Questions about Catholic Baptism

Let me preface my questions by saying my wife and I are currently have on our Tiber-swimming boots, have been attending a local Catholic parish, and have plans to begin RCIA in the fall. Many thanks to Saint Monica for her intercession, Scott Hahn for his incredible witness, and all those on this board who seek not to condemn, but to allow the Lord to work through them in spreading the fullness of the gospel.

That said, I have some questions about Catholic baptism, that might have to be taken in the order I ask them, as they build on each other. Thanks in advance, and peace to all through our Lord Jesus Christ.

  1. It is my understanding that Catholic doctrine teaches that the sacrament of baptism is validly performed by anyone who desires to do what the church does when it baptizes.

Therefore, the Church will accept as valid, for example, my baptism performed at the hands of an evangelical Methodist minister, provided it was performed using the Trinitarian formula. Given that understanding of the sacrament, what does it mean to be baptized Catholic?

From this site:

“A person who is baptized in the Catholic Church becomes a Catholic at that moment. One’s initiation is deepened by confirmation and the Eucharist, but one becomes a Catholic at baptism. This is true for children who are baptized Catholic (and receive the other two sacraments later) and for adults who are baptized, confirmed, and receive the Eucharist at the same time.”

Is something imparted via a Catholic baptism that is not imparted via baptism by a protestant clergyman, or a protestant layperson?

  1. If the answer to #1 is "nothing is different about a Catholic baptism, then why is it that a person “baptized Catholic” but not raised in the Church in any way (not confirmed, no confession, never received FHC) is still considered Catholic? From this site:

Another special case concerns those who have been baptized as Catholics but who were not brought up in the faith or who have not received the sacraments of confirmation and the Eucharist. “Although baptized adult Catholics who have never received catechetical instruction or been admitted to the sacraments of confirmation and Eucharist are not catechumens, some elements of the usual catechumenal formation are appropriate to their preparation for the sacraments, in accord with the norms of the ritual, Preparation of Uncatechized Adults for Confirmation and Eucharist” (NSC 25).

How does being “baptized Catholic” give someone that right vs. a person baptized by a protestant clergyman having to go through RCIA, to receive confirmation, and the other sacraments of initiation (normally) at Easter? What was transmitted to the person that made them Catholic here?

  1. If the answer to #1 is “the only thing that is different is that being baptized Catholic, in addition to the normal effects of the sacrament, imparts membership into the One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church,” then that raises two questions: (a) does a protestant baptism impart membership into a church–if so, what church? (b) doesn’t such an understanding of baptism conflict with the statement that anyone can perform a valid baptism? Shouldn’t logic dictate that anytime a protestant clergyman baptizes someone, he is baptized Catholic as long as it is done with the proper Trinitarian language? If the result is different, i.e., church membership vs. non-church membership, then isn’t a protestant baptism a less-complete version of baptism, perhaps a second-rate sacrament?

  2. Would the situation be different if a Catholic layperson baptized someone? The question here is, would a person be considered “baptized Catholic” if they were baptized by, for example, a Catholic aunt, as opposed to a priest? In other words, is such a baptism considered an initiation into the Catholic Church proper, such that he may be considered a Catholic, or akin to baptism by a protestant clergyman, such that a person would have to go through RCIA and receive the sacraments of initiation?

  3. To take #4 even further, it is my understanding that under certain circumstances, a layperson may baptize a baby in secret or in fear for the child’s survival. Let us imagine that the layperson is Catholic. In such a circumstance, does not the Church consider that child to be Catholic, even though the child had no relation to the Church, no Catholic parents or godparents, no catetchesis, and no further sacraments of initiation? Is it not possible that the child grows up with no knowledge of ever having been baptized, and therefore lives life as a “secret” Catholic, even as to himself? Would it be sacrilege somehow if he presented himself to the Church for baptism and it were peformed, not conditionally, but as though he had never been baptized?

I know these questions venture perhaps far into the realm of hypotheticals, but I am just attempting to take Catholic doctrine as I understand it, to its logical ends, in order that I may better explain my conversion to those who will undoubtedly question it.

You have very good questions :thumbsup:. I hope I can help with at least part of them.

