Denver Newsroom, Feb 11, 2022 / 5:19 p.m.
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 over the heads of the baptized, or immerses them in water. Usually, the Catholic clergy is responsible for baptisms. But anyone can baptize in an emergency, such as when a future Christian, even a child, is in imminent danger of death.
Sometimes people get this formula wrong. Many of them have good intentions, but it can have consequences. In rare cases, Catholic clergy did not baptize using the form of the Church-approved baptismal rite.
This raised some questions and concerns. Here’s what you need to know:
Did some clergy really baptize Catholics incorrectly?
In August 2020 the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, in a document approved by Pope Francis, said Catholics who use the phrase “we baptize” when trying to baptize someone aren’t getting the job done. In the language of the Church, it is an “invalid” baptism.
Indeed, saying “we baptize” attempts to baptize someone “in the name of the community”. Who is the baptizer here? It’s too vague.
Some members of the clergy ad lib ad lib the baptismal rite. They used phrases like “In the name of father and mother, godfather and godmother, grandparents, family members, friends, in the name of the community we baptize you in the name of the Father and Son and of the Holy Spirit”.
This sloppy speech has important consequences, noted the CDF. The sacrament cannot be presumed valid: these baptisms were not really sacraments, but simply attempted baptisms.
So what happened next?
Cases where a priest or deacon has attempted baptism, but used an invalid form, means re-examining the sacramental life of all who believed themselves to be validly baptized.
More recently, the Diocese of Phoenix announced that a priest had been falsely trying to baptize people for over 20 years. The priest, Father Andres Arango, apologized and the diocese took steps to help those who had been baptized invalidly.
So is it a big deal?
Baptism is definitely a big deal! Christ told believers to be baptized. Baptism washes away both personal sin and original sin.
In the words of the Catechism of the Catholic Church, baptism is “the basis of all Christian life, the gateway to life in the Spirit and the gateway to the other sacraments. Through baptism we are freed from sin and reborn as the Son of God; we become members of Christ, are incorporated into the Church and made participants in her mission.
If you are not baptized, you cannot receive the other sacraments.
In rare cases, there have been invalidly baptized men who thought they were priests, acting as priests.
After the Vatican’s 2020 announcement, some men who thought they were priests watched videos of their own baptisms only to realize that the priest or deacon who baptized them hadn’t followed the basic rite in any significant way. .
Father Zachary Boazman of Oklahoma City is one such priest. He watched a video from his childhood in which a deacon from the Diocese of Dallas, while serving in the Diocese of Fort Worth, attempted to baptize the infant Boazman using the wrong formula.
Father Matthew Hood of the Archdiocese of Detroit also watched a video of another deacon, Mark Springer, performing an invalid baptism on him as a child in Troy, Michigan.
In both cases, these so-called priests were not really priests, or even Christians! Both men were to be baptized, confirmed and ordained deacons and then priests for the first time.
To compound this problem, those men who mistakenly were priests did not in fact consecrate the Eucharist at Mass. Their confessions, confirmations and anointings of the sick were invalid.
What did the Vatican have to say about this?
2020 CDF statement cites Second Vatican Council document Sacrosanctum Conciliumwhich said that “no one, even if he is a priest, can add, delete or change anything in the liturgy on his own authority”.
Those who have changed the form of baptism have acted with “questionable pastoral motives” which revive “the ancient temptation to substitute for the formula transmitted by Tradition other texts deemed more suitable”.
So why doesn’t “we baptize” do the job?
Christ instituted the sacraments and entrusted them to the Church, the CDF pointed out. The Church has safeguarded the celebration of the sacraments, “especially in the elements attested by Scripture and which allow us to recognize with absolute clarity the gesture of Christ in the ritual action of the Church”.
This baptism controversy is really about the recognition of Christ.
When someone administers the sacrament of baptism, the CDF says, “it is truly Christ himself who baptizes.”
The emphasis on parents, godparents and community is already present in other parts of the baptismal rite, the CDF noted.
