Baptism vs Christening

This question has probably been asked a million times…

I have a question about Baptisms and Christenings. I am a practicing Catholic (born Catholic) and attended Catholic schools most of my life (including College).

My husband and I have just planned our first daughter’s Christening. I got invitations printed, the Christening dress, etc… and then someone told me that we (Catholics) don’t call the ceremony a Christening.

Well, I know that Baptism is one of the seven Sacraments, but growing up we had always called it a Christening (knowing the baby is getting baptized). To be honest, I thought only Baptists and other protestant religions called it a Baptism.

I really want to know more on the subject, but can’t find official church documents that explain.

I found an old post from this site which talks about how the terms were no longer interchangeable after Vatican II but nothing else.

I’m putting a document together to put into the invitations (with directions, the steps involved in the Rite of Baptism, etc…) and wanted to put a little blub on the subject. I’m hoping to find official sources on the subject. Any ideas where I can find them?


To be honest, I thought only Baptists and other protestant religions called it a Baptism.

It’s known as Baptism in all the Eastern Churches, none of whom are Protestant.

Well, the definition of “christen” is “to baptize someone as a Christian”, so the act of baptizing someone is “christening” them. The word “christen” is, in some ways, clearer than the word “baptism”, because the word itself denotes a becoming-like-Christ: you are being “christ-ened”.

The Modern Catholic Dictionary (by Fr. John Hardon) defines “christening” as: “Conferring the sacrament of baptism, with stress on giving the person a Christian name at baptism, or giving someone a Christian name even later on.”

So while it may not be the “proper” name of the sacrament (which is Baptism), it is still a legitimate term. They’re synonyms.


I can’t find the term used in any Church documents I have digital copies of.

I would quote the Modern Catholic Dictionary (as above).

Your daughter, Catherine Marie French, was born on my birthday!

(Also, I do not mean to be presumptuous or rude, but Catholics are strongly advised to baptize their children sooner rather than later, especially – I would think – in the case of a premature birth. For more information on the matter, I suggest you read Pastoralis Actio, a 1980 Instruction on infant baptism.)

You won’t find the word “christening” in any official Church document because it’s not a word used by the Church. The word used is “Baptism” because that word describes the Sacrament which is conferred.

The word christening itself came about because some non-catholics deny the efficacy of infant baptisms, and instead do a sort of “naming” ceremony for newborns.

The baptism ceremony should have its emphasis on the Sacrament of Baptism. The emphasis should not be on the “naming” part, although that is an important part of the overall ritual.

In some contexts, the word has found a way into “everyday” Catholic vocabulary. There’s nothing wrong with using the word–the important thing to do is to baptize the child.

In our vocabulary (secular as well as religious) we often use “unofficial” words, and since everyone knows what we’re talking about most of the time, it doesn’t mean very much (“that’s not a shovel, it’s a spade” or “that’s not a spatula, it’s a turner”). If someone says “Father will wear a purple robe on Ash Wednesday” we don’t need to say “no, Father will wear a violet chasuble”. If it’s an RCIA class and we’re going over the names of vestments that might be a time to correct the speaker, but in everyday use, we simply shrug it off because we understand what’s being said.

Sometimes using the wrong word can indeed cause confusion, and in those cases, we should not use a “substitute” word even if everyone does know what we mean.

Baptism is the corrrect word, and it’s the word we should be using. But to casually use the word christening instead usually doesn’t amount to much. In a CCD or RCIA class, I would insist on using the word “baptism”, but in casual conversation, “oh well…”


Your post was very helpful - exactly what I needed :slight_smile: I appreciate your quick response.

Also, what a coincidence about the birthdays!

I had disucssions regarding her birth with the baptism coordinator, but nobody suggested she should be baptized early (though I should have thought of that myself). My parish wouldn’t let me get her baptized until I went to the class, forms, etc… I couldn’t make the class for quite some time as she was not hospitalized in our town and they only held it once per month. I even had all of the sponsor certificates ready before I attended the class, but they refused to schedule the baptism without all steps completed.

I’m not angry about it or trying to place blame or anything. I’m just sort of explaining why I didn’t have it done earlier. Just following the rules :slight_smile:

Regardless, our girl is now quite healthy, happy to say. She already comes to Mass with me several times a week and I can’t wait for her big day :slight_smile:

Thanks for your info. I definitely don’t want confusion and am very glad I asked :slight_smile:

I was just thinking… I notice that document was from 1980, but Limbo was only recently booted out of the system. Maybe now that Limbo is not a factor, that might have been the reason for no rush w/ my parish. Just a thought…

Actually Christening is a term used by Protestants and never by Catholics.

