How Can Catholic Parishes Make Baptism Easier to Access?

How Can Catholic Parishes Make Baptism Easier to Access? February 2, 2018

This is Part 3 of a series about the problem of some Catholic parishes/dioceses holding the sacraments hostage. Part 1 and Part 2 also discuss baptism.

In no particular order, here are some thoughts on what we can do as a church (both upper and lowercase C) to potentially fix this issue, as pertains to baptism:

End the custom about no baptism during Lent.

It has no basis in canon law. Interestingly, I was informed by another person in my diocese that her parish does in fact conduct baptism during Lent, so either it’s not a mandate from the bishop and the baptism coordinator at my parish lied to me, or that person’s parish is ignoring the mandate. I ended up e-mailing the diocese last week to get clarification. I haven’t heard back yet, but if/when I do, I will update this post.

This article from EWTN explains why some parishes have that rule:

[G]iven that Lent is traditionally orientated toward the preparation for baptism, many parishes and even a few dioceses have policies that discourage it.

I can understand that; however, Lent is approximately six weeks long. If you have a baby born shortly before or shortly after the beginning of Lent, it seems unnecessary to make the family wait that long just because others in the parish are preparing for baptism on Easter Vigil. Remember, baptism of desire does apply to people above the age of reason, but it does not necessarily apply to infants for whom baptism is desired by their parents (see paragraph 29 in this document for more on that).

The article continues: 

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.

Okay, I can understand this too. However, Sundays are still considered to be “celebratory” even within the context of the Lenten season, so why not schedule baptisms only on Sundays during Lent? Or ask the parents if they’d be willing to postpone any baptism celebration until Easter Sunday (or give THEM the choice to postpone baptism until after Easter if having a party is that important to them).

We typically don’t have any celebratory baptismal parties other than going out to eat with the godparents afterwards, and I would have gladly postponed even that if my baby could have been baptized before Easter. (In fact, I can think of a lot of parents who’d love the excuse to forego the party!)

Stop forbidding siblings and infants at classes.

This is the number one problem for families and baptism classes. One person said that her parish had that policy because the priest wanted the parents to be able to focus on the material.

To which I replied, “We’re moms. We can multitask.”

Plus, do you really expect parents — especially first-time parents — to be able to focus if they’re worried about leaving their tiny newborn with a babysitter for the first time? Yes, it might get loud. Yes, siblings might cause a distraction. But that’s called life, and it’s called parenthood. Roll with it.

Let the teens in your parish help out by keeping an eye on the little ones. Gee, maybe that could be part of the Confirmation service hours so many parishes without restored order require! (More on that in a future post.) Or ask members of one of the ministries of the church to make that one of their service projects. Ask your parish Scouting troop (whether Boy Scouts, Girl Scouts, AHG, or similar) to make it a service project towards earning a merit badge. Ask parishioners to bring coloring books, crayons, Brother Francis movies, Legos, and similar to help keep kids occupied.

Stop requiring the birth certificate prior to baptism.

It is a requirement in canon law that parishes make sure that the parents requesting baptism are actually the child’s parents or custodial guardians — i.e., people who have the authority to request baptism — and not rogue grandparents or kidnappers or non-custodial parents. I get that. However, canon law does not specify that a birth certificate is the only document that can prove this, so there is no reason to delay baptism until it arrives. A hospital birth record or birth record signed by a licensed midwife should be sufficient to prove that for the purposes of baptism (and the birth certificate can be dropped off later).

Records from the adoption agency should work as well in the cases of adoption. One adoptive mother told me that her parish had denied her adopted child baptism until the adoption was finalized, even though she had the child’s birth certificate and the permission of both birth parents. Why?? That’s incredibly unnecessary.

Bring it back to the hospital setting.

Why not have the priest or deacon visit the parents in the hospital after the child is born and do the baptism right then and there? Maybe a nurse or hospital volunteer or family members can stand in as proxies for the godparents if the godparents themselves aren’t able to attend. The godparents can even attend via FaceTime or Skype.

There’s no need for baptism to be an elaborate ceremony and no requirement. Pope Benedict XVI was baptized the same day he was born (DURING LENT [well, the Triduum]). And most hospitals provide white onesies for newborn children, so you already have a white garment — and there’s usually a sink in every hospital room!

Maybe not all parents would want this, but I sure would. Going home from the hospital with that chrism head smell? Yes, please!

Keep it simple.

