Dear Friends in Christ,
During Eastertide the Church directs our attention to the central place of Holy Baptism in Christian faith and life, and each year on Easter Sunday of the Resurrection of the Lord, all the baptized are asked to renew the promises of their Baptism. So this is the perfect time for us to consider a crucial question in the Church’s life: who is eligible to be baptized?
Before answering that question, we must take notice of the fact that for many centuries, the vast majority of people who have been baptized were brought to the font as infants, but this statistical fact should not distract us from the theological truth that the meaning of the Baptism of children is fully revealed only in light of the Baptism of adults who come to saving faith in the Lord Jesus and then ask to be baptized. All seven of the sacred mysteries of the New Covenant are sacraments of faith, and the request of an adult to be baptized presupposes the gift of faith received as a prevenient grace leading to the second birth by water and the Holy Spirit through which one enters the Church as by a door. And no one would ask for Baptism who was not prepared to live the Christian faith by, at a bare minimum, coming to Mass each Sunday to be nourished by the Word of God and the Most Holy Eucharist. In fact, in a certain sense we can say that we are baptized precisely so that we may attend Mass and receive the Body and Blood of the Savior, so those who do not intend to make Sunday Mass the center of their lives have no reason to ask for Baptism. But now we return to the statistical norm of infant Baptism and are immediately confronted with the strange custom of people who were baptized as children, have grown up to have their own children, and now ask to have their children baptized despite the fact that they seldom, if ever, come to Mass. And the same holds true for adults who are not coming to Mass but still ask for permission to serve as godparents or sponsors for the Baptism of a child.
So, who can be baptized? Those adults are eligible for Baptism who are prepared to make their own profession of faith and accept the most serious duty to practice the Catholic faith in every way, including attending Mass each Sunday and holy day of obligation. And those children are eligible for Baptism whose parents meet the same criteria as adults asking for Baptism. If the parents of a child are not practicing the faith by – at a bare minimum – attending Sunday Mass, then there is no founded hope that the child will be instructed in the Gospel and taught to follow the Lord Jesus in the Way of the Cross, and in that case, the Church cannot consent to baptize the child in question. This is not intended in any way as a punishment for the child or still less for the anguished grandparents who are practicing the faith and want their now grown children to do the same for the sake of the grandchildren, but it is an acknowledgment that the sacraments are not magic. For Holy Baptism to be a true sacrament of faith, there must be in those who request it – whether for themselves or for their children – a genuine intention to follow the Lord Jesus in every way, beginning and ending with the Sunday celebration of the Most Holy Eucharist.