Were you baptised as a baby or perhaps your parents left it until you were old enough to make up your own mind; and just what is the difference between baptism and christening?
And for that matter, are you still in touch with your godparents?
Religion causes no end of angst doesn’t it, which is pretty ironic given most of them are about following your chosen deity in peace and harmony (if you exclude those extremist lunatics who have completely lost the plot). But just how important is baptism in our technological age and is it necessary to be baptised in order to be a Christian?
Maybe not, but in order to get into one of the top London state schools, the London Oratory where Tony Blair sends his sons, you have to prove your offspring were baptised before they were six months old; and this policy of solving over subscription is quite common amongst Catholic schools as they focus on the Code of Canon Law which expects parents ‘to see that their infants are baptised within the first few weeks’.
So has the whole purpose of baptism been lost in the mists of political, societal and financial gain or has there been a natural evolution of the christening ceremony?
I’ve attended a few christenings in my time and each one has been a very special and touching occasion with everyone doving and cooing over the baby, and the parents feeling very proud as their offspring enjoys being the centre of attention.
But does the ceremony have the same meaning and impact that it once did or is it just another opportunity for people to have a good old knees-up? And what about the godparents; where do they figure in all this?
JOHN THE BAPTIST STARTED IT …
According to the big book, John was born around six months prior to Jesus and he was given the task of setting things up ready for the main event.
He was a bit of a scruffy Herbert by all accounts, wearing a goats’ hair robe and eating locusts with honey (the staple diet of the average hobo at that time), and he didn’t have much in the way of social graces either; but no matter, for his magnetism seemed to do the trick and he attracted huge crowds many of whom were ready to be ‘baptised’ in preparation for the coming of the Messiah.
So it seems to have been a grown-up rather than a baby thing and given the whole idea was to wash away your sins, it’s reasonable to assume very few babies know much about one let alone seven deadly sins.
But there is much theological debate about this and as there is no evidence either way so the argument is likely to continue.
WHEN IN ROME …
During the time of the Roman Empire in the early days of Christianity, there would be a ‘sponsor’ (from the Latin word spondere – to promise) who would vouch for the integrity of the person wanting to be baptised. Then as Christianity took a hold it was less important for the person to be vetted and the sponsor became more of a religious guide.
However, it seems likely that by the 3rd century, baptism of children was standard practice and with Jesus having said,
“Verily I say unto thee, except a man be born of water and of the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God”
– it must have put the wind up a few parents who would have their babies baptised asap lest they died early on and were left in spiritual limbo (the mortality rate at this time was up to 20%).
THE REFORMATION & THE VICTORIANS …
Religion was hugely important throughout the centuries and a christening became a significant event with an increase of infant baptisms and less adult ones; also the single sponsor had evolved into two people (one male and one female) i.e. the Godparents.
Their role and identity was also clarified by church law, they had to be christened and confirmed themselves and were expected to be part of the child’s Christian upbringing.
The quantity of godparents has increased over the years with Elizabeth Hurley’s son having six godfathers, one of them being Elton John; and Prince George has seven!
NUMBERS DROPPING …
In 1980 1 in 3 infants were baptised; by 2011 that had fallen to 1 in 10 although the Church of England report a healthy 10,000+ christenings are taking place each month.
The rules have been softened too with less of an expectation for the godparents to have been baptised and confirmed themselves which in itself is going to become less and less likely as the numbers continue to decrease.
But if the Catholic education system has its way, perhaps we shall see a resurgence of christenings as parents battle to get their children into their ‘first choice’ of school.
BUT HERE’S WHAT I THINK …
I was christened and had three godparents, two godmothers and one godfather, the latter was the only one with whom I stayed in touch, and none of them did anything to enhance my religious outlook on life. Both my sons were christened, not because I have any great religious fervour or hope of getting them into a particular school, but because it seemed the right thing to do; and as ever, we have lost touch with half of the godparents. But it felt like I was finding them a spare chair at some enormous family table where you are free to come and go as you wish.
Whether they will see themselves as part of this gigantic religious family unit I cannot say, but just knowing there is an open invitation to join the party at any time, in the knowledge there will always be a warm welcome awaiting them no matter what, gives me and I hope them, a sense of belonging.
And the difference between baptism and christening? There is none, although some view the act of anointing as the ‘baptism’ and the celebration itself the ‘christening’.
Were you baptised and what about your children? I’d be interested to know.