Baptism by immersion: must the head be immersed for validity?


The other day I went to Mass and saw a baptism…not something that I ordinarily do. Actually, there were two infants baptized at a large font. One of the children was my nephew’s son.

The priest immersed both children, but NOT their heads. He immersed just their bodies, basically by dipping them into the water all the way up to their necks, but not their heads.

Were these baptisms valid? Does the head also need to be immersed during immersion baptisms?


It was valid. In the case of immersion of an infant, the head is not immersed. Never was. Normally, the immersion is none horizontally rather than vertically, something like giving the child a bath. What usually happens is that priest splashes some of the baptismal water on the child’s head, but in any case, the back of the head does indeed get wet. .


Water must at least touch the head.

If the priest just dipped the baby, for example, butt first and only the butt/torso got wet this is NOT a valid baptism. You can find info on “butt baptisms” at places like Fr Z’s blog. Fr. Z received confirmation from the CDF that the head MUST touch water.

If the priest dipped the baby such as the back of the head was in water, it is valid. It isn’t necessary to dunk the baby’s face under the water.

It is best if water is poured over the baby’s head so there is no doubt.

You witnessed it so you will have to say if the baby’s head actually was put in the water or not. If not, I suggest you urge the parents to contact the diocese about this matter. Invalid baptism means no other sacraments would be valid. Or simply take the baby in the bathroom and peform a conditional baptism to ensure it is properly baptized. But really, if the priest is doing this improperly it should be brought to his attention or the diocese’s attention to ensure it is corrected.


Not to doubt you, my friend, but how do you know this? Is there an official church instruction book on baptisms that explain this?


My babies were fully immersed; head, face and all.


Right, the head MUST touch water.

You cannot say absolutely this was a valid baptism because you don’t know that the head touched the water.

The face need not be submerged, but the head must receive water on it during the baptism. So called “butt baptisms” are invalid.


I’ve seen it done, both in the Oriental Churches and in the Usus Antiquior.

I’ve never heard of a “butt baptism” before … :eek: Anyway, I think in a case like this one has to make the assumption that the priest did splash the head in one way or another. The infant’s head would have had to have been supported, so it could have simply been by the priest moving his wet hand over the back of the child’s head or around the forehead or chin area.


The heads of the two babies that I witnessed baptized(?) the other day were not wet at all.


Then you’d best take the matter up with the priest.


Then it was an invalid baptism.

Do a conditional baptism as soon as possible! And, yes, bring it to the attention of those authority.


My nephew and I spoke about taking it up with the priest. My nephew said that the priest’s attitude is one of carelessness, and he’d probably be dismissive. What my nephew needs is an official church document on this matter.


Suggest to your nephew that he conditionally baptize his child in the bathtub ASAP.

“If you are not already baptized, I baptize you in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit” while pouring water three times over the baby’s head.


It may come have to come to this.

Still, I know that if my nephew had an official church document on this, he’d discuss it with the pastor so that at least there will be fewer doubts about future baptisms. My nephew’s immediate concern is with his son’s baptism, but he’s also concerned about others getting baptized by that priest.


A situation like this was on Catholic Answers Live last night. A priest dipped a child into the water on an angle and the baby’s head was never wet.

Tim Staples said he wasn’t sure, but that it was most likely valid (not proper) but still most likely valid. I believe he also said check with the Priest or Pastor.


I heard this on CA radio also but they did find the Canon that stated the water must touch skin and flow. (Nothing about touching the head with water at all.) They all agreed that it was a valid baptism. Also one should not conditionally baptize unless there is an emergency. and that there is no time to get a proper baptism. This would not apply because there is time to figure this out.

I fall on the side that it is Valid:thumbsup:


Thanks for the info, but still, this is the opinion of the radio people.

Am I to believe that there’s no official church document on something this important?



This is incorrect; a conditional baptism need not be done only in an emergency. In fact priests do it often for RCIA candidates for whom they can’t find documentation on prior baptism.


While looking for a definitive answer (and documentation) from the Church, I came across this, which leads me to believe that a baptism in which water is not poured on the head is of doubtful validity. If the water is poured on the head (even if the rest of the baby has not emerged from the womb) and the baby survives, there is to be no conditional baptism. If water is poured on another part of the body (because the head has not yet emerged) and the child lives, the child is to be conditionally baptized.

This is from the Rituale Romanum, regarding emergency baptisms performed on babies still during the birth process:


Actually it was not just from the radio guys put from information the radio guys loked up in the catechism.

they said (paraphrsing here) that in a valid baptism the water much touch the skin and flow. It said noting about touching the head.

It’s not like they grab this info from thin air… These “guys” can look this stuff up pretty quickly and are quite konwledgeable about this “Catholic stuff”:thumbsup:

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