Three Men and the Sacraments

This stems out of a story I heard yesterday at church. Three Iranian Muslims were in a cell together. They discovered a Farsi New Testament, blood-stained, carefully hidden by someone who had smuggled it into the cell, someone who had probably left the prison the way many believers had. Curious, because they had never heard of the New Testament, they read and believed.

They then baptized each other, using the water that was available. They confessed their sins to each other. Having no wine, they gave each other Communion.

Now, despite the temptation you may have to turn it into Sola Scriptura Thread #1,232,323,322, please do not. I am curious as to how the Catholic Church would view what they did: could these sacraments be valid? If not, why? Could there be grace there for them?

Also, before you post, please take a minute and pray for the church in Iran.

The Baptisms would be valid, provided they used the Trinitarian form (in the name of the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit).

The communion would not be valid even if one were a priest, because you must have both grape wine and wheat bread to have valid Eucharist. Where wine is not available, I’ve heard of priests squeezing raisins to make wine. Only a drop would be required (only the priest is required to partake).

The confessions would not be Sacramental. But, as they were just Baptized, they would not need Confession. Baptism remits all sins.

The baptisms would be valid. The other sacraments would not be valid.

I’m not sure the baptisms would even be valid. Mustn’t baptism be administered by someone already baptized? If all three were non-Christians before being incarcerated, then none would be baptized, thus there would be no one to baptize them. They would have a “baptism of desire” though. The other sacraments, of course, would be invalid.

Or maybe not. Here’s the relevant canons:

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.

This is incorrect. Anyone may administer baptism, thus the story in Acts where Peter and John went to a group of people who had heard the gospel and been baptized, but not yet received the Holy Spirit.

I corrected myself above

Yup. You can even be validly baptized by a non-believing pagan or atheist, so long as he uses the right words and some water, and he intends to baptize as the Church/Christians baptize. For example, if Bob the Pagan found a dying father and mother and a barely living baby, but observed that the parents were both Christian, he might baptize the baby for them as a kindly act. And as long as he were thinking, “I want to baptize this baby the way the parents want me to, and I know Christians use water like I’m doing, and they say “I baptize you in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit,” and I’m doing that,” that’d be enough to make it valid. There’s a very low bar for Baptism, purposefully.

As for the other things these gentlemen did, although they wouldn’t be valid as the Sacraments of Communion or Confession, they would certainly count as a spiritual communion and as a praiseworthy sharing of penitence and contrition for sins. They may even have achieved perfect contrition.

This is true. Anybody can be a valid minister of Baptism (provided s/he is capable of forming proper intent - no young children, etc). Valid matter (water) was stipulated. The intent is strongly implied. The subject (a non-Baptized person) is stipulated. The form is not (which is why I mentioned it). We are reasonably sure of four of the five conditions for a valid Sacrament (minister, subject, matter, and intent). As long as the fifth requirement (form) is satisfied, it is a valid Christian Baptism, and places the subject in a State of Grace.

They may even have achieved perfect contrition.

Yes, but it wouldn’t matter. They had just received Baptism. Contrition (at this time) is irrelevant to their salvation.

Their efforts at Eucharist and Confession are surely meritorious, but are not salvific. But, it doesn’t matter, because they had just been Baptized.

God chose to use the sacraments to administer grace, but He is not necessarily bound by the sacraments to do so.

The baptism, as others have said, was good. The other acts were done from love and good intention and therefore would certainly be pleasing to God.

Thank you for your responses.

They did not get the sacraments, but they got more than nothing. What exactly did they get? And you may assume they continued their practices of confession and communion for some length of time.

So they’re not facing death?

I did not put that element in the scenario. Some do, eventually. They do what they can to break Christians and return them to Islam, including torture. Some are tortured to death. You can assume these men are taken from their cell from time to time and interrogated and “encourage” to return to Islam, never knowing if they will survive their “encouragement.”

I heard from someone who, himself an Iranian Christian, knows many Iranian Christians who were born Muslim, converted to Christ, saw family members convert to Christianity and then get killed,and then they themselves were given the opportunity to escape to the west and they did, only to feel a call to return to Iran and fearlessly witness until they are caught and killed. And they do and are.

Canon Law of the Catholic Church itself does not apply anyone other than members of the Catholic Church. It does not apply to three non-Catholics in a cell in Iran.


Divine law determines the validity of baptism.

Unless our loving God would tell us, we can’t really know what exactly they will will get for their love and good intentions. But I would assume that it will in some way immediately and later draw them to him. For love always seeks union.

May God and those who love him be blessed.

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