Catholic baptism usually occurs during infancy. If you are a Catholic parent who wants to baptize your child, allow plenty of time for preparation because some parishes have stricter requirements than others. If you have an older child who was not baptized as a baby, the process will be a bit different.
What Baptism Is
According to the Catechism of the Catholic Church, "Baptism incorporates us into the Church." For that reason, it is often referred to as a sacrament of initiation. The word "baptism" means "to plunge or immerse," which refers to the biblical story of Jesus Christ being baptized in the Jordan River. Like many Catholic sacraments, baptism involves the use of several religious objects, or sacramentals, including holy water, a white garment, a candle and sacred chrism for anointing the baby.
Most parishes have a few requirements before the sacrament can take place. Although laypersons can baptize in cases of emergency, typically the sacrament must be ministered by a priest or deacon. Usually parishes require parents of baptized children to be members of the parish for a certain amount of time before requesting baptism. Most parishes also require parents to attend a baptism preparation class. Catholics are not required to name their child after a saint, although this traditional practice is commended.
You will also need to choose two godparents for your child's baptism. In the early church, new Christians had a sponsor to help bring them into the church and educate them about church teachings. The godparents must both be at least 16 years old and at least one must be a practicing Catholic. If one godparent is a non-Catholic, they are technically not a godparent because they cannot meet the requirement of attesting to Catholic beliefs, but they can stand as a witness at the baptism as a Christian witness, according to Catholiceducation.org.
The process is different for older children. If your child is older than age 4, discuss your options with the parish administration. For children older than 7 years, baptism usually takes place at the Easter vigil Mass, where older adults are also received into the church. The process usually takes a whole year, during which your child will learn the tenets of the Catholic faith. At the Easter vigil, your child will also receive the sacraments of Confirmation and the Eucharist.