When the water flows only on the hair

DOUBTFUL: Seek conditional baptism.

Article on conditional baptism here.

All of these authorities show that water must flow over the skin, and that the baptism is doubtful if it flows only over the hair and not also the skin of the head. By ‘skin of the head,’ these authorities clearly mean the forehead or, for Fr Adrian Fortescue, the cheek. The reasoning for this is detailed in our discussion of the proximate matter.


“Care should be taken that the water touch the skin, as the Baptism would be of doubtful validity if it merely touched the hair.

Fr Thomas Slater SJ, A Manual of Moral Theology for English-speaking Countries Vol II, 1925, 77.

“If the hair alone and not the skin is touched the baptism is doubtful. Baptism is certainly valid if administered on the head (if the hair is very thick it would be better to baptize on the forehead).” [Because it would otherwise be doubtful, as is stated – ed.]

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

“Unless the skin is washed the baptism is invalid or at least doubtful and thus must be conferred again conditionally. Baptism is at least doubtful if the water touches only the hair; the hair should be separated to allow the water to flow on the skin, or across the forehead or temples.”

Nicholas Halligan OP, The Administration of the Sacraments, Alba House 1964, 33-34

“The child had better be held with its face sideways, so that the water flows over its bare skin, and yet is not poured over its features. The water may be best poured over the right cheek.

Adrian Fortescue, Ceremonies of the Roman Rite Described, Burns and Oates Ltd London 1919, 395.

“It must be a washing of the one to be baptized, i.e., of his body, either the entire body or its principal part, the head. The baptism of any other part would be of doubtful validity (cf. Can. 746, §§ 2 and 3). The water must touch the body itself, not merely the hair or the garments.

Thomas Donlan OP et al, Christ, and His Sacraments, The Priory Press, Dubuque, Iowa, 1958, 336

“If the water touches only the hair, the sacrament has probably been validly conferred, though in practice the safer course must be followed.” [This source takes the most explicitly lenient form, but essentially ‘doubtful’ and ‘probable’ are very close, especially in the context of the sacraments where, as the Encyclopedia says, ‘the safer course must be followed’ – Ed.]

William Fanning, ‘Baptism’, in The Catholic Encyclopaedia, 1918

“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) […] 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.” [i.e. in the emergencies in Canon 746 1917, to be followed by a conditional baptism if possible – Ed.

Callan and McHugh, Moral Theology: A Complete Course Based on St. Thomas Aquinas and the Best Modern Authorities, Project Gutenberg, Imprimatur dated 1958. n. 2686.3

“The water must flow directly on the skin; […] From what has been said it would be easy to recognise which forms would be invalid and which valid.”

Dominic Prümmer, Handbook of Moral Theology, Mercier Press, Cork, 1956, n. 552.3.b.

Has this happened to you?

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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