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Baptism: The Christian's Rite of Passage

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Since birth I have been raised as a member of the Catholic church. I have always believed in the various scripture, traditions, and rituals that are part of my religion. One of these traditions involves a ceremony which welcomes a new citizen into the kingdom of God. Becoming a member of the church involves a set of rituals that is commonly known by the Christian community as baptism. Baptism is a very important rite of passage, and has a relatively significant role in the history of Christianity. During this ceremony, the individual being baptized must have a set of godparents, who help guide their godson or goddaughter on this quest of acceptance. If the individual being baptized is a young child, the parents choose who these godparents will be. As a symbol of cleansing, and a new beginning for the person being baptized, water is poured on his/her head by the priest to show that the baptism is complete. When I was baptized, I was only 5 months old, so the initial decision to be a member of the Catholic church was made by my parents. My godparents, who are also my aunt and uncle, played a major role in directing me closer to God, because of their involvement in my baptism. Although this rite of passage was originally bestowed on me by my parents’, I am happy that they chose this path for me. Even today, I continue to be a strong believer in God and the Catholic church. Being baptized has also allowed me to experience other significant milestones of catholicism (communion, confirmation, etc). Being baptized has allowed my connection with God to grow stronger, and I am thankful for those who set me on this path, which is now my own to navigate.

A rite of passage is defined by Arnold van Gennep as a particular set of rituals that help reshape an individual’s identity (Robbins et al. 2016, 61). In the catholic religion, a baptism is a very important sacrament that converts a person from an average individual into a citizen of God’s kingdom. A baptism not only parallels Arnold van Gennep’s definition perfectly, but a baptism also contains the three phases that make up a rite of passage. These three phases include, seperation, liminality, and reincorporation. The first stage of a rite of passage is the separation of an individual from their current identity (Robbins et al. 2016, 61). In the Catholic religion, we are taught that every person born into this world is a child of God, whether we choose to follow him, or not. Therefore, your identity before your baptism is a child of God, with no formal commitment made to him. The separation phase, of this particular rite of passage, is who you are before taking the first step in forming your new identity, as a member of the Catholic church. Therefore, an individual must undergo a transition as part of the liminality phase in a rite of passage (Robbins et al. 2016, page). The transition the individual partakes in is conducted by the priest, with help from the parents and godparents. First, there are a various set of prayers and promises that the priest recites. Next, there is a special oil that is put on the person’s head in the shape of a cross to bless them. Finally, water is poured on the person’s head to symbolize a final cleansing of the individual, before welcoming them into the kingdom of God. The liminality phase in a baptism is essentially all the rituals/prayers within the service that are involved in transforming the subject’s identity. Once the ceremony has been completed, the individual enters the reincorporation phase. The reincorporation phase is how the baptized person maintains their new identity after the ceremony closes. Once baptized, they must live up to their title as a member of the Catholic church. Following through as a citizen of the kingdom of God includes, going to church regularly, striving to be more like Jesus and spreading the teachings of the church, through speech and action. This reincorporation of their identity is not only physical, but is also spiritual. Praying/communicating with God on a daily basis, by their self or in a community, keeps their relationship with God strong. Overall, baptism is a rite of passage that fits Arnold van Gennep’s definition. The subject begins separated from God’s kingdom, but after a brief transitional phase the person’s identity is changed, and the individual must continue to incorporate this identity into everyday life.

Baptism is a rite of passage in the Christian religion where a person becomes a member of the kingdom of God. However, if someone is baptized as an infant, the baptism could also become a naming ceremony for the baby. In many cases, the baptism proceeds as it normally would, and at the end the end the parents announce the child’s name to the priest to round out the ceremony. Nevertheless, Christianity is not the only religion with a naming ceremony, that is also a spiritual journey for the subject. For example, in the Hinduism religion there is a naming ceremony that takes place 12 days after the child’s birth that is known as Namakarana. For the 11 days leading up to Namakarana, the baby has no contact with any family or friends, except for the mother. Since the baby is considered to be very vulnerable in these first 11 days, they need to be isolated so they can comfortably adjust to the new atmosphere. On the 12th day, a priest, the parents, the grandparents, a few friends, and some close relatives gather at the baby’s house, where the ceremony can commence. Similar to a Christian baptism, the baby is dressed in clothes that are specifically for the ceremony, and his or her head is dunked in water to symbolize a cleansing of the child (Raj and Rao 2013, 377). Namakarana is a naming ceremony, and the relative who has the privilege of naming the child varies depending on location. In most places, including Bengal and Gujarat, the aunt is given the responsibility of choosing a name, whispering the name into the ear of the newborn, and then announcing it to the group. In most cases, after the name has been announced, there is a sacred fire that is lit while the priest recites a set of sacred chants. These chants strengthen the relationship between the child and the Gods, so that these multiple deities can bless the baby (Raj and Rao 2013, 377). Similar to the sacrament of baptism, Namakarana can also be performed on an adult (Iwasaki 1963, 341). However, Namakarana is only performed on an adult if the adult is converting to Hinduism (Iwasaki 1963, 341). In this case, the individual who is converting must renounce their previous religion, and chooses their own Hindu name to proclaim their loyalty to Hinduism. Once their Hindu name has been declared, they must write this new name in a tray of uncooked rice. In Christianity, if an adult decides to be baptized, the individual can already be of Christian faith prior to the ceremony. This difference between the Christian and Hindu traditions can be explained by a number of other differences between baptism and Namakarana. For example, in the Christian faith, although it is common for someone to be baptized in the first year of their life, there is no particular age that an individual must partake in the ceremony. However, in Hinduism, Namakarana must take place 12 days after the child is born. Furthermore, a baptism is a public event that takes place in a church where the priest, parents, and godparents are highly involved in the ceremony. Namakarana, on the other hand, takes place in the baby’s house where only a limited number of guests are invited, and there are no godparents. Additionally, a baptism is not always a naming ceremony, and is primarily a service that solidifies a person’s citizenship in God’s kingdom. Contrarily, Namakarana allows the newborn to be blessed by the Gods, but it is primarily a naming ceremony, even if the person is an adult. Nevertheless, each rite of passage allows the subject to retain a new identity, by being brought closer to their God(s). Although each ceremony has a similar destination, the journey to get there contains differing traditions/rituals that showcase what makes each religion unique.

Work Cited

  1. Jha, J.C. 1976 THE HINDU SACRAMENTS (RITES DE PASSAGE) IN TRINIDAD AND TOBAGO. Caribbean Quarterly
  2. Robbins, Richard, Maggie Cummings, and Karen McGarry. 2016. Anthropology 1AB3: Religion, Race and Conflict – Custom Text. Toronto: Nelson
  3. Arun Raj and Prasanna N Rao. 2013 The Childhood Samskaras (Rites of passage) and Its Scientific Appreciation. Ayurpharm Int
  4. Iwasaki, S. 1963 Nama in Namakarana: Structures of Personal Names Ruled in the Grihyasutras. Journal of Indian and Buddhist Studies

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