What is the difference between sprinkling and pouring?



I’m in RCIA, and I’m trying to figure out what are valid methods of baptism. I’m really worried my baptism isn’t real or something.:frowning:

When I asked whether sprinkling was valid, the RCIA team only told me that sprinkling wasn’t preferred.

So is sprinkling valid or not?

Also, I don’t know if I’m being dense or what. I can’t seem to figure out the difference between sprinkling (aspersion) and pouring (affusion). :confused: Can someone tell me the difference?

For example, is it pouring if the pastor uses his hands like a vessel and a fairly good amount of water runs down my hair? Or is that sprinkling because he used his hands?

I always thought sprinkling was a very sparse use of water, where the pastor just dips his fingers in water and sort of ‘flicks’ it at you… I’m not sure how else to explain what I mean by this…:frowning:

I can’t find a good definition of pouring v. sprinkling.

I’m not trying to argue whether one is better than another; just looking for facts on the actual details of the different forms of baptism.

PS Oh, also, does the water pouring/sprinkling/immersing have to be done 3 times? Or is just one time OK??



Sprinkling - a small quantity falling in scattered drops or particles(merriam-webster.com/dictionary/sprinkling)

Pour - to cause (something) to flow in a steady stream from or into a container or place (merriam-webster.com/dictionary/pour)

There is considerable difference between the two. The permitted methods, according to Canon:854:- Baptism is to be conferred either by immersion or by pouring, in accordance with the provisions of the Episcopal Conference.

That means that sprinkling is not allowed.


OK, but can the pouring come out of hands or does it have to be a bowl, pitcher, or other ‘container’ to be considered pouring?

I guess I’m not making any sense.

My spouse insists I was sprinkled, but it seems like there was more water than “sprinkles.”



Ezekiel 36:24-27
I will take you away from among the nations, gather you from all the lands, and bring you back to your own soil.
I will **sprinkle **clean water over you to make you clean; from all your impurities and from all your idols I will cleanse you.
I will give you a new heart, and a new spirit I will put within you. I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh.
I will put my spirit within you so that you walk in my statutes, observe my ordinances, and keep them.

Suppose there is no water to baptize in an emergency? Your spit would suffice - remember it is not the action of man that baptizes – it is the action of the Holy Spirit and water is the visible, physical, tangible means that God communicates this to us and infuses His Spirit into the water for the purpose of receiving that indelible mark on our souls that we belong to Him forever. Also just to point out in the area that Jesus’s first Apostles roamed, there wasn’t always a lot of water to pour or immerse a person - it was the desert, so sprinkling is ok so long as it is done in the name of the Trinity.





Do you have a source that spit is valid matter for baptism? I remember reading somewhere that the water must be pure, it must not be diluted so as not to be recognizable as water. Spit would not suffice.






That might be an interesting subject for another thread (the matter, what kind of water, etc.), but I am interested in sprinkling and the difference between sprinkling and pouring?

So far it seems clear that immersion and pouring are valid (per the Canon law reference), but what is unclear to me is whether a baptism by sprinkling is valid and whether my baptism was actually sprinkling or pouring…

I have two Catholics that say opposite things so far.

Now I’m speculating that a baptism by sprinkling is illicit but valid.:confused:

But I have no idea! :confused:


The priest “pouring” water on your head either with his hands or with a little container is the normal way of baptizing in the Catholic Church.
Sprinkling of Holy water would be done with an “aspergillum” and it is not a valid formula for Baptism.

Your hair would be thoroughly wet with the first and if they were I would not worry, you were properly Baptized.
If they were “sprinkled” instead they would not be as wet, we get sprinkled during advent when the priest walks in procession and blesses all the congregation.

Here is a picture of one.


I forgot to mention it was a Methodist baptism which my husband ( a life-long Methodist) calls sprinkling, but yes, my hair was noticeably wet.