Q. 1: OK, first of all, validly administered Baptism imparts spirtual (even if not official) membership into the [Catholic] Church, which is the Body of Christ: “Holy Baptism is the basis of the whole Christian life, the gateway to life in the Spirit (vitae spiritualis ianua), 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 sacament of regeneration through water and in the word.’” (CCC 1213, insert from the Roman Catechism II, 2, 5). This means that a person who is validly baptized, whether he or she knows it or not (or likes it or not) is a Catholic in some way. When understood this way, it becomes easier to see that there is really no question of being “baptized catholic” vs being “baptized something else” because it’s all the same. This of course only works for valid Baptisms that were performed using the Trinatarian formula; the Sacrament works by the virtue of its valid administration (ex opre Operato).

I’m not exactly sure about an answer to your question 2, so I hope someone else will answer that as I go on to questions 4 and 5.

Q. 4: It’s true that anyone can validly baptize in emergancy situations, but the key word there was “emergancy”. “The ordinary ministers of Baptism are the bishop and priest and, in the Latin Church, also the deacon. 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. The Church finds the reason for this possibility in the universal saving will of God and the necessity of Baptism for salvation” (CCC 1256). To give an example: if I was hiking high up in the mountains with my friend and he went down in hypothermia, chances are he will not survive. If he was not Baptized, but he wanted to be, I could take some water and validly baptize him before his death. That Baptism would be just as valid as if it had been done in a Church with an ordinary minister.

Q. 5: I suppose this situation is possible, but needless to say it is not a canonical practice to perform “secret” baptisms. In any case, since he has no knowledge of it, and no reason to think he ever had been baptized, it would not be sacrilege for the person to show up; Scarilege is defined by the Catechism as: Profanation of or irreverence toward persons, places, and things which are sacred, i.e., dedicated to God; sacrilege against the sacraments, especially the Eucharist, is a particularly grave offense against the first commandment (2120). This person is not disrespecting the Sacrament, it would simply have no effect on him the second time and life would go on.

I hope that helps!

Thanks. :thumbsup: Anyone else? Especially as to Nos. 2 and 3?

Hello SonofMonica,

Your questions make me realize how much I still need to learn. In terms of at least a preliminary answer, the only difference between a valid protestant baptism and a catholic baptism is the intention of the minister. The protestant intends to baptize the person into that particular community while the catholic minister intends to baptize the person into the Catholic Church. Yes, there is only one Church of Christ. Nevertheless, there are different degrees of communion with that Church, which “subsists in” the Catholic Church. Once a person is baptized Catholic, that relationship always exists. The Church is a loving Mother who will never abandon her children.

If it happens that a person is baptised Catholic and then does not practice the faith, yes, he can receive Communion without going through the RCIA. Still, such a person would need to be prepared to receive the Eucharist and any other sacraments. Proper preparation and disposition are required for anyone to receive a sacrament. If it is a question of a “protestant clergyman” entering the Catholic Church, perhaps there is less of a need for instruction. But, on the other hand, maybe such a person would need more time and preparation in order to go beyond his former understanding of the faith.

The issue of the intention of the minister also is relevant to your question #3. There are several principle effects of baptism: forgiveness of sins, adoption as a child of God, configured to Christ, and incorporated into the Church. As I said, there are different degrees of incorporation into the Church. So, this last effect of baptism is different for protestants and catholics.

I hope that makes some sense.


SonofMonica, I have never heard what I consider to be a a really good legal and technical answer to your question so take what I say with ta grain of salt. I’m hoping what I write will address all the parts of your question.

I am not giving an official Church explanation so forgive any incorrect terminology.

First off, for the Catholic Church there are two aspects to the form of any sacrament: valid and licit. Valid means that the supernatural essence of the sacrament took place. Licit means that the sacrament was performed in accordance with the proper Church laws regarding how the sacrament is to be performed. For a sacrament, such as baptism, to be valid there must be certain procedures followed no matter who performs the sacrament. Those outside the Catholic Church are not subject to the laws specific to members of the Catholic Church. And the various rites within the Catholic Church have some legal differences in the ways the sacraments are administered.

