When we are baptized as babies, our parents or guardians are accepting this invitation into the Church on our behalf. We are being granted the most important admission of our lives, yet we can’t even comprehend it yet. But, when an adult is being baptized into the Church, there is a level of consent that is required from the one being baptized. They must accept Christ, renounce Satan, and at least indicate their consent to be anointed and blessed. So, what happens when an unbaptized adult’s mental faculties begin to decline? Can they even get baptized?
Marvin called in to The Patrick Madrid Show to ask Patrick what he should do about his ailing father-in-law, Paul. Marvin said that Paul is 86 now, suffering from moderate dementia, and he resides in a nursing home. He only recognizes family members sometimes and old age has affected his mental capacity. He was never baptized when he was little because his mother was ostracized from the Church for being divorced. From then on, he was very dismissive of any religious talk.
Marvin asked, “When the time comes, okay, my question is, can he be baptized if someone said to him, myself or someone else, ‘Paul, do you want to be baptized? Do you want to go to Heaven when you die?’ If he says yes, can he be baptized, or is it, well no, he’s not in the mental state, it’s too late?” Patrick responded that Paul could be baptized as long as he has the ability to give consent in some fashion. He doesn’t need to be 100% lucid, but if there is sufficient understanding between Marvin and Paul, that is enough for baptism.
Patrick said that the ability to give consent for baptism would not be available to anybody in a comatose or catatonic state. But if one is able to get answers to leading questions from the person, that can be a good indicator for their mental presence. “Wouldn’t you like to be with God forever in Heaven? Are you sorry for your sins? Would you like to be baptized? Do you love Jesus? You know, if you ask questions like that and he says, ‘Yeah, I do. I do love Jesus. I am sorry for my sins.’ ‘Would you like to be baptized?’ ‘Yes.’ I mean, those are the kind of answers that you would want to get.”
In other words, Paul doesn’t need to be as sharp as everybody else in the room to give proper consent to get baptized. Even if he can answer questions through blinking or squeezing Marvin’s hand, that is sufficient. The Church allows for this because baptism could very well be the difference between Hell and Purgatory and Heaven. The eternity of a man’s life could hang in the balance and the efforts of his loved ones could make all the difference.
Marvin then asked if he is allowed to baptize his father-in-law himself or if he should call for a priest. The basic rule for baptism is that you should call a priest or deacon to do it unless the life of the person is in imminent danger. Patrick recommended that if Paul is in a relatively healthy state and he can afford to wait, Marvin should call a parish priest. But, as Marvin indicated, Paul is declining physically and mentally by the day. In that case, it might be deemed an emergency and Marvin would be permitted to baptize him.
The matter required to perform a baptism is water of any kind. It does not have to be holy water to be valid. And the form is the recitation of the words, “I baptize you in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.” This sacrament carries tremendous weight because it imprints an indelible and indestructible mark on our souls. It is permanent and therefore unrepeatable. Hopefully, Paul accepts Christ and gives consent to receive this transformative sacrament before his time comes.
In the spirit of contemplating the afterlife, be sure to visit relevantradio.com/souls to submit the names of your deceased loved ones. From November 2-10, we will be remembering the submissions of our listeners and praying for them at every Daily Mass at Noon CT, Chaplet of Divine Mercy at 3pm CT, and Family Rosary Across America. As you pray, we pray with you.
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