Technically, the naming and blessing of an infant is nothing more than a father’s blessing, a blessing that a father has the right to give any and all of his children at any time – not just when they are infants. At its core, it is not an ordinance of salvation. It will not make an ounce of difference in the salvation of the child if this ordinance is not performed, even if it is not performed correctly.
Because it’s not a saving ordinance, guidance from the Church on how the ordinance is to be performed is quite scarce. As a result, this has led to many traditions that may or may not be in tune with the purpose of the ordinance. Since the Church is silent on these traditions, I guess we have to be the judges for ourselves.
In a revelation concerning the government of the Church, the Prophet Joseph Smith received the following instructions on this ordinance: "Every member of the Church of Christ having children is to bring them unto the elders before the church, who are to lay their hands upon them in the name of Jesus Christ, and bless them in his name" (D&C 20:70) (emphasis added). What does it mean to “bring [the child] unto the elders before the church”? Some perform this ordinance at home with their family. Does this count as “before the church”? What if a member of the Bishopric is present as a representative of “the elders”? What if a Bishopric member is not there, but it is nonetheless performed under the direction of the Bishopric?
The Priesthood Handbook of Instructions teaches that “[c]hildren normally should be named and blessed during fast and testimony meeting in the ward where the parents are members of record.” Thus, although not a strict regulation, parents have at least been encouraged to name and bless their children at their home ward on fast Sunday.
One reason to do this may be for the benefit of the parents, and not the child. For example, John Taylor taught that “by bringing their child before the Church [the parents] manifest their faith in the sight of their brethren and sisters, in God's word and in his promises, as well as their thankfulness to him for increasing their posterity and for the safe delivery of his handmaiden.” Thus, blessing the child before the congregation may comprise a miniature test of faith for the parents. President Taylor continued, “The child is also benefited by the united faith and responsive prayers of the assembled Saints . . .” [Messages of the First Presidency of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (Salt Lake City: Bookcraft, 1965-75), 2:311]. The combined faith principle in favor of another is similarly involved in the blessing of the sick. See James 5:14-15.
As most active priesthood holders know, the fixed portions of the ordinance are 1) addressing Heavenly Father, 2) invoking the authority of the Melchizedek Priesthood, 3) giving the child its name, and 4) closing in the name of Jesus Christ. At its core, then, this ordinance is simply a prayer where the person giving the blessing speaks directly with our Heavenly Father. So, what happens if he fails to address Heavenly Father at the outset? This happened a few months ago in my home ward in two separate blessings – one of which was given by our Elder’s Quorum President. Does the Bishop stop the ordinance and request that it be correctly redone? What if the Melchizedek Priesthood is not mentioned nor invoked?
There is also an unfixed portion where the person giving the blessing generally adds words of blessing as the Spirit dictates. This is where the ordinance gets fairly nebulous. Because this is simply a prayer, does he ask Heavenly Father to bless the child in the form of a prayer or does the person giving the blessing personally invoke the blessings upon the child? In other words, does he say “we bless you…” or “we ask thee to bless this child…”? I have seen it done both ways. It may just be me, but to me it sounds odd to hear the ordinance start out like a prayer, and then subsequently hear the person giving the blessing begin to pronounce blessings upon the child. Is there a right way or a wrong way to do this? In preparation of blessing my first child, I asked this question to two temple presidents at two different temples and received two separate responses.
For me, I keep in perspective the fact that the blessing has no bearing on the salvation of my children. In reality, if I didn’t like the way it turned out before the congregation, there is absolutely nothing stopping me from re-doing it at home later that day. When I blessed my two children, I personally kept a tone of prayer throughout the blessing. I petitioned Heavenly Father to bestow blessings upon my children as I felt was needed or essential through the Spirit. Was I right? Who knows? But it felt right to me…