Doctrinal Note on the Modification of the Sacramental Formula of Baptism
The Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith has recently dealt with some cases in which the Sacrament of Baptism was administered with arbitrary modifications to the sacramental formula established by the Church in liturgical texts. For this reason the Dicastery has prepared a “Response to these questions” with an accompanying Doctrinal Note that explains its contents and recalls the doctrine on the validity of Sacraments connected to the form established by the Church with the use of approved sacramental formulas, so as to avoid interpretations and practices that deviate and in order to offer a clear direction.
RESPONSES TO QUESTIONS PROPOSED
on the validity of Baptism conferred with the formula
«We baptize you in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit»
First question: Whether the Baptism conferred with the formula «We baptize you in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit» is valid?
Second question: Whether those persons for whom baptism was celebrated with this formula must be baptized in forma absoluta?
To the first question: Negative.
To the second question: Affirmative.
The Supreme Pontiff Francis, at the Audience granted to the undersigned Cardinal Prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, On June 8, 2020, approved these Responses and ordered their publication.
Rome, from the Offices of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, June 24, 2020, on the Solemnity of the Nativity of Saint John the Baptist.
Luis F. Card. Ladaria, S.I.
✠ Giacomo Morandi
Titular Archbishop of Cerveteri
* * *
on the modification of the sacramental formula of Baptism
Recently there have been celebrations of the Sacrament of Baptism administered with the words: “In the name of the father and of the mother, of the godfather and of the godmother, of the grandparents, of the family members, of the friends, in the name of the community we baptize you in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit”. Apparently, the deliberate modification of the sacramental formula was introduced to emphasize the communitarian significance of Baptism, in order to express the participation of the family and of those present, and to avoid the idea of the concentration of a sacred power in the priest to the detriment of the parents and the community that the formula in the Rituale Romano might seem to imply. With debatable pastoral motives, here resurfaces the ancient temptation to substitute for the formula handed down by Tradition other texts judged more suitable. In this regard, St. Thomas Aquinas had already asked himself the question “utrum plures possint simul baptizare unum et eundem” to which he had replied negatively, insofar as this practice is contrary to the nature of the minister.
The Second Vatican Council states that: “when a man baptizes it is really Christ Himself who baptizes”. The affirmation of the Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy Sacrosanctum Concilium, inspired by a text of Saint Augustine, wants to return the sacramental celebration to the presence of Christ, not only in the sense that he infuses his virtus to give it efficacy, but above all to indicate that the Lord has the principal role in the event being celebrated.
When celebrating a Sacrament, the Church in fact functions as the Body that acts inseparably from its Head, since it is Christ the Head who acts in the ecclesial Body generated by him in the Paschal mystery. The doctrine of the divine institution of the Sacraments, solemnly affirmed by the Council of Trent, thus sees its natural development and authentic interpretation in the above-mentioned affirmation of Sacrosanctum Concilium. The two Councils are therefore in harmony in declaring that they do not have the authority to subject the seven sacraments to the action of the Church. The Sacraments, in fact, inasmuch as they were instituted by Jesus Christ, are entrusted to the Church to be preserved by her. It is evident here that although the Church is constituted by the Holy Spirit, who is the interpreter of the Word of God, and can, to a certain extent, determine the rites which express the sacramental grace offered by Christ, does not establish the very foundations of her existence: the Word of God and the saving acts of Christ.
It is therefore understandable that in the course of the centuries the Church has safeguarded the form of the celebration of the Sacraments, above all in those elements to which Scripture attests and that make it possible to recognize with absolute clarity the gesture of Christ in the ritual action of the Church. The Second Vatican Council has likewise established that no one “even if he be a priest, may add, remove, or change anything in the liturgy on his own authority”. Modifying on one’s own initiative the form of the celebration of a Sacrament does not constitute simply a liturgical abuse, like the transgression of a positive norm, but a vulnus inflicted upon the ecclesial communion and the identifiability of Christ’s action, and in the most grave cases rendering invalid the Sacrament itself, because the nature of the ministerial action requires the transmission with fidelity of that which has been received (cf. 1 Cor 15:3).
In the celebration of the Sacraments, in fact, the subject is the Church, the Body of Christ together with its Head, that manifests itself in the concrete gathered assembly. Such an assembly therefore acts ministerially – not collegially – because no group can make itself Church, but becomes Church in virtue of a call that cannot arise from within the assembly itself. The minister is therefore the sign-presence of Him who gathers, and is at the same time the locus of the communion of every liturgical assembly with the whole Church. In other words the minister is the visible sign that the Sacrament is not subject to an arbitrary action of individuals or of the community, and that it pertains to the Universal Church.
