Question: Why do Catholics baptize babies?
Answer: For adults who want to be baptized, the celebration only takes place after a long, guided, and thoughtful process through the Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults. This is also true for many Protestant Christians, who are baptized later in life, often after a personal, transforming religious experience. So, it seems fair to ask why our Catholic tradition includes infant baptism. After all, if we make adults who want to become Catholic wait months and even years as they grow in their understanding of Christ and his teachings, why should babies — who “do nothing” — be baptized?
Our custom of infant baptism dates back to the earliest days of the Church, when St. Paul baptized entire households, including, we presume, children (see Acts 16:15, 33; 18:8). That had become common practice by the second century. When Christianity was legalized 200 years later, infant baptism became the normal practice throughout the Church.
We recognize that in Baptism, we are given the grace to overcome original sin — the human tendency to choose ourselves and our own wills over God — and to become members of the Church. This is the gift we give to infants in Baptism.
In its essence, the baptism of infants also reminds us adult Christians that the gift of salvation and membership in the Church (i.e., the Body of Christ) is God’s initiative. It is freely offered to us, regardless of where we might be in life’s journey. Salvation isn’t something we earn. Instead, we see that Baptism is the beginning of a lifelong process of growing into the kind of disciples that Jesus wants us to be.
To learn more, see the “Catechism of the Catholic Church” (no. 1250-1252 and 1262-1270).