Non-emergency lay baptism of an adult


It is licit for an infant to be baptised by anyone when there is danger of death.

But how about of an adult who is not in danger? Would the baptism be valid? (Presumably it wouldn’t be licit since the person didn’t go through the proper RCIA.)

If it depends on whether or not the adult can’t make the baptismal promises, how about a case where the adult is comatose or senile and cannot normally consent? Would it be valid and licit? Would the layperson conferring on the Sacrament be committing a wrong?


If you baptized a healthy adult who was consenting, it would be valid but illicit and yes you would be doing wrong. You would have to go to the parish priest and admit what you’ve done and have it recorded.

You could baptize licitly and validly, an adult in danger of dying if that person had expressed a desire to be baptized.

I believe you can’t validly baptize an adult who can’t consent and has not expressed a desire to be baptized.


For the record. I didn’t do that. I’m just curious about the fringes of the law. It’s interesting to give stress tests to our regulations with hypothetical scenarios that don’t have clear cut canonical answers and see how consistent the fringes are from the main practise.


All that’s required for a valid baptism are the words “I baptize you in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit” and the pouring of water over the head.

Consent is not required, it’s still a valid baptism.

As you noted, it’s obviously illicit to do so unless it’s an emergency. It should be done with proper instruction and by a priest.


This is not a “fringe case” and there is a clear cut canonical answer. Baptism of adults (any person who has reached the age of reason - usually defined to be about 7 years old) is covered in canons 850-878

In this case, canon 865:

Can. 865 §1. For an adult to be baptized, the person must have manifested the intention to receive baptism, have been instructed sufficiently about the truths of the faith and Christian obligations, and have been tested in the Christian life through the catechumenate. The adult is also to be urged to have sorrow for personal sins.

§2. An adult in danger of death can be baptized if, having some knowledge of the principal truths of the faith, the person has manifested in any way at all the intention to receive baptism and promises to observe the commandments of the Christian religion.


An adult can not be validly baptized unless they have indicated consent in some way.

“Can. 865 §1. For an adult to be baptized, the person must have manifested the intention to receive baptism…”


Doesn’t violation of Canon Law mean it’s illicit? Not invalid?


Depends on the situation. Canon law covers both validity and liceity. This specific instance was covered by the Secretary for the Liturgy in my diocese ( tribunal judge, canon lawyer, studied in Rome, etc.). If an adult person has not ever indicated a desire to be baptized or has declared their opposition to it they can not be validly baptized until and unless they indicate a desire to be baptized. Presumably because they would not make the required baptismal promises.


Interesting, I’d never heard of the baptismal promises being a requirement for validity.

I suppose it’s just nit picky in the end. If one could receive a valid baptism without consent, they would still be denied the grace, as they would not be cooperating with it. Although, I guess they would receive the seal.


Here is some interesting reading on what baptisms from other communities (non-catholic) are valid or invalid and why:

One thing that invalidates baptism is a lack of belief in the Trinity, and that is one of the things asked in the rite of baptism.

Another possibility is the lack of intention on the part of the minister. Presumably in the hypothetical raised here the minister would intend to baptize the person as the Church understands it so that would not be a problem in this instance.


Right, right. I was aware of the Triune belief. That’s why Mormon baptisms are invalid even though they say the words correctly.

Intention of the minister is actually double fold as they must intend to baptize, and baptize as the Church understands baptism to be. I suppose a double reason why Mormons baptism is not valid as their minister’s do not even have proper intent.

On the surface, it would make sense that consent should be a requirement, but I have yet to see anything that states definitively that consent is a requirement for a valid baptism. That’s why I fall back to my explanation that consent is required for the cooperation with grace, so therefore the baptism’s effects would be withheld if one did not consent. Like I said, pretty nit picky as the result is more or less the same.


Not really. With Baptism come obligations. Baptizing an adult who doesn’t want to be baptized is assault. If it were valid that would mean that he’s now bound to the laws of marriage and the precepts of the Church. That makes absolutely no sense.


I think (I am not a canon lawyer) if you were to take an actual case to a tribunal where the question was “is the non-emergency adult baptism of John Smith by a lay person valid” and presented the following evidence:

John Smith was not previously baptized
John Smith was unconscious/blacked out from drinking/high on drugs
water was poured over John Smith’s head or he was fully immersed
the minister used proper trinitarian formula
the minister intended to baptize John Smith as the Church understands
John Smith never expressed to anyone a desire to be baptized
Immediately following the pouring of water, a freak accident caused John Smith to die without regaining consciousness

the tribunal would find the baptism invalid.

Same evidence except John Smith expressed to someone present his desire to be baptized “some time” - valid

Same evidence except John Smith is conscious and not under the influence, actively participates but stated he did not want to be baptized - invalid

Same evidence except John Smith is known to declare “I don’t believe in all that religious mumbo jumbo,” but actively participates - invalid

It is important to remember this concerns adults, not infants or those without the use of reason - expect for adults who made their wishes known while they had use of reason they subsequently lost.


Interesting aside - in a marriage case, a quickie wedding in Vegas without dispensations or exchange of vows while under the influence are clearly invalid in the Church but are valid civilly. I bring this up because marriage changes a person’s status and responsibilities in both the Church and civil society.


Hmm now that’s an interesting point. I was under the impression baptism doesn’t necessarily put you under the precepts of the church. What about non-Catholic Christian church’s baptisms that we recognize as valid? I didn’t think they were obligated to follow church rules as well…


To me, that would make perfect sense. I just haven’t found documentation to support it. I’d imagine that a tribunal would have to try to find something to fall back on. The best I’ve got so far is the “grace” argument I’ve already posted. But of course, I’m not a canon lawyer either.


I’ll admit I was thinking of a Catholic Baptism. We seem to be the only ones who would hasten to baptize someone in danger of dying and if we do it then they are Catholic.

You’re right, validly baptized non-Catholics are not bound by the Catholic Church’s laws.


The Canons for the Eastern Churches might help -

Canon 682

  1. For a person who is no longer an infant to be baptized, it

is required that he or she manifest a desire to receive baptism

and be sufficiently instructed in the truths of the faith and be

tested in the Christian life; the adult is to be exhorted to have

sorrow for personal sins. 2. A person who is no longer an infant and who is in danger of death can be baptized, if he or she

has an understanding of the principal truths of the faith and in

any way manifests the intention of receiving baptism.

In other areas it specifically says for liceity xxxxx, and here there is no mention of liceity just it is required…


The plot thickens… :smiley:


Yes, consent is required for the valid baptism of an adult. An adult who does not consent, or opposes baptism is not validly baptised, even if the proper words and form are used.

I cannot locate it, but I do know that there was a decision made by the Holy See (Congregation for Divine Worship or Doctrine of the Faith, I don’t recall) in recent times (not 17th century or some such) that decided that an adult who was baptised against his will was not validly baptised. I’m searching, but I just cannot find it online. Maybe someone else can provide a link???

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