Infant Baptism in Lent

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ROME, APRIL 5, 2011 (Zenit.org).- Answered by Legionary of Christ Father Edward McNamara, professor of liturgy at the Regina Apostolorum university.

Q: Our family is spread out, living across Canada and the United States. We would all be together in Florida (for the first time in three years) for a holiday and wanted to have our 3-month-old grandson baptized. In speaking with a parish in Orlando we were told that baptisms were not performed during Lent unless in case of pending death. While I appreciate the significance of Lent and the baptismal rite during Easter Vigil (usually adults), it would seem to me that since baptism is a sacrament it could be celebrated at any time other than Good Friday and Holy Saturday. It is important for us to have all our family together for significant sacramental events such as weddings, baptisms, first Communions, etc. Is there a prohibition against having baptisms during Lent or is this a local initiative? — L.M., Edmonton, Alberta

A: The relevant universal norms come from the Code of Canon Law and the rite of infant baptism. The code says:

“Can. 856 Although baptism can be celebrated on any day, it is nevertheless recommended that it be celebrated ordinarily on Sunday or, if possible, at the Easter Vigil.”

“Can. 867 §1. Parents are obliged to take care that infants are baptized in the first few weeks; as soon as possible after the birth or even before it, they are to go to the pastor to request the sacrament for their child and to be prepared properly for it.”

The rite of infant baptism expands on the above principles when dealing with the time and place for baptism:

“8. As for the time of baptism, the first consideration is the welfare of the child, that it may not be deprived of the benefit of the sacrament; then the health of the mother must be considered, so that, if at all possible, she too may be present. Then, as long as they do not interfere with the greater good of the child, there are pastoral considerations, such as allowing sufficient time to prepare the parents and to plan the actual celebration in order to bring out its true character effectively. Accordingly:

“–1. If the child is in danger of death, it is to be baptized without delay, in the manner laid down in no. 21.

“–2. In other cases, as soon as possible — if need be, even before the child is born, the parents should be in touch with the parish priest (pastor) concerning the baptism, so that proper preparation may be made for the celebration.

“–3. An infant should be baptized within the first weeks after birth. The conference of bishops may, for sufficiently serious pastoral reasons, determine a longer interval of time between birth and baptism.

“–4. When the parents are not yet prepared to profess the faith or to undertake the duty of bringing up their children as Christians, it is for the parish priest (pastor), keeping in mind whatever regulations may have been laid down by the conference of bishops, to determine the time for the baptism of infants.

“9. To bring out the paschal character of baptism, it is recommended that the sacrament be celebrated during the Easter Vigil or on Sunday, when the Church commemorates the Lord’s resurrection. On Sunday, baptism may be celebrated even during Mass, so that the entire community may be present and the relationship between baptism and eucharist may be clearly seen; but this should not be done too often. Regulations for the celebration of baptism during the Easter Vigil or at Mass on Sunday will be set out later.”

Therefore, there is no universal rule that would forbid the practice of baptism during Lent. However, given that Lent is traditionally orientated toward the preparation for baptism, many parishes and even a few dioceses have policies that discourage it.

Another reason why several places discourage baptisms during Lent is that in some cultures they also give rise to festive social celebrations that might be inappropriate during a penitential season.

Since these regulations forbidding baptism during Lent are never absolute, pastors always retain the possibility of setting them aside for a good reason and so decide to perform a baptism.

Apart from the case of imminent danger of death an infant can and should be baptized if there is any reasonable health risk in the first weeks. Even the strong desire of practicing Catholic parents to offer baptism to their child at the earliest possible date after birth should be considered as sufficient to waive a rule of no baptism during Lent.

In the case presented by our reader, the baptism has already been delayed several months, so urgency cannot be called upon. At the same time, a pastor could weigh the special circumstances that a family reunion around the reception of the sacrament by its youngest member can also be a moment of grace for all.

Perhaps, if our reader could meet personally with the pastor so as to explain the situation, the priest might be able to make a better assessment and judge if the circumstances warranted an exception to the general parish policy. If a personal meeting is not feasible, it might help to write a courteous letter to the pastor, detailing the motivation behind the request for an exception to the parish policy.

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Readers may send questions to liturgy@zenit.org. Please put the word “Liturgy” in the subject field. The text should include your initials, your city and your state, province or country. Father McNamara can only answer a small selection of the great number of questions that arrive.

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