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What Are Rites of Passage?

In life, as some might say, we all go through different stages. The traditional stages are usually classed as birth, childhood, adolescence (through which learning is also categorized), adulthood, middle age, old age, and finally, death. In Christianity, and, indeed, most religions, these stages, or phases of life, are marked with a ceremony; to celebrate one’s passing through life, and closer to heaven (where, Christians say, one goes to after death – a reward for being good and doing the right things during life) and God.

The Diagram below shows a few of them. These ceremonies are what Rites of Passage are. A rite or ritual is just a formal way of stating to oneself, others, and God, that they have passed through their last stage and have moved on to the next, hence the term. The ceremonies usually have set orders and customs based on what God has told them to do through the Bible and Jesus. Baptism – “Go therefore and make disciples… baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and the holy spirit” Matthew 28:19

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When a baby is born, it is the start of a new life. Therefore, Christians celebrate it’s starting the journey, with its baptism or christening. It also reflects Jesus, the head of the church, as, before he began to spread his message, he was baptized in a body of water by John the Baptist: – “Jesus came from Galilee to the Jordan to John, to be baptized by him. But the latter tried to prevent him, saying: ‘I am the one needing to be baptized by you, and are you coming to me?’ In reply, Jesus said to him: ‘Let it be, this time, for in that way it is suitable for us to carry out all that is righteous’ then he quit preventing him.

After being baptized, Jesus immediately came up from the water; and, look, the heavens were opened up, and he saw descending like a dove God’s spirit coming upon him. Look! Also, there was a voice from the heavens that said: ‘This is my son, the beloved, whom I have approved.'” Matthew 3:13-17 To imitate Jesus, the christening takes place around a water container made of stone, called the font, near the entrance of the church, symbolizing their entry into the Christian faith (similarly, in a funeral, the body is taken out through an exit at the opposite end of the church to symbolize their exit. See Death).

Everyone assembles around the font, filled with holy water (water which has been blessed), and the priest, or minister, then makes the sign of the cross on the baby’s forehead and says: “I baptize you [name] in the name of the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit/Ghost,” referring to the bible. This washes away any sin and blesses the child for the future. The child is then given a Christian name, and the Godparents are appointed. It is the responsibility of the Godparents to look after the child if ever the parents cannot. If the child is male, he will usually have two godfathers and one godmother, and vice versa.

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At the end of the ceremony, the child is sprinkled three times with water, and the ceremony is over. The whole point of the water, as was mentioned earlier, is to symbolize the washing away of sin concerning the person, or soul, of the child. The fact that the font is at the church entrance shows how it will progress in life, through to its final point in the church, after its funeral. Baptism is essential in the church, as one isn’t considered to be a pure member of the congregation without it. As the bible says, in 1Corinthians 6:11: “You have been washed clean…you have been sanctified…you have been declared righteous in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ and with the spirit of our God.”

Death – “For dust you are, and to dust, you will return” Genesis 3:19 Just as baptism is essential, so, also, is death. It is the final thing, which inevitably happens to all of us. But apart from all that, it too is a progression: from life into either Heaven or Hell (of course, if one has been the best kind of person they could have been, through their life, then Hell isn’t even considered). However, some atheists do decide to have their funerals in a church. Some think this shouldn’t be allowed, as they haven’t accepted God.

Suicide is also taken into consideration. Some Christian denominations, The Roman Catholic Church and Jehovah’s Witnesses in particular, believe suicide to be a sin. It is not the right of any human being to decide whether they should live or die and are refused a Christian burial. In this country, though, the main denomination, the Church of England, governs all Protestants in England to have a Christian burial, unless specified by the subject in his or her will, a written statement, and proof from a close relation. Therefore, regardless of some people’s wishes, they are given a Christian funeral along the following lines.

Before the funeral, the undertaker will prepare the body, dressing it in the deceased’s favourite clothes or a shroud, after which it is in a coffin. It is then taken home or to a chapel of rest, where friends and relatives can go, to pay their last respects. This is known as the wake. Then, on the day of the funeral itself, the coffin, usually placed with decorative flowers etc., is brought to and from the church in a hearse, or a horse-drawn carriage, taken through to the high altar, at the front of the church, by the pallbearers, and the service begins.

Hymns are sung, and prayers are said, to introduce the service before the minister makes a tribute to the deceased. Then those who were close to the deceased will give a short speech, or eulogy before another sermon is preached, and more prayers and hymns. Finally, the coffin will be taken to the cemetery for burial or cremation, and a final prayer will be said (which is where the famous “Ashes to Ashes, dust to dust” comes in) before the body is buried or burnt. Afterwards, there is usually a reception, where a toast is made to the deceased.

