Etiquette for the Baptism of a Child in the Catholic Church

A Catholic baptism is done as soon as possible after the baby's birth.
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Baptism is one of the seven sacraments in the Catholic Church. It's known as the door of the sacraments, or the first sacrament, because it is the initial one for adults converting to Catholicism and also for babies born into the religion. The Roman catechism describes it as a regeneration by water. Catholic parents anticipate their child's baptism with great excitement. Observing proper etiquette for this ceremony shows your respect for the family and the church.

1 Parents

Catholic parents spend a lot of time preparing for their child's baptism. Many parts of the baptism can be planned while the mother is still expecting her baby, but it must be requested from the parish after the birth of the child. The parents must specifically request the immersion of the infant in water at the baptism if that's desired; otherwise, water from the church baptismal font will be poured over the baby's head.

The parents should dress up in nice, conservative clothes, and it's traditional to dress the baby in white for the ceremony. It's expected that parents will make both a donation to the parish at the baptism or prior to it, and there should also be a separate cash donation handed in a card to the priest who performs the ceremony. The priest does not receive money from the donation to the parish itself.

2 Godparents

Godparents play an important part in a Catholic baptism. They show their support for the child to be brought up within the Catholic faith and play a part in the ceremony. They also agree to teach the child morality and church doctrine if the parents cannot do so. The responsibility should only be accepted if the person is willing to fulfill the obligation if necessary. It's proper etiquette to coordinate with the parents on a time to attend the necessary preparation class. Godparents should dress conservatively for the ceremony and follow the clergy's instructions. Since this is a great honor, they should thank the parents and offer their support beyond the baptism.

3 Nonbelievers

It's normal for family members and friends to be invited to the sacrament of Baptism even if they are not Catholic. The invitation should be gratefully accepted or politely declined via the RSVP as soon as they know whether they can attend. While non-Catholics should never partake of holy communion, they are welcome to participate in the Catholic baptism. Because a celebration is usually held after the baptism, it's also acceptable to express a preference to attend only the celebration after the service if the nonbeliever is invited to both the ceremony and the celebratory gathering.

4 Gifts

Although gifts are not mandatory for a baptism, especially if you have already given the infant a present at birth or the shower, it's a thoughtful gesture. Something small and spiritually relevant is best. The gifts for a baptism should be meaningful and thoughtful, but the price is unimportant. Since the baby will not remember the gift, it's really for the parents. It shows your support, and it's polite to give a donation in the child's name to a charity that's significant to the parents. The appropriate time to give the present directly to the parents is at the reception following the baptism. Don't bring the gift into the church for the ceremony itself.

Eric Herboso is a nonprofit social media expert with articles appearing in national print magazines and throughout the blogosphere since 2003. He regularly gives talks and seminars at national nonprofit conventions, helping charities optimize their effectiveness through social media. He is currently working on a graduate degree in applied ethics from Stanford.