Part of the legal requirements for a *Catholic *baptism include various liturgical rites to accompany that baptism. I believe that these rites and the subsequent recording of the baptism are what make this “baptism into the Catholic Church” rather than baptism into a specific non-Catholic sect, or simply a valid baptism. That’s why it is so important that emergency baptisms be brought to the attention of the proper Church authorities. Because while such a baptism is valid, it is incomplete from the legal perspective because the accompanying rites have not been performed and the baptism has not been recordedfile:///C:/DOCUME%7E1/Sharon/LOCALS%7E1/Temp/moz-screenshot.jpg.

In response to #2, a person who was baptised by a priest but received no further catechetical instruction still goes through the RCIA process before receiving the other sacraments. In answer to #3, a baptism performed by a non-catholic minister, using the trinitarian formula and proper substance (water), is just as valid as a baptism performed by a Catholic priest.

There are two terms refering to someone entering full communion with the Catholic Church, Candidate and Catechumen. A Candidate is a non-catholic who has been baptised and a Catechumen is a non-catholic who has not been baptized. So when your reference stated that a person baptized in the Catholic Church who had received no other catechetical instruction is not considered a catechumen, it was not saying that only confession is required to receive communion. Such an individual still requires instruction in the believes and customs of the church prior to receiving the sacraments of Reconciliation (confession), Eucharist and Confirmation, the same as an individual validly baptized outside the catholic church.

Whether or not a person baptized by a Catholic priest must attend RCIA is up to the priest in the individual parish, s I understand it. It depends on the level of understanding the individual has in the Catholic faith. The priest could direct some other course of instruction in place of RCIA. I believe that this would be rare though. In our parish even people who were raised Catholic but did not get Confirmed go through our RCIA process to insure proper catechetical instruction.

SonofMonica, Bless you both as you begin this new journey. :slight_smile:

I’m being baptized this Saturday evening. I cannot wait. Sorry I don’t have any answers to your questions. I just wanted to encourage you and welcome you.

I tell you: all those Sunday mornings I walked into the RCIA class at Our Lady of Sorrows on three or four hours’ sleep (or no sleep on a couple of occasions) were well worth it.

Thanks all, the answers you’ve given are helpful to a degree. Here’s where I’m hung up, though. says that:

A person who is baptized in the Catholic Church becomes a Catholic at that moment. One’s initiation is deepened by confirmation and the Eucharist, but one becomes a Catholic at baptism.

So, at least according to the authors of this site, we see that a person who is baptized in the Catholic Church becomes a Catholic at that moment.

It goes on to say that the other sacraments are secondary, because one becomes Catholic at the moment of his “Catholic” baptism.

Now, the Catechism of the Catholic Church says this:

The sacramental bond of the unity of Christians

1271 Baptism constitutes the foundation of communion among all Christians, including those who are not yet in full communion with the Catholic Church: "For men who believe in Christ and have been properly baptized are put in some, though imperfect, communion with the Catholic Church. Justified by faith in Baptism, [they] are incorporated into Christ; they therefore have a right to be called Christians, and with good reason are accepted as brothers by the children of the Catholic Church."81 "Baptism therefore constitutes the sacramental bond of unity existing among all who through it are reborn."82

Thus, we know that baptism at the hands of a protestant minister establishes some form of communion with the Catholic Church, but apparently not complete communion with the Catholic Church. But how can this be, if the protestant baptism is valid and one becomes Catholic at the moment of their baptism without any other sacraments?

In other words, the question boils down to this:

If it is true that (1) an effect of the sacrament is to make one Catholic at that very moment–without receipt of any other sacrament, and that (2) the sacrament is valid no matter who performs it, then how is it that every baptized person is not Catholic?


A person given a protestant baptism is either Catholic, or not Catholic. Since we can be fairly certain that the Church does not consider them Catholic, the question is why? Must not the reason be that something is impressed upon that person’s soul in a Catholic baptism that is not impressed upon the person’s soul in a protestant baptism? If so, how can a protestant baptism baptism be considered every bit as valid as a Catholic one?

Note that it is not a question of whether a protestant baptism is licit. We know this is true, because the Eucharist of schismatics such as the Orthodox or Old Catholics are valid, and by that we mean that the effects of the sacrament are the exact same. It really does convey the Body and Blood of Christ. Surely when we say a protestant baptism is valid, we mean the same thing.

