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Christianity - Rites of Passage

This GCSE RE Christianity quiz takes a look at rites of passage. 'Rites of Passage' is the anthropological title for the set of ceremonies accepted and repeated within a society (or faith community) to mark major milestones in individual lives such as birth, reaching adulthood, marriage, the arrival of children, and, in due course, death. Christianity has a wide range of practice and belief about these important moments, and this quiz aims to help you familiarise yourself with at least the main outlines of Christian thought and behaviour.

A birth ~ the gift, and start, of a new life with all its potential (which we can only guess, but Christians believe God knows) ~ is clearly worth celebrating with the family, friends and wider worshipping community. It would be surprising if there were no rituals associated with that.

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Many faiths mark the individual’s transition from childhood into taking on adult responsibilities and understanding as a full member. Most of the major Christian denominations do this at a First Communion or by Confirmation (often ~ but by no means always ~ in the early teens, during adolescence). Then may come marriage (and perhaps the next generation of children), and/or ordination to the priesthood, in such branches of the church as have priests (not all of which will yet admit women to this role); and eventually, it will probably be a priest who leads the person’s funeral.

Each of these ‘changes of state’ is, of course, important to the person and those around them, and there are time-honoured customs to mark the moments. Adult baptism by total immersion is a very special occasion, and it would be hard to find two more poignant tiny words than the ‘I do’ assent to wedding vows.

This is the personal-yet-public world on which we are focusing in our GCSE RE quiz this time; let’s get started!

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  1. Jesus Himself was, of course, not 'christened' (although this name suggests an honoured anointing, and His birth had been respected at least with a visit from the Magi ~ the 'three wise men', though Scripture nowhere specifies that there were only 3 of them, nor that they were kings). He was named according to the Jewish ritual as a very young baby. But in preparation for His earthly ministry, He was specially honoured in a ceremony by his cousin who was just 6 months his senior. Who was the cousin?
    Hence that 'christening' is more formally recognised as 'Holy Baptism'. You could usefully look into the Bible for what John had to say about how much more important Jesus would be.
  2. Though sometimes now referred to as 'sponsors', what is the traditional name for the adult friends of a young child's parents, who at a Christian baptism formally pledge to keep a beneficent eye on the child ... until such time as s/he is able to take on the Christian commitments in his/her own right?
    A baptised child will usually have three godparents who take on the promises on its behalf.
  3. Many faiths have ceremonies at which a teenager (usually) is welcomed afresh into the worshipping community in their own right as an adult ~ such as Jews with their bar and bat mitzvah. In many major branches of the Christian Church, at around this age a young person may prepare for such a change of status by taking sessions with their priest, so as to be ready to become a full communicant member.

    On The Day, what is the ceremony known as, and by whom is the 'upgrade' conferred?
    The confirmation service then usually segue-s into a Holy Communion at which the confirmands receive the Sacrament/s (bread for Christ's body, wine for His blood) for their first time.
  4. The first recorded miracle by Jesus took place in connection with someone else's Rite of Passage, and reference is usually made to this at the start of Christian repeats of that rite today. What was the original story?
    There are rather distorted grains of 'truth' in answers 3 and 4, but it is usually with a reference to the wedding at Cana that formal modern Christian marriages begin. The original miracle was a first instance of Jesus quietly but generously using His power over nature to improve people's comfort and enjoyment (cf. the Feeding of the Five Thousand).

    Some Christian denominations are against alcohol in any shape or form since its use can, regrettably but obviously, lead to people losing control of their lives and actions; but it would clearly be wrong to base such abstinence on any claim of Jesus not touching wine Himself (in moderation presumably) on social occasions ... not least the Last Supper at the far end of His earthly ministry.
  5. Which of the following phrases is NOT usually to be heard during most modern Christian wedding vows?

    That the person being married will promise to look after their spouse ...
    Answer 4 is a well-worn idea but, in this case, a complete fabrication.
  6. For a Church wedding, only (usually) a priest or someone duly licensed may actually conduct the ceremony. But the marriage also has to be legally established ~ so, after the vows and marriage, the couple and their priest, parents and immediate supporters make an entry in an official book. What is this part of the occasion formally called?
    'Banns' (answer 3) is to do with making an official announcement, usually on three regular worship occasions before the wedding, just to make sure people know it is coming (and can pray and prepare for it) ~ and, theoretically, to invite anyone with an objection to come forward (e.g. if they know one of the couple is still, or already, legally married to someone else).
  7. Co-ordinating a burial, obviously shortly after someone's death, is a sensitive and complex exercise, involving liaison with the priest, family and others such as musicians, church stewards, printers and flower arrangers. The people who do this usually style themselves funeral directors, but what are they at least as often known as?
    American parlance usually has them as 'morticians' (i.e. those who deal with death). A hearse (answer 4) is a specialised limousine in which the coffin of the deceased would be slowly driven to the church &/or cemetery.
  8. In many graveyards, both in town and country, there is limited space left (or none); and many people who die prefer not to have their whole body buried anyway. What is the widespread alternative for Christians and others?
    At a cremation, the mortal remains (plus the coffin in which they were brought to the crematorium) are incinerated 'behind the scenes' after a short ceremony. The resultant ashes may be buried, or in many cases they are then scattered by the person's relatives in some place that was significant to the deceased in their lifetime, e.g. at a favourite sports ground or scene of particular natural beauty.

    The Christian belief is that once the soul has 'gone home to God', there is no further need for the mortal 'casing' in which it dwelt during the life in question. The remains should of course be disposed of in a respectful manner but there is no purpose in keeping them.
  9. Which of the following would you regard as LEAST LIKELY to feature as an argument in a priest's introduction to a Christian burial?
    Answer 3 would be terribly crass at the best of times (which this occasion, by definition, wouldn't be anyhow).
  10. One other rite of passage is when a member of a church becomes a priest, in those denominations that have them (and some explicitly don't, for a range of interesting reasons). After due and diligent study, a candidate ~ adult male or female in most churches, nowadays ~ will be formally admitted to the ranks of the priesthood as a qualified person who can then administer most of the other rites of passage (baptism, Confirmation preparation [but not the Confirmation itself: see above], marriage and burial) for others. What is this 'promotion' process called, and by whom would it be performed?
    In most branches of the Christian Church, Confirmation and Ordination can each only be done by a bishop.

Author: Ian Miles

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