The issue of infant baptism was canvassed in the last two issues of the St. Louis Review, the Archdiocesan newspaper. This may not seem that uncommon, but the way the two issues covered the subject, and the contents of each issue, were remarkable. I intended to post on the first article, which ran June 29, 2007, but the excitement and news rush of the Motu Proprio and the CDF document sidetracked my plans.
But whatever the reasons may be, Father , pastor of , summed up the feelings of many priests: “I think people don’t have that sense of urgency that maybe they would have before.”
Several common reasons why priests said parents are waiting include: families who are spread out geographically and need extra time to bring together everyone for a Baptism; a needed delay because parents need to iron out hurdles with their own faith, such as being in a marriage not recognized by the Church; and an increase in more elaborate parish-based baptismal preparations, which can include classes and meetings with clergy and other parents in the parish. The amount of preparation is determined by each parish. Some parishes also schedule Baptisms only once a month, which can cause added delays.
“Years ago, people had their children baptized immediately, for fear that if they would die, they wouldn’t go to heaven,” [a priest] said. “I don’t think it’s that thinking anymore. If a child is sick or in the hospital, there’s always that urgency. But I think people just weigh all of the factors — when the family can get together, a good time for the church.”
[Another priest] said he’s happy to see parents aren’t living in fear of delaying Baptism anymore. “It strikes me that years ago, parents were sometimes afraid that their baby might die before Baptism,” he said. “So then they felt even more of a pressure to get that child here as soon as possible.”
Today, however, “people have come to believe that while Baptism of their children is important, they’re less frightened that should their child die before they were able to have him or her baptized, that something bad would happen to their child.”
One possible explanation for the change is because older Church concepts such as limbo — a place where unbaptized infants would spend eternity but without communion with God — are becoming less compelling with younger parents.
Limbo has never been defined as Church dogma and is not mentioned in the current Catechism of the Catholic Church, which only states that unbaptized infants are entrusted to God’s mercy.
In April, the Vatican’s International Theological Commission said there are good reasons to hope that babies who die without being baptized go to heaven.
Here is a link to the original story, that ran on June 29, 2007. When I first read this, I thought that it was an absolute waste of newspaper space. But I am prone to hyperbole, so I let the matter sit awhile. After all, the article did contain a brief section quoting the catechism on infant baptism, and maybe I was imagining what I perceived to be the tendency of the article to “reassure” parents that baptism isn’t really that necessary to be given quickly. I did remember thinking that although Bishop Finn may be better positioned where he is now, he was a fine newspaper editor.
But, after the Review came back from its annual summer one-week hiatus, the editorial page ran a clarification. I actually chuckled a bit; I thought I had heard heads cracking at the chancery from my home about six miles away. Look for a dent on His Grace’s ring next time you kiss it. The July 13 editorial:
Delaying infant Baptism not good for child, parents
Again and again in the New Testament Scriptures, Our Lord insists on the importance of Baptism for salvation.
For most of the Christian era Catholic parents have recognized the need to ensure that their children receive this great Sacrament of Initiation. In fact, for centuries devout parents did their best to have children baptized on the very day they were born.
There are a number of factors that might lead parents to delay their children’s Baptism, as noted in the Review June 29. Improved medical care has lessened but not eliminated the danger of infant death. The desire to schedule a Baptism to allow attendance by more family members can be a reasonable cause for briefly postponing the sacrament.
Sadly, though, an increasingly secular society can lead some to regard infant Baptism as less important than was common in the past.
Parental attitude is the central factor governing setting the date for a child’s Baptism. When the faith of parents is deep, they will realize the greatness of this sacrament and the treasure it confers on their offspring. This attitude will be the measure of the faith they will pass on to their children.
In the setting of the date of Baptism and in all they do to foster the growth of faith in their children, we should pray every day that God’s blessing and inspiration will guide all parents. To become an adopted child of God and a brother or sister of Jesus Christ is no small matter. Parents should make it among the highest priority in the care of their children to ensure that they become that adopted child of God.