So in the same vein, if we say that the sacrament of baptism performed by a protestant clergyman is valid, are we not saying that the effects are the same? That one is baptized into the Catholic Church? If so, then why is the person not baptized “Catholic at that moment” as says? Why would that person need any further catechesis, instruction, reconciliation, and/or Eucharist to become Catholic?

I don’t understand the question.

Every person who is baptised IS ‘baptised Catholic’ - in the sense of being in informal communion with the Church. So there’s no such thing as a person who is baptised who isn’t baptised Catholic in that sense.

NOT every person who is baptised is in FORMAL communion with the Church, so not everyone is ‘baptised Catholic’ in THAT sense. And why should they be considered to be in formal communion when they’re so clearly not? Some non-Catholics would rather die than acknowledge ANY link to the Catholic church - by what logic should such a person be considered to have formally become Catholic at baptism?

As an analogy - everyone is ‘their parents child’ in the sense that they derived their DNA from biological Mum and Dad. This forms an permanent and unquestionable link to their biological parents. NOT everyone is ‘their parents child’ in that they KNOW their biological parents - some don’t even know the names of their biological mother or father!

So valid baptism outside the Catholic church provides the ‘DNA link’, and baptism INSIDE it provides a little bit more of a family link. Maybe the equivalent of knowing your parents’ name, maybe the equivalent live with them for a while, or maybe the equivalent of going the whole hog, living with them until adulthood, having their surname as your own etc etc.


Well you may not understand the question, but you’ve contributed greatly toward an answer, and for that I extend my sincere appreciation!

If I’m understanding what you’re saying, you are really advancing three propositions:

  1. When we call a man Catholic, it is really a matter of degree rather than kind. This is because there is only one Church, therefore, the degree to which he is Catholic is the degree to which he is in communion with the Church.

  2. To be “baptized Catholic” has no sacramental effect beyond “baptized validly,” hence the reason that protestant baptisms are valid. In other words, nothing is impressed upon his soul or conveyed by a Catholic priest’s baptism that is not conveyed by a protestant clergyman’s baptism.

  3. As a result of the foregoing, there is no part of the sacrament itself that really makes you “Catholic at that moment” as opposed to “not Catholic”; a person that we call “baptized Catholic” is in “perfect” enough communion with the Church that we may call him Catholic in the proper sense. This is not because the sacrament of baptism was different, but because of who performed it and how he relates to the Communion as a whole. The fact that he was baptized in the Catholic Church by a Catholic priest makes him (sufficiently) Catholic, but the baptism itself does not make him Catholic, to the extent that it would imply that the sacrament is different in character in any way.

So we may properly say that the sacrament of baptism is the same, whether administered by a Catholic prelate or protestant clergyman, however, the fact that his baptism was performed by a Catholic prelate also means that he is in greater communion with the Church than someone who was baptized by a protestant clergyman.

Put another way:

At the end of the day, being “baptized Catholic” is somewhat of a misnomer, to the extent that it implies you could be “baptized anything else.” There is one Church, and you are more in communion with it if you were baptized by a Catholic priest or deacon rather than a protestant clergyman. So much more in communion that we can properly call you Catholic.

Have I grasped it?

To put it another way, ‘baptised Catholic’ is something of a shorthand, and perhaps not a perfectly accurate one, to denote someone who was baptised by a Catholic priest or deacon and in accord with the full Catholic rite.

The effect of the sacramental washing itself isn’t different, but surrounding circumstances are - for example the promise by the parents (in the case of infant baptism) to raise the child in the Catholic faith, and the baptismal expression of belief (done on behalf of a child by its godparents) in the ‘One, Holy, Catholic (capital C) and Apostolic Church’.

It’s those irrevocable promises associated with the Catholic rite of baptism that make one, as the expression goes, ‘once a Catholic, always a Catholic’. Thus one who, as an adult, is baptised in the Catholic church and then leaves is ALSO ‘once a Catholic, always a Catholic’.

Thank you so much Lily! Beautiful in its simplicity.

Pax-Mark :thumbsup:

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