Sacrament of Baptism - Infants and Children Under 7
If you would are seeking Baptism for your infant or child under 7 years, please go to our Baptism Preparation page for more information.
Sacrament of Baptism - Adults and Children Over 7
If you are seeking baptism for yourself or your child who is over 7 years old, please go to our Becoming Catholic - RCIA/RCIC page for more information.
About the Sacrament of Baptism
We believe that baptism with water -- by immersion, pouring, or sprinkling -- in the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost, cleanses us from original sin and personal sin (and their punishments) and initiates us into the life of the Church. It is more than merely symbolic; it's more than an expression of belief of the one being baptized (or his parents); it is a Sacrament, both a sign and medium of sanctifying grace. Baptism does something; it remits sins:
[Prophecy] Then will I sprinkle clean water upon you, and ye shall be clean: from all your filthiness, and from all your idols, will I cleanse you.
Then Peter said unto them, Repent, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins, and ye shall receive the gift of the Holy Ghost.
And now why tarriest thou? arise, and be baptized, and wash away thy sins, calling on the name of the Lord.
Like all Sacraments (the other 6 being Eucharist, Confession, Confirmation, Holy Orders, Matrimony, and Unction), Baptism is not a work of man; it is a work of Christ, an act of His grace:
Not by works of righteousness which we have done, but according to his mercy he saved us, by the washing of regeneration, and renewing of the Holy Ghost; Which he shed on us abundantly through Jesus Christ our Saviour; That being justified by his grace, we should be made heirs according to the hope of eternal life.
It is through Baptism that we are "born again" (or "born from above") of "water and of the Spirit" (John 3:3-5). Read the entire chapter of John 3 which speaks of being "born again" and please note that it is all about Baptism. Despite what some Protestants believe, being "born again" doesn't mean "having an emotional high" or "making a decision for Christ," though these are fine and good, the latter being necessary after the age of reason; being "born again" very clearly refers to Baptism of water and of the Spirit. This regeneration of water and Spirit is necessary to enter the Kingdom of God:
Jesus answered and said unto him, Verily, verily, I say unto thee, Except a man be born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God. Nicodemus saith unto him, How can a man be born when he is old? can he enter the second time into his mother's womb, and be born? Jesus answered, Verily, verily, I say unto thee, Except a man be born of water and of the Spirit, he cannot enter into the kingdom of God
Just as children were once circumsized as infants, they are now baptized as infants because the Kingdom of God, which is entered into through Baptism, most certainly includes them:
But Jesus called them unto him, and said, Suffer little children to come unto me, and forbid them not: for of such is the kingdom of God. Verily I say unto you, Whosoever shall not receive the kingdom of God as a little child shall in no wise enter therein.
Then Peter said unto them, Repent, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins, and ye shall receive the gift of the Holy Ghost. For the promise is unto you, and to your children, and to all that are afar off, even as many as the LORD our God shall call.
So in the New Testament, entire households were baptized:
And a certain woman named Lydia, a seller of purple, of the city of Thyatira, which worshipped God, heard us: whose heart the Lord opened, that she attended unto the things which were spoken of Paul. And when she was baptized, and her household, she besought us, saying, If ye have judged me to be faithful to the Lord, come into my house, and abide there. And she constrained us.
And at midnight Paul and Silas prayed, and sang praises unto God: and the prisoners heard them. And suddenly there was a great earthquake, so that the foundations of the prison were shaken: and immediately all the doors were opened, and every one's bands were loosed. And the keeper of the prison awaking out of his sleep, and seeing the prison doors open, he drew out his sword, and would have killed himself, supposing that the prisoners had been fled. But Paul cried with a loud voice, saying, Do thyself no harm: for we are all here. Then he called for a light, and sprang in, and came trembling, and fell down before Paul and Silas, And brought them out, and said, Sirs, what must I do to be saved? And they said, Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and thou shalt be saved, and thy house. And they spake unto him the word of the Lord, and to all that were in his house. And he took them the same hour of the night, and washed their stripes; and was baptized, he and all his, straightway. And when he had brought them into his house, he set meat before them, and rejoiced, believing in God with all his house.
And the early post-New Testament Church carried on. There was no question as to whether or not infants should be baptized, though there was debate among a few as to whether they should wait to be baptized on the 8th day (the day children were circumcised in the Old Covenant), a concept the Church rejected. This is what St. Cyprian of Carthage (baptized ca. A.D. 246) wrote on the topic:
But in respect of the case of the infants, which you say ought not to be baptized within the second or third day after their birth, and that the law of ancient circumcision should be regarded, so that you think that one who is just born should not be baptized and sanctified within the eighth day, we all thought very differently in our council. For in this course which you thought was to be taken, no one agreed; but we all rather judge that the mercy and grace of God is not to be refused to any one born of man. For as the Lord says in His Gospel, "The Son of man is not come to destroy men's lives, but to save them," as far as we Can, We must strive that, if possible, no soul be lost. For what is wanting to him who has once been formed in the womb by the hand of God? To us, indeed, and to our eyes, according to the worldly course of days, they who are born appear to receive an increase. But whatever things are made by God, are completed by the majesty and work of God their Maker.
Moreover, belief in divine Scripture declares to us, that among all, whether infants or those who are older, there is the same equality of the divine gift. Elisha, beseeching God, so laid himself upon the infant son of the widow, who was lying dead, that his head was applied to his head, and his face to his face, and the limbs of Elisha were spread over and joined to each of the limbs of the child, and his feet to his feet. If this thing be considered with respect to the inequality of our birth and our body, an infant could not be made equal with a person grown up and mature, nor could its little limbs fit and be equal to the larger limbs of a man. But in that is expressed the divine and spiritual equality, that all men are like and equal, since they have once been made by Godl; and our age may have a difference in the increase of our bodies, according to the world, but not according to God; unless that very grace also which is given to the baptized is given either less or more, according to the age of the receivers, whereas the Holy Spirit is not given with measure, but by the love and mercy of the Father alike to all. For God, as He does not accept the person, so does not accept the age; since He shows Himself Father to all with well-weighed equality for the attainment of heavenly grace.
Baptism leaves an indelible mark on the soul, so one may be baptized only once.
There is one body, and one Spirit, even as ye are called in one hope of your calling; One Lord, one faith, one baptism, One God and Father of all, who is above all, and through all, and in you all.
The ordinary minister of Baptism is the Bishop (and, secondarily, the priest), and adults are usually baptized at Easter time in the context of the beautiful Rite of Baptism, and after a period of catechesis. In emergencies, though, a person may be baptized anytime, and by anyone (the efficacy of the Sacraments does not depend on the personal holiness of the minister) who:
[Jesus speaking] Go ye therefore, and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost.
Therefore, if one is baptized as described above, that Baptism is valid and need not be repeated in order for one to become fully Catholic. If one is not sure that one is baptized, if there is any uncertainty at all that the proper form and matter were not used, one is baptized conditionally with water and the words: "If you are not baptized, I baptize thee in the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost."
What are the effects of Baptism? What does Baptism do? Baptism:
In the case of infants, it is the faith of the parents that operates until the child himself reaches the age of reason.
For those who have reached the age of reason, the Sacrament must also be received in faith. If one does not have faith in Baptism but receives it anyway, he is still validly baptized, but the fruits of his Baptism will be delayed until he does have faith.