You sometimes hear about people being asked to delay receiving the sacraments because they are not performed at certain times of year--like Advent or Lent or Holy Week or Good Friday or other days.
There are a few restrictions on the times when sacraments can be celebrated, but not as many as people think.
Recently I was asked whether it's possible for babies to be baptized during Advent, which is almost upon us.
Here's the story . . .
No Baptisms Till January???
A Facebook friend writes:
My son and his wife were told that their baby (born at the beginning of October) can't be baptized until January because there are no baptisms during Advent. Is there a Church rule that babies shouldn't be baptized during Advent?
There certainly is not a rule that babies can't be baptized during Advent.
In fact, the Code of Canon Law expressly states:
Can. 856 Although baptism can be celebrated on any day, it is nevertheless recommended that it be celebrated ordinarily on Sunday or, if possible, at the Easter Vigil.
This establishes the possibility of celebrating baptism on any day of the year, though within that universal scope there are certain preferred days: Sundays and, if possible, Easter Vigil.
Though Easter Vigil is the most preferred, that usually applies more to adults than to babies, for the following reason . . .
When Should Babies Be Baptized?
The Code gives more specific instructions regarding when infants should be baptized:
Can. 867 §1. Parents are obliged to take care that infants are baptized in the first few weeks; as soon as possible after the birth or even before it, they are to go to the pastor to request the sacrament for their child and to be prepared properly for it.
Since most babies' first few weeks don't include Easter Vigil, it normally isn't possible for them to be baptized on this day and stay within the first few weeks timeframe. The latter, which is specifically written to address the time of infant baptisms, takes priority.
It thus is mandated that a baby will be baptized within the first few weeks after birth, preferably on a Sunday, though it can be done on any day.
How Long Is "the First Few Weeks"?
There is no clear answer to this question. The fact that the Code doesn't specify a number of weeks indicates that the Holy See does not want people to be scrupulous about this.
However, it is speaking of a "few weeks," and some time periods clearly would violate that.
Half a year, for example, would not be a "few weeks." It would be twenty-six weeks, or six months.
If we're talking four to eight weeks (or perhaps even twelve at the outside), that probably would satisfy the requirement of the law.
Given that the baby, in this case, was born at the beginning of October, not having it baptized until January would really be pushing it (especially if the baptism wouldn't be done until late January).
Thus it would be reasonable to inquire further with the parish about whether an exception could be made (good luck with that; your chances of success depend entirely on the parish).
No Advent Baptisms?
I'm at a bit of a loss as to why the parish would say that there are no baptisms done in Advent. As we've seen, there is no such rule on the level of the Church's universal law.
I've also checked the U.S. bishops' complementary norms, and there is no requirement in them, either.
The policy thus may be a diocesan one or a parish one.
It may simply be a matter of a parish deciding not to schedule any baptisms in Advent.
Which raises a question . . .
Why Would They Do That?
I can think of two possible reasons off the top of my head, one theological and one practical.
The theological reason would be that they think that there is something about the Advent season and what it is meant to signify that makes it somehow "inappropriate" to celebrate baptism within it.
This is the same kind of impulse that leads some parishes to (wrongly) take the holy water out of fonts during Lent to help symbolize spiritual dryness.
There is no requirement from the Church that they do that. It's just an idea they've gotten into their heads.
It's possible that the local parish has a similar idea about baptism and Advent.
If so, the idea is misguided, for the reasons we've seen above.
But there may be another reason . . .
How Practical Is This?
The second reason I can think of that they might not schedule baptisms in Advent is practical: Advent is often hectic.
They may have found from experience that it's difficult to arrange baptisms during Advent.
Often times, families bring in members from all across the country, and travel in the pre-Christmas season can be hard.
Lots of people are going to Christmas parties, putting up Christmas trees, doing Christmas shopping.
You might think that these shouldn't interfere with a simple baptism, but the matter is a bit more complicated than that, because the Code also says this:
Can. 851 The celebration of baptism must be prepared properly; consequently:
2/ the parents of an infant to be baptized and those who are to undertake the function of sponsor are to be instructed properly on the meaning of this sacrament and the obligations attached to it. The pastor personally or through others is to take care that the parents are properly instructed through both pastoral advice and common prayer, bringing several families together and, where possible, visiting them.
The parish may have determined that it's too hard to get all the parents, godparents, and parish staffers together to do pre-baptismal instruction at this time of year, and so they don't schedule baptisms for Advent.
Is that a good reason?
Ihh . . . I'm not wild about it.
I understand that Advent can be hectic, but that seems to me more like a reason not to have baptismal seminars in Advent and thus no baptisms in January.
Still, the practicality issue may shed light here.
Fortunately, there's a failsafe . . .
The Code provides:
§2. An infant in danger of death is to be baptized without delay.
One thus can be somewhat reassured about a parish not scheduling baptisms during Advent. If the child begins to experience alarming health problems in this period, that takes priority.
Further, in such a situation, you don't need the parish. Anybody can do it. The Code provides:
§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.
So if the child becomes alarmingly ill and matters can't be coordinated with the parish, the parents (or anyone else who is there) can perform the baptism.
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