The minister holds the candidate under running water

VALID if the minister directs the water onto the candidate’s head with his hand or an instrument – no action necessary.

PROBABLY VALID (but therefore not certain) if the minister at least holds the candidate, with no other defectsseek advice and conditional baptism.

Article on conditional baptism here.

As we address elsewhere in this guide, it is vital that the person speaking the words of the form (“I baptize you, etc”) also be the person applying the matter. Now, the proximate matter is a symbolic washing of the head or the entire body with water. What, then, are we to make of the situation under discussion?

Two authors below believe that it is sufficient for the minister to hold the candidate under naturally flowing water, even rain (if there is enough to flow). In this sense, the physical contact seems to establish the activity or agency of the minister sufficiently to constitute him washing the subject.

However, we have not been able to find many authorities discussing this case. One author believes that it is necessary for the minister must direct the water himself onto the head of the candidate. Although this author is something of an outlier, given that there are not so many contrary authors, it is not our place to dismiss his perspective. This is why we have said that it appears only “probably valid” and still in need of conditional baptism. Another, Halligan, holds that this is necessary only if someone else is pouring the water.

However, if there were no physical contact at all, the situation would essentially be one in which one person is speaking the form, and the other (or no-one) is applying the matter. As such, the sign ordained by Christ is absent and the sacrament is invalid.

This would be similar to that of the 1916 Sacred Congregation for the Discipline of the Sacraments case. There, the minister spoke the words, and the candidate herself walked into a pool. The Congregation, whose answer was published in the Acta Apostolicae Sedis, replied that this was invalid both on the grounds of a separation of the person speaking and the person (herself) applying the water, and also as a kind of “self-baptism.” Self-baptism has long been established as invalid.

Of all the cases this guide discusses, this is the most ambiguous. However, as we are obliged to take the safest option when it comes to sacramental validity, a conditional baptism would seem necessary if the minister does not use his hand to direct the water.


On the other hand, when a person is held by a minister under flowing water (fountain, gutter, rain) the baptism is valid, if the proper form is used. Likewise, when someone other than the minister pours the water, but the latter with his hand or with some other instrument directs the water upon the person to be baptized.

Nicholas Halligan OP, The Administration of the Sacraments, Alba House 1964, 34 n. 13c

Ablution is valid if the subject is held under rain or tap water which is directed by the hand of the minister onto the head of the subject.

Henry Davis SJ, Moral and Pastoral Theology – A Summary. Sheed and Ward, New York, 1952, 202

Validity also requires that one and the same person apply the water and pronounce the words. The washing may be done by in­ fusion or by holding the one to be baptized in standing or flowing water (e.g., in a spring or in the rain).

Heribert Jone, Moral Theology, The Newman Press 1962, n. 467.3

In the case laid out [before us], by no reason is it signified that any minister outwardly acted in order that the matter be applied merely by any subject, on the contrary the opposite is expressed. Namely, it is said: [the minister] himself has not poured out the water, nor submerged the bride, but, after the words have been spoken, she submerged herself. It is therefore clear that the baptism, from this summary, ought to be considered invalid.

Sacred Congregation of the Discipline of the Sacraments in Acta Apostolicae Sedis 1916 p 478-9. Available in Latin here and English translation published by One Peter Five here.

Is there a problem with your baptism?

If you think that you or someone you know was baptised in this defective manner, then take action. Take a look at this essay on conditional baptism, and speak to a traditional Catholic priest. You can also contact us here.

Back to the Proximate Matter of Baptism


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