Infant Baptism — auf deutsch (Updated 1-25)

This one is interesting for the ongoing renewal of the rites of initiation in the Catholic Church. It’s even more interesting ecclesiologically – the Holy See has approved some significant alterations to the Roman rite for the German-speaking church in Germany, Austria, Switzerland, Luxemburg, and Lichtenstein. The main innovation is infant baptism in two stages – first, a blessing of the infant with the oil of catechumens; second, after a period of preparation by the parents, baptism.

Some background:

1969: The reformed rite of baptism is issued in Latin by Rome.

1971: The German-language rite, with very minor differences from the Latin, is approved.
(BTW, the bishops’ conferences approved this on August 6, and the Holy See approved it already on September 28. This was a different era in the church — depending on your perspective, it illustrates either Rome’s high confidence in national conferences back then, or Rome’s hesitance to examine and correct national submissions.)

1993: The international German-language liturgical task force commissions a revision of the rite of baptism. The justification for infant baptism is to be made clearer, as are the guidelines for proceeding when the conditions for infant baptism are not present (e.g., no chance of Christian upbringing).

1996: The revised manuscript is completed, along with a new “pastoral introduction” written by the German speakers to be included in the ritual book alongside the translated official Latin introduction. The first ritual option is “The Celebration of Baptism with a Period of Preparation,” i.e. two-stage baptism. The second option follows the Latin official rite, with baptism in one single celebration. To the official rite is added a German-language “Rite of Blessing with [indefinite] Postponement of Baptism.”

1997: The German and Austrian bishops remove the “Rite of Blessing with Postponement of Baptism” out of concern that the blessing would seem sufficient to some parents as a replacement for baptism. The rest of the revised rite is approved and submitted to Rome.

1999: Rome rejects the submission and informs the conferences that a new translation would be required in line with an impending new instruction on translation. (Liturgiam Authenticam [LA] appeared in 2001.) The two-stage baptism – this is significant – would be approved, but only if placed in an appendix rather than as the preferred form.

2002: The German-speakers begin retranslating in accord with LA. New is the decision to send draft versions to Rome informally for reaction throughout the translation process.

2006: The conferences approve the new draft including two-stage infant baptism (except in Lichtenstein), and Rome approves it. Different from the official Latin which has rites for one child and for several children, the German-language rite is organized for use within Mass or outside of Mass. The unique “pastoral introduction” may not appear in the ritual books because it is not based on any Latin original. It is printed in a separate pamphlet, which at least makes it easier to distribute it widely. It is not approved for publication by the archbishop of Vaduz. This is twice now that Lichtenstein has gone its own way. For some background on the guy making these decisions, see how the archdiocese of Vaduz got erected to solve a personnel problem.

The Latin 1969 edition has a rite for baptism by non-ordained catechists obviously intended for mission countries, thus not included in the German of 1971. Recently there have been a very few cases where a German-language bishop has authorized a layperson to baptize. The German-language bishops are not anxious for this practice to be publicized or spread, for reasons we all know. But LA requires that all the Latin be translated faithfully. The dilemma was solved by agreeing not to apply LA here. The rite for baptism by authorized laypersons in approved German translation is found only in a separate booklet which cannot be purchased anywhere. The authorized layperson must get it from the chancery.

After the questioning of the parents the celebrant may address the congregation with a prayer not found in Latin: “Dear brothers and sisters, some day these children are to respond for themselves to the call of Jesus Christ. For this they need the community of the church; for this they need our help and support. May God strengthen us for this task through his Holy Spirit.”

The Austrian bishops had decided in 1974 that the anointing with the oil of catechumens immediately before baptism was optional, indeed not recommended, and could be replaced by a laying on of hands. Though approved only in Austria, this practice spread to other German-speaking regions. The new edition preserves the Austrian practice, but only for Austria.

2008: The German-language ritual book appears, after delays getting the layout and appearance just right for the first of a new generation of post-LA ritual books.

