Laws and Ordinances

Hey guys, so in a previous video, I briefly mentioned that every once in a while during a Latter-day Saint church service, you might be present for what we call a baby blessing—but in that video, I didn’t explain what a baby blessing is. So let’s talk about what they are, why we do them, and how baby blessings have changed over time. 

Alright, so different faith traditions have different ways of formally introducing children into the community of faith. In The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, we give babies or young children a name and a blessing. This ordinance (or religious ceremony) normally takes place in front of the child’s local congregation during our church services, usually on a fast Sunday — though the Bishop of that congregation or ward can figure out other arrangements as needed. For example, during Covid, many baby blessings happened at home instead of at church.

As per the Church’s handbook, “Under the direction of the bishopric, Melchizedek Priesthood holders gather in a circle to name and bless a child. They place their hands under a baby, or they place their hands lightly on an older child’s head.” One of the men in the circle (usually the child’s father) names the child and gives him or her a blessing as inspired by the Holy Spirit. 

The naming and/or blessing of children is something we do see being done in ancient scripture, though not in precisely the same way that we do it today. For example, eight days after being born, both Jesus and John the Baptist were circumcised (as per the Law of Moses) and were given their names. During Christ’s mortal ministry in the Old World and His post-mortal ministry in the New World, He took the children up in his arms, “put His hands upon them, and blessed them.” 

But, even though we see analogs of this practice in ancient scripture, ultimately the basis for the current Latter-day Saint practice is modern scripture. Specifically, Doctrine and Covenants section 20, verse 70, which says: “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.”

Now, you’ll notice that this verse is somewhat vague — for example, it does not specify here that the child needs to be given a name during this ordinance. Giving a child a name is something we do largely for record-keeping purposes. In 1834, Oliver Cowdery wrote to the Church’s clerk, John Whitmer, “When a child is brought forward to be blessed by the Elders, it is then necessary to take their nam[e] upon the church Record.” And that is true even today. After a baby is blessed, he or she officially becomes a “member of record,” even though they have yet to be baptized and confirmed. Some ordinances, like baptism, we consider essential for salvation or what we call exaltation. Baby blessings are not one of those essential ordinances—They are just one way a child can be blessed and formally recognized as part of the community of Saints, despite not having yet made covenants of their own. 

Now, researcher Jonathan Stapley found that from the early years of the Restoration up well into the 20th century, many Latter-day Saint families performed what is called an eighth-day blessing. And that’s exactly what it sounds like—eight days after a child was born, he or she would receive a blessing and would often also be given a name—The eighth day was symbolically significant, and this tradition was clearly a nod to ancient practices, as we’ve already seen.

Sometimes a D&C 20 baby blessing was done on the eighth day after a child was born. Thus, some families killed two birds with one stone. But on many occasions, these were two separate events. For example, in 1894, one nonmember wrote, “It seems that, according to the Mormon customs, when the child is eight days old, its father ought to bless and name it. Then on a fast day, … the baby is blessed and named by the Elders, with laying on of hands.”

In 1895, some Latter-day Saints wondered if it was necessary to do a D&C 20 baby blessing if an eighth-day blessing had already been given. George Q. Cannon wrote in response, “While it is the right of every father in this Church to bless his child when it is eight days old, if he so desires, there is, however, an order in the Church that children should be blessed in the ward, under the direction of the Bishop. One reason for this is that there may be a proper record kept of the birth of the child, its parentage, the name that is given to it, etc., so that its name m[a]y be numbered among the names of the Saints of God. And this should be observed by all parents in the blessing of their children.”

For many years, it was often the local bishop who would pronounce the D&C 20 blessing. It’s not until the 1928 Church handbook that we’re told that “the bishop may very properly call upon the father to be mouth in pronouncing the blessing and giving the name.” The 1944 handbook addressed this point even more directly, stating that “Bishops should encourage fathers who hold the Melchizedek Priesthood and are worthy, to come forward and bless their children.” And that’s the way we continue to do it today. In a sense, as noted in a 1955 Improvement Era article, a baby blessing is an opportunity for a father to declare to the world, “‘I acknowledge this child as mine. He is heir to my name with all that it stands for, and he is heir to my possessions.’ Such acknowledgment gives to [the child] the best start he could possibly have in the world. It is a father’s greatest blessing upon his child.”

Anyway, there’s plenty more to say on this subject, but hopefully, this video has been helpful to you. If you want to dive deeper, I strongly recommend Jonathan Stapley’s chapter on this subject in his book, “The Power of Godliness.” Also, the Church’s handbook is publicly available if you want to read more about why and how we do baby blessings. Check out the resources in the YouTube description below. Watch some of our other videos while you’re here, and have a great day!

Learning More:

— Handbook section 18.6, “Naming and Blessing Children”: https://bit.ly/42gpZWU 

— Handbook section 33.6.2, “Members of Record”: https://bit.ly/3N2vZyo 

— Recommended reading: Chapter 3 (“Baby Blessings”) in “The Power of Godliness,” by Jonathan Stapley.

— “The Eighth Day,” by Jonathan Stapley: https://bit.ly/3IKihxA | In “The Power of Godliness,” Stapley writes quite a bit about eighth-day blessings. That book is not available for free online, but Stapley also writes about these blessings in this blog post from By Common Consent. It’ll give you a general feel for this topic.

— “Baby Blessings: Unique, Wondrous, and Holy,” via Meridian Magazine: https://bit.ly/3MCyOom 

— “A Name and a Blessing,” lesson 28 in the Church’s family home evening resource book: https://bit.ly/3oHL4fe 

— “The Baby Blessing of Christ (Come, Follow Me: Isaiah 40-49)” via Scripture Central: https://bit.ly/3qhsY4r 

— A short list of children blessed in 1902 in the Bridleton branch of the Church (in case you were interested in seeing an example of how these records were sometimes kept): https://bit.ly/3IKRml1. Here’s a list from another area: https://bit.ly/3WGAtho 

— “Theological Department: At Fast Meeting,” by Albert Jones, via the Feb. 5, 1896, Young Womans’ Journal (talks about the eighth day blessing being separate from the D&C 20 blessing): https://bit.ly/3IMKNyI 

— An article from the January 1902 Children’s Friend magazine on baby blessings: https://bit.ly/3C58qyL 

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