Didache 7

Concerning baptism, you should baptize this way: After first explaining all things, baptize in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, in flowing water. But if you have no running water, baptize in other water; and if you cannot do so in cold water, then in warm. If you have very little, pour water three times on the head in the name of Father and Son and Holy Spirit. Before the baptism, both the baptizer and the candidate for baptism, plus any others who can, should fast. The candidate should fast for one or two days beforehand.

According to this old document(~70 AD), here are four possible ways of Baptism, in order of preference.

  1. Running water (Ocean, River etc.)
  2. Still and cold water (Lake, pool, tanks etc.)
  3. Still but warm water
  4. Pouring on the head 3 times (least and exceptional case)

This article on Immersion Baptism is also in favor of immersion. Catechism of the Catholic Church 1239 says

The essential rite of the sacrament follows: Baptism properly speaking. It signifies and actually brings about death to sin and entry into the life of the Most Holy Trinity through configuration to the Paschal mystery of Christ. Baptism is performed in the most expressive way by triple immersion in the baptismal water. However, from ancient times it has also been able to be conferred by pouring the water three times over the candidate's head.

As per the CCC, there are two types of Baptism, immersion and pouring. Which one is in common practice today? Which one is preferred today?

Is immersion still practiced in Catholic Parishes today?


2 Answers 2


From my service/experience in the Archdiocese of Atlanta I have observed that, like the CCC states, triple immersion is preferred, but the pouring of water 3 times is much more common.

The variables that determine how each parish baptizes its members are numerous and overlapping, but usually can be lumped into several main categorical reasons.

  1. Location - The majority of Catholic Churches (at least in Georgia) are not located near large bodies of water (i.e. rivers, lakes, oceans). From a logistical standpoint this makes it difficult for Baptismal Masses to be performed by immersion. From what I understand, 3rd world civilizations tend to gravitate toward significant bodies of water, which might be a logical reason as to why immersion baptisms are more frequently performed in these conditions. During the apostolic era, which is when the Didache was written, living conditions would perhaps be considered "3rd world" by today's standards. There are special pilgrimages offered for catechumens to participate in that symbolically reenacts the baptism of Jesus in the Jordan River.

See http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EC-w4k7TgCU

  1. Architecture - Vatican II ushered in a slew of architectural ideas and innovations. Some where for the better, some for the worse. At any rate, this allowed more possibilities for parish councils and pastors to design how the "church" should function. These changes also made it easier for local communities to establish new parishes (which are called missions until permanent church membership reaches a certain level) by purchasing previously used protestant churches. This is the case with my own parish, St. Katharine's.

You can see a picture of our baptismal font here: http://saintkatharine.wix.com/trenton#!services/c24jx

6 years ago we purchased an old Methodist church building from the Dade County Historical Society and modified its structure to house our liturgies. It was 101 years old at the time, and had no means of performing baptism by immersion. It was only possible within our parish's budget to buy a baptismal font - which leads me to my next reason.

  1. Money - Baptismal pools are extremely expensive. Most of the Churches I've encountered with baptismal pools are located in a very wealthy area, or have 1000+ members. Parishes with large numbers have a high need for catechumens and children to be baptized, and usually set aside more money to put towards luxuries of that nature. Below is a picture I took of a fully functional baptismal pool located in Dunwoody, Ga, complete with a steady flow of warm water.

Our Lady of the Assumption

There are countless other factors that determine how a local parish baptizes its members. From apostolic times until now, the Church has faithfully baptized all walks of life from all corners of the world in every generation. This is why the various forms of baptism have been adapted and permitted, while maintaining the true matter and form that is required.

  • It is interesting that warm water is provided when the Didache expresses a preference for cold water. (I can understand the human preference for warm water. If Baptist congregations are the primary customer, they might not be aware of such teaching and so prefer warm water.)
    – user3331
    Commented Aug 13, 2013 at 23:50
  • That is a very interesting point, one that Ive never noticed. Cold water definitely gets your heart pumping!
    – user5286
    Commented Aug 14, 2013 at 0:11

While I admittedly don't have a book citation for this, my experience (I've also worked as a cantor and have volunteered in different roles in a few different parishes and I've had three kids baptized) is that pouring is the norm. In addition to my experience of the actual rite, I will also point out that most baptismal fonts are simply too small for immersing even the smallest of infants.

I have no idea, however, if this is the case in the third world.

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