Part Two. Marriage (and Divorce?) – “Let marriage be honourable among all” Hebrews 13:4 In Christianity, marriage is sacred. A bond, which can, and should, never be broken. The joining of two persons, who become as one. As the bible says, in 1Corinthians 7:10-11: “a wife should not depart from her husband…and a husband should not leave his wife”. It clearly states that separation, or even divorce, would be a sin. There are four main points, which Jesus identified, concerning marriage: –

  1. Adultery is the only grounds for divorce – “whoever divorces his wife, except on the ground of fornication, and marries another commits adultery.” Matthew 19:9
  2. The husband is the head of the house, and as head, he should love, care, and respect his wife – “Let wives be in subjection to their husbands…husbands continue loving your wives, just as Christ also loved the congregation” Ephesians 5:23-25
  3. Christians should marry only other Christians – “only in the Lord” 1Corinthians 7:39
  4. A man is to have only one wife – “a man will leave his father and mother and he must stick to his wife and they must become one flesh.” Genesis 2:24
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However, this is interpreted differently, among different Christian denominations. For instance, in the Roman Catholic Church, there are absolutely no grounds for divorce at all, not even adultery gives an excuse for it. If a Roman Catholic does divorce, he is faced with the prospect of ex-communication. The same goes for the other three points of marriage. And if he wants to marry again, he isn’t permitted to do so in a church. With Jehovah’s Witnesses, adultery is a ground for divorce, but the only one, and even then, a husband or wife should be forgiving, and divorce should be treated as a last resort.

In the Church of England, two people may not even want to be wed, but they may just want a blessing, therefore being identified as married in the eyes of God and the church. The Greek Orthodox Church’s view is very similar to that of the Roman Catholics, in that marriage is one of the holiest states to be in, and must be viewed as such. Therefore, if a couple divorces, they are seen to be unstable in their faith. Within all reaches of Christianity, though, marriage is seen to be sacred, likened to the relationship between Jesus and the Church. As is written in Ephesians 5:23: “a husband is head of his wife as the Christ also is head of the congregation”. Therefore, all Christian denominations treat it very seriously.

Two people cannot, just on a whim, marry, because that decision will affect the rest of their lives. Therefore, married Christians should be constantly aware of their behaviour around people of the opposite sex, and their spouse. Firstly, being in the mind of what marriage is about, people should choose carefully, before marriage, deciding if they truly love the other person enough to live with them, happily, for the rest of their lives. Next, during the marriage, they should be aware that every day, they must be in the mind of their partner, and how what they do will affect them (I’m thinking primarily of adultery, but even flirting, if the spouse doesn’t like it, is testing the waters of the relationship).

Finally, if one is considering divorce, Christianity strongly encourages the person to look at their partner in the most positive light possible, and think about what made them want to marry them in the first place. At the end of the day, though, some teachings say, it is ultimately the individual’s choice, but even then, it does affect the spouse. Most denominations, though, do not approve of or look well on, divorce at all. Purely for the reason that Jesus gave only one reason for it: adultery – something which, if you really loved your partner, you wouldn’t even dream of doing anyway. In short, divorce is wrong, unscriptural, and should only be treated as a last resort.

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Part Three. Rites of Passage: Only for Believers? – “Not everyone saying to me ‘Lord, Lord’ will enter into the kingdom of the heavens, but the one doing the will of my Father who is in the heavens will.” Matthew 7:21 So, should those who are “unbelievers”, or “heathens”, be allowed Christian ceremonies? Can they be allowed to have Christian rites performed for them, despite never going to church, or being involved with the church, or, as is more the case now, any church at all? Well, this, again, is not easy to answer. Jesus did say that the message of Christianity should be preached to “all nations and tribes and peoples and tongues”, so from that, one can argue that Jesus taught to embrace those outside Christianity. However, Jesus also said, in the case of marriage, that Christians should marry only other Christians.

Again, though, shifting the balance once more, baptism is not only applied to Christian babies. There is an account in Acts chapter 8, which tells of an Ethiopian eunuch, who is baptized there n the spot, in a nearby body of water, so one, again, could argue that anyone can enter the religion, and many people do convert to Christianity, having been Muslims, Jews, Buddhists, Hindus, and even Pagans, so, in that sense, there is no limitation. The same goes for death (especially in this country, as has been explained above): if one has realized that they’ve lived a “sinful” life, they can make one last repentance, before dying. In that sense, through their death, they’ve been baptized, as it were.

I suppose, though, really, it’s down to the individual, and what s/he really feels. Personally, I wouldn’t bother with the fuss of paying for a church to get married in, unless I really wanted to get married in one, and I had agreed with my fianc�e, what we wanted to do. Some people only do things to please others, or for ceremonial sake, either case, with no real personal feeling or regard, and I feel that this makes for unhappy circumstances. Unless a person is completely sure of what they are doing, should they decide that they want to do it at all, or in a Christian place of worship. If one strongly believes in Christianity, as Jesus would say, if his heart is in it, then that person is a Christian, whether baptized or not. But that is only one person’s viewpoint, which is why the issue becomes a tricky one, as Christianity is dealing with millions of people’s, and not just one, viewpoints.

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What Are Rites of Passage?. (2021, Sep 27). Retrieved August 14, 2022, from