INFANT BAPTISM GUIDELINES
Diocese of Houma-Thibodaux
1. WHERE, WHEN AND HOW SHOULD THE SACRAMENT BE CELEBRATED?
1a. So that baptism may clearly appear as the sacrament of the Church's faith and of incorporation into the people of God, it should normally be celebrated in the parish church (Rite of Baptism Children, art 10). Infants are to be baptized in the parish church proper to their parents, unless a just cause suggests otherwise (Canon 857); in this case, parents must obtain the permission of their pastor. Considered "infants" are all children less that seven years old.
1b. Sunday is the ordinary time for baptism of infants, since the choice of Sunday emphasizes the paschal nature of the sacrament (Canon 856; Christian Initiation, General Introduction, art 28). As far as possible, all recently born babies should be baptized at a common celebration on the same day (CIGI art 27).
Normally there should be only one celebration of baptism of infants in the same church on the same Sunday. Baptism may appropriately be celebrated during Sunday Mass, so that the necessary relationship between bapsim and eucharist may be seen; but this is not desirable as a weekly practice (RBC art 9).
1c. Parents are obliged to see that infants are baptized within the first weeks after birth (Canon 867). Parents may choose the manner of administration of the sacrament, either by the pouring of water or by immersion, "which is more suitable as a symbol of participation in the death and resurrection of Christ" (CIGI art 22).
1d. The sacrament of "baptism may not be repeated and conditional baptism is not permitted unless there is prudent doubt of the fact or validity of the baptism already received" (Rite of Receiving Baptized Christians, art 7).*
* Among non-Catholic churches which have valid baptism: Adventists, AME, Assembly of God, Baptists, Disciples of Christ, Evangelical Churches, Old Catholics, Old Roman Catholics, Church of the Nazarene, Reformed Churches, United Church of Christ, Church of the Latter Day Saints (Mormons). Among those without valid baptism: Apostolic Church, Christian Scientists, Masons (no baptism at all), Quakers, Salvation Army, Pentecostal Churches, Jehovah's Witnesses and Unitarians (See Huels, John M. OSM, JDC, The Pastoral Companion: A Canon Law Handbook for Catholic Ministry (Chicago: Franciscan Herald, 1986).
1d (continued) If after "serious investigation it seems necessary ... to confer baptism again conditionally, the minister should explain beforehand the reasons why baptism is conferred conditionally in this instance and he should administer it in the private form" (Rite of Receiving Baptized Christians, art 7) in order to avoid "needlessly calling into question the practices of other churches and ecclesial communities" (Canon 869 Commentary).
2. WHO CAN BE GODPARENTS?
2a. Those who qualify as godparents are
*who have been confirmed
*are at least 16 years old and
*are leading "a life in harmony with the faith and the role to be undertaken" (Canon 874).
2b. Whenever possible, an infant to be baptized should be given a godparent (Canon 872); ideally this same person will act later as the child's sponsor at confirmation (Canon 893). There may be one godmother or one godfather or one of each (Canon 873). Parents or guardians choose the godparents(s) with the approval of the pastor.
2c. A godparent must be at least 16 years old (Canon 874).
2d. In infant baptism, the godparent, along with the parents, presents the child for baptism and helps the child to lead the Christian life expected by baptism, and fulfill faithfully the obligations connected with it (Canon 872). "In acting as the guarantor of the faith of the candidate, the godparent is also the representative of the community of faith" (RBC art 2: Ad totam Ecclesiam, ED, DOL 147 #1011). A godparent must be a Catholic who has been confirmed and "leads a life in harmony with the faith and the role to be undertaken" (Canon 874).
2e. A person who belongs to a non-Catholic ecclesial community may not be a godparent at the baptism of a Catholic, but may be recorded as a witness together with a Catholic godparent (Canon 874).
3. WHEN SHOULD BAPTISM BE DELAYED:
3a. For the licit baptism of an infant, it is necessary that the parent or guardian give consent, and that there be " a founded hope that the infant will be brought up in the Catholic religion" (Canon 868). When the foundation for this hope is not evident, the pastor must make a prudent and sensitive judgment in dialogue with the parents of the infant.
