It is a common argument you will hear among well-meaning folks, even pro-lifers, especially following the news of a miscarriage by their friends or family members. The argument is that a baby who dies in utero receives the grace of the Baptism of Desire for Catholic parents who intended to baptize their baby upon birth. Sometimes you will even hear pro-lifers argue aborted babies receive the grace of the Baptism of Desire, as the Catholic Church supplies the desire for all children to be baptized.
Are these pious and well-meaning thoughts? Definitely. Yet, do they hold up to the Tradition of the Catholic Church? In other words, is this “hope” that these children do receive the grace of the Baptism of Desire the actual teaching of the Catholic Church. The answer, unfortunately, is no. I have written about this in the past, and I thought I would revisit it again.
Consider Pope Pius XII’s Address of Italian Midwives in October 1951. I fully recognize this is not a magisterial document, but I offer it as proof of the commonplace understanding of the Church on this important topic. He states in section 21.a. the following to the midwives about the great necessity of water Baptism for babies:
“If what We have said up to now concerns the protection and care of natural life, even more so must it concern the supernatural life, which the newborn receives with Baptism. In the present economy [i.e. the economy of salvation], there is no other way to communicate that life to the child who has not attained the use of reason.
“Above all, the state of grace is absolutely necessary at the moment of death; without it, salvation and supernatural happiness — the beatific vision of God — are impossible. An act of love is sufficient for the adult to obtain sanctifying grace and to supply the lack of baptism. But to the as yet unborn and to the newborn, this way is not open.
“Therefore, if one considers that charity toward our fellow man obliges us to assist him in case of necessity, then this obligation is so much more important and urgent when the good to be obtained or the evil to be avoided is the greater, and to the degree that the needy person is incapable of helping or saving himself with his own powers. And so, it is easy to understand the great importance of providing for the baptism of the child who is deprived of any use of reason, and who finds himself in grave danger or on the threshold of death” (emphasis added).
He goes on to say in the next sentence that the midwives themselves have a grave duty to administer water Baptism when the child’s life is in danger and there is no time to wait for a priest to come administer the Sacrament.
If the Pope is erroneous in his thinking, then how come he is only reiterating what the Universal Doctor of the Church, St. Thomas Aquinas teaches, as well? For, Aquinas teaches children lack Baptism of Desire.
The Doctor of Church writes, “By Baptism a man is ordained to the Eucharist, and therefore from the fact of children being baptized, they are destined by the Church to the Eucharist; and just as they believe through the Church’s faith, so they desire the Eucharist through the Church’s intention, and, as a result, receive its reality. But they are not disposed for Baptism by any previous sacrament, and consequently before receiving Baptism, in no way have they Baptism in desire; but adults alone have: consequently, they cannot have the reality of the sacrament without receiving the sacrament itself” (ST III Q. 73 a. 3, emphasis added).
Although I could add more examples, I offer these two quotes as proof of what the Church teaches about Baptism of Desire. Baptism of Desire, it has been most commonly understood, is available for Catechumens who may pass away prior to the Easter vigil or whatever date they await to receive the Sacrament of Baptism and entry into the Catholic Church.
Alright, unload on me. Let’s hear your thoughts below.