Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Valid, but illicit

“Anon” wrote the following: “I have a question. Consider two young people who were raised Catholic and marry but decide they have become agnostic. They have a child and decide not to have the child baptized. If a grandparent privately performs a baptism, fully intending to be responsible for the Catholic education of the child, maybe even together with the three other grandparents, is the baptism valid? Has the grandparent committed a sin by doing this without the consent of the parents?”

I found an online Q&A in which Father Edward McNamara, professor of liturgy at the Regina Apostolorum university, addresses a similar situation. A woman baptized her grandchild because her non-practicing Catholic son and Jewish daughter-in-law never had the baby baptized. After Mass one day she baptized the baby with holy water, saying, “I baptize you in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit”.

In Anon's scenario, the baptism would be valid (provided that the grandmother in Anon's scenario baptized the baby with water and said the Trinitarian formula) but not licit, as Fr. McNamara indicates below. To view the full text which includes follow-up questions, please click on today's title.

A: The question must be answered on two levels: If baptizing the child was the right thing to do; if the woman's actions constituted a valid baptism.

The first question is rather delicate because although the grandmother deeply desired the child's baptism, the education of children usually falls upon the parents who are called to be the primary educators of children.

Canon law (Canon 868) also requires that for an infant to be baptized licitly:
"1. the parents or at least one of them or the person who legitimately takes their place must consent.

"2. there must be a founded hope that the infant will be brought up in the Catholic Religion; if such hope is altogether lacking, the baptism is to be delayed according to the prescripts of particular law after the parents have been advised about the reason."

At the same time the canon specifies that "An infant of Catholic parents or even of non-Catholic parents is baptized licitly in danger of death even against the will of the parents." Even though there are clear historical examples of grandmothers who secretly baptized children under atheistic Communist regimes, this does not appear to be the present case. The baptism should not have been done without the parents' consent.

Also, only the priest and deacons are ordinary ministers of the sacrament of baptism and can perform all of the rites. In some extreme conditions where there are no ordained ministers available, lay people have been authorized to perform the essential rites. An unauthorized lay person should not perform a baptism except in cases of imminent danger of death or other dire situations where not even an authorized lay minister is available.

With respect to the second question regarding the validity of the baptism. As we have seen, the grandmother, no matter how sincere her motives, acted against Church law and should not be imitated. From the description of what she did, however, it would appear to have been a valid baptism and the child is truly baptized.

All the same, in order to be certain, it would be necessary for her to give a detailed description of what she did to a priest in case she committed an error regarding matter or form that would cast doubt on the baptism's validity.

What to do? It depends on many factors, but sooner or later the parents should be informed. The grandmother could perhaps avoid having to reveal what she has done by asking permission from the parents to allow her to have the child baptized in a private ceremony, with just herself and the priest, and then take charge of its religious upbringing. If the parents consent, then she could have a priest or deacon complete the baptismal rites and formally register the baptism.

If the parents are very much opposed, then there is little to be done other than to await a suitable moment to inform them that their child is already baptized. In all cases she should do all in her power to transmit the faith to the child, above all though her living witness to the Catholic faith.


At 3:05 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

The following article relates to the blog only through one common word, "baptism". It related to me persoanlly because of it's WOW impact. I couldn't help but assess my level of comittment to our loving God.

Young African woman crawls 2.5 miles to attend Sunday Mass

Olivia (Photo courtesy of AVAN)Valencia, Aug 28, 2008 / 01:42 am (CNA).- The Little Sisters of the Abandoned Elderly in Chissano (Mozambique) took into their home this week a 25 year-old African young girl named Olivia, who despite not being baptized at the time and not having any legs, crawled 2.5 miles every Sunday to attend Mass.

According to the AVAN news agency, the nuns said that one day, they saw “something moving on the ground far away,” and when they drew near they saw, “to our surprise, that it was a young woman.”

“We were able to talk to her through a lady who was walking by and who translated into Portuguese what she was saying to us” in her dialect, they said.

The sisters said that although “the sand from the road burned the palms of her hands during the hottest times of the year,” the young woman crawled to Mass, “giving witness of perseverance and heroic faith.”

The young woman received baptismal preparation from a catechist, who periodically visited her at home. After she was recently baptized, one of the benefactors of the sisters donated a wheel chair for Olivia.

At 8:13 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

A little off topic, but involving the great influence of our grandparents-

During the summer series at Adoration, FG gave a talk on suffering. I had questions he answered on the subject & he was kind enough to send me the notes from that talk. A talking point stood out both in the original talk and again in reading over the notes. FG mentioned that he asks the residents of a local nursing home to pray for our youth. Some pretty cool stuff has happened for our kids- from getting into the high schools and colleges of their choices to being positive and active in our parish. I don’t recall a time when I have seen so many teenagers come to church either alone or with their friends- the obvious thing being that it’s their choice to be there.

The “Arcola Nursing Home” generation is one that believes in the power of praying for intercession. I’ve little doubt their prayers are heard. In my family, the kids were taught to ask my grandmother and great-aunt to pray for us. I doubt more than a week went by for them w/o fielding a prayer request. When I was little, my grandma had cards of different patron saints. I thought they were trading cards- with pics on one side and “stats” on the other. My grandmother would let us pick the saint to whom she would pray to before going to bed. I thought it was card game- I’d pick the saint, she’d tell me about them and then proceeded to have a conversation with that saint asking for help in whatever for me.

We hold up the idea of having faith like a child, which is something beautiful to see, but I think seeing those who are worn and weathered offer to share their faith and show us by example how it carries them is something even more beautiful.

At 10:12 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I know of so many parents whose children have left the Church and the parents are full of such sadness. I can understand what this grandparent must be going through. I am not sure what I would do in that situation, but maybe performing a baptism for a grandchild would cross my mind too. I am glad you addressed the issue.

I think it is important for all of us, not only the Arcola Nursing Home crowd anonymous mentions, to pray for our youth. With our constant prayers, our living example, and with priests like Father Greg who obviously care about them so much, perhaps they will find their way back.


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