3b. When the parents are not prepared to undertake the duty of bringing up the child as Catholic, the pastor should postpone the baptism until the parents can be adequately moved or instructed (RBC art 8, Canon 868). However, only if no other adult is willing to make a commitment to rear the child as Catholic would the pastor have the obligation to postpone the baptism of the child.
The birth of a child should be regarded by pastoral ministers as a moment when problems that caused alienation from the community might be dealt with compassionately and rectified. An invalid marriage alone is not considered a sufficient reason for delay.
3c. To avoid "further alienating parents who are themselves deficient in the practice of the Catholic religion, "the reasons for the delay should be crefully explained to them (Canon 868; Commentary), and opportunities for formation in the faith should be offered to the parents.
3d. If there is disagreement with a pastor's decision to delay baptism, an appeal may be made to the Dean (vicar forane).
4. WHAT CATECHESIS IS NEEDED FOR BAPTISM?
4a. Parents should be adequately catechized in preparation for the baptism of their child. Parents programs should be designed to nourish the faith life of participants as well as provide them with theological understanding of the sacrament (NCD 117, 119; Canons 851, 852).
4b. Since godparents share with parents responsibility for the Christian upbringing of the child, godparents should participate when possible in the same process of catechesis.
4c. Baptismal catechesis centers "on the Father's love; the life, death and resurrection of Jesus the Son; the cleansing of original and personal sin; and the gift of the Spirit to the Church" (NCD 117). Immediate preparation includes "catechesis on the ritual and the baptismal symbols; water as life-giving and cleansing, oil as strengthening and healing, light as driving out darkness, the community as the setting where Christ is present" (NCD 117).
5. WHAT IS THE RELATIONSHIP OF THE COMMUNITY TO THE CHILD BAPTIZED?
5a. Because baptism is a sacrament of initiation, parents are asking that their children assume a place in the community when they ask that they be baptized. The community in turn promises to support the parents in guiding their child to a relationship with God and the church.
5b. Asking for baptism for their child may be a time of conversion for a couple not participating regularly in Sunday Eucharist. Parishes are encouraged to design concrete means of support for couples who express the intention to return to active participation in the eucharistic community.
6. WHAT RECORD IS KEPT OF THE BAPTISM?
6a. Parishes are required by universal law to keep a permanent record of baptism. Within the Diocese of Houma-Thibodaux, this record is to be kept on a computer file within the Diocesan Sacramental Record Keeping Program.
6b. The name of a godparent may not be deleted later from the baptismal record, even if the original godparent has defected from the faith. The Bishop, however, may permit an additional sponsor's name to be added to the record "for just reason," reflecting a changed situation in which a "substitute sponsor" agrees to take on the responsibilities of the original godparent(s).
6c. In the case of adoption, the baptismal record is not changed. Instead, a new computer record is created in the parish of baptism with the child's adoptive name and names of adoptive parents, and then referenced to the original baptismal record for retrieval purposes. (See addendum for computer record keeping instructions.)
ON KEEPING A COMPUTER RECORD OF BAPTISM
IN THE CASE OF AN ADOPTION
In the case of adoption, the baptismal record is not changed. Instead, a new computer record is created in the parish of baptism with the child's adoptive name and names of adoptive parents, and then referenced to the original baptismal record for retrieval purposes. This should be done as follows:
1. Enter a NEW RECORD for the ADOPTED CHILD, PUTTING IT INTO THE SAME YEAR in which the actual Baptism took place. In this new record use the ADOPTED LAST NAME, and the anmes of the ADOPTED PARENTS. All other information in the record should remain the same as the original record, including godparents.
2. Assuming that the child's ORIGINAL name was JOHN VINCENT JONES and the "record #" of the original Baptism was "1989-004", on the first line for OTHER information IN THE NEW RECORD, enter the following:
ADOPTED 12/02/91; ORIGINAL NAMES WAS JOHN VINCENT JONES; SEE RECORD #1989-004.
3. The INFORMATION (such as names, dates, etc.) in the original baptismal record is NOT TO BE CHANGED, but on one of the lines for 'OTHER" information IN THE ORIGINAL RECORD, assuming that the above adoption took place on 12/02/91, and the NEW record number is "1989-045":
ADOPTED BY MR & MRS JOHN V. JONES, 12/02/91; SEE RECORD #1989-045