By By Rev Francis Spirago and Fr John Hardon
Is Baptism of Water Necessary for Salvation?
It is commonly taught by the Church that baptism of water is necessary for salvation for those who have not reached the use of reason.
If baptism by water is impossible, it may be replaced by the baptism of desire, or by the baptism of blood, as in the case of those who suffer martyrdom for the faith of Christ.
The Emperor Valentinian II was on the way to Milan to be baptized when he was assassinated. St Ambrose said of him that his desire had been the means of his cleansing. The patriarchs, prophets and holy men of the Old Testament had the baptism of desire; their love of God was ardent, and they wished to do all that He commands. God accepts the will for the deed; in this He manifests His super-abundant loving kindness. But all the temporal penalties of sin are not remitted by the baptism of desire.
Martyrdom for Christ's sake is the baptism of blood. This the holy innocents received, and the Church commemorates them as saints. All unbaptized persons who suffer martyrdom for the Christian faith, for some act of Christian virtue, or the fulfilment of a Christian duty, also received the baptism of blood. Witness St John Baptist, or St Emerentiana, who while yet a catechumen, was found by the pagans praying at St Agnes' tomb, and was put to death by them. The Church does not pray for the unbaptized who suffer death for Christ; for He Himself says, "He that shall lose his life for Me, shall find it." (Matt 10:39).
The Catholic Church's constant teaching is that children should be baptized soon after birth. The reason being that a child is born with original sin, which, in God's ordinary providence, cannot be removed before the age of reason except by baptism with water. Through baptism an infant receives sanctifying grace, the infused virtues of faith, hope, and charity, and the gifts of the Holy Spirit.
The fate of the unbaptized infants is left to the mercy of God. It is generally taught that the souls of those who depart this life with original sin on their souls, but without actual sin, go to limbo. According to St Thomas Aquinas, limbo is a place of perfect natural happiness but without the supernatural vision of God to which we have no natural right.
Q. 621. What is Baptism?
A. Baptism is a Sacrament which cleanses us from original sin, makes us Christians, children of God, and heirs of heaven.
Q. 633. Who can administer Baptism?
A. A priest is the ordinary minister of baptism; but in case of necessity anyone who has the use of reason may baptize.
Q. 638. How is Baptism given?
A. Whoever baptizes should pour water on the head of the person to be baptized, and say, while pouring the water: "I baptize thee in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost."