Baptism of infants

Question: In a recent column (Jan. 30), you seemed to play down the importance of infant baptism in favor of a rite of blessing for a child until he or she is old enough to make up his or her mind to make a personal decision for baptism. I do not think you are representing the teaching of the Church correctly. Please comment.  

— Composite question

Answer: Four readers offered a critique along the lines described. Playing down the importance of infant baptism is the furthest thing from my mind. I was answering a question from a woman whose daughter and son-in-law had decided to postpone the baptism of their child until he is old enough, and she wanted to know if there is a blessing the child could receive in the meantime. I told her that there was such a rite of blessing and that, yes, this was acceptable under the circumstances.  

I am as orthodox as could be on the matter of the importance of baptism and the baptism of infants in particular. Indeed, I have presented and defended the traditional understanding and practice of infant baptism in this column many times, quoting often from the official Introduction to the Rite of Baptism and the Catechism of the Catholic Church, as well as (probably) other official Church documents. 

One of the great challenges in writing a question/answer column such as this is that I have just over 600 words in which to deal with any one question. From my years as a student, I learned the important lesson of only answering the question you are asked. In the case of the question about blessing an unbaptized child, there was no space to answer questions about the propriety of the parents’ decision not to have their child baptized, or how the child can be saved without baptism, or the more general meaning of baptism. 

On the first of these matters I have no doubt in saying I think the parents made a poor decision. And on this matter, I agree completely with a pastor who wrote me these words about the same column. (He is not counted among the four represented in the composite question because he did not suggest that I had misrepresented the teaching of the Church.) 

He wrote: “Whenever couples give me this statement [that they want to wait until the child is old enough to make up his or her own mind about baptism], I look at them and ask them to be completely true to their philosophy. When they look at me inquisitively I respond: You need to let your child also choose what to wear, when he wants to go to school, how he wants to eat and if he wants all the inoculations for measles, mumps and chickenpox. You want him to make up his own mind — so be completely true to your philosophy. Yes, he will grow up uneducated and probably sickly.” 

The writer continues: “As parents you want the best for your child. As parents you want to build a firm foundation for your children. When they reach the age where they leave home and are on their own, the child is called to build onto the foundation you gave him/her. And what is that most important success for your child? To be one with God in everlasting life.” 

I couldn’t agree more. I have often used this line of reasoning myself. My only caution would be that this message be conveyed carefully, gently and in a manner that will keep the parents in touch with the Church and be drawn to have their child baptized sooner rather than later. 

Msgr. M. Francis Mannion is a priest and theologian of the Diocese of Salt Lake City. Send your questions to Pastoral Answers, Our Sunday Visitor, 200 Noll Plaza, Huntington, IN 46750 or to Letters must be signed, but anonymity may be requested.