Could babies in-utero be baptized?

Posted May 18, 2016

Our Faith Fact question comes form a parishioner at Saint Theresa.  The question:  Could babies in-utero be baptized? After-all, they are surrounded by water. Could the priest not baptize them through the womb in  a ceremony, and then baptize them later as well once they are born to avoid the question of where unbaptized babies go if they die?

This is a good question and relevant to many mothers have similar concerns.  Your question appears to imply that, in the womb, babies are surrounded by water.

In addressing your question, we ask what makes a sacrament valid?  Sacraments work ex opere operato – that is, “from the work worked”, under the following conditions:

  1. the proper matter
  2. the proper form
  3. the proper minister
  4. the proper recipient
  5. the intention of the minister and the recipient to simply do as the Church does

Concerning the first, proper matter, The Council of Trent declared against Luther who held that any fluid suitable for ablution was permissible in the case of emergency; whereas, the Church teaches that the matter of baptism is the washing with true and natural water (paraphrased from Fundamentals of Catholic Dogma by Ludwig Ott).

In short, Iced Tea may be 99.9% water (I’m no chemist, but that must be a good ballpark estimate), but iced tea is not water.  Just as nobody looks at spit and says, “That’s water.”  This is not to make light of the question at hand, but rather to illustrate, that even in emergencies, only water is water, and thus amniotic fluid is not.

I asked a priest friend, who is better versed in pre-natal aspects than I – he is a graduate of the Pontifical John Paul the II Institute for Studies on Marriage and Family.  Quoting Aquinas, he has a similar take on the issue:

The issue that we run into with that suggestion is not so much with form or intention, but with the matter. Saint Thomas says that real water needs to be used in baptism, and if there is any admixture of anything else it is OK as long as the substance remains water (S.Th. III, q.66, a.4). So it is OK to use muddy water for example, but not wine.
Amniotic fluid unfortunately is a completely different substance from water. Furthermore, in order for the sacrament to be valid, water must be poured across the skin of the individual being baptized. Therefore such a ceremony would not constitute proper matter for the sacrament…
So outside of an invasive procedure (such as prenatal surgery) whereby the amniotic sac is breached, and real water could be poured across the skin of the child in utero, baptism for that child before birth would not be possible.

Again, not just true and natural water, but washing with true and natural water.

Your question also asks about baptizing them again after birth, thus erasing the question of where the unbaptized infants go when they die…but, that will wait to be a topic of another Faith Fact.  Continue to trust in the love and mercy of God.


In Christ,

Fr. Jim