“Ask a Priest: Are we baptized in the name of the Holy Trinity or in the name of Jesus?”

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Q: I am teaching a 16-year-old boy about the Catholic faith. He has gone to Mass with me several times, and over the years we have helped him and his mother through their hardships. His mother also allows him attend my CCD confirmation class. He has never been baptized but has gone to some sort of “apostolic church” with his mother since he was very young. He told me that in his church they baptize in the name of Jesus. I told him that in the Catholic Church, he would be baptized with water in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. I showed him the verses in Matthew where this takes place. However, there is another place in the Bible where I believe baptism is done in the name of Jesus. Can you provide me with some information that I can pass along to him? Thank you! -D.W.

Answered by Fr. Edward McIlmail, LC

A: It is wonderful that you are sharing the Catholic faith with young people and taking this young man under your wing in a special way.

The situation you mention is easy to explain. We baptize “in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit” because Jesus himself told us to baptize that way (see Matthew28:19).

Elsewhere in the New Testament, for instance, in Acts 2:38, we read: “Peter [said] to them, ‘Repent and be baptized, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins; and you will receive the gift of the holy Spirit.'” Here the command to “be baptized … in the name of Jesus Christ” is not meant to be read as a formula for baptism — that is, the exact words to be used when performing a baptism. Rather, Peter means “in the name of Jesus Christ” in the sense that he is referring to the authority of Jesus.

The use of “name” in the sense of “authority” is clear in another passage, Acts 4:7-10 (we will except it here): “They brought them into their presence and questioned them, ‘By what power or by what name have you done this?’ Then Peter, filled with the holy Spirit, answered them,’… [I]t was in the name of Jesus Christ the Nazorean whom you crucified, whom God raised from the dead; in his name this man stands before you healed.”

Another use of “name” is found in Acts 19:5, where we read, “When they heard this, they were baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus.” The context here is when Paul meets disciples in Ephesus who had only received the baptism of John the Baptist. St. Thomas Aquinas explains that the baptism of John was not a sacrament but rather “a kind of sacramental, preparatory to the baptism of Christ” (see Summa Theologiae, Part III, Question 38, Article 1). When the disciples upgraded, so to speak, they would have received baptism administered with the Trinitarian formula (“in the name of the Father, etc.”).

So the short answer is: to be baptized “in the name of Jesus” means to be baptized as Jesus authoritatively directed. And he told us to perform baptisms “in the name of the Father, and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.” The Catechism affirms the use of this formula in No. 1240. I will keep your young man and his mom and you in my prayers. God bless!

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