What to Expect at a Catholic Baptism

So, you’ve been invited to a Catholic baptism? Here’s what is to expect:

Baptism with WaterWhat is Baptism?

Baptism is one of the seven sacraments in the Roman Catholic Church.

Catholics believe that this first sacrament of initiation into the Catholic Church is a way to welcome a person into God’s family and to wash away original sin, as well as any other sins the person may have committed (in the case of the baptism of older individuals). This sacrament takes place with several symbols present. The most obvious is the water. The water represents new life, death, cleansing from sin, and growth. It recalls the flood waters Noah faced, as well as the saving waters of the Red Sea that Moses parted. Next, a candle will be present. The candle symbolizes the light of Christ, and our status as an “Easter people.” It may be seen as a “passing of the torch” onto the newly baptized. There is also a white garment present for the person to be baptized to wear. This garment signifies that the person is now washed clean from original sin.

This page is written to provide a basic understanding of Catholic Baptism. If you want to dig deeply into the Catholic Church's teachings related to Baptism, read the Catechism explanation of Baptism on the website of the United State Catholic Conference of Bishops

Who takes part at a Catholic Baptism?

When attending a Catholic baby’s baptism, those present along with the child will be the parents of the child, the godparents of the child, the priest or deacon, and anyone who is in attendance from the church community, along with family and friends of the child to be baptized. 

  • The Priest or Deacon performs the Baptism and directs the proceedings.
  • The role of the parents is to promise to teach the child the Catholic faith, and to bring the child up in the ways of Christian values. 
  • The godparents make a promise to support, help, reinforce, guide, and assist the parents in bringing the child up in the Faith. 

Only one godparent is necessary, though it is customary to have a male and a female godparent present. At least one of the godparents must be Catholic, and must have received the sacraments of baptism, Eucharist, and confirmation. The mother or father of the baby cannot be the godparent, as the godparent’s role is to aid the parents. Also, a godparent must be at least sixteen years old.

What about a Baptism of an Older Child or Adult?

When attending the baptism of a child, teen, or adult, those present for the baptism may vary slightly from that of the baptism of a baby. The difference is related to whether the parents of the person being baptized’s will be in attendance. Godparents are still necessary, regardless of the person’s age. If the person is older, he or she may choose who the godparents are to be. And of course, the priest or deacon will still be present for the baptism to take place. In addition, family and friends of the person to be baptized are invited to attend.

What will happen at the Baptism?

While the celebration of Baptism within the Mass is encouraged, in most churches, Baptisms are done outside of the celebration of the Catholic Mass. This is often scheduled after a particular service, so if you arrive an find people leaving don't be alarmed and think you missed it.

The Rite of Baptism follows this structure (some elements may not be included in all circumstances):

Anointing with Chrism at Baby's Baptism

  • The celebrant (Priest or Deacon) will greet and briefly address those assembled.
  • The parents are asks the parents what name they give the child. Then the parents are asked what they ask of the Church, to which the parent respond "Baptism".
  • The celebrant then addresses the parents on their responsibilities to raise the child in the faith and asks if they understand what they are undertaking, to which the parents respond "I do".
  • The celebrant turns to the godparents and addresses them in a similar way asking if they are ready to help the parents of the child in their duty as Christian parents to which the Godparents responds, "I do".
  • The celebrant welcomes the child and traces the sign of the cross on the child's forehead and invites the parents and godparents to do the same.
  • A reading from scripture follows and the celebrant may give a brief homily.
  • Intercessions (prayers of petition) are offered for the child, parents and godparents. The typical response to each is "Lord, hear our prayer".
  • The celebrant offers a prayer of exorcism and anoints the child with the oil of catechumens.
  • If not already gathers at the Baptismal font, all proceed to it. 
  • The celebrant blesses the water of the font.
  • The celebrant speaks to the parents and godparents and leads them in a renunciation of sin and profession of faith. The response to each question of the celebrant is "I do".
  • The celebrant asks once again if the parents and godparents wish to have the child baptized in the faith which was just professed. The response is "It is".
  • The celebrant baptizes the child saying "I baptize you in the name of the Father", He immerses the child or pours water upon it. "and of the Son", He immerses the child or pours water upon it a second time. "and of the Holy Spirit". He immerses the child or pours water upon it a third time.
  • The celebrant offers a prayer then anoints the child on the crown of the head with the sacred chrism (the chrism of salvation) as a sign of the child becoming a member of the mystical body of Christ.
  • The celebrant offers a prayer then a white garment is put on the child. This garment may be as simple as a single biblike cloth or a full robe or gown.
  • The celebrant take the Easter candle and invites someone from the family such as the father or godfather to light the child's candles from the Easter Candle. The celebrant then instructs the parents and godparents to keep this light of faith alive in the heart of the child just baptized.
  • An optional blessing of the ears and moth may follow signifying the desire that this child will hear and in time proclaim the faith.
  • The Lords Prayer and a final blessing conclude the cremony.