The cultural context: In Germany, about 85% of Catholic baptisms are of infants. About 89% of the children of Catholics or Protestants are baptized. More than one-third of all infants are not baptized because they have no parent who is Catholic or Protestant. This, combined with sinking birthrates, means that the annual number of Catholic baptisms from 1965 to 2006 dropped from more than a half million to about 188,000. The vast majority of Catholics want their children baptized, but this is quite commonly seen as a family event rather than a church event. Many parents would be irritated if “their” baptism takes place along with another family’s, or during Sunday Mass. Many feel that they have a right to baptism “their” way since they have faithfully paid their government-collected church tax.

Still, baptism of a child is an important time for lukewarm Catholic parents to be (re-)engaged by the Church, and perhaps to renew their own faith commitment. While the two-stage baptism may not be required of anyone, it offers the opportunity for interested parents to study and renew their Christian faith as they prepare for their child’s baptism.

One wonders how many parents will take up the offer when there is a shorter, easier way.  Any reports from the ground??

Dr. Haunerland has kindly replied to my email inquiry and clarified some things for me, for which I thank him sincerely.   – awr

Two-stage baptism isn’t merely theoretical; there have been parishes who already practiced it with good experiences. The bishops thought it desirable to develop a model for wider use and to hear about people’s experience with it. The presumption is that the two-stage baptism will not be the norm. But in fact there are often enough young people who inquire about their own faith at the time of their child’s baptism. This option is not intended for those who do not know whether or not they wish to baptize their child, and the first stage is not meant to be a time of decision. Rather, this option is for more or less engaged Christians who, for whatever reason, are moved to examine and deepen their own faith. The two-stage model cannot be required of anyone, and it would never succeed if it were a required hurdle. Rather, it is the Church’s way of saying, You and your faith are important to us. We are there for you, ready to accompany you and support you at a very important stage in your life. It is a free offer. The conferences have deliberately left open the question of how long the first stage lasts. An all-too-long catechetical process would probably not be well-received. Pastoral ministers are speaking of perhaps four sessions, every week or every other week. This would mean a minimum period of a month, but more likely it would be two or three months.


Source: Winfred Haunerland, “Die Feier der Kindertaufe,” Liturgisches Jahrbuch 58 (2008.2-3), 67-94.


  1. I know of at least one parish in the US that already requires something similar, dividing infant baptism into 2 or three segments, spread out over several weeks.
    I know, albeit only anecdotally, that this occasions great resentment from some parents.

    1. I can imagine that it would occasion some resentment, but it might be worth it if it conveyes the message that the promises that parents make at baptism are to be taken seriously.

      I’ll be interested to hear how the German experiment works out. It might be the practice that can best make sense of infant baptism in a residually Christian culture.

  2. There is no mention of how long of a preparation for parents. In every parish that I have been in for 30 years, we have required parents to attend a pre-baptism class. It seems that at the conclusion of this class, it would be appropriate to celebrate the “anointing with the Oil of Catechumens.” However, we do not require parents to repeat the class for subsequent children, so if we began a practice like Germany, some would be already anointed and others wouldn’t be and we might get confused about who is and who isn’t.
    As far as the revision of our own baptismal Rite, I have always found it peculiar that there is no “Opening Collect” after the dialogue between the priest/deacon and the parents and godparents, you go right into the Scripture reading (outside of Mass). The address to the assembly combined with a collect would be very good indeed.
    Finally, there is no “official” format for infant baptism at Mass. I was happy to see Pope Benedict in the Sistine Chapel on the Solemnity of the Baptism of the Lord model for us what to do (which is what I have been doing, but thought I had made it up)–skip the penitential rite of the Mass and begin the dialogue with the parents and godparents (what name..? etc) then concluding with the priest making the sign of the cross on the child’s forehead and parents and godparents doing the same–then the Gloria and Collect. After the homily, the rest of the rite was celebrated prior to the Liturgy of the Eucharist. I’ve added the anointed with the oil of catechumens in the introductory part which takes it out of order a bit, but works well and eliminates the need for it after the homily. By the way the Holy Father also modeled for us that “ad orientem” is also quite acceptable at Mass at his Baptism of the Lord Mass, just in case you needed to know.

    1. Baptism of children at Mass is covered in the Introduction under “Adaptations by the Minister.” The relevant sections are 29 and 30 for Sunday and weekday Mass respectively.

