The Bible says that after Christ was baptized He “came out of the water” (Matt. 3:16), indicating that He was baptized by total immersion. Why doesn’t the Catholic Church also baptize by total immersion instead of by pouring on the head?

The Catholic Church usually baptizes by pouring: 1) because water sufficient for total immersion is not readily obtainable in some localities, 2) because total immersion would be cruel for babies, fatal for some sick people and impossible for some prison inmates, and 3) because the Apostles baptized by pouring. In the Didache, composed by the Apostles, the following procedure for Baptism is prescribed: “Pour water three times on the head in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.” The words “came out of the water” do not necessarily imply total immersion. They could just as well imply that Christ came up on the shore of the river Jordan after standing ankle deep in the water. This is not to say that the Catholic Church considers Baptism by total immersion invalid – she simply does not consider it practical as a universal form.

Author: Paul Whitcomb
Nihil Obstat: Rev. Edmund J. Bradley Censor Deputatus
Imprimatur: Timothy Manning, Auxiliary Bishop of Los Angeles, Vicar General
April 13, 1961