Do I Bring a Gift to a Catholic Baptism?

It is customary to give gifts to the person who is being baptized that will aid him or her in the pursuit of holiness. Witha baby that can be tricky. Approprate gifts for a baby are often keepsakes that will have meaning as the child grows older. Depending on your relationship with the family, and whether you have given a gift at a earlier baby shower for the same child, you may not necesarity need to bring a gift. A card is good if a gift is not being give. Godparents are a unique participant in a baptism and typically both give and receive a gift from the family. Traditional Baptism gifts are crosses, crucifixes, bibles, figurines or statues, books, medals, or frames.

Baptism CrossMore About Appropriate Gifts for Baptism

There a number of traditional gifts for baptism. The cross/crucifix is a symbol of the death of Jesus Christ, by which we are saved. Wearing a cross/crucifix or hanging one on the wall is a great way for the baptized to remember the new life that has been received in Christ through baptism.

Bibles or religious books are great educational tools for the baptized to use. Baby bibles and books are available for newly baptized babies. These have simplified stories and bright pictures for the baby to use to learn basic Bible stories or faith concepts. For older children or adults, other bibles or books may be more appropriate. Teen bibles have additional articles and highlights that serve to educate and engage the teen about matters of faith. Some adult bibles may have additional articles and highlights, just as the teen bibles do. These bibles are usually called “study bibles” and are a great gift idea for someone who is interested in engaging Scripture to better understand the new faith they have found.

Other religious books may teach lessons about faith and values, or may tell the stories of the saints. Saints are individuals who have lived before us and led holy lives dedicated to God. Catholics honor saints as people who have made it to heaven and now are able to intercede to God for us in our needs. Learning about the saints is a great way for a newly baptized person to connect with other Catholics who have gone through similar joys, sufferings, and life events.

Common figurines or statues that may be present at a baptism are those of Jesus, Mary, a saint, an angel, etc. These statues may serve as reminders of the holy. Statues of Jesus, Mary, or a saint may provide someone for the baptized to look to for guidance, support, or aid in leading a Christian life. A statue of an angel may serve as a reminder that the baptized person has a guardian angel who is with them, guiding them and helping them through their life.

Medals that may be given for a baptism will vary depending on the age of the person baptized. If the person is a baby, a crib medal may be given. Crib medals are images that can be hung in the baby’s crib to serve as a reminder to the parents (and as the child ages, can become an educational tool) of their faith. Crib medals are usually a cross or an image of a mother and child, and may have an inscription of a prayer present on them.

If the person is older, a Catholic medal or piece of religious jewelry may be given. Among the most popular types of Catholic medals are patron saint medals. The purpose of wearing a saint medal is to remind the person who wears it that they are being guided and protected by God, and that the saint that they are wearing is interceding for them before the throne of God. A patron saint is a particular saint selected to be an intercessor for a particular person, cause, or country. A person may choose a patron saint because of the saint’s life story, or because of the patronage which has been assigned to him or her. Selecting a saint medal of a saint who has the same name as the person who has been baptized is common. Otherwise, selecting a patron saint for an activity, occupation, or sport that the person engages in may be a good choice.

In addition, a picture frame to commemorate the event may be a great gift idea. The newly baptized person could place a picture of them with those present at the baptism in the frame to remind themselves of the family of faith into which they have been welcomed.