Emergency Baptism
by Paul Turner

Parents of a newborn sometimes discover that their child, tragically, may not live long enough to be brought to church for baptism. In the sadness of this moment, the church longs to comfort parents by keeping baptism as close as a cup of water. We offer several options for baptism, depending on the circumstances. If a priest or a deacon is available, he may lead the entire rite of baptism in the hospital or home of the child. If the minister is a priest, he should confirm the child. If some other minister comes, she or he may lead an abbreviated rite of baptism. Ideally, parents, godparents, friends and neighbors should attend.
If there is no time for that, anyone may baptize the child. Even you. Get one or two witnesses if you can. Obtain water; it need not be blessed. Recite the creed (or omit this if there is no time). Then pour water three times while saying, "I baptize you in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit." Every Catholic should memorize that formula.
If the child should recover, we rejoice with the family. We invite the parents to bring the baptized child to church. There, in a rite resembling baptism, the church receives the child, the parents and godparents profess their acceptance of responsibilities, and we listen to Scriptures and offer prayers. Then we anoint the child with chrism, give him or her a white garment, and light a candle from the Easter candle. We do not pour water again. You can be baptized only once.
Some parents, nervous about the spiritual welfare of the child, have baptized their baby at home if they fear a long delay between birth and baptism. Ideally, the baptism should take place only at the church with the full ritual, as soon as reasonably possible after birth. A parent who has baptized the child at home should inform the parish so the child will not be baptized again. The parish should keep a record of the child who received an emergency baptism.

Copyright © 1997, Resource Publications, Inc. 160 E. Virginia St. #290, San Jose, CA 95112, (408) 286-8505. This article may not be reproduced in any form without permission from the publisher.  For permission e-mail
Paul Turner, pastor of St. Munchin Parish in Cameron, MO, holds a doctorate in sacramental theology from Sant' Anselmo University in Rome.