In this light must be understood the tridentine injunction concerning the necessity of the minister to at least have the intention to do that which the Church does. The intention therefore cannot remain only at the interior level, with the risk of subjective distractions, but must be expressed in the exterior action constituted by the use of the matter and form of the Sacrament. Such an action cannot but manifest the communion between that which the minister accomplishes in the celebration of each individual sacrament with that which the Church enacts in communion with the action of Christ himself: It is therefore fundamental that the sacramental action may not be achieved in its own name, but in the person of Christ who acts in his Church, and in the name of the Church.
Therefore, in the specific case of the Sacrament of Baptism, not only does the minister not have the authority to modify the sacramental formula to his own liking, for the reasons of a christological and ecclesiological nature already articulated, but neither can he even declare that he is acting on behalf of the parents, godparents, relatives or friends, nor in the name of the assembly gathered for the celebration, because he acts insofar as he is the sign-presence of the same Christ that is enacted in the ritual gesture of the Church. When the minister says “I baptize you…” he does not speak as a functionary who carries out a role entrusted to him, but he enacts ministerially the sign-presence of Christ, who acts in his Body to give his grace and to make the concrete liturgical assembly a manifestation of “the real nature of the true Church”, insofar as “liturgical services are not private functions, but are celebrations of the Church, which is the ‘sacrament of unity,’ namely the holy people united and ordered under their bishops”.
Moreover, to modify the sacramental formula implies a lack of an understanding of the very nature of the ecclesial ministry that is always at the service of God and his people and not the exercise of a power that goes so far as to manipulate what has been entrusted to the Church in an act that pertains to the Tradition. Therefore, in every minister of Baptism, there must not only be a deeply rooted knowledge of the obligation to act in ecclesial communion, but also the same conviction that Saint Augustine attributes to the Precursor, which “was to be a certain peculiarity in Christ, such that, although many ministers, be they righteous or unrighteous, should baptize, the virtue of Baptism would be attributed to Him alone on whom the dove descended, and of whom it was said: ‘It is he who baptizes with the Holy Spirit’ (Jn 1:33)”. Therefore, Augustine comments: “Peter may baptize, but this is He that baptizes; Paul may baptize, yet this is He that baptizes; Judas may baptize, still this is He that baptizes».
 In reality, a careful analysis of the Rite of Baptism of Children shows that in the celebration the parents, godparents and the entire community are called to play an active role, a true liturgical office (cf. Rituale Romanum ex Decreto Sacrosancti Oecumenici Concilii Vaticani II instauratum auctoritate Pauli PP. VI promulgatum, Ordo Baptismi Parvulorum, Praenotanda, nn. 4-7), which according to the conciliar provisions, however, requires that “each person, minister or layman, who has an office to perform, should do all of, but only, those parts which pertain to his office by the nature of the rite and the principles of liturgy” (Second Vatican Ecumenical Council, Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy Sacrosanctum Concilium, 28).
 Often the recourse to pastoral motivation masks, even unconsciously, a subjective deviation and a manipulative will. Already in the last century Romano Guardini recalled that if in personal prayer the believer can follow the impulse of the heart, in liturgical action “he must open himself to a different kind of impulse which comes from a more powerful source: namely, the heart of the Church which beats through the ages. Here it does not matter what personal tastes are, what wants he may have, or what particular cares occupy his mind...” (R. Guardini, Vorschule des Betens, Einsiedeln/Zürich, 19482, p. 258; Eng. trans.: The Art of Praying, Manchester, NH, 1985, 176).
 Summa Theologiae, III, q. 67, a. 6 c.
 Second Vatican Ecumenical Council, Constitution Sacrosanctum Concilium, 7.
 S. Augustinus, In Evangelium Ioannis tractatus, VI, 7.
 Cf. Second Vatican Ecumenical Council, Constitution Sacrosanctum Concilium, 5.
 Cf. DH 1601.
 Second Vatican Ecumenical Council, Constitution Sacrosanctum Concilium, 22 § 3.
 Cf. Catechismus Catholicae Ecclesiae, n. 1140: “Tota communitas, corpus Christi suo Capiti unitum, celebrat” and 1141: “Celebrans congregatio communitas est baptizatorum”.
 Cf. DH 1611.
 Second Vatican Ecumenical Council, Constitution Sacrosanctum Concilium, 2.
 Ibid., 26.
 S. Augustinus, In Evangelium Ioannis tractatus, VI, 7.
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