It is surely without precedent in the tradition of Catholicism that people who still call themselves Catholic can attend a Naming Day ritual in place of Baptism. If this occurs it must certainly be only because the sacraments of the Church, which were instituted by Jesus Christ, are not recognised or understood. This leads to the conclusion that the nature of grace acting on the soul of the individual is also not acknowledged or understood.

We most often encounter the sacrament of Baptism when an infant is brought to the Church for Christening. This means that a new human being becomes a child of God – he or she is formally adopted by the Father and united to the entire Christian family. This also happens at adult Baptism but it does not happen at a Naming Day Ceremony.

It is a cause of great sorrow particularly for grand-parents and other concerned relatives to find that many of those involved are entirely unaware of the significance of having a child baptised.  They claim a Naming Ceremony is nicer, more individual and more loving.  There are now many accredited humanist celebrants in Ireland who assist the parents in this practice and some time is spent in preparing the readings, poems, rituals and music chosen.  Sometimes there are balloons (pink or blue) released into the sky carrying the baby’s name and of course this is accompanied by video recordings. 

During the actual ceremony, fathers, mothers and others declare their love and commitment to the child.  Their hopes and aspirations for the future are stated and the child’s place in the family and wider community is acknowledged.  This is a humanist ceremony and it is all about love, not religion. The person (not God) is placed at the centre and each case is individual with personal choice determining what takes place. A Naming Day ceremony can take place in any location the parents desire. There are naturally no rules and no authorised ritual.  A “great day” is had by all.

This unfortunate child has not been formally adopted by the Father because the process by which this happens has not been carried out.  Sanctifying grace is not present and the child does not become part of the Christian family. While we cannot expect that everyone has to be a Catholic, the problem here is that these particular parents and other relatives have themselves been baptised and at least to some extent, been brought up in the faith of the Church.  That is the case with Irish people.  It would be rare indeed to find an adult Irish man or woman who has not been baptised. When an infant undergoes a Naming Day instead of a Christening, the chilling fact is that God has been deliberately ignored and factored out altogether.

Because of our long heritage of Catholicism, even those who want to remove themselves from Catholic practices, often find themselves attending the Church because of family connections. Apart from weddings and funerals, members of the extended family will usually be invited to join in the celebration of a Baptism, First Holy Communion or Confirmation and even perhaps Holy Orders. While being present at the Anointing of the Sick is rare, the establishment of the permanent diaconate is another event where family and friends will be invited to attend. These occasions can provide us with opportunities to evangelize. The simple question “what do you think the ceremony means?” could lead us to talk about the effect of grace on the soul. Reading the chapter in the Catechism is a good way to prepare and rekindle what we learned perhaps years ago.

The stained-glass windows we see in our church are made of material – they have colour shape and form – but it is the light that shines through them that makes them significant. Similarly, the familiar things belonging to our world can be used to point to a supernatural reality which in the end is the only reality, as all material things like our own bodies will someday pass away. Through the ministry of the Church the reality of grace is structured through the visible signs of the sacraments.

We cannot live a Christian life without the sacraments as the Church teaches these channels are necessary for salvation. The Church’s role is to guide her faithful people to eternal life. For this reason under the direction of the Holy Spirit, she lays down guidelines for the means of salvation. The only means of entry into the life of Christ is through Baptism. In addition to being present at Mass on Sunday, we have the obligation to avail of the Sacrament of Reconciliation and the Holy Eucharist at least once every year although of course this would be the barest minimum.

The doctrine of the sacraments is the doctrine of the second part of God’s way of salvation. It deals with the holy signs which Christ instituted as instruments of his grace. The sacraments are a living continuation of the mystery of salvation. They are earthly, external signs which, of themselves, could never acquire any supernatural significance, but the signs of the sacraments have been made by Christ into channels of grace. In this way, the reality of sacramental grace is brought about by the use of various material objects.

We could say that the sacrament of Baptism is humanistic as well as spiritual. This is evident in that objects are used that have natural as well as spiritual significance.  In Baptism a lighted candle and a white garment together with water, oil, and salt are used as the means by which human beings become sons and daughters of God.

In his earthly ministry Jesus made frequent use of natural elements; his parables are full of the things of this world – seed, trees, a fisherman’s net, a door, a lost coin, weeds, yeast, sheep, and hidden treasure in a field to name only a few. Material things reach their height at the Last Supper whenJesus, identifying himself with bread and wine, transforms them into his own Body and Blood. He gives to his disciples and so to all priests, the power to do the same in memory of him – memory meaning to make present again. And so through all ages since, his faithful people are able to partake of this blessed food in the Sacrament of the Eucharist.

Sacraments are “powers that come forth” from the Body of Christ, which is ever-living and life-giving. They are actions of the Holy Spirit at work in his Body, the Church. They are “the masterworks of God” in the new and everlasting covenant. (CCC 1116)

For catechesis and liturgical formation: