Baptism of the Dead

I was recently encouraged as a hospital chaplain that in the case where a baby has died and the parents ask me to baptize the corpse, I should do so in order to comfort the parents. I refused, but I'm interested to know what people in this forum think about the subject, and whether anyone knows if this dilemma comes up in any church documents.

When we lost our baby I inquired as to the church's teaching on posthumous baptism. Was told that no, that is not allowed, but those children are left to the mercy of God. While I would have loved to have had her baptised, I also understand that while baptism is the ordinary way, God is not limited by the sacraments. I believe that He would not turn my little one away, because she, through no fault of her own, died without the benefit of the sacrament.

[quote="Fr_Anglo, post:1, topic:177516"]
I was recently encouraged as a hospital chaplain that in the case where a baby has died and the parents ask me to baptize the corpse, I should do so in order to comfort the parents. I refused, but I'm interested to know what people in this forum think about the subject, and whether anyone knows if this dilemma comes up in any church documents.

[/quote]

Our sympathy and prayer, of course, for Kristie_M and those who have lost their little ones. We know that they are never lost to God who is Lord of Life.

Father Angelo, although you identify yourself as Protestant, I would advise you that the dilemma is encountered frequently enough that it is addressed explicitly in our Catholic ritual text, Pastoral Care of the Sick, n. 224. Naturally, you would follow the discipline of your ecclesial community.

The clear tradition of the Catholic Church holds, of course, that the sacraments can only be conferred on the living. Catholic chaplains are customarily trained to understand this, anticipate it, and to assist families when it happens.

Just a couple of tidbits for your information from the Catholic code of canon law for the Latin Church.

Canon 1005 presents that the anointing of the sick may be conferred if there is a doubt of fact about the death of the recipient. As such, it may be applied to baptism by vitue of canon 19. The doubt would need to be a positive doubt, rather than a subjectively induced one.

The former code in c. 747 indicated that aborted fetuses were to be baptized if they were certainly alive (si certo vivant) but the present code simply reads si vivant in c. 871. By removing the adjective, the legislator removes the restriction about certainty and permits baptism in a case of doubt of fact.

Again, we might legitimately apply this to those other than aborted fetuses by virtue of "canonical analogy" based in canon 19. Since a case of doubt exists, it would be conferred sub contitione in the opinon of many.

Thank you both of you for your responses, and my sympathies to you as well Kristie and thank you for being willing to share your firsthand experience.

Cameron, I also believe that sacraments are for living human beings, but I'm interested ecumenically and personally to know why that is the official position of the Catholic Church. Are there any texts in Catholic doctrinal texts that address the 'why' of the issue? The technical arguments surrounding doubt about whether the person is living makes sense to me, but I'd like to get to the heart of how the tradition responds to the question of why we as Christians only baptize the living.

[quote="Fr_Anglo, post:4, topic:177516"]
Thank you both of you for your responses, and my sympathies to you as well Kristie and thank you for being willing to share your firsthand experience.

Cameron, I also believe that sacraments are for living human beings, but I'm interested ecumenically and personally to know why that is the official position of the Catholic Church. Are there any texts in Catholic doctrinal texts that address the 'why' of the issue? The technical arguments surrounding doubt about whether the person is living makes sense to me, but I'd like to get to the heart of how the tradition responds to the question of why we as Christians only baptize the living.

[/quote]

The primary reason we don't baptize the dead is that it is of no value. At the instant we die, we appear before God for particular judgement. The sections below from the Catechism are a good place to start. I have included the link so you can read more if you want.

*I. THE PARTICULAR JUDGMENT *
**1021 **Death puts an end to human life as the time open to either accepting or rejecting the divine grace manifested in Christ.590 The New Testament speaks of judgment primarily in its aspect of the final encounter with Christ in his second coming, but also repeatedly affirms that each will be rewarded immediately after death in accordance with his works and faith. The parable of the poor man Lazarus and the words of Christ on the cross to the good thief, as well as other New Testament texts speak of a final destiny of the soul--a destiny which can be different for some and for others.591
**1022 **Each man receives his eternal retribution in his immortal soul at the very moment of his death, in a particular judgment that refers his life to Christ: either entrance into the blessedness of heaven-through a purification592 or immediately,593--or immediate and everlasting damnation.594 At the evening of life, we shall be judged on our love.595vatican.va/archive/catechism/p123a12.htm#I
Also, no where in scripture, the writing of the Fathers or in Church Tradition can I find any instance of baptising the dead, seeming to bolster the belief that baptism is only for the living. Hope that helps.

[quote="Fr_Anglo, post:1, topic:177516"]
I was recently encouraged as a hospital chaplain that in the case where a baby has died and the parents ask me to baptize the corpse, I should do so in order to comfort the parents. I refused, but I'm interested to know what people in this forum think about the subject, and whether anyone knows if this dilemma comes up in any church documents.

[/quote]

Personally it would depend on when the child seemed to have died. If i was there up to 20 minutes after the child was declared clinically dead, I would conditionally Baptize. If the parents insisted, I have read that the Church does not define exactly when the soul leaves the body.

[quote="TheDoctor, post:5, topic:177516"]
Also, no where in scripture, the writing of the Fathers or in Church Tradition can I find any instance of baptising the dead, seeming to bolster the belief that baptism is only for the living. Hope that helps.

[/quote]

Kudos for the well targeted follow up. In fact the patristic documents and early councils condemn the practice. It seems to have been practiced by the Gnostics. The Pauline reference may have alluded to the practice using it for argumentative purposes but not with any approval.

[quote="Fr_Anglo, post:1, topic:177516"]
I was recently encouraged as a hospital chaplain that in the case where a baby has died and the parents ask me to baptize the corpse, I should do so in order to comfort the parents. I refused, but I'm interested to know what people in this forum think about the subject, and whether anyone knows if this dilemma comes up in any church documents.

[/quote]

It is acceptable to give the corpse the sacrament of the Annointing of the Sick, as the child's soul probably entered Heaven due to the Faith of his or her parents. But it is not a common practice in the Church (in fact, it isn't a practice at all) to baptize a dead corpse.

I believe your decision is the right one. Whatever one does - prayers or the sacrament - is still a comfort to the parents. the person who encouraged you to do otherwise is ignorant on what baptism is all about.

[quote="peary, post:8, topic:177516"]
It is acceptable to give the corpse the sacrament of the Annointing of the Sick, as the child's soul probably entered Heaven due to the Faith of his or her parents. But it is not a common practice in the Church (in fact, it isn't a practice at all) to baptize a dead corpse.

I believe your decision is the right one. Whatever one does - prayers or the sacrament - is still a comfort to the parents. the person who encouraged you to do otherwise is ignorant on what baptism is all about.

[/quote]

"as the child's soul probably entered Heaven due to the Faith of his or her parents." This is a gross misunderstanding.

If the child's soul entered Heaven it was due to the mercy of God.

[quote="peary, post:8, topic:177516"]
It is acceptable to give the corpse the sacrament of the Annointing of the Sick, as the child's soul probably entered Heaven due to the Faith of his or her parents.

[/quote]

It is not acceptable whatsoever in the Catholic Church.

Only in the case of a doubt of fact about whether the recipient is dead or alive may that be done and only on the baptized.

I will now cite the sources that will assist in a correct understanding of that issue by those who read this thread.

The norm from Pastoral Care of the Sick reiterates canon 1005:

This sacrament is to be administered when there is a doubt whether the sick person has attained the use of reason, whether the person is dangerously ill, or whether the person is dead.

The norm reads:

"15. When a priest has been called to attend those who are already dead, he should not administer the sacrament of anointing. Instead, he should pray for them, asking that God forgive their sins and graciously receive them into the kingdom. But if the priest is doubtful whether the sick person is dead, he is to confer the sacrament . . . "

Further, sacraments other than baptism can only be conferred on the baptized. Canon 842 §1 provides that a person who has not received baptism cannot be validly admitted to the other sacraments.

[quote="Br.Rich_SFO, post:9, topic:177516"]
"as the child's soul probably entered Heaven due to the Faith of his or her parents." This is a gross misunderstanding.

If the child's soul entered Heaven it was due to the mercy of God.

[/quote]

Of course, it would be due to the mercy of God, but you have to remember that ANYTIME Jesus healed a child in the Bible, it was because of the Faith of the parents in Him, not to the child himself/herself. That is why one of the reasons for the validity of infant baptism in the Catholic Church.

[quote="peary, post:11, topic:177516"]
Of course, it would be due to the mercy of God, but you have to remember that ANYTIME Jesus healed a child in the Bible, it was because of the Faith of the parents in Him, not to the child himself/herself. That is why one of the reasons for the validity of infant baptism in the Catholic Church.

[/quote]

The validity of infant Baptism is not dependent in any way on the faith of the parents.

[quote="peary, post:11, topic:177516"]
Of course, it would be due to the mercy of God, but you have to remember that ANYTIME Jesus healed a child in the Bible, it was because of the Faith of the parents in Him, not to the child himself/herself. That is why one of the reasons for the validity of infant baptism in the Catholic Church.

[/quote]

We have to be careful here. The faith (or lack of it) of the parents does not make the baptism valid.

I think I see where you're coming from though. When someone says that a child cannot be baptised because the child is not old enough to have faith, the Church responds by saying that the faith of the parents (or those who take their place) and/or the sponsors, and even the faith of the Church "supplies" what is lacking (what cannot be there) in the child--acting on the child's behalf just as parents make decisions for the good of their minor children. But that's not the same thing as saying that the faith of the parents makes the baptism valid. In fact, in danger of death an infant can be baptised even if the parents object to it (see canon 868.2)

We also have to be careful about assigning motivation to Christ when He healed someone in the Gospels. Remember that he healed the ear of one of the guards who came to arrest Him--presumably, that guard had no faith in Him.

[quote="Br.Rich_SFO, post:12, topic:177516"]
The validity of infant Baptism is not dependent in any way on the faith of the parents.

[/quote]

Then it is irrelevant for them to be at their child's baptism, and it is also irrelevant to have godparents.

Thank you, FrDavid, for clarifying my point. That is exactly what I wanted to say. :thumbsup:

Not irrelevant but certainly not necessary to the validity. It’s true that the Church won’t baptize a healthy child if the parents don’t want the child baptized, but if the child is dying we are to baptize even if the parents don’t want it to happen.

[quote="Phemie, post:16, topic:177516"]
Not irrelevant but certainly not necessary to the validity. It's true that the Church won't baptize a healthy child if the parents don't want the child baptized, but if the child is dying we are to baptize even if the parents don't want it to happen.

[/quote]

Hmmm, I don't think that happens anymore. I could be wrong :shrug:

It is a moral requirement actually, that we baptize anyone unbaptized and dying as long as that person does not reject the idea, or is before the age of reason, regardless of the faith of the parents or guardians.

This is because of baptism's necessity in regards to salvation.

You'll find old prayer books with instructions on the matter rather commonly.

So Shin, when you speak of “baptism’s necessity in regards to salvation” are you saying that you (and the Catholic church) would disagree with Kristie’s statement at the beginning of this thread that “God is not limited by the sacraments” in terms of His salvific work in the world - ie Are you saying that the Catholic teaching is that unbaptised babies are outside of God’s salvation?

I saw a throne in the sky, and on it sat the Lord Jesus Christ as Judge. Before his feet sat the Virgin Mary; and around the throne, there was an army of angels and an infinite multitude of saints. A religious, very learned in theology, stood on a high rung of a ladder which was fixed in the earth and whose summit touched the sky. His gestures were very impatient and restless, as if he were full of guile and malice. He questioned the Judge, saying. . .

[The Sixth Interrogation]

First question. Again there appeared on the rung the same man as before, and he said: "O Judge, I ask you why one infant comes forth alive from its mother's womb and obtains baptism while another, after receiving a soul, dies within its mother's viscera?"

Second question. "Item. Why, for the just, do many things have an untoward outcome while, for the unjust, all things are as they wish?"

Third question. "Item. Why do plagues and famines come - and the inconveniences that afflict the body?"

Fourth question. "Item. Why does death come so unexpectedly that it can very rarely be foreseen?"

Fifth question. "Item. Why do you suffer men to go to war with deliberate wrath and envy and in a spirit of vengeance?"

Response to the first question. The Judge replied: "Friend, you question not out of charity but only because I permit it. And that is why I answer you in a way that resembles words. You ask why one infant dies within its mother's viscera and another comes forth alive. The reason is this. All the strength of a child's body is taken from the seed of its father and mother; but if it is conceived without due strength because of some infirmity of the father or the mother, it quickly dies.

As a result of the parents' neglect or lack of care - and also as a result of my divine justice - many things happen so that what was joined together quickly separates. Nevertheless, although the soul had no longer time to vivify the body, it will not therefore meet with a harsh punishment but rather with a mercy known to me. When the sun streams into a house, its rays alone are seen. Only those who gaze at the sky see the sun as it is in its beauty. So it is with the souls of such children. Because they lack baptism, they do not see my face. Nevertheless, they do draw nearer to mercy than to punishment - although not in the same way as my elect."

The Revelations of St. Bridget

This of course is testifying to the necessity of baptism, and that men conceived in original sin and unable to enter Heaven without it. Nevertheless. . an afterlife of natural happiness, like that the Patriarchs lived, is a great mercy.

Theologically all deprivation of the beatific vision is often spoken of as 'Hell', but truly it is not in the sense we normally picture it, anymore than the Patriarchs were tormented. It is a punishment, in that there is a lack of the beatific vision, but there are no other pains -- and so a 'punishment' that is only the one we are conceived in from the start due to our parentage.

Therefore the Ecumenical Council of Florence states it in theological language:

"Also, the souls of those who have incurred no stain of sin whatsoever after baptism, as well as souls who after incurring the stain of sin have been cleansed whether in their bodies or outside their bodies, as was stated above, are straightaway received into heaven and clearly behold the triune God as he is, yet one person more perfectly than another according to the difference of their merits. But the souls of those who depart this life in actual mortal sin, or in original sin alone, go down straightaway to hell to be punished, but with unequal pains."

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