web analytics

Who Baptises?

The recent news that the Roman Catholic Church in the Diocese of Essen (Germany) is authorising lay people (17 women and 1 man) to baptise in church services as there is a shortage of priests, unsurprisingly, caused quite a stir.

It led me to compare some of the rulings different churches have about who baptises. It varies.

Roman Catholic Canon Law has:


Can. 861 §1. The ordinary minister of baptism is a bishop, a presbyter, or a deacon, without prejudice to the prescript of can. 530, n. 1.

§2. When an ordinary minister is absent or impeded, a catechist or another person designated for this function by the local ordinary, or in a case of necessity any person with the right intention, confers baptism licitly. Pastors of souls, especially the pastor of a parish, are to be concerned that the Christian faithful are taught the correct way to baptize.

Can. 862 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.

Can. 863 The baptism of adults, at least of those who have completed their fourteenth year, is to be deferred to the diocesan bishop so that he himself administers it if he has judged it Expedient.

Code of Canon Law Book IV Chapter II

In Roman Catholic theology, even an unbaptised person can baptise if done “with the right intention”. In sacramental theology, intention is normally expressed by the words said aloud (rather than, say, the inner disposition or current beliefs of the person administering the sacrament).

In the Anglican Church of Aotearoa, New Zealand and Polynesia, the regulations are:

The Minister of the Services

A bishop presides where there is the laying on of hands for confirmation and renewal, and a bishop or priest presides over a baptism. If the priest is absent it is permissible for a deacon to baptise.

In the case of emergency a lay person may baptise, pouring water on the candidate and saying

[Name] I baptise you in the name of the Father, and of the Son, 
and of the Holy Spirit.

These words may be added

God receives you by baptism into the Church.

When appropriate such emergency baptism is followed by a welcome and acknowledgement by the congregation, at which the priest should make the sign of the cross on the baptised and receive The Affirmations from the candidate or from the parent(s) and godparents.

A New Zealand Prayer Book He Karakia Mihinare o Aotearoa page 381

What is notable, here, is that a deacon may only baptise “if the priest is absent”. [I have been present when this agreement has not been kept]. I wonder why the regulation says “a lay person may baptise” rather than “any person may baptise”. I would have to do further research into the use of the term “lay person” in these documents. It has been stressed, on occasion, that a priest being absent (say because of illness, or weather making the priest’s arrival impossible, etc) is not counted as an “emergency”.

Compare this with The Episcopal Church:

Holy Baptism is especially appropriate at the Easter Vigil, on the Day of Pentecost, on All Saints’ Day or the Sunday after All Saints’ Day, and on the Feast of the Baptism of our Lord (the First Sunday after the Epiphany). It is recommended that, as far as possible, Baptisms be reserved for these occasions or when a bishop is present.

If on any one of the above-named days the ministry of a bishop or priest cannot be obtained, the bishop may specially authorize a deacon to preside. In that case, the deacon omits the prayer over the candidates, page 308, and the formula and action which follow.

Emergency Baptism

In case of emergency, any baptized person may administer Baptism according to the following form.

Using the given name of the one to be baptized (if known), pour water on him or her, saying

I baptize you in the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.

Book of Common Prayer pages 312-313

Notable here is that, as for NZ Anglicans, a deacon only baptises in the absence of a bishop or priest. In the TEC case, the bishop has to further authorise a deacon to be allowed to baptise. The other point to note is that TEC has limited emergency baptism to “any baptized person”. This may be stretched by highlighting that “any baptized person may administer Baptism” does NOT mean unbaptised persons cannot baptise.

The Anglican Church of Canada, in The Book of Alternative Services, revises the words “any baptized person” to “any person present” (page 164).

Mutual recognition of baptism across different denominations (and even within denominations) clearly has some differences at the edges. Add to that: I have seen videos (and been present) when one person performs the baptism while another person proclaims the words.

A couple of concluding points – penultimately: the Roman Catholic Diocese of Essen which has decided to authorise lay persons to baptise in church services has 42 parishes with 410 priests, 79 deacons, and 11 seminarians. Do you think of such numbers as being a shortage of clergy?!

And the final point: the Roman Catholic Church recently declared thousands of its own baptisms invalid. In this case (there have been others), these were administered by a fully-trained, well-formed, seminary-professor priest who used a wrong pronoun in the words proclaimed. This discussion doesn’t simply turn on the mutual recognition of baptism across different denominations, there are people already expressing concern about what lies ahead for what far-less-trained persons will administer.

Similar Posts:

6 thoughts on “Who Baptises?”

      1. According to Wikipedia, this diocese has about a million members. So that’s about 2400 per priest – which does indeed sound like a shortage.

        1. Thanks, Dennis. According to that diocese, there are 2,827 baptisms in a year. That’s about 5 a year for each of the clergy, or about one a month for each of those clergy not retired. A baptism rate of about 3 per 1,000, assuming all of them end up going to church, is nowhere near a sustainable population. If there’s a million Catholics in that diocese, that’s about 24,000 per parish there. Providing, say, 5 Masses on a Sunday, the expectation would be about 5,000 at each Mass. Big buildings! Blessings.

  1. I am curious as to why they use the word ‘Church’ – ”God receives you by baptism into the Church.” I am guessing here they mean Church as in Body of Christ or Communion of Saints and not the Anglican Church – Well I would hope not.

    1. Yes, Keith – baptism makes one a member of the Church universal and local. For it to be understood differently would be to negate ecumenical agreement of mutual recognition of baptism. Blessings.

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Notify me of followup comments via e-mail. You can also subscribe without commenting.