Q: I’m a permanent deacon and I was asked by a mother of a child I baptized some time ago, how come her baptism certificate was signed by our previous pastor and not by me, as I was the one to baptize her child. I checked around and it looks like that is a common practice in many churches in our diocese. Is there any regulation about it who signs the original baptism certificate? — D.M., Toronto
A: This question is covered above all in Canon 877.1 and 878 of the Code of Canon Law:
“Canon 877 §1. The pastor of the place where the baptism is celebrated must carefully and without any delay record in the baptismal register the names of the baptized, with mention made of the minister, parents, sponsors, witnesses, if any, the place and date of the conferral of the baptism, and the date and place of birth ….
“Canon 878. If the baptism was not administered by the pastor or in his presence, the minister of baptism, whoever it is, must inform the pastor of the parish in which it was administered of the conferral of the baptism, so that he records the baptism according to the norm of can. 877 §1.”
Therefore in accordance with these canons it is incumbent upon the parish priest to make the record of the baptism. He should take note of who is the minister if he himself has not administered the sacrament. It is also his responsibility to maintain the record and add any later facts, such as eventual marriage, religious profession or ordination.
The curate or associate pastor usually has habitual faculties to also make the record and sign the register. Another minister does not necessarily sign the register, although in some places there is a space in the register for him to sign also.
The reasoning behind this is the Church’s desire that, in general, the proper pastor is the one to baptize. Others who baptize do so in virtue of a delegation from the bishop or the pastor.
Thus, for example, Canon 862 places this restriction on who performs a baptism:
“Except in a case of necessity, no one is permitted to confer baptism in the territory of another without the required permission, not even upon his own subjects.”
Thus, not even a bishop may ordinarily baptize outside his own diocese except in cases of necessity or with permission. This canon may also be seen as an application of Canon 857.2 which gives preference to one’s local parish as the place of baptism:
“Canon 857 §1. Apart from a case of necessity, the proper place of baptism is a church or oratory.
“§2. As a rule an adult is to be baptized in his or her parish church and an infant in the parish church of the parents unless a just cause suggests otherwise.”
While all this might seem to be dry and technical, it is grounded on the fact that one is baptized into the universal Church as a member of a concrete Christian community. The local parish church is normally the place where the faith should be nurtured and where one grows to Christian maturity.
It is true that the mobility of many societies means that the connection between a person and his parish is often transitory. Yet, the parish is always called to be the manifestation of the Church as God’s family in each place on earth. Hence it is the natural center for most of the fundamental activities of the spiritual life: birth in baptism, growth through confirmation, nourishing through the Word, the Eucharist and often through service to others, definitive commitment for those called to marriage or consecration to God, healing for those stricken in soul or body, and departure with the comfort of the community’s prayer for those who leave and those who remain.
* * *
Readers may send questions to [email protected]. 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.