“We Baptize You”

In the last few days we’ve read about a priest who used the “wrong formula” in performing baptims using an invalid formula.

The Catholic Church, and most Christian churches, insist that baptism requires the formula “I baptize you in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.” It appears this priest used “We” instead of “I.”

Does this matter? Well, it does. Clearly the priest’s intent was not to perform invalid baptisms and I have some sympathy for him. In the last 50 years the Catholic Church has attempted to become more inclusive and more welcoming. Part of that has included inviting the congregation to participate in worship. Until 1977 only priests and deacons were allowed to offer Eucharist (ie, give Communion to another person). For many people it was unsettling to receive Eucharist from someone other than a priest. Also, 50 years ago the idea of inviting a family member to speak at a funeral mass was unheard of but today it’s common.

And I’m guessing that this priest wanted to include the entire congregation in the child’s baptism. But when the priest says “I” he isn’t speaking for himself but for Jesus. There’s a Latin term “In Persona Christi” which means “in the person of Christ.”

So here’s the problem: we Catholics believe that all sacraments require some action on our part and it’s often what we say. The sacrament of Reconciliation (Confession) begins with the penitent saying: “Bless me father for I have sinned.” When we receive Communion the Eucharistic Minister says: “The Body of Christ” and we respond: “Amen.” There’s more but you get the point.

Here’s the other problem: If a person’s baptism is invalid so are all the other sacraments, including marriage. What do we do going forward? I suspect this story will slowly fade away at least in the news media. But if you knew this priest baptized you and you’re fearful with your standing before God, what do you do?

If the Pope calls me for advice (and I’m not waiting by the phone) I’d tell him to issue a proclamation declaring that all these baptisms are valid. If the Pope calls you, tell him I’m available.

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