By Lucinda Herrick
What are sacramental records? Why are they important? Where are they found? Will I need them? If these and other questions come to mind, then read on!
Sacramental records contain the spiritual history of sacred events in the life of each Catholic. These events include baptism, first communion, confirmation, reconciliation, marriage and death. If a Catholic becomes a priest, then holy orders is added to this list. Lesser events are also noted, including sick calls and change of church (change of rite) when one moves into a new parish.
Your baptism starts this amazing paper trail of your Catholic faith and is the first step in your Catholic spiritual life. It is recorded in the register at the church in which you were baptized. According to Canon Law (535), each parish is to have parochial registers in which to record baptisms, marriages, deaths, etc. as prescribed by the conference of bishops or the diocesan bishop. Each additional sacrament you take (first communion, confirmation, reconciliation, marriage and death) are all noted in the baptismal register under your name. If any of these events occur at another church/parish, that parish is responsible for contacting your baptismal parish about these events so your records may be updated. The baptismal register serves as the primary record of your canonical status in the Church.
Why is this important? Your Sacramental records are required in order for you to be confirmed or married in the Church, or for you to become a priest or join a religious order. Since most Catholics are baptized as infants, not much thought is given to Sacramental records until a major life event takes place, usually marriage. At that point a person is suddenly made aware of the necessity of locating their baptismal records. For that reason, many contact the Archives and Records office of their Diocese.
I am a volunteer at the Archives and Records office for the Diocese of Phoenix. Every day we receive calls from people wanting copies of their baptismal record as they are going to attend RCIA, or get married. The church in which they are going to have these events requires their baptismal record as proof they were baptized as Catholics; otherwise, they will have to be baptized into the Catholic Church in order to proceed. Because we live in the 21st century, most people think that all records are digital and available for immediate access by the Archives and Records office. This is not the case! No sacramental records are digital, nor will they be in the future unless a change is made to Canon Law. All Sacramental records are hand entered in large books at the church where the baptism took place. No baptismal records are stored at the Diocese. The Archivist directs the person to contact the church of their baptism. From that parish, a record will be provided. Sometimes, the person does not know where they were baptized. Then they must ask family for assistance in locating their baptismal parish. Oral histories and photos can provide reference of baptism. If the person requesting records only knows the city of their baptism, not the parish, the Archivist will provide contact information for each parish in that location. It is the person’s responsibility to contact the parish and request their baptismal records. Once obtained, the person may proceed with RCIA, marriage or other sacred events.
Thanks to diligent sacramental record keeping by our parish churches, a handwritten history of major milestones in your Catholic spiritual life exists. Where are Your sacramental records?