Anyway, – thank you! :smiley:


I do believe that baptisms by the Methodist church are valid. So stop worrying. :slight_smile:


It doesn’t matter whether it was hands or something else that were used. What matters is whether the water was sprinkled or poured.

In terms of validity, what is really important is that enough water is used that it flows over the person’s head. A few minuscule drops that landed on a baby’s head and stuck there immobile would not be flowing, and so the validity of the baptism would be questionable. But if I’m not mistaken virtually always when sprinkling is used in baptism enough water is used for it to flow down the baby’s head, in which case there is no need to worry.

The Catholic Church doesn’t allow it so as not to take chances with what the water does once it touches the head. Also, it may be an obscure fact that has not influenced any church’s practice, but sprinkling infants with water does closely resemble a pagan Germanic ritual that used to be practiced in much the same areas where baptism by sprinkling later arose among Protestants, like England and Scandinavia, and I think Germany. I can’t imagine how a real historical link between the practices could exist considering the centuries of Catholicism in between, but considering the interpretation one sometimes encounters of Protestantism as a partial return to Germanic paganism it is not a very nice coincidence.


Your speculation is correct. Sprinkling baptism is valid, but not licit. Submersion or pouring is preferred.


The water must move over the person being baptized.

So what ever water is used, it must be of sufficient quantity to flow over the skin.

A beading sprinkle would place the Baptism in doubt


I appreciate everyone’s input so far.

I still feel really confused, so I guess I will bring it up again when the priest comes to visit our next meeting or something.

My husband says there’s way more water in a jug, and the pastor just pouring water on me with his hands isn’t enough water to be considered “pouring” compared to when he does it with a jug.

I still maintain it didn’t seem like a “sprinkle.” I’m feeling disappointed that there’s doubt at all about it, but oh well. Maybe I’m just over-analyzing it.

I will gladly do what it takes to be in communion with the Catholic Church. I just wish I knew what that was right now.

This stuff is hard.



Spit would not suffice, saliva is not water. I do not remember which pope discussed the fact that a liquid that is mostly water (e.g. Beer) is not valid because it is not water.

UPDATE The pope was Gregory IX


I have seen priests pour water over the heads of infants with their hands, and that is definitely not sprinkling., and their baptisms were valid. You can gather enough water in a cupped hand to pour it. Did you ever drink water from your cupped hand? That is more than a sprinkle.


Agreed! That’s what I think too. It was definitely a good amount of water that was flowing. It was not as much as a jug, but it wasn’t a non-moving bead of water for sure.

My husband tried to further define what he meant – that the protocol (as far as he knew) in the Methodist church was hands/smaller amount of water for sprinkling, a pitcher/jug for pouring, and immersion is obvious of course. He agreed that our pastor uses more water than other pastors he knew for what he calls “sprinkling.” He literally cups his hand like a small bowl and dumps it on your head. :slight_smile:

So, that’s why I’m over here splitting hairs on whether that’s really sprinkling or not! I was not offered a choice and didn’t know any better; if I had known, I would have gone for the jug at least or dunking in the river or something to avoid any doubts. :smiley:

I really think I’m just freaking out over nothing. I guess I was just taken aback when the RCIA leader guy hesitated when I specifically asked, “Is sprinkling valid?” I just didn’t expect that to be an issue at all.

Thanks for the encouragement! :smiley:


Indeed using the hands as cup is definitively NOT sprinkling. Water is free flowing from the hands over the Baptizant head.
They do NOT use a jug to Baptize infants in the Catholic church I normally attend to, they use a small silver plate to pick up the water from the Baptismal fount and pour over the head. Normally they are little infants though :smiley:

I would not worry about yours it sounds proper :thumbsup:


All Catholic baptisms I’ve seen have used a shell which holds about as much water as cupped hands would. I have never seen or heard of a “jug” being used.


All Catholic baptisms I’ve seen have used a shell which holds about as much water as cupped hands would. I have never seen or heard of a jug being used. A small silver plate sounds nice, and probably more “traditional” than a shell.

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