Rites of Passage

Rites of passage are events that take place at significant times in your life.

In some denominations these are called ‘sacraments’.

A sacrament is ‘an outward sign of an inward grace’ – something you see on the outside that gives a spiritual blessing of some sort.

Some Christians, such as Quakers, do not have any sacraments.

Most Protestant denominations recognise two sacraments that are mentioned in the Gospels:

  • Baptism
  • and the Eucharist.

The Roman Catholic & Orthodox Churches have another five on their list – making seven in total:

  • Confirmation
  • Marriage
  • Ordination
  • Reconciliation (Confession)
  • Anointing of the Sick.

Funerals are not considered sacraments are they are not stages on your life – you have already moved on to the next life.


  • Most denominations baptise infants, and the Orthodox Church combines the service with Chrismation – their form of Confirmation.
  • Baptist and Pentecostal Churches practise Believers’ Baptism.
  • Of course it is never too late to be baptised so new Christians are baptised whatever their age.
  • Water is used to purify the person and to symbolise the washing away of original sin.
  • People are baptised in the name of the Trinity – the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit.
  • The Holy Spirit enters the person’s life at Baptism and they become a full member of the Christian community.

Infant Baptism

Reasons for Infant Baptism:

  • To cleanse the child of original sin from as early as possible.
  • To show they are members of God’s family from the start.
  • To allow the child to choose to be confirmed when older.
  • The baby wears white as a sign of being pure.
  • The parents and godparents make promises for the child. They promise that they believe in God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit and that they turn away from sin and towards Christ in their lives. They also promise to bring the child up as a Christian.
  • Water is poured over the head of the child three times; sometimes the child is immersed in the water three times (total immersion).
  • The baby is anointed with oil as a sign that it is a chosen child of God.
  • The baby is given a baptismal candle as a symbol that it is to be a light of Christ to the whole world.

Believers' Baptism

Reasons for Believers’ Baptism:

  • To make sure those who are baptised fully understand what they are doing.
  • Jesus was baptised as an adult.

In churches that do not practise Infant Baptism, hold a service to dedicate the baby to the Christian faith and to thank God for the gift of the child.

A believers’ baptism service is held when the person feels ready – sometimes as a teenager, sometimes older. The person wears white, gives a testimony – a statement of their faith – and then is baptised by total immersion three times in the name of the Trinity.


Denominations such as the Church of England and Roman Catholic Church hold this service to allow an older person to confirm the faith that was given to them in baptism.

  • This is when they become ‘adult members’ of the Christian community.
  • They prepare by going to classes which explain what it means to live a Christian life.
  • It is usually performed by a bishop.
  • After prayers and Bible readings, there is a sermon explaining the meaning of Confirmation.
  • The candidates declare their faith and make for themselves the promises made by their parents and godparents at baptism.
  • There is a prayer that the gifts of the Holy Spirit will come down on them.
  • The bishop lays his hands on the candidates and prays that they will receive the Holy Spirit.
  • In the Catholic Church the candidates have a sponsor who will help them in their faith, and are anointed with the oil of chrism to show they are chosen children of God. They often also take the name of a saint who they pray will help to guide them in their lives.


A marriage takes place in a church so that both God and friends and family can witness the dedication a couple makes to each other.

  • The couple’s love is seen as a reflection of God’s love, which is permanent, life-giving and faithful.
  • In the same way, couples need to stay together, to have children (if possible) and to remain exclusive to each other.
  • The couple exchange vows which express this lifelong commitment – whatever happens.
  • They exchange rings as a symbol of unending love.
  • There are prayers for the couple and they receive a special blessing.


Christians believe when we die we continue our journey of life into eternal life.

  • All Christian funeral services talk about this idea of moving on to be with God.
  • There are Bible readings that talk about Christian beliefs in eternal life.
  • There is a talk or sermon which celebrates the life of the dead person and which explains that death is not the end.
  • There are prayers for the person who has died, and for those who are left behind.
  • The body is committed for burial or cremation.


Question 1

“A Christian funeral should be a happy occasion.” - Do you agree?

Give reasons for your answer, showing that you have thought about different points of view.



  • Christians believe that death is not the end and the person will be with God in heaven.


  • A funeral is about saying goodbye to someone – at least for now – and it is alright to miss them.

Question 2

Explain why parents might want their child to be baptised as a baby.


  • Get rid of original sin
  • So that the child can be brought up as a full member of the Christian community.
  • To allow the child to choose when they are older whether or not to be confirmed.

Question 3

Describe what is said and done at a Christian funeral service.


  • Words from scripture used as comfort – e.g. ‘He who believes in me will not die but will live’.
  • Short talk celebrating the life of the dead person
  • Prayers for those who mourn, thanksgiving for the life of the dead person.
  • Coffin buried or cremated
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