The Sacrament of Baptism

Holy Baptism is the basis of the whole Christian life, the gateway to life in the Spirit, and the door which gives access to the other sacraments.  Through Baptism we are freed from sin and reborn as sons of God; we become members of Christ, are incorporated into the Church and made sharers in her mission:  Baptism is the Catechism of the Catholic Church 1213

What are the requirements for first-time parents?

  • At least one parent must be practicing Catholic, who is committed to raising the child in the Catholic faith.  A parent that is not Catholic has to express a willingness to help and create a home where a child will receive an environment to grow in faith as taught by the Catholic Church.
  • Attendance at one hour Baptismal Class is required before the child is baptized unless this is your second child and you attended a class previously.  This class may be taken before the baby is born.  Contact Sue Durbala, DRE, at the church office to sign up for the class 712.336.1742 or  The class is offered 3 to 4 times throughout the year.
  • The family asking for their child to be baptized here at St. Mary’s needs to be registered with our parish.

What are the requirements for all other parents?

  • That they have attended a Baptismal class in the past.
  • Call the church office and make an appointment with Father Hughes to visit with him about their child’s baptism.

What are the requirements for godparents (sponsors)?

Godparents are members of the Christian community who, by their lives and their faith, set a good example of the child they are sponsoring.  Godparents also support the parents in the upbringing of the child as a Catholic Christian.  They should be able to stay in communication with the child as he or she is growing up.

  • A godparent promises to support and assist the parents in raising the child in the Catholic faith and be a mentor to the child in the Catholic faith.
  • Usually a child has two godparents, but only one is necessary.
  • Godparents must be at least 16 years of age, be a practicing Catholics in good standing, and have celebrated the Sacraments of Baptism, Eurharist, and Confirmation.
  • A Non-Catholic person to be a sponsor/witness as long as there is a godparent that is Catholic and in good standing with the Catholic Church.

What are the requirements for godparents (sponsors)?

Godparents or sponsors for baptism should be chosen carefully. Their function is specified in Catholic law and choosing someone ought to be more than offering a compliment or reward to a friend or relative.

Church norms distinguish between sponsoring an adult and sponsoring an infant. The sponsor for an adult is to assist the person through his or her instructions (usually RCIA), to present the person for his or her reception into the Church, and then to assist him or her in Christian living.
The sponsor for an infant is to present the child for baptism along with the parents, and to assist the child to live a life befitting the baptismal dignity. This often is a supportive role, but could be a more direct role should the parents become incapacitated in their role as Christian parents. The sponsor is not required to adopt the child, but to see to his or her Christian upbringing (cf. CIC, can. 872).

To function as a sponsor for baptism, a person must be at least 16 years old; have received baptism, confirmation, and the Eucharist; and be a practicing Catholic—one who participates in the Eucharist weekly, is not under any canonical penalty, and is living according to the norms of the Church (cf. CIC, can. 874). A non-Catholic may serve as a witness, but in that case, there must be at least one Catholic sponsor. Finally, the sponsors must be one man or one woman, or one of each (cf. CIC, can. 873).

The role of a godparent is a serious matter—not a social position, but a deeply religious one. Godparents play an important though supportive role in the life of a child, one which complements that of the parents. Often, children look to or need other adults in their lives, and godparents can be logical alternatives to the biological parent.

When and where is the Baptism celebrated?

The Baptism may be celebrated during a Mass or following a Mass.  Once the Baptismal Class has been taken, the parents will contact Father Hughes at the church and set up an appointment to schedule a time.

Can children born outside of marriage be baptized in the Catholic Church?

Yes, if there is good reason to believe that he or she will be brought up in the practice of the faith. To refuse Baptism just because the child was born outside of marriage would be to punish the child for something he or she had no control over. But it would also be unjust to baptize a child with no hope of that child being raised in the Catholic faith. Baptism looks to the future and presumes a life of education and training as well as the future reception of sacraments. To set the child up for this new life and then renege on the promise would be truly unfair.

The real question is whether there is any hope that the child will be raised Catholic. The question of legitimacy really doesn’t enter into the discussion.

Can anybody perform the Sacrament of Baptism?

Ordinarily, it is a deacon, priest, or bishop who administers the Sacrament of Baptism. But Church law states: “In case of necessity, anyone, even a non-baptized person, with the required intention, can baptize, by using the Trinitarian baptismal formula. The intention required is to will to do what the Church does when she baptizes” (CIC 1256).

The required Trinitarian baptismal formula is simply to say, while pouring the water or immersing the person three times, “I baptize you in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.”
“In case of necessity” is usually interpreted as some urgent situation when a deacon, priest, or bishop is not available and a person is likely to die with being baptized. This most frequently applies to neonatal hospital workers and emergency personnel.

If the person recovers, the Church adds the other rituals in a more celebratory setting at a later date to celebrate and welcome the new member of the faith community in a more festive manner. The person, however, does not need to be baptized again.

Is there a connection between the name of the person being baptized and a saint?

Canon law states that “parents, sponsors, and the pastor are to take care that a name is not given which is foreign to Christian sentiment” (CIC, can. 855). Since this norm is stated in the negative, it can be interpreted in the narrowest sense possible. Thus, only a name which is “foreign to Christian sentiment” is to be avoided.

That doesn’t specifically say what name can be used, and this might well be because of cultural differences. It is quite common, for example in Hispanic cultures, to name a boy, Jesús. In an English-speaking culture, to give a boy such a name might seem odd or sacrilegious. It would be considered “foreign to Christian sentiment.”

The practice of selecting a saint’s name for a child was originally meant to offer the child the protective prayers and example of a patron saint. Today it seems, there is less devotion to patrons, at least when it comes to naming a child.

Perhaps a compromise between these two traditions might be to at least choose a recognizable saint’s name as a middle name if not a first name.

Is immersion more valid than sprinkling water over the head of the child?

There are three equally valid methods of baptizing: pouring water over the forehead, sprinkling water over the head, or total immersion. All methods have the same effect because the essence of baptism is not the form of the water rite, but the action of God who lovingly adopts the baptized person, offering him or her the possibility of eternal life.

There may be practical reasons for choosing one form over the others, but all are equally valid.

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