Baptism involves a simple formula: “I baptize you in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.” The celebrant pours water on the head of the baptized, or immerses them in water. Usually, Catholic clergy are responsible for baptisms. But anybody can baptize in an emergency, as in cases where a prospective Christian, even an infant, is in imminent danger of death.
Sometimes, people mess with this formula. Many of them mean well, but that can have consequences. In rare cases, Catholic clergy weren’t baptizing using the form of the baptismal rite approved by the Church.
This has prompted some questions and some worries. Here’s what you need to know:
Have some clergy really been baptizing Catholics incorrectly?
In August 2020 the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, in a document approved by Pope Francis, said that Catholics who use the phrase “we baptize” when they try to baptize someone don’t get the job done. In Church parlance, it is an “invalid” baptism.
In effect, saying “we baptize” tries to baptizes someone “in the name of the community.” Who is the baptizer here? It’s too vague.
Some clergy would ad lib the baptismal rite. They would use phrases like “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.”
This sloppy talk has important consequences, the CDF noted. The sacrament cannot be presumed to be valid: these baptisms were not really sacraments, but simply attempts to baptize.
So what happened next?
Cases where a priest or deacon attempted a baptism, but used an invalid form, means re-examining the sacramental life of everyone who thought they were baptized validly.
Continue reading Invalid baptisms: A Catholic explainer about the facts and the fears
Image: Screenshot from Vatican News YouTube channel.