Necessity of Baptism

The question is whether baptism is necessary for salvation. It came up in the context of a convert to Roman Catholicism worrying about her elderly, unbaptised father, who did not want to be baptized in any way, shape or form by any priest or minister (and, I assume, by anyone else!), and whether this woman should baptize her father. In looking at the Catechism of the Catholic Church, paragraphs 1257 through 1261, plus paragraph 161, it seemed to me that we cannot "save" anyone, no matter how much we want to do so . . . that faith is necessary, as well as baptism. In this case, I would love him, and talk gently to him about how much I love him and how much it worried me that he was not baptized . . . and place the matter in God's hands . . rather than worry about being around to baptize my father when he is unconscious on his deathbed so that he will be able to go to heaven. The sense that I get from these paragraphs in the catechism is that, although we know that "Baptism is necessary for salvation for those to whom the Gospel has been proclaimed and who have had the possibility of asking for this sacrament" (1257), thus we humans are limited to using Baptism for the salvation of others, God is not so limited . . . as shown by the examples in the following paragraphs of "Baptism of blood" for martyrs, etc. So that, although she should gently evangelize her father, if he were not baptized with water before his death, that would not NECESSARILY mean that he was not "saved" as he could, even unconscious on his deathbed, form the intent to believe even that late in his life, and God would have a way to "save" him even if we don't know what that is. Some others were quite adamant that they would baptize him, and I was wondering if I was really off base in not stressing that more. It just seemed to me that pouring the water and uttering the "Trinitarian baptismal formula" is not magic . . .

In other words, what is my responsibility towards adults I know who are not baptized? And a related question, what is my responsibility towards children I know who are not baptized and who are being raised "unchurched"? I realize that your answer may not be quick in coming. That's OK. I would appreciate your thoughts whenever you have the time.

Sincerely yours,

Mary Gallagher


Dear Mary,

Thank you for your question. Let me say first of all that the situation of your friend's elderly father is most poignant and I will pray for her and for him. The decision to be baptized would have to come from him and even that would depend on the free gift of faith. So, pray he will receive that gift. You are quite correct in saying we can never judge the state of someones soul, especially that final struggle before death.

You did your homework on what Jesus' teaching (the Catechism) says regarding the necessity of baptism. The paragraph you quoted from does contain a couple of sentences which are more emphatic: "The Lord himself affirms that Baptism is necessary for salvation." And "The Church does not know of any means other than Baptism that assures entry into eternal beatitude..."

About children who are being raised "unchurched" you have a marvelous oportunity to evangelize. One possible starting point is to tell them about holy water and some of the different blessings of objects (homes, cars, statues, palm branches, etc.) and people. They will have a thousand questions because they have seen it in movies. Then explain that holy water gets its power because it is a reminder of baptism.

Especially with children we should not soft-pedal the mysticism of our faith and that it involves a real struggle with demonic powers. They might later be exposed to a rationalism which pooh-poohs all that. But they might also see that naturalism does not account for the density of their experience. That's when your "stories" of faith may come back to them. Does that make sense? I have seen it happen in young people whom I knew from their early childhood.

God bless, Mary. You are in my prayers.

Fr. Phil Bloom

P.S. If your friend's father were to slip into a coma, she should certainly call her priest and ask what could be done for him. We do not know what his last thoughts and desires might be, especially considering that he is surround by such people of faith and prayer.

From Archives:

Baptism of Lord 2010: Saved Through the Bath of Rebirth
2009: The Power of Baptism
2008: Road to Sanity
2005: Most Shocking
2004: With Whom I Am Well Pleased
2003: The Membership
2002: The Grace of Baptism
2000: Limits of Solidarity

Other Homilies

Seapadre Homilies: Cycle A, Cycle B, Cycle C

Wedding in Arandas

(Plus pictures of Blessed Luis Magana's Granddaughters)