I am a parish priest and I have at times been confronted with unusual requests from people—both from my and from other parishes in Metro Manila—to administer baptism to their children or relatives. To cite a few: a young mother requested that her infant son be baptized in the hospital before they check out after delivery; another couple wanted their baby baptized in their home to facilitate the reception that would follow; on other hand, a returning Catholic born-again wanted to be baptized in the presence of his family to set an example. What does Canon Law lay down for all of these?
The Minister of Baptism
The fundamental physiognomy in the intervention of the minister is the same in all the sacraments: he acts in persona Christi and the effect is always a grace of Christ, not of the minister who applies the sacramental sign. Thus, his role is purely instrumental. In this regard, the juridic requirements for the administration of baptism follow closely the requirements of the sacrament as instituted by Christ.
a. Requirements for validity. For validity, the minister of Baptism is any human person:
1) who carries out the sacramental sign in its essential elements;
2) who has the due intention of doing what the Church wants in this regard. Thus, the juridic norms regulating the different kinds of ministers affect only the licitud of the administration of the sacrament.
b. Requirements for licitude.
1) The ordinary ministers of Baptism, as established by the Code, are the following:
a) Any cleric—Bishop, priest or deacon (c.861, §1)—who is not suffering from any canonical penalty restricting him from exercising such function.
b) Especially entrusted to the Parish Priest. In the old Code, Baptism was reserved to the parish priest. In the new Code, it is only especially entrusted, and this for reasons of good administration—i.e., for the pastoral and record-keeping aspects of the administration of the sacrament (c.530, 1º).
In any case, c.862 emphasizes this special connection of the administration of Baptism to the parish priest: Outside the case of necessity, it is not lawful for anyone, without the required permission, to confer baptism in the territory of another, not even upon his own subjects. It would seem, however, that such permission should not be denied without serious reason.
c) Special prerogative of the Bishop over adult baptism. The baptism of adults, at least those who have completed fourteen years of age, is to be referred to the Bishop so that it may be conferred by him, if he judges it expedient (c.863). This is consistent with the fact that all the process of Christian initiation of adults has been placed in a particular way within the context of the power of the diocesan Bishop.
2) The extraordinary ministers of Baptism in normal circumstances. Can.861, §2 states: If the ordinary minister is absent or impeded, a catechist or other person deputed for this function by the local ordinary confers baptism licitly….
3) Extraordinary minister of Baptism in case of necessity. This is a scenario which is distinct from the cases when the ordinary minister is simply absent or impeded. By this is understood not only the danger of death, but also—by extrapolation—the prolonged situation of absence of the ordinary minister. In this case, the extraordinary minister is any person with the right intention (c.861, §2). The absolute necessity of baptism for salvation is the justification for this criterion that the Church has always maintained.
The Celebration of Baptism
a. Place for Baptism. The Code both stipulates the ordinary place for baptism, and prohibits—except in case of necessity—certain places.
1) Proper Place: Church or oratory. Outside the case of necessity, the proper place for baptism is a church or oratory (c.857, §1). The Code further prioritizes the locality of such church or oratory as follows:
1º Proper parish. As a rule adults are to be baptized in their own parish church and infants in the parish church proper to their parents, unless a just cause suggests otherwise (c.857, §2). In this regard, the Code provides for the possibility of facilitating access to Baptism by multiplying the churches or oratories that can have a baptismal font within the same parish (c.858).
2º Another parish. If due to grave inconvenience, because of distance or other circumstances, a person to be baptized cannot go or be taken to the parish church or to the other church or oratory mentioned in c.858, §2, baptism may and must be conferred in some nearer church or oratory… (c.859).
2) Another Fitting Place. In the case of grave inconvenience previously mentioned, if not even another church in a parish other than that of the one to be baptized is possible, c.859 ends by allowing baptism to be celebrated even in some other fitting place.
3) Prohibited Places. On the other hand, the Code explicitly prohibits the celebration of baptism, except in case of necessity or permission by the local Ordinary, in certain places. It is interesting to note the difference in the degree of prohibition, manifested by the increasing margin for permitting the contrary:
1º Private homes. Outside the case of necessity, baptism is not to be conferred in private homes, unless the local Ordinary has permitted this for a grave cause (c.860, §1). Thus, the local Ordinary will permit this only for a grave cause.
