Baptizing a baby is a beautiful, meaningful event. If you've never done it, though, the process can be a little confusing. It's helpful to learn some basics about it before getting started.
Catholics believe that baptism joins a baby into God's family (the Church). By having your infant go through this ceremony, you are accepting the responsibility to raise him or her according to God's word and in accordance with the Catholic faith.
To make sure you are prepared and truly willing to take on this special role, the Church requires that you be a registered, actively attending member of the parish where the baptism is meant to take place, and that you complete meetings with the pastor or classes on baptism. (If you want to baptize in a different parish, you will need to seek permission after taking baptism education in your parish, as priests normally only have sacramental jurisdiction in their own parishes.) You are not required to be married, and your partner need not be Catholic, but the Church strongly encourages you to achieve a status that is in line with sacramental marriage and to be unified in the intention to bring up your baby in the Church.
Ideally, you should baptize your baby as soon as possible into the Church, preferably within a few weeks of the birth. To make this happen and still fulfill the attendance and education requirements, you likely will need to tell your pastor that you want to baptize your baby well in advance, somewhere around the middle of your pregnancy. Additionally, in most cases, the Church does not perform baptisms during Lent.
Your parish might ask for a copy of your baby's birth certificate and/or adoption record to ensure you have the authority to make religious decisions on your child's behalf. If you're not married, you might need additional documentation that shows paternity of the father.
Godparents and Christian Witnesses
Godparents, sometimes called sponsors, stand up with you during the baptism. They freely accept responsibility for the spiritual upbringing of your baby in the instance that something happens to you. You may have one or two godparents, but if you have two, they have to be male and female. Any godparent you select must be at least 16 years old. They cannot be the mother or father of your child. Non-Catholics technically cannot be godparents, as they don't attest to Catholic beliefs, but someone from another Christian community can stand up with you as a "Christian witness," provided the other person standing up is a confirmed Roman Catholic who has taken the Holy Eucharist. If you choose a witness instead of a godparent, they still have to have been baptized.
Most Catholic parishes ask that your child wear a special christening gown or outfit. Generally, this garment is white to symbolize that your child has been washed clean from sin through the blood of Jesus. (Many parents choose to extend this symbolism into their christening gifts, as well, such as giving the baby a white stuffed lamb, bib or baby Bible.) You and your godparents/witness are expected to wear fairly modest, semi-formal attire.
Infant baptism is a very special and sacred ceremony in the Catholic Church. It has formal requirements you need to meet, however. If you prepare well, the day will go off without a hitch.
Courtney Clower works in a small church and is always looking for ways to help new parents. Also a passionate writer, she likes to share what she has learned online.