How do Catholics react to criticism that this is empty legalism that God can circumvent?
The good news is that Catholic teaching certainly recognizes that the grace of God can work even if the sacraments have not been validly conferred.
The “bad news” is that Catholic teaching cannot claim that a sacrament has taken place if it has not followed the right form, the right material and the right intention.
The Diocese of Phoenix addressed the charge of legalism in an FAQ on its website:
“It may sound legalistic, but the words spoken (the sacramental form), together with the actions that are performed and the materials used (the sacramental matter) are a crucial aspect of every sacrament,” the diocese said. “As a priest, he cannot replace milk with wine during the consecration of the Eucharist, nor modify the words of baptism.”
The Diocese of Phoenix added, “It is important to note that while God instituted the sacraments for us, he is not bound by them. Although they are our surest access to grace, God can bestow His grace in a way known only to Him. According to Saint Thomas Aquinas, God is bound to the sacraments, but he is not bound by the sacraments.
What about Catholics baptized in non-Catholic churches or ecclesial communities?
Good news: very many non-Catholic Churches and ecclesial communities are presumed to baptize validly, if they follow the same formula, use water to baptize and intend to perform a Christian baptism like Christ and the Catholic Church. hear it.
Otherwise, how can a baptism go wrong?
In 2008, the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith answered a question about the validity of certain baptismal formulas which use the formula “in the name of the Creator, and of the Redeemer, and of the Sanctifier” or “in the name of the Creator, and of the Deliverer, and of the Sustainer. These formulations are also not valid baptism and anyone who has received such an attempted baptism must be baptized before receiving any other sacraments.
These formulations fail to express the Catholic belief in the Holy Trinity. Sometimes they have become popular thanks to feminist motives, which consider “the Father” and “The Son” as chauvinists.
“Such variants, however, undermine faith in the Trinity,” the CDF said.
Are there any baptisms that look Christian but are not?
Occasionally! In 2001, the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith declared that baptism by The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, informally known as Mormons, is not valid.
At first glance, it appears that Mormons baptize others in the name of the Trinity. But their intention is quite different.
“Mormons hold that there is no true Trinity, no original sin, that Christ did not institute baptism,” Father Luis Ladaria, SJ, explained in an August 1, 2001, article for L’Osservatore Romano. Ladaria would go on to lead the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith under Pope Francis, who named him cardinal in 2018.
“The words Father, Son, and Holy Spirit have a totally different meaning to Mormons from a Christian meaning,” Ladaria wrote. “The differences are so great that one cannot even consider this doctrine to be heresy stemming from a false understanding of Christian doctrine. Mormon teaching has a completely different matrix.
In the Mormon understanding, baptism was begun by God with Adam, not by Christ. They deny the existence of original sin and therefore do not act on the Catholic view that baptism remits both personal and original sin, Ladaria explained. If an LDS member renounces his faith or is excommunicated and later wants to return, he needs a “re-baptism”.
For Christians, however, baptism is a once-in-a-lifetime event.
A minister of a Mormon baptism intends to do what The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints means by baptism, not what the Catholic Church means by it.
Catholic infant baptism is one of the main reasons the LDS considers the Catholic Church to have apostatized. From their point of view, none of the Catholic sacraments is valid.
How worried should I be? Was my baptism valid?
These reports may cause some Catholics to fear that they too have not really been baptized. But if there is no video evidence and no claim that the baptism officiant used to casually change the baptismal formula, such worries should not dominate.
Prof. Thomas Petri, OP, moral theologian at the Dominican House of Studies in Washington, DC, told CNA in August 2020 that it’s not unreasonable for anyone with a video of their baptism to watch the tape again, just in case.
Memories of a baptism are not necessarily reliable, he warned. People in general are prone to memory errors and those present might not have been paying close attention.
“In the vast majority of cases, the vast majority will be fine and valid,” Petri said. He said he suspected only a “very small percentage” of alleged baptisms are invalid.
He repeated the Catholic teaching that God guarantees the sacraments, but he himself is not bound by them.