Sunday, December 20, 2009

Is There a Right/Wrong Way to Perform a Baby Blessing?

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…

Any thoughts?

17 comments:

Ben Pratt said...

My dad pulled me aside before I blessed my oldest child, pointing out what he views as an inconsistency in switching voice from prayer to blessing. So I've done it addressing God the whole time, and that makes sense to me.

DB said...

Guidelines for performing common ordinances are provided in "Duties and Blessings of the Priesthood Part B". This manual doesn't explain the ordinance much beyond what you've already stated here except that, unlike a father's blessing, blessing and naming children must be authorized by the bishop although it doesn't have to be performed in church or on any particular Sunday. This ordinance also initiates the creation of the membership record of the child. If it is not performed, the membership record will be delayed until the child is older.

I also feel that this ordinance is rarely done correctly. I blame the fact that we receive very little instruction on how to conduct priesthood ordinances which has led to a tradition of poorly performed baby blessings. If any ordinance is being performed incorrectly, the bishop or whoever is witnessing the ordinance should stop it so that it can be corrected and performed correctly. If the EQP didn't know he was doing it wrong, maybe the bishop didn't either. It’s truly a shame when priesthood leaders don’t know how to correctly perform ordinances.

As far as the wording goes, I think both "we bless you" and "we ask thee to bless this child" are wrong. The prayer is addressed and directed to Heavenly Father so "we bless you" would be completely wrong unless "you" is referring to Heavenly Father. I think every baby blessing I've ever heard (except the ones I've given) have done this switch from addressing Heavenly Father to addressing the child. It’s wrong but few people seem to know any better. All ordinances should be spoken in the active voice and blessings should be pronounced upon the recipient, not just asked for, so "we ask thee to bless this child" would not be totally incorrect but not the best way to give a blessing. What would be better would be to name and bless the child using an active voice while addressing Heavenly Father like this - " . . . we name this child (insert name) . . . we bless this child with (insert blessings)."

What I really hate is when someone uses the phrase "and the name by which this child shall be known upon the records of the church is . . ." It seems like everybody uses that phrase as if it were a required part of the ordinance. It's like nails on a chalkboard to me. Please stop saying that!

Michael Booth said...

Thank you for addressing this topic. I think blessing in infant is often taken for granted and, as you pointed out, there is not clear instruction on how it should be done or a clear statement on its purpose.

When my first child was born, I was determined to learn all I could about blessing and naming a child and wanted to prepare myself for the event. I could find little specific instruction about it and so I simply studied the scriptures, fasted, prayed, and attended the temple with the intent on learning what blessing the Lord wished to give this new baby.

The result was one my sweetest experiences in exercising my priesthood. As time goes on, it seems that the content of the blessing has been more for me than for my child. The Lord taught me things about my child that, as he has grown, have been confirmed to be true.

As I've repeated this process with subsequent children, I've learned something about these blessings, and myself. For me, at least, as much as I love each baby, I haven't had the 9 months of bonding that my wife has. Once born, the baby needs its mother and has little direct need for its father. As much as I love the baby, it's difficult for me to really connect or bond with it.

For myself, by wrestling with the Lord and preparing and giving the blessing, I feel a deep connection and bonding with this otherwise helpless infant. I gain insight into who this child was in the pre-mortal realm and what their potential here on earth may be.

Nate said...

I find myself in the descent here. I think switching voice makes sense...

If it were just a prayer, why would it be done invoking the authority of the priesthood? I haven't looked, but if we were to search the scriptures for examples of father's blessings, I'd imagine that blessings were pronounced by the father and not requested in prayer.

Maybe one way to look at the ordinance is that it is a way for a father to present the child before the lord in gratitude for the greatest of blessings, and then begin his stewardship by giving a blessing while in the presence of the Lord.

Nate said...

Michael said "I gain insight into who this child was in the pre-mortal realm and what their potential here on earth may be."

Thanks for that...I have found that too.

The interesting part is that I've talked to patriarchs before that describe similar occurrences. I had one say to me that at times he feels that he is introduced to the person's spirit and it is as though he has known that spirit for years when he sets out to do a blessing.

My situation wasn't that strong, but I did gain insights to my child's spiritual gifts, personality, and potential. The feelings that I felt at that point still influence my parenting.

These similarities in infant blessings and patriarchal blessings also leads me to my conclusion above.

Jeremy said...

DB, your interpretation seems quite convincing. Because this is a prayer, but you are also invoking your priesthood power, this is more of a hybrid ordinance. The wording "we name this child (insert name)" and "we bless this child with (insert blessings)" feels consistent with the tone of the occasion.


Thanks for the comment.

Jeremy said...

