In the Rite of Baptism for one Child the Celebrant when baptizing the child, says and does:

N., I baptize you in the name of the Father,

He immerses the child or pours water upon it.

and of the Son,

He immerses the child or pours water upon it a second time.

and of the Holy Spirit.

He immerses the child or pours water upon it a third time.

The question: Is the baptism still valid if as the Celebrant pours the water each of the three times on the child, one of the pourings does not make contact with the child (and the miss was noticed on home video after the ceremony was conducted or perhaps was noticed by the family but for whatever reason, they did not presume it was their place to bring this to the attention of the Celebrant)?

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    What a thoughtful question. I believe it concerns with the significance of the words and intent of baptism vs. the actual water that flows down the baby's head. +1 for thoughtfulness.
    – Double U
    Commented Feb 8, 2015 at 0:36
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    It will of of course depend on your theology of sacrements. I think that it should be clarified that this question is for sacramentaliats only. Commented Feb 8, 2015 at 0:55
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    (Just updated the question). Your most illustrative answers will be catholic, because Protestant memorialists would say "it's just a symbol" and therefore it doesn't matter how it's done. Commented Feb 8, 2015 at 0:59
  • Why wouldn't they just pour again?
    – curiousdannii
    Commented Feb 8, 2015 at 4:32
  • @curiousdannii I don't want to speak for a Catholicism expert, as I am not really an expert in that, but I think there may be a theological significance in pouring again.
    – Double U
    Commented Feb 8, 2015 at 4:46

5 Answers 5


Although the triple pouring is required for lawful baptism in the Western Rites of the Catholic church, it does not seem to be required for validity. (Source: Moral Theology by Fr. Heribert Jone, a book that was recommended to me by a traditional Catholic priest, and which I therefore consider reliable.) So if one or even two of the pourings miss the target, this could be a sin on the part of the baptizer but it would not render the baptism invalid.

Fr. Jone mentions that "several authors hold the flowing of one or two drops insufficient."

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    "Moral Theology" by Fr. Heribert Jone - His book in accordance to perennial Catholic teaching? Web search reveals variances as regards permissible marital relations.
    – user13992
    Commented Feb 9, 2015 at 1:44
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    @FMS: My copy of Fr. Jone's book (an English translation of the 18th German edition) bears a Nihil Obstat and Imprimatur dated 1961. So this would be before any fiddling arising from Vatican II and its aftermath. The translator's note at the beginning mentions that only one opinion has changed from the 17th edition, and that concerns clerics' duty to pray the divine office. Commented Feb 11, 2015 at 2:02
  • Your answer is correct. To back it up I added some more authoritative sources in my answer.
    – K-HB
    Commented Aug 20, 2019 at 8:56
  • I've reverted the addition of "that" to the quotation from Fr. Jone's book, because (1) it's not in the original and (2) it's grammatically incorrect. (It would have been grammatically correct if there were an "is" after "drops".) Commented Aug 20, 2019 at 12:08

I am not a canon lawyer, and do not play one on the internet, but a quick review of the relevant bits of the catechism and code of canon law suggests to me that the baptism is valid, even if it can be actually proved one of the instances of pouring water really did miss completely, because the intent to perform the sacrament is there, and the frailty of the officient is not an impediment. It also appears to me that in order for it to be proved that the water missed completely, no part of the water poured--that is, not a single drop, nor single molecule of water vapor from that pouring can have made contact with the head of the baptized. If a single drop, of water, or bit of vapor from the water contacted the head, in my view, there was no miss.

As a pastoral matter, if this is a concern for the parents, or later for the baptized, the feasibility of a conditional baptism can be discussed with the appropriate ecclesiastical authorities .


Is Baptism of a child still valid if one of the pouring during baptism misses?

Not finding an adequate source of information to truly answer this question with a confirmed source, I am going to answer this with an example of baptism with a slightly different dubium in the administration of this Sacrament. If a real doubt truly exists in this matter, one can always write Rome in the form of a dubia.

The baptism would be valid in the above example because the intention of the individual was to administer the sacrament with the intention that the Church willed that the baptism be preformed. Thus the form, matter and intention were preserved, even if one of the pourings were to miss the head of the child unintentionally. If the administrator of the sacrament noticed the miss, it would be best to repeat the words and pouring of water than to be plagued by doubts later.

Now let me give you an example with a twist. This really happened, but I can not find a source of information at the moment.

About 30 years ago I was on an eight day retreat officiated by Monsignor Raymond-Marie Tchidimbo while I was in France.

In one of his conferences, he recount on of the story of his own baptism in the village ware he was born. Bishop’s story goes something like this:

Many years after his consecration as a bishop and of having ordained many priests to the priesthood, he decided to visit the village where he was born and baptized. Having done so, three women recounted how they baptized the young Raymond-Marie together. One of the women held the baby. Another one of these ladies poured the water while the third woman pronounced the words to baptism over Raymond-Marie.

