Written by Glennamarie Rivers (Mount St. Mary’s) | Edited by Ariel Hobbs
The following was a college essay written by Glennamarie Rivers. It has been edited and approved by Ariel Hobbs. If you have a Theology essay that you would like published that received a grade of an A- or higher, please be sure to contact us.
From the very beginning, the Church was tasked by Jesus to “make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit” (Matt. 28:19). Naturally, members of the Church are called to cultivate a fervent desire to respond to this mission of winning souls for Christ. It is a most beautiful desire, that unites the entire Body of Christ across time and space to that sanctifying moment of the birth in the Upper Room:
When the time for Pentecost was fulfilled, they were all in one place together. And suddenly there came from the sky a noise like a strong driving wind, and it filled the entire house in which they were. Then there appeared to them tongues of fire, which parted and came to rest on each one of them” (Acts 2:1-3).
Simply put, the Catechism of the Catholic Church teaches that “holy Baptism is the basis of the whole Christian life.” It appears counterintuitive, then, when the Church exhibits hesitation when it comes to administering the foundational sacrament of Baptism. However, circumstances arise in which she is reminded that her missionary zeal must always be in communion with prudent discernment. A very real and relevant concern that perfectly exemplifies this point is the question of baptizing the young infant of a couple that does not regularly attend Mass. Many ask if this is a prudent fulfillment of Christ’s call, and wonder if it should be done.
Many argue that it is unwise to baptize a young infant into the Body of Christ in the absence of intended post-baptismal education and formation from the family. Often, baptisms are results of societal or familial expectations, traditions, or conventions in which a genuine faithful intention is absent. Casual baptisms performed out of societal, rather than faithfully desired, obligations are valid concerns. Indeed, “without any hope in a future education in the faith, the minimum conditions for a meaningful reception of baptism are not met.” Moreover, it is a possibility that the baptized child of God may be abandoned to the wilderness without a shepherd. His wanderings may ultimately lead him away from the faith altogether. If a couple who wishes to baptize their child has a history of not fulfilling basic Sunday Mass obligations, a parish is justified in questioning the spiritual formation of the child thereafter.
However, while keeping in mind these concerns and maintaining a deep respect for the possible implications, I argue that the Church must, in all circumstances, remain faithful and steadfast in administering the sacrament of Baptism— precisely because it is the will of God. The celebration of baptism must be a priority for the Church because it is a requirement for citizenship in the Kingdom of God as established by the King; for “the Lord himself affirms that Baptism is necessary for salvation.” Even if there is no intention of participating in the life of the Church or further education in the faith, it does not render the sacrament invalid. Nutt contends that while the disposition of the ministers and recipients of the sacraments should not be overlooked, the validity of the sacrament does not depend upon them. Baptism is nevertheless validly performed even when there are low expectations for future formation.
Because Christ commands it and the washing away of original sin is not inhibited by the circumstances, there should be no question about whether the Church should baptize young infants of couples who do not regularly attend Mass. The very nature of that consideration undermines the command of Christ to baptize. The focus of the question must shift. Instead of asking: should the Church continue to carry out her mission? We must ask: how should the Church continue to carry out her mission? In asking this new question, we a) preserve Christ’s command as the most important element and b) achieve clarification about how to move forward. If refusing baptism is not the solution to the problem of parents not forming their children in the faith, what is?
The hesitation on account of the Church is, as alluded to previously, due to a commonly perceived disinterestedness for, and possibly simple ignorance of, the reality of Baptism and the gravity of what happens thereafter. Something must be done to reconcile parents and caretakers to the importance of the sacraments and the essential role of the family in a child’s spiritual life. It is good for parents to desire that their child be baptized, even if they do not understand the full beauty of the sacrament. As the Church is called not only to baptize but also to proclaim the Gospel it follows the responsibility falls on her to affirm the beautiful desire for reception of the sacraments. But the Church must not stop there. She must call the whole family higher by educating them about the sacraments and the importance of active participation in the life of Christ. This invites the faithful into a deeper discernment and purification of intention and hopefully, into a more intimate communion with God and the entire Body of Christ.
Refusing baptism is not the better option in this instance. While it is better that the child be baptized than not baptized at all, the Church must work to ensure that baptism is properly understood. She must remain convicted and steadfast to preserving the Body of Christ by persevering in the administration of the sacrament of baptism in close relationship with good education, formation, and catechesis for the whole family- parents and children. This sacrament assumes participation in the life of the Church through continual formation and education, and this must be effectively communicated to families. Attending to the spiritual life of a child can be compared to attending to the physical health of a child. Parents must feed, clothe, change, and bathe their child to safeguard the child’s health and well-being. Likewise, parents must nourish their child in the faith through frequent reception of the sacraments, faithful attendance in mass, and spiritual formation in order to safeguard the child’s spiritual health and well-being. It is not out of a hasty imprudent action on the part of the Church to baptize infants of couples who do not attend Mass. Rather, through administration of the sacraments, especially baptism, the Church is a living witness of hope for the conversion for all souls.
Catechism of the Catholic Church, 2nd ed. Washington, D.C.: United States Catholic Conference, 2016.
Holy Bible: New American Bible. Huntington, Indiana: Our Sunday Visitor, 2017.
International Theological Commission: The Reciprocity Between Faith and Sacraments in the Sacramental Economy, http://www.vatican.va/roman_curia/congregations/cfaith/cti_documents/rc_cti_20200303_reciprocita-fede-sacramenti_en.html#_edn107.
Nutt, Roger W., General Principles of Sacramental Theology. Washington, D.C.: The Catholic University of America Press, 2017.