Minister Of Baptism

Minister of Baptism

The Church distinguishes between the ordinary and the extraordinary minister of baptism. A distinction is also made as to the mode of administration. Solemn baptism is that which is conferred with all the rites and ceremonies prescribed by the Church, and private baptism is that which may be administered at any time or place according to the exigencies of necessity. At one time solemn and public baptism was conferred in the Latin Church only during the paschal season and Whitsuntide. The Orientals administered it likewise at the Epiphany.

(1) Ordinary Minister

The ordinary minister of solemn baptism is first the bishop and second the priest. By delegation, a deacon may confer the sacrament solemnly as an extraordinary minister.

Bishops are said to be ordinary ministers because they are the successors of the Apostles who received directly the Divine command: “Go and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Ghost.“Priests are also ordinary ministers because by their office and sacred orders they are pastors of souls and administrators of the sacraments, and hence the Florentine decree declares: “The minister of this Sacrament is the priest, to whom it belongs to administer baptism by reason of his office.” As, however, bishops are superior to priests by the Divine law, the solemn administration of this sacrament was at one time reserved to the bishops, and a priest never administered this sacrament in the presence of a bishop unless commanded to do so. How ancient this discipline was, may be seen from Tertullian (De Bapt., xvii):

The right to confer baptism belongs to the chief priest who is the bishop, then to priests and deacons, but not without the authorization of the bishop.

Ignatius (Ep. ad Smyr., viii): “It is not lawful to baptize or celebrate the agape without the bishop.” St. Jerome (Contra Lucif., ix) witnesses to the same usage in his days: “Without chrism and the command of the bishop, neither priest nor deacon has the right of conferring baptism.”

Deacons are only extraordinary ministers of solemn baptism, as by their office they are assistants to the priestly order. St. Isidore of Seville (De Eccl, Off., ii, 25) says: “It is plain that baptism is to be conferred by priests only, and it is not lawful even for deacons to administer it without permission of the bishop or priest.” That deacons were, however, ministers of this sacrament by delegation is evident from the quotations adduced. In the service of ordination of a deacon, the bishop says to the candidate: “It behooves a deacon to minister at the altar, to baptize and to preach.” Philip the deacon is mentioned in the Bible (Acts 8) as conferring baptism, presumably by delegation of the Apostles.

It is to be noted that though every priest, in virtue of his ordination is the ordinary minister of baptism, yet by ecclesiastical decrees he can not use this power licitly unless he has jurisdiction. Hence the Roman Ritual declares: The legitimate minister of baptism is the parish priest, or any other priest delegated by the parish priest or the bishop of the place.” The Second Plenary Council of Baltimore adds: “Priests are deserving of grave reprehension who rashly baptize infants of another parish or of another diocese.” St. Alphonsus (n. 114) says that parents who bring their children for baptism without necessity to a priest other than their own pastor, are guilty of sin because they violate the rights of the parish priest. He adds, however, that other priests may baptize such children, if they have the permission, whether express, or tacit, or even reasonably presumed, of the proper pastor. Those who have no settled place of abode may be baptized by the pastor of any church they choose.

(2) Extraordinary Minister

In case of necessity, baptism can be administered lawfully and validly by any person whatsoever who observes the essential conditions, whether this person be a Catholic layman or any other man or woman, heretic or schismatic, infidel or Jew.

The essential conditions are that the person pour water upon the one to be baptized, at the same time pronouncing the words: “I baptize thee in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Ghost.” Moreover, he must thereby intend really to baptize the person, or technically, he must intend to perform what the Church performs when administering this sacrament.

The Roman Ritual adds that, even in conferring baptism in cases of necessity, there is an order of preference to be followed as to the minister. This order is: if a priest be present, he is to be preferred to a deacon, a deacon to a subdeacon, a cleric to a layman, and a man to a woman, unless modesty should require (as in cases of childbirth) that no other than the female be the minister, or again, unless the female should understand better the method of baptizing. The Ritual also says that the father or mother should not baptize their own child, except in danger of death when no one else is at hand who could administer the sacrament. Pastors are also directed by the Ritual to teach the faithful, and especially midwives, the proper method of baptizing. When such private baptism is administered, the other ceremonies of the rite are supplied later by a priest, if the recipient of the sacrament survives.

This right of any person whatsoever to baptize in case of necessity is in accord with the constant tradition and practice of the Church. Tertullian (De Bapt., vii) says, speaking of laymen who have an opportunity to administer baptism: “He will be guilty of the loss of a soul, if he neglects to confer what he freely can,” St. Jerome (Adv. Lucif., ix): “In case of necessity, we know that it is also allowable for a layman [to baptize]; for as a person receives, so may he give,” The Fourth Council of the Lateran (cap. Firmiter) decrees: “The Sacrament of Baptism . . . no matter by whom conferred is available to salvation,” St. Isidore of Seville (can. Romanus de cons., iv) declares: “The Spirit of God administers the grace of baptism, although it be a pagan who does the baptizing,” Pope Nicholas I teaches the Bulgarians (Resp, 104) that baptism by a Jew or a pagan is valid.

Owing to the fact that women are barred from enjoying any species of ecclesiastical jurisdiction, the question necessarily arose concerning their ability to bestow valid baptism. Tertullian (De Bapt., xvii) strongly opposes the administration of this sacrament by women, but he does not declare it void. In like manner, St. Epiphanius (Hær., lxxix) says of females: “Not even the power of baptizing has been granted to them”, but he is speaking of solemn baptism, which is a function of the priesthood. Similar expressions may be found in the writings of other Fathers, but only when they are opposing the grotesque doctrine of some heretics, like the Marcionites, Pepuzians, and Cataphrygians, who wished to make Christian priestesses of women. The authoritative decision of the Church, however, is plain. Pope Urban II (c. Super quibus, xxx, 4) writes, “It is true baptism if a woman in case of necessity baptizes a child in the name of the Trinity.” The Florentine decree for the Armenians says explicitly: “In case of necessity, not only a priest or a deacon, but even a layman or woman, nay even a pagan or heretic may confer baptism.”

The main reason for this extension of power as to the administration of baptism is of course that the Church has understood from the beginning that this was the will of Christ. St. Thomas (III:62:3) says that owing to the absolute necessity of baptism for the salvation of souls, it is in accordance with the mercy of God, who wishes all to be saved, that the means of obtaining this sacrament should be put, as far as possible, within the reach of all; and as for that reason the matter of the sacrament was made of common water, which can most easily be had, so in like manner it was only proper that every man should be made its minister.

Written by William H.W. Fanning. Transcribed by Charles Sweeney, S.J..

The Catholic Encyclopedia, Volume II. Published 1907. New York: Robert Appleton Company. Nihil Obstat, 1907. Remy Lafort, S.T.D., Censor. Imprimatur. +John M. Farley, Archbishop of New York