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Sunday, September 27, 2009

Emergent Infant Baptism

Emergency Infant Baptism

I recently baptized an infant before he died, and the experience made me pull up some of the teachings of the Catholic Church on infant baptism to review in the event anyone questioned me on this incident.

First of all, I asked for the permission of the infant's father beforehand. I was blessed with the opportunity to speak with him shortly before it was obvious that the child would not survive.

The Catechism of the Catholic Church can be accessed online at this website. It has a search engine attached to it, so one can browse the whole document and dive into the text at will.

The Catechism of the Catholic Church(from here on referred to as CCC) discusses baptism in paragraphs 1213 to 1284. The word baptize comes from the Greek word baptizein, which means to "plunge" or "immerse"; the "plunge" into the water symbolizes the catechumen's burial into Christ's death, from which he rises up by resurrection with him, as "a new creature." (CCC 1214)

The CCC gives several examples of the prefigurement of the sacrament of Baptism found in the Old Testament. Noah and the Ark show life starting over after washing away sin, and the Israelites crossing the Red Sea prefigure the liberation from the slavery of sin through baptism. Later, the baptism is prefigured when the Israelites cross over the Jordan to enter the promised land; entering the promised land is symbolic of entry into Heaven. (CCC 1217-1222; they write it far better than I do)

I recall reading somewhere that St. John the Baptist, when he was baptizing in the River Jordan, was baptizing on the 'far' side of the river, so that those who were baptized had to cross back over the Jordan, just as the Israelites did in the Old Testament. This brings up the most important reason for baptism: Jesus Himself insisted on it before starting his ministry.

Baptism of infants is brought up in paragraphs 1250 to 1252, and the main sentences which motivated me are highlighted below. I saw a chance to bring this infant to become a child of God, and I did not think anyone would be able to get to the child before he died.

1250 Born with a fallen human nature and tainted by original sin, children also have need of the new birth in Baptism to be freed from the power of darkness and brought into the realm of the freedom of the children of God, to which all men are called. The sheer gratuitousness of the grace of salvation is particularly manifest in infant Baptism. The Church and the parents would deny a child the priceless grace of becoming a child of God were they not to confer Baptism shortly after birth.

1251 Christian parents will recognize that this practice also accords with their role as nurturers of the life that God has entrusted to them.

1252 The practice of infant Baptism is an immemorial tradition of the Church. There is explicit testimony to this practice from the second century on, and it is quite possible that, from the beginning of the apostolic preaching, when whole "households" received baptism, infants may also have been baptized.

How to Baptize:

There are two things needed for the sacrament: one is water to pour over the head(preferably) of the patient; the other is to say the words of baptism while pouring the water three times over the head of the patient. The words of baptism are:
"N., I baptize you in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit."

When I realized that things were going downhill fast, I turned to one of the nurse anesthetists (CRNA) who was working with me, and asked her to get me some water from the scrub sink. She pointed to a small bowl of water on top of the anesthesia cart. "I got you covered, Doc," she said.

As a footnote, by some miracle, we were able to get this child back to his mother and father, and they were able to hold their son as he died. It was heartwrenching and difficult to talk to the young couple, but I did manage to tell them that their son had been baptized. The experience brought back a flood of memories of losing Theodore, and the desolation which accompanied that loss. The pained expression I saw on the face of this young couple reminded me of the way Carolyn looked after Theodore died.

This post is also published on the following blogs:

Catholic Physicians Blog

1 comment:

David Marciniak said...

Excellent column. I too have had this experience recently (http://dmarciniak.blogspot.com/2009/07/very-small-thing.html) and understand the gravity of the moment. God bless you for recognizing the need. Many in our field do not.

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