When the water flows only on the hair, and not the skin of the head

DOUBTFUL: Seek conditional baptism.

Valid Sacraments

Doubtful Baptisms – reflections on the necessity for widespread access to conditional sacraments
Is it Valid? The Proximate Matter of Baptism – a comprehensive guide to possible defects

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: there must be a washing of the body, represented symbolically by its most noble part. The hair is not considered to be a part of the body, rather like fingernails. As such, the sign of a washing of the body is doubtfully present, and thus the sacrament is doubtful.

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“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. (Reminder: we earn through Amazon links)

“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. Not in the updated version.

“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 specified 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, Vol. I and Vol. II 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.

The proximate matter is the exeternal washing of the recipient […] When one of these last two is used, the water must flow on the skin of the person’s head.

Francisl J. Connell CSsR, Outlines of Moral Theology, The Bruce Publishing Company, Milwaukee, 1958. p 189

Actual Baptism is administered by infusion, immersion, or sprinkling; the water must flow over the skin of the head, but the modes of infusion or immersion, or a combination of both or sprinkling, customary in the country, must be retained. […] This can be done, if water is poured on the forehead and allowed to flow over the crown of the head, care being taken to separate the hair if it is thick.

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

Valid Sacraments

Doubtful Baptisms – reflections on the necessity for widespread access to conditional sacraments
Is it Valid? The Proximate Matter of Baptism – a comprehensive guide to possible defects

Is there a problem with your baptism?

If you think that you or someone you know was baptised in a 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.


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