Imagine being a priest with the power to uphold democracy and shape the political future of your nation by performing Latin exorcisms on the Internet. As the country hurtles headlong into chaos, with insurrection brewing and hundreds of thousands dead amid mounting socio-economic inequality, what’s on your mind?
Perhaps it’s the vital importance of pouring the proper amount of water on an infant’s head at the correct ritual moments to make God care about them.
Yeah, that sounds right.
That’s the state of affairs on Father Z’s Blog, less than a week after blogger Father John Zuhlsdorf performed a YouTube exorcism to deal with demons, their electronics expertise, and the thorny question of electoral fraud. It’s not that Zuhlsdorf is ignoring the big-picture issues brought up by the election — just look at this post about what Catholics ought to do when the Biden administration outlaws Catholic Mass.
It’s just that he’s so passionate about the minutiae of Catholic sacraments, he can hardly help but fill the “Ask Father Z” section of his blog with reflections on questions like “what happens if a priest declines to take communion?” or “does Confirmation count if the minister uses a Q-tip?”
So how could he possibly resist taking on a question like this?
I recently witnessed a baptism by immersion. As each person of the Most Holy Trinity was invoked, the baby was dipped into the water except for the head. Then, [after] the third immersion, the priest also took water from the font and poured it on the head. I read on a previous post of yours that your friend at the CDF [Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith] said that water has to touch the head for the sake of validity. Would that suffice if the water only touched once but not thrice?
First of all, let’s spare some thoughts and prayers for the poor infant who, in the dead of winter, got dunked bodily in a pool of holy water three times when they could’ve just as easily taken a much less invasive trickle of liquid over the forehead.
But the real question is, what does Father Zuhlsdorf think of the situation?
Just when you think you’ve heard every variation, some jackass comes up with something different.
Hey now, Father! You kiss your crucifix with that mouth?
Yet another instance of a foolish priest or deacon, thinking that he has to make changes or add his personal flourishes to the rite, which in his thought isn’t adequate or meaningful enough, disturbing the hearts of the faithful and sowing doubts about the validity of the sacrament.
Heavens forfend! God created us as individuals with our own thoughts and personalities so we could spend our entire tenure on this planet painstakingly eradicated every scrap of originality and following formulae like mindless automatons.
The sense of tradition and ritual is something many Catholics find deeply comforting and even beautiful, and that’s fine. But ultra-traditionalists like Zuhlsdorf take it to the extreme, where change is never inspiring or worthy of celebration; it’s always an affront. They’re offended to think the Church has changed since the Middle Ages.
And because deviation from a mindless formula offends them, they’re perfectly willing to say that people’s good-faith efforts to engage with God don’t count unless they go about it in a narrow, specific, prescribed way.
Not that this baby was making a good-faith effort to do anything (except, probably, get away from the weird man in the white dress who kept dunking him in a water basin). But the same principle applies: the sincerity and intent of the people who care about this child is less important than whether the priest matches the formula down to the last jot and tittle.
By this point you may have guessed what Zuhlsdorf thinks about this baptism:
You remember correctly that when I consulted a friend at the CDF he replied that water had to touch the head, even if only the hair, for validity.
However, another aspect of administration of the sacrament is that the pouring or immersing that includes the head is that the immersing or pouring must take place simultaneously with the Trinitarian form.
Immersion of some of the body, but not the head… some water on the head after the Trinitarian form… I doubt the validity of the baptism.
It would be a good idea to request a conditional baptism of this child.
(I added a few links to Zuhlsdorf’s original answer, because he can assume that his audience knows all the Catholic lingo, while I have to acknowledge that it’s bloody incomprehensible even to some churchgoers.)
And just to be extra helpful, because he’s got precious little respect for the intellect of anyone who would dare to add a little creative flair to the everyday monotony of a relationship with a legalistic God, Zuhlsdorf included this extremely helpful graphic:
Gosh, Father, thanks so much! Never could’ve figured that one out without you!
What we have here is a family who’s gone before the all-knowing, all-seeing Supreme Creator of the Universe with the intention of baptizing their child, initiating him into a relationship with the Divine. The Creator is well aware of that intention because, again, He’s all-knowing.
But unless some priest checks off all the arbitrary boxes, the Creator is going to outright ignore the family’s intent; the child is not really a Christian in his eyes. If the child dies before the situation is remedied, or if he goes through life believing himself to be properly Catholic and it’s never remedied, that’s an eternity in the lake of fire.
The system falls apart further when you consider the ripple effects of an invalid baptism. Last year a priest discovered his baptism didn’t count on a technicality, creating a knock-on effect that invalidated confirmations, confessions, the Eucharist, and Last Rites for an entire parish.
Apparently, if Father Zuhlsdorf is to be taken at his word, God is basically the bureaucrat who will disregard an otherwise valid applications because somebody misused a comma on Form 9 (Subsection 3-B).
Nobody wants to worship that guy.
(Top image via Shutterstock. Thanks to Kerri for the link)