2º Hospitals. Baptism is not to be celebrated in hospitals, unless the diocesan Bishop has decreed otherwise, except in case of necessity or some other compelling pastoral reason (c.860, §2). The local Ordinary can permit this without any limitation by the Code; and—it would seem—even the competent Chaplain or priest in case of some other compelling pastoral reason.
4) Other Canonical Requisites. Here we are referring to dispositions of the Code, not just purely ritual requirements (which would be in the particular rituals and liturgical books).
a) Baptismal font. Every parish is to have a baptismal font, with due regard for the cumulative right already acquired by other Churches. The local Ordinary (…) may permit or order (…) that there be a baptismal font in another church or oratory within the boundaries of the parish (c.858, §§1-2). The mens legislatoris is clear: In the places where baptism is to be ordinarily administered, there should be a fixed baptismal font.
b) Choice of name. Parents, godparents and the parish priest are to see that a name foreign to a Christian mentality is not given (c.855).
c) New Holy Oil. The minister must use oils pressed from olives or from other plants that have been recently consecrated or blessed by the Bishop; he is not to use old oils unless there is some necessity (c.847, §1). This oil of catechumens—as it is called—is blessed by the Bishop in the Chrism Mass of Holy Thursday. The accepted praxis is that the Holy Oil consecrated in the most recent Holy Thursday be used.
b. Registry and Proof of Baptism.
The juridic situation that arises from the reception of this sacrament demands that the necessary measures are taken to safeguard not only the public good of the Church, but also the rights of the faithful that stem from it. Thus, the Code stipulates the following general principles:
1) Registry in the place of Baptism. In contrast to the criterion of the CIC17—which required communication of the fact of baptism to the parish where the baptized has (or will establish) his domicile or quasi-domicile—the new Code stipulates just keeping one registry, precisely in the place where the baptism took place. The subjects responsible for this are:
1º The parish priest of the place where the Baptism is celebrated must carefully and without delay record in the baptismal book the names of those baptized, making mention of the minister, parents, sponsors, witnesses if any, and the place and date of the conferred baptism, together with an indication of the date and place of birth (c.877, §1).
2º The minister of baptism, whoever it is—if Baptism was administered neither by the parish priest nor in his presence—must inform the pastor of the parish in which the Baptism was administered, so that he may record it in accord with c.877, §1 (c.878).
2) Testimonial proof of Baptism. Aside from the written record, Canon Law admits testimonial proof of the administration of Baptism, with different degrees of proof two cases:
1º If it is not prejudicial to anyone, to prove the conferral of Baptism, the declaration of a single witness who is above suspicion, or the oath of the baptized person if the Baptism was received at an adult age (c.876).
2º All other cases require at least one witness, other than the baptized person. Thus, the Code stipulates that one who administers Baptism is to see to it that, unless a sponsor is present, there be at least a witness by whom the conferral of Baptism can be proved (c.875).
3) Data in the Baptismal Registry. As previously mentioned, the following data should be
recorded carefully: names of the baptized, minister, parents, godparents, witnesses if any, place and date of Baptism, place and date of birth. Furthermore, the Code distinguishes the following cases:
i) If it is a question of a child born of unmarried mother (c.877, §2):
1º the name of the mother is to be inserted if there is public proof of her maternity or if she asks this willingly, either in writing or before two witnesses;
2º if paternity has been proved either by some public document or by his own declaration before the parish priest and two witnesses, the name of the father is to be inserted;
3º in other cases, the name of the one baptized is recorded without any indication of the name of the father or the parents.
ii) If it is a question of an adopted child (c.877, §3):
1º the names of the adopting parents are to be recorded;
2º and also the names of the natural parents, at least if this is to be done in the civil records, with due regard for the prescriptions of the conference of Bishops.
As to the questions posed at the start, the following can be said in summary:
1) It is categorically prohibited by c.860, §1 to administer baptism in a private home, unless the local Ordinary has permitted this for a grave cause.
2) It is likewise prohibited by c.860, §2 to administer baptism in the hospital, unless any one of the following reasons exist:
a) a case of necessity—e.g., danger of death of the child—as judged by the competent Chaplain or priest, or indeed by anyone in the case of danger of death of the child.
b) another compelling pastoral reason—as judged by the competent Chaplain or priest, e.g., the family would be going to a place far from the parish Church or any other ordinary minister of Baptism.
c) permission by the local Ordinary—who can give this, at his own discretion, without any limitation by the Code