Several priests commented on the original post and said that their requirements were simple — the parents had to request baptism, and then they had to meet with him to fill out paperwork and chat about their faith. Subsequently, they kept an eye out for those parents at Mass (and would presumably speak to them if they didn’t see them attending). Beautiful! So simple! I know this may not be possible for very large parishes with thousands of registered families, but really that’s the way it should go in smaller ones, in my humble opinion.

Let preparation take place during pregnancy.

The priests above both mentioned that they allow and even encourage parishioners to start arranging the baptism during the pregnancy, and I cannot for the life of me understand why this isn’t ALWAYS the case. Canon law even says that parents should request baptism “as soon as possible after the birth or even before it” (emphasis mine) so why do so many parishes require you to wait until the baby is born before requesting baptism? I can tell you that life doesn’t get less hectic after a baby is born — quite the opposite.

Bring food.

Another commenter suggested having parents call the parish as soon as baby was born, and once the family had returned home, a priest/deacon/catechist would arrive at the home with a freezer meal and the paperwork to schedule baptism. Lovely! That’s a great idea. Our parish has several groups that might be able to share in that ministry — the Women’s Guild, the Catholic Daughters, the Legion of Mary, etc. One group could make the freezer meal while a volunteer from another group delivers it, in company of the catechist/priest/deacon.

Online classes.

I keep beating this drum, but please, if give a class you MUST, offer online classes! I’m able to renew my Safe Environment Training online; why can’t I do baptism classes online, too? I’m told that Formed has a beautiful series on baptism that would be perfect for this purpose. And if it’s too expensive, give parents the option of a free in-person class or paying the cost of taking the online class via Formed. I can tell you what I’d choose (because paying for the class via Formed would likely be less expensive than the cost of hiring a babysitter). And the beauty of online classes for godparents is that they are much easier for parents whose godparents live elsewhere.

So those are some of my ideas. Do you have any ideas on how parishes can make this process easier for parents? Share them in the comments!

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  • Hilah

    Wow all of this is shocking to me. Aside from not something no baptism during lent, my parish does not do this kind of stuff. First time parents are required to attend a class. We were exempt because we had just completed RCIA and they counted that as the class. Parents fill out a form for the child being baptized and then you can have the hold baptized. We had a private baptism with the deacon. His wife was our sons’ godmother. We are converts so this whole idea of parties for baptisms is very foreign and not something we would ever do; to me it seems to distract from the real spiritual meaning. We simply went out to eat with family afterward.

  • How have I not seen this before? This is so, so accurate.

    I’ll admit that I’ve never had QUITE that much trouble getting my kids baptized, mainly because I would just go visit my parents, and my mom would call their church with the priest who still remembers me from when I was a kid, and basically politely demand that they “just go ahead and do the baptism” while I was in town. For #1 I had to make a short appointment with a nun to be properly briefed on my Responsibilities (TM) as a parent, but I got to bring the baby, so it wasn’t bad. For #2, Mom wrangled an exception to the class requirement for me. For #3, I decided to do it “properly” in my home parish, and I had to leave work early and rush home to make the baptism class one random weeknight. It was a pain, but not nearly as much as your situation.

    My bigger complaint, though, is that my oldest daughter almost didn’t get confirmed last year. We were going to a different local church with overall a great program, but the communication was absolute crap. I called the office multiple times during the posted office hours, only for no one to answer the phone and no one to return my calls. And when I would accost someone after Mass for info, or when my daughter would bring home info from class, there were contradictions everywhere. I mean, I’m an audit manager – communicating and figuring things out is LITERALLY what I do all day and I couldn’t make heads or tails of what we were supposed to do. And don’t even get me started on the requirement for a confirmation sponsor. I don’t know any Catholics. None of my friends are Catholic, and people in the Chicago suburbs just Do Not Make Friends. At least, that’s what it seemed to me; consequently I had no local options for a sponsor for my daughter. Fortunately, my family is Catholic so I just called my brother and he came out to be her sponsor, but I got a lot of side-eye at rehearsal when I had to stand in for him (because, you know, he has a job and he lives 300 miles away). But what if I were a convert? And I didn’t even have my family? What would we have done then?

    Anyway, I could rant for ages about all of the hurdles to the Sacraments I’ve seen and basically bludgeoned my way through. On my own.

    I vented to my dad about this last summer, and he said something along the lines of, “As bumbling and incompetent as the institution of the Church is, the fact that it’s still around after all this time is evidence of significant Divine favor.” That made me laugh at least!

  • What your dad said is so true!