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What is a baptistery? Where should it be located?

RESPONSE: “The baptistery is the area where the baptismal font flows or has been placed. It should be reserved for the sacrament of baptism and should be a place worthy for Christians to be reborn in water and the Holy Spirit.”[1]

DISCUSSION: Baptism frees us from sin, makes us children of God in the likeness of Christ and incorporates us into the Church. It is the gateway to all other sacraments.[2] In short, baptism makes possible our whole life in Christ. This life takes place within His Church under the pastoral care of legitimate authority.

Because of the significance of baptism and its affirmation of the Catholic faithful, the proper place of baptism is the parish church. The proper minister of baptism is the pastor. For these reasons, all parish churches must have a baptistery. Only after consultation with the pastor, a local Ordinary can allow chapels, oratories or other churches within the boundaries of the parish church to have a baptistery. Such permission should be granted only for the legitimate convenience of the faithful, and use of these baptisteries should not usurp the obligations of the pastor.[3]

Mindful of the baptistery’s significance, the Catholic Church favors a communal celebration of baptism. The design of the baptistery should draw the community into the mystery of the sacrament. “In the construction and decoration of the baptistery great pains are to be taken to ensure that it clearly expresses the dignity of the sacrament of baptism and that it is a place well-suited to communal celebrations.”[4] “It may be situated in a chapel either inside or outside the church or in some other part of the church easily seen by the faithful; it should be large enough to accommodate a large number of people.”[5]

It has been reported that some parishes have used stock tanks to baptize adults by immersion. Although these baptisms are valid, a stock tank is not designed for this use. Constructed as a means of watering livestock, a stock tank does not reflect the mystery and beauty of the sacrament of baptism. If the baptistery will be used for immersions, proper construction should reflect the dignity of the sacrament and a practical design that allows for convenient access. Such construction should be permanent, durable and tasteful in appearance. In the absence of a proper place for immersions, use of a
smaller baptistery designed for baptism by pouring seems more appropriate.


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