The Baptism Record
The baptismal register is the primary record for recording a person’s status within the church (Canon 535.2). In general, the baptismal register is to include: full name at birth, date and place of birth, minister of the sacrament, full names of the parents (including mother’s maiden name), names of the sponsors or witnesses and date of the conferred baptism (Canon 877). Notations are to be entered in the baptismal registers for confirmation, marriage, and holy orders. Even if these sacraments are conferred at the same parish, the notations are to be recorded in the baptismal register and the corresponding index. Additional notations to the register include those regarding religious profession, conditional baptisms, rites supplied, annulments, laicization, change of rite and dispensation of vows.
Certificates are to be issued as soon as possible after the event is recorded in the register. A routine baptismal certificate is to include all information of a public nature, but may not include any confidential notations (such as references made to adoption or legitimacy). An official baptismal certificate is to be signed, dated, and sealed. The sections for confirmation and marriage (sometimes on the reverse of the form) are to be completed as notations indicate. If there are no notations, it should be completed with the phrase “none recorded.”
A state birth certificate is to be used as the supporting documentation for the baptismal register entry. If this is not possible to obtain, the hospital record can be used to verify the date of birth and parents names. Entering information in the baptismal register based on verbal statement alone can be problematic, and may result in the recording of inaccurate information and the creation of inauthentic records.
Sponsors: In some cases, it is customary for the baptized to have multiple sponsors. When this occurs the original certificate issued may list all sponsors, but the register itself is to list only two. The parents of the baptized are to choose the sponsors that are to be listed in the register, keeping in mind that at least one sponsor must be Catholic (Canon 874.2).
In cases when the parents of the baptized request new “godparents” some time after the baptism has taken place, it may be explained that the parents may chose anyone to assist with the faith development of an individual but that does not alter who witnessed the baptism; therefore, the register may not be changed.
Unwed parents: The name of the mother is to be entered in the register if there is public proof of her maternity (e.g. the birth certificate) or if she states this in writing or before two witnesses (Canon 877). The name of the father is to be inserted only if there is public proof (e.g., the birth certificate) or by his own sworn declaration before the pastor and two witnesses. If no public proof is available the name of the father or the mother is not recorded. The phrase “father unknown”, or “mother unknown” is to be used. The certificate issued from this entry will record the appropriate phrase. The use of the phrase “illegitimate” is not recommended. Supporting documentation is to be kept in the permanent files of the parish archives and include appropriate cross-references.
Profession of Faith: A profession of faith is to be recorded in the “Reception into Full Communion” register or in the Baptism Register with a notation “profession of faith.” When confirmation has been received, the name of the person making the profession is to be recorded in the confirmation register with a reference in the index to the page and entry number in the Baptismal or Reception into Full communion register.
Emergencies: When baptism occurs in an emergency situation, either at home or in an institution such as a hospital, notification is to be sent to, and the register is to be completed at the parish or faith community of the parents of the baptized (in cases of infant baptism) or at the parish or faith community in which the individual resides (in cases of adult baptism). The register is to be completed as outlined for ordinary baptism. In cases when rites are supplied at the proper parish or faith community in the future, the date of baptism to be listed in the register is the date the “emergency baptism” took place. The words “rites supplied” and the date of the completion of the celebration are to be listed in the remarks column.
Adoption: It is recommended that baptism not take place until after the child is formally adopted and the birth certificate is issued. The entry in these cases should include: the full name of the child as designated by the adopting parent(s), full names of the adopting parent(s), date and place of birth, names of the sponsors, name of the minister performing the baptism. When baptism occurs prior to adoption, the notation made in the original entry is to include the statement “Adoption. Do not issue this record. See entry X, page X. The new entry is to list the legal name of the individual, the names of the adopting parents and the name of the minister who conferred the sacrament. The new entry is not to include the names of the witnesses or sponsors of the baptism. The new certificate issued from this record is to include only the names of the adopting parents, the child’s legal surname, the date and place of baptism, and the name of the minister who conferred the sacraments. The names of the sponsors and any noted remarks are not to be entered on the certificate.
Supporting documentation for the new entry would include a copy of the revised birth certificate issued by the state and the adoption decree. These documents are to be kept in the permanent files of the parish archives and are to include reference to the appropriate register and entry number.
