it better to know for sure that a person is baptised than to gamble with his soul?

Gene said...

Well, a case by case basis is probably the best way to deal with this. I would imagine that Anglican, Lutheran, and Presbyterian Baptisms are, with very few exceptions, valid. Baptist baptisms most generally are, plus they immerse, which I like. This is frightening me because I am leaning toward agreeing with Pater Ignotus...

On the other hand, someone mentioned the theological "chaos" out there, which makes a srong argument for conditional Baptism. This is giving me a headache.

Unknown said...

Yes Carol, it is better to be safe than sorry.

However, in your case, I would still argue that if the STATED intent of the pastor was NOT to wash away sin, but rather to do anything else, then it does call intent into question.

Normally, there is no question of intent, because the Church assumes it, UNLESS there is a formal statement made, which in your case it seems there was.

I'm not calling into question Fr. McD's judgment, and I would fully accept his judgment and reasoning as your pastor, but from a purely theological aspect, it is safe to say there is a dubium. Because was baptism instituted to, as you say that the Protestant minister said, "NOT wash away sin?"

All of that being said, under normal circumstances I would not question intent. Form an matter though, those are always questionable, especially in the case of flowing water. The sign must be a clear and visible sign, so does one bead of water rolling down the head constitute that? That is where the pastor's good judgment or the bishops is excercised.

Generally speaking though, it is tough to screw up baptism.

WAC said...

In the old Ritual, there was a long list of instructions regarding receiving converts and the validity of Baptism. I read them, and reread them, while at law school at CUA.

In it, the ritual instructs the priest that persons who are baptized by aspersion should be baptized conditionally, because, in order for baptism to be undoubtably valid, it must effect a true washing, that is, water must flow over the person baptized.

This is of particular interest to me, as I am a convert, was baptized as an infant, and could produce a baptismal certificate from a Presbyterian church. However, my mother had told me more than once that my brother and I were baptized by being "propped up in a corner" and "sprinkled" with water during the rite.

The subject has weighed on my conscious for some time. I have read several dissertations, both old and new, on the subject (from folks getting their higher degrees in sacramental theology from CUA), and the weight of sacramental theology seems to support the instruction in the old Ritual.

But, when I've approached my pastors and other priests over the years, they have dismissed my scruples, saying that to "sprinkle" is more than sufficient. One priest punted my question to a canon lawyer (which doesn't seem to be the correct discipline) who told me I had nothing to worry about unless I could affirmatively prove, based on another witness or the minister himself, that my recollection of what my mother told me was so. (Impossible - it has been nearly 35 years since the event, and most of the people present are now dead.)

The only priest who looked into the matter, a very smart, very holy Franciscan, died suddenly before he could come to a conclusion

I only mention all of this to make this point - those old instructions in the missal and the Ritual were scruple-busters. They were precise and legalistic because they were based on hundreds of years of questions being answered with greater or lesser degrees of definitiveness. I wish I could simply ask a priest to read what I've read and give me an answer based on authority.

Pater Ignotus said...

WAC - "Baptism by sprinkling, although illicit in the Latin Church, is valid provided the water makes physical contact with the candidate while the Trinitarian formula is being said by the minister."

WAC said...

Your source, and how does this reconcile with the previous instruction that the water "flow"?