      Instead of a Collect, the rite prescribes a “song” if there is a procession from the church entrance to the place for Liturgy of the Word.

      The introduction sections of the rites are overlooked way too often by clergy and musicians. I covered this rite two years ago on my own site: In haste to get to the “red-n-black” Catholic ministers have overlooked important information on the proper conduct of the rites. We don’t need the pope; sometimes the answer is on our own bookshelves.

  3. One year after introducing the rite for baptism in two stages one cannot tell much “from the ground”. But it is not quite correct to assume, that more than one third of infants are not baptized because they have no baptized parents (catholic or protestant). Not uncommon is a growing unwillingness of parents to have their infants baptized, due to a spreading mentality:” let them choose by themselves later”.
    The “pastoral introduction” is not included in the ritual book, the same goes for the book for funeral rites (December 2009) which has a separate introduction as well. These introductions aim to place the rites within a broader discussion of pastoral considerations (e.g. the problem of delaying baptisms, or the various aspects to consider with funerals…).
    Baptisms by “authorized persons” (lay) are possible in Swiss dioceses, whereas the Episcopal Conferences of Germany and Austria don’t see a necessity for that at present.

  4. Isn’t it interesting that the actual recipient of the sacrament (namely the infant) is not the focus of the German churches in crafting this legislation. The real focus of such a move is the parents, which makes the legislation less about any comprehensive theological understanding of sacramental initiation of infants (and indeed less about any comprehension of the human subjectivity and personhood of infants and their need for the grace of baptism) and more about the need for catechesis of parents. One perspective on this legislation might ask: is it appropriate to postpone sacramental baptism (denying the infant the benefit of sacramental grace until the parents are deemed to be sufficiently prepared) simply in order to catechize the parents?
    Another perspective might argue that if the focus of this legislation were actually on the infant and the potential benefits to the infant of separating enrollment in the catechumenate from reception of the sacrament of baptism, the ‘period of separation’ (which is not specified in the initial posting) might better consist of years rather than weeks/months, with the purpose of enabling the cognitive maturation of the infant so that they can experience the sacrament (and indeed full initiation Baptism/Confirmation/Eucharist) at the age of reason.

    1. Claire, the rite for infants does quite deliberately proceed on the well-grounded assumption that the faith of the parents and their willingness to bring their children up in the faith is a principal element in respecting the human subjectivity of the infants. To do otherwise would presume magical thinking, rather than sacramental thinking, and would remove the sacrament from its proper context, the faith of the Church. Even adults are not admitted to Baptism if there is not some evidence that they will live the Christian life after celebrating the sacrament. For infants, the course of prudence is to strengthen the parents so that the sacrament will be fruitful for the child.

  5. Years ago it was common teaching that the waters of baptism had to touch the skin, not only the clothing or hair of the baptizandus. B XVI made certain on Epiphany that the water rolled across the foreheard. A professor at the US’s largest theologate responded that water that only touched the hair would require a conditional baptism. St. Thomas indicates that the cleansing waters of baptism are a real bath and not a hair rinse. What is current thought?

  6. @Donald

    If the concern is for it to be a real bath, then having a bit of water roll across the forehead doesn’t sound like any more of a real sign of that than wetting the hair does.


    Or, like the EO, immersing the baby in the font?

    1. Amen to this. We need robust symbols. Discussing whether a few drops of water will suffice, on either hair or skin, is what Aidan Kavanagh memorably called “liturgical minimalism.” The Christian tradition is rich. The thinking today is that we need to recover that richness, rather than rely solely on vestigal reminders of it.

      1. I guess you do have to be careful with immersing infants, though. A few years ago there was a tragic death in the schismatic Stallings “Imani Temple” group, but I’ve never heard of the like happening among the Orthodox. I’ve never understood what they did wrong to result in the death of the infant.

  7. My husband is an ordained deacon in the Catholic church, and we were trained to perform baptisms together. We plan to work with a family from Germany who have received permission to have their child baptized in our parish here in the U.S. I lived in Germany years ago, and I would like to get a translation of the rite in order to offer some portions of it in German. Can you suggest a source for this translation from English to German?

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