Uh oh!! Maybe I was the only one? hahaha

A Lifelong Calling
Nicholas Lohkamp, O.F.M.
Father Lohkamp explores the meaning of Baptism not as an isolated event in the spiritual life, but a deep and profound mystery that shapes and calls us throughout our lives. “Christening challenges me to be true to my calling. It challenges me to follow Jesus daily with the help of the Spirit,” he writes. “…To live every day to the glory of the Father, to live every day as a member of the Church, thus, to be a Catholic.”

I would never use the word ‘Christening’ for baptism. You christen a ship by smashing a bottle of champagne on the hull, hardly a baptism. Non-Catholic churches also christen babies but don’t baptize them. I really don’t think the terms are interchangeable, no matter what Japhy’s dictionary says.:smiley:

Actually, the Modern Catholic Encyclopedia (Liturgical Press 1994, Nihil Obstat Robert C. Harren: Imprimatur: Jerome Hanus, OSB, Bishop of St. Cloud, Minnesota) defines ‘christening’ as “The aspect of the baptismal ceremony in which the one baptized takes a Christian name.” So they don’t see the terms as interchangeable either.

I think for now on, I’ll call it a Baptism. I can’t change the invites, but changed my little document that I’m sending with the invitations. Have to admit that I’ll probably still call the dress a Christening gown.

The non-existence of Limbo doesn’t change the Church’s urgent call for baptism. If that is your parish’s mindset, they’re taking liberties that they shouldn’t.

Here’s something interesting! I just called over to some family in Ireland. They call it Christening as well! I knew my brother would (as my family did) and so does his wife’s family (all Ireland born and bred). So, at least I’m not alone and everybody KNOWS the Irish are very Catholic :slight_smile:

Well, at least I know I’m not crazy and have heard it called Christening before (by Catholics).

I’m glad to have the official word, though. Thanks a bunch for all of your feedback.

What Fr. said! :slight_smile:

I was just thinking… I notice that document was from 1980, but Limbo was only recently booted out of the system. Maybe now that Limbo is not a factor, that might have been the reason for no rush w/ my parish. Just a thought…

Limbo was never “in” the system, as it was never a teaching of the Church, only a speculation by theologians. It was never a formal part of the faith.

and it’s no more out now that it every has been. The results of the investigation into the existence of Limbo was:

It was just a theory and Now… It’s still just a theory. There may be a limbo or not.

Yeah, I remember being taught about the Limbo thing and how parents would get that Baptismal done PDQ!!!

That Limbo place was to me taught that in school was very far fetched. Glad them deem it fictional today. The Purgatory thing is a bit over the edge as well to accept. The Protestants could not get their hands around that nor the confessional, mass, and the hype about the power and prayers to the saints and over adoration of Mary. A lot of old church laws come into question from time to time and should.

I personally like the term Baptism and buying a card will say Baptism or Baptismal, not the other term for me. Just how I was taught. The other is for a boat or an airplane not for a human.

If you can accept that God took on human flesh, was born of a virgin, suffered and died on a cross, and rose to new life on the third day, then ascended into heaven… I think you can learn to accept the doctrine of Purgatory whereby the faithful are purged of impurities after death before they enter heaven.

“Old church laws” are not the same as timeless Church doctrines (which are objective truth). Laws can be changed as seen fit. Doctrines cannot, and they “should” only be questioned in an effort to understand and explain them better.

Honesty requires that you investigate that which you question.

Yes, I think I recall reading about that on line awhile back as to Limbo. I have a grandniece and gave her a tour of the old church where most of those related to her were baptised and married for that matter and where I received my Sacraments. She never was Baptised or went to church and was maybe 9 at the time and I gave her the tour and told her about who was married and baptised there she’d know of and how I as a grade school person nearby school spent many directed hours there not just on Sunday for an hour. My siblings did not do Catholic school as I did nor spent much time there but they were all married in there and kids baptised there or a nearby Parish.
So anyways, I said, you’re not Baptised and when I went to school we were taught, you’d go to Limbo if not Baptised before you died, and not a bad place from what I’ve read or was taught, and I let her think about, but then I said, well, it may not be that at all. The Church changed their thoughts on it, but she did ask her parents that night and said to them, hey…I don’t want to go limbo! I want to go to heaven with you. The father is not religious and knows ziltch from it and the mom is not into it but raised Catholic, so she’s not been formally introduced to any church or religion really. Anyways it was funny about Limbo. She really should be introduced to the church at age 13 and leave it for her to determine yea or nah about it, but, that’s up to her parents of course or maybe grandparents, but they are not into it. Many older Catholics, baby boomer age now have indeed drifted away from the idea of being involved with the Church or parish. Just nothing there to draw them in these days I guess.


P.S. Congratz on the Baby! Here’s praying that she grows a great God fearing person!