If the original baptismal record was made in a parish other than the adopting parents' parish, an entry is to be made in the register of the adoptive family’s parish citing the location of the original record, and list only the names of the adopting parents and date ands place of birth. The certificate is to be issued from this entry.
The First Communion Record
The Statutes of the Archdiocese prescribe the use of the First Communion register. The entry is to include full name of the first communicant as found on his/her baptismal certificate and the date and place of reception of first communion. Date and place of baptism is also recommended. A current copy of the baptismal certificate is required as supporting documentation. A certificate is to be issued as soon as possible after the event is recorded in the register.
The Confirmation Record
In general, the confirmation register is to include: the full name of the confirmed, the confirmation name, the name of the parents, the name of the sponsor, the date and place of the event and the name of the minister (Canon 895). A notation of the date and place of baptism is recommended. A copy of the baptism certificate is required as supporting documentation. A confirmation certificate is to be issued as soon as possible after the event is recorded in the register.
In cases of joint celebrations, as those performed at the New Cathedral, each parish or faith community which sends candidates is responsible for the completion of its own register, which is to include the name of the parish in which the celebration took place. Notification of the reception of this sacrament is to be sent to the place of baptism. The date and place of the reception of this sacrament is to be noted in the baptism register even if the sacrament took place in the same parish or faith community.
The Marriage Record
In general, the marriage register is to include: the full names of the spouses, the full names of the witnesses, the name of the minister officiating, date and place of the marriage celebration (Canon 1121.1) and date and place of baptism of each party.
The prenuptial file or marriage data envelope created for the marriage is to be retained in the permanent files of the parish archives. The outside of the envelope may indicate the correlating register entry number. Supporting documentation in the prenuptial file or “marriage date envelope” includes the current (dated less than six months prior to request) baptismal certificates for baptized parties, completed prenuptial forms, civil marriage license, civil marriage certificate (in cases of radical sanation or a convalidation), death certificate (when necessary), a copy of a rescript (when necessary), any additional prenuptial forms or documentation required by the parish or faith community (e.g., engaged encounter certificate).
It is the responsibility of the officiating minister to promptly file any and all civil documents with the appropriate county. The sacramental certificate is to be issued as soon as possible after the marriage has been recorded, and notification of the marriage sent to the place of baptism of the Catholic party. The date and place of the reception of this sacrament is to be recorded in the baptismal register, even if the place of the baptism is the same parish or faith community as the place of marriage.
Marriages are to be recorded in the register of the parish at which the ceremony takes place. In cases where the ceremony occurs in the chapel of an institution, the marriage is to be recorded in the parish in which the institution resides. In cases where a wedding is celebrated with dispensation from canonical form, record of the marriage is found at the parish in which marriage preparation took place and which requested the dispensation and at the Chancery of the diocese that granted the dispensation (Canon 1121.1). The prenuptial file or marriage data envelope is to be kept at the parish in which the preparation took place. Notification of the marriage is to be sent to the place of baptism of the Catholic party by the party responsible for marriage preparation.
The index of the marriage register is to be arranged alphabetically by the last names of both spouses. The format is “male surname/female surname. The name to be used for the bride’s surname is that which is found on her baptismal certificate or, if not baptized her legal name.
Records relating to the profession of perpetual vows are maintained by individual Orders. Notification of the profession of perpetual vows is to be sent to the place of baptism. The date and place of profession and the name of the witness to the vows are to be noted in the baptismal register.
The date and place of ordination as well as the name of the Ordinary conferring the sacrament are to be sent to the recipient's place of baptism where it is to be noted in the baptismal register.
The Death Record
Although death is not a sacrament, a register is kept and it generally includes: the full name of the deceased, the date of death, the name of the presider, and the date and place of burial. Notations may include additional information such as next of kin, age, whether anointed, name of funeral home and cause of death.
In cases where the funeral rites are celebrated in another parish or faith community, it is suggested that notification be sent to the pastor of the deceased. In the event that the funeral rites do not include a mass at the parish but only a service at the funeral home, an entry is made in the death register if the person is considered a parishioner. In the event the parish priest is attending a funeral service as a representative member of the clergy but the individual does not have a connection to the parish, no entry is made.
The Director of Archives and Records of the Archdiocese of St. Louis is always available to answer questions concerning the creation, maintenance, and disposition of sacramental records.