QUESTIONS CONCERNING THE CATHOLIC BAPTISM

INBOX QUESTIONS: “Hello Mr. Chinaka, I have some questions for you, although I’m
not a Catholic. I’m actually a journalist. I witnessed a Catholic baptism and
the priest stressed that Amen should not be said at the end of baptism. I
became curious and wanted to know why, though I had no time to see him after
the service. Please, could you explain why Catholics don’t say ‘Amen’ at
baptism, when the priest says I baptize you in the name of the Father, and of
the Son and Of the Holy Spirit…? From the sermon of the priest I also learnt
that a pagan could baptize in the case of emergency. Is this true? Finally,
when there is absolutely no water and someone is at the point of death, can
baptism take place? Thanks as I look forward to your response. Good night!”
RESPONSE
Dear
journalist, in response to your first question, let’s be quickly reminded of
the etymology of Amen and its use. The word Amen is one of a small number of
Hebrew words which have been imported unchanged into the liturgy of the
Church.  “So frequent was this
Hebrew word in the mouth of Our Saviour”. The Catechism of the Council of
Trent observes, “that it pleased the Holy Spirit to have it (amen)
perpetuated in the Church of God”. Without much stress, Amen is a
derivative from the Hebrew verb “aman”, meaning “to strengthen” or
“Confirm”; which literally means “so be it”. Hence, we say amen at
the end of our prayers to confirm or strengthen it through the holy name of
Jesus.
As
regards baptism, Christ has already granted the mandate to the Church through
his apostles (Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in
the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit – cf. Matt.
28:19). Hence, saying amen at the end of Baptism would be of no use, for we
cannot strengthen what Christ has commanded. Put differently, it is a direct
imperative from Christ. To confirm this veracity, a Decree of the Congregation
of Rites (n. 3014, 9 June, 1853) decided that it should not be spoken at the
end of the form for the administration of baptism, where indeed it would be
meaningless.
As
regards to the question whether a pagan could baptize in the case of emergency,
the Church (in Canon 864) and in other related documents, makes us to
understand that the Ordinary minister of Baptism is a Bishop or a Priest. By
delegation, a deacon may confer the sacrament solemnly as an extraordinary
minister. Only in cases of necessity (in the absence of a priest and the
unbaptized is in danger of death), baptism can be administered lawfully and
validly by any person whatsoever, who observes the essential conditions,
whether this person be a Catholic layman or any other man or woman, heretic or
schismatic, infidel or Jew. The essential conditions are that the person pours
water upon the one to be baptized, at the same time pronouncing the words
audibly: “I baptize you in the name of the Father and of the Son and of
the Holy Spirit.” (These are words that every Catholic should know as well
as he knows his own name. Someone’s eternal salvation may one day depend upon
the knowing of these words)
Regarding
the absence of the “matter” (water) for baptism, or as you stated it: “when
there is absolutely no water and someone is at the point of death…” In
resolving this, it is pertinent to turn to the “Didache”, a Syrian liturgical
manual that was widely circulated among the Churches in the first few centuries
of Christianity, perhaps the earliest Christian writing outside the New
Testament. The Didache was written around 70 AD; in fact, it was around this
period that John wrote the book of Revelation (Apocalypse). The word Didache
stems from the Greek “Didasko” which means to teach, impart instructions etc.
Thus, the Didache itself means “Teaching”. It is a strong witness to the
sacramental practice of Christians in the apostolic age. In its seventh
chapter, the Didache reads, “Concerning baptism, baptize in this manner:
Having said all these things beforehand, baptize in the name of the Father and
of the Son and of the Holy Spirit in living water [that is, in running water,
as in a river]. If there is no living water, baptize in other water; and, if
you are not able to use cold water, use warm. If you have neither, pour water
three times upon the head in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy
Spirit.” The testimony of the Didache is seconded by other early Christian
writings. Hippolytus of Rome said, “If water is scarce, whether as a
constant condition or on occasion, then use whatever water is available”
(The Apostolic Tradition, 21 [A.D. 215]).
These
instructions were composed either while some of the apostles and disciples were
still alive or during the next generation of Christians, and they represent an
already established custom.
Hence,
in an emergency situation whereby the matter (water) is “ABSOLUTELY
UNAVAILABLE”, and the form (I baptize you in the Name of the Father, and of the
Son, and of the Holy Spirit) is used, we may say that the baptism is valid, but
illicit.
I hope
this is well understood
Shalom!

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