When Bishop Tchidimbo heard this news, he was immediately horrified because he presumed the baptism was invalid because the administrator on the sacrament was not the same person saying the words of baptism and pouring the water at the same time.

He immediately refused to celebrate the Mass, for he feared his own baptism was invalid. If so, every priest he ordained would not be a priest at all. What a dilemma?

He thus wrote a dubia to Rome and asked if his baptism was valid or not?

Rome responses in the positive, stating that by the internal forum had been preserved because they had acted, in spite of being outside the norms for the administration of the sacrament of baptism, they had the proper will and intention to baptize him as the Church would desired In this particular situation.

Thus the baptism of Raymond-Marie was valid.

Given the nature of the above circumstances regarding baptism, I do not believe the Church would declare a baptism invalid because someone inadvertently missed the head of an infant in the course of administrating the sacrament of baptism. The intention to do as the Church willed is still preserved.

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    It would be interesting to see the full reasoning behind the decision that this bishop's baptism was valid. It seems strange because (1) "proper will and intention" is surely not sufficient for validity of a sacrament and (2) in an apparently similar situation in Quebec the baptisms (nearly 300 of them) were declared invalid (see for example catholiceducation.org/en/culture/catholic-contributions/…). But the reference to the internal forum suggests that the full reasoning won't be publicly available. Commented Aug 14, 2019 at 2:42
  • I get the gist from French articles that the Parish at Pointe-Calumet was a deliberate innovation of the administrator of the sacrament. In Bishop Tchidimbo's case it was administered in good faith.
    – Ken Graham
    Commented Aug 14, 2019 at 20:27
  • Your answer lacks any sources for your real claim. "Thus the form, matter and intention were preserved, even if one of the pourings were to miss the head of the child unintentionally." The question here is: What is the necessary form?
    – K-HB
    Commented Aug 22, 2019 at 9:31

No, the water has the touch at least the head of the person being baptized, even if it only touches the head's hair:

McHugh & Callan, O.P., Moral Theology §2686:

(c) The formal element of Baptism is the word or the formula appointed by Christ. In the Latin Church the words are: "I baptize thee in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost," Almost every word in this form is necessary for the sense given by Christ, and hence almost any omission makes it necessary, or at least lawful, to repeat Baptism (see 2655, 2682). The declaration of the form demands that the application of the water (proximate matter) be made in the manner of an ablution (i.e., by sprinkling, pouring or immersion). If sprinkling or pouring is used, the body of the recipient (i.e., the skin of his head) must be washed (i.e., the water must touch the head and flow thereon) by the baptizer (i.e., the person who pronounces the words must pour or sprinkle the water). But in case of necessity one may use the opinion that Baptism is valid when the water touches only the hair or some part distinct from the head, or even the afterbirth of a fetus.

St. Thomas Aquinas, Summa Theologica III q. 66 a. 7, "Whether immersion in water is necessary for Baptism?," ad 3:

The principal part of the body, especially in relation to the exterior members, is the head, wherein all the senses, both interior and exterior, flourish. And therefore, if the whole body cannot be covered with water, because of the scarcity of water, or because of some other reason, it is necessary to pour water over the head, in which the principle of animal life is made manifest.

In case of doubt regarding the validity of baptism, ask a priest about conditional baptism:

The rite of baptism performed on a person who is entering the Roman Catholic Church and is not certain about previous baptism. This is not rebaptism, which is impossible, since this sacrament can be received only once. But if there is reasonable doubt about the fact or validity of one's previous baptism, the sacrament is administered conditionally, i.e., the one who performs the ritual at least mentally says, "If you are not baptized," and then proceeds to confer the sacrament.


Such a baptism is valid, because only one (not missing) pouring is necessary for valid baptism.

The liturgical rites prescribe the triple immersion/infusion/aspersion with water. This has some symbolic meanings, but the Church does not teach it is necessary for validity. The Catechism of the Catholic Church only says:

1278 The essential rite of Baptism consists in immersing the candidate in water or pouring water on his head, while pronouncing the invocation of the Most Holy Trinity: the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.

1284 In case of necessity, any person can baptize provided that he have the intention of doing that which the Church does and provided that he pours water on the candidate's head while saying: "I baptize you in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit."

This does not strictly rule out a understanding of "pours water" (etc.) as "pours water three times", but is an indication against such an understanding. A more clear teaching gives the older Roman Catechism (Catechism of the Council of Trent for Parish Priests, translation by John A McHugh OP and Charles J. Callan OP, New York 1923 (tenth printing 1947), p. 169 (Administration of Baptism)):

It is a matter of indifference whether the ablution be performed once or thrice. For it is evident from the Epistle of St. Gregory the Great to Leander that Baptism was formerly and may still be validly administered in the Church in either way. [Lib. i. Epist. xliii] The faithful, however, should follow the practice of the particular Church to wich they belong.

So we have a clear answer: One ablution is enough for valid baptism in general. So the missing of one of three pourings cannot have any consequences for the validity.

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