Nate, I agree that I think the ordinance is partly, if not mostly, for the benefit of the parents. As John Taylor stated, parents bring their child before the Church to "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."

This is what the original intent of my post was supposed to focus on, but when I got to thinking about the ordinance as a whole it opened up several different avenues to pursue.

J. Stapley said...

There is a fairly long historical debate around naming a child at home or at church (or both). Additionally there used to be a tradition of 8th-day blessings.

I used to be a fan of switching voices, but after reading a number of early blessings, I've decided that maintaining God as the individual to whom the prayer/blessing is address has the most historical basis.

linda said...

Is is a blessing or a prayer? I think is is a blessing.

I think as a blessing, with the power and authority of the priesthood, a fathers job is to bless the child with whatever the spirit prompts him to say. To me, it isn't asking Heavenly Father for a blessing. It is a father saying, "I bless you..." under the umbrella of the priesthood. As a priesthood ordinance, like any other fathers' blessing, is a fathers opportunity to listen to the spirit and say/bless the child with what they stand in need of.

It bugs me to hear "we ask Thee to bless..." because the priesthood is hear on earth for men to act in Gods behalf. To me, it is more appropriate to say, "I bless you..". I don't know if I am making sense, but I think of it as a "fathers " blessing, not a prayer in which you ask Heavenly Father to bless your child.

But I may be wrong....I am a girl :)

Jeremy said...

Thanks for the link J.Stapely. I'll check it out.

Linda, your're not the only one that feels this way. The ordinance IS a prayer since the priesthood holder addresses Heavenly Father as he would any other prayer. The tricky part is pronouning blessings as the Spirit dictates. Does one switch from prayer-mode into blessing-mode, or does he simply use the prayer as a venue to petition the Father for blessings?

Personally, I like DB's suggestion above.

Anonymous said...

Years ago there was a time when the baby was given only its first and middle name if it was born under the covenant of the Temple sealing. The last name was a given don't know where all that came from thou. I also hate when the voice says and may the Lord bless you with all other blessings that you may be in need of' something like that. I feel it is a cop out. Give blessings as inspired by. It's a given that the Lord will bless us at other times. Just sounds wrong. Just might as well say 'May the Lord bless you with all the blessing you need, amen'.

Russ said...

There are only two things that bother me with baby blessings.
1) To many men in the circle. If you cannot reach the baby because of the press of the amount of men that is to many. I usually ask one man other than the grandfathers to represent each side of our families. That leaves me, my father, my father-in-law, a brother-in-law and one of my brothers. Also, a member of the bishopric brings the total to six, a very comfortable number.

2)Men not forming the circle properly. When I feel his left hand on my left shoulder I always will shift it to the right shoulder. Our arms are not supposed to be around the next man and it seems to break the circles continuity.

Other than that it does not matter to me where the blessing is performed, but for me the fast meeting is the most appropriate place for it.

kamschron said...

It may be selective memory at work, but I remember "we bless her" or "we bless him" as the form that I usually heard a few decades ago. Now it seems to be more common that the baby is addressed directly by the newly given name. I am not sure that the new form is less logical than the old. My residual doubts about this change in customs were diminished a little bit when I was asked to participate in a Hindu family's baby naming celebration. In the context of a tradition from a different culture, addressing the baby by name seemed perfectly normal.

Anonymous said...

I hate it when they start bouncing the baby as they hold it. Yeah, they're trying to calm the child because it cried, fussed, or moved at all. But usually the baby just begins to cry.

Sometimes it seems that there is a competition to see who can get the most people in the circle.

vzett said...

While the default 'blessing' mode in the church is towards the recipient, it's not the only mode.

While I was in the MTC, the principle taught was that if the recipient could understand the words spoken, then direct the blessing towards the recipient, otherwise direct towards Heavenly Father. The child blessing ordinance was highlighted as a case where voice switching was most common and potentially undesired (ie infants).

I've followed this instruction with blessing my children and to me it seemed very right, but I'm in the definite minority.

In one case, I've seen a father split the difference by closing the 'naming' part in the name of Christ and then essentially offering a 2nd blessing directed at the infant. This at least had the advantage of being more logically consistent from a language/grammar standpoint.

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Paul said...

As mentioned above, D&C 20:70 seems to be most informative. We are to bring the child before the Elders and to bless the child (before the church). Blessing the child seems to be different than praying for or over. Consecrating oil is a similar ordinance where we address our Father and then consecrate the oil for the healing of the sick. I guess you could say, "we ask thee to consecrate this oil..." as opposed to "we consecrate this oil..." method. But why act under the authority of the priesthood if you are not actually acting? I mean, if we are just praying, why the authority? We are acting in the priesthood and should bless and act accordingly.