The Church’s Spiritual Message in Prince George’s Baptism

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John Stillwell / PA Wire / EPA

Britain's Prince William, Duke of Cambridge and Catherine, Duchess of Cambridge arrive with their three month-old son, Prince George of Cambridge ahead of his christening at Chapel Royal in St James's Palace, in London, Oct. 23, 2013.

Wednesday is a big day for Britain’s little Prince George. Celebrity photographer Jason Bell will be snapping his picture, sixty close family members and friends will gather in his honor, he will gain seven godparents, and the world will be anticipating a glimpse of his three-month-old self—all because the newest member of the royal family is being christened in the Church of England. Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby will baptize Prince George Alexander Louis at 3pm at the 16th-century Royal Chapel of St. James Palace. Select guests will then join grandparents their Royal Highnesses Charles and Camilla for a celebratory bash next door at Clarence House.

Welby is previewing what he says is the deeper meaning of George’s christening. Rather than just a royal ritual, he says, it is a religious act and rite of passage, one that ties George to the House of Windsor and the Christian church. “Most of all we are celebrating baptism, and baptism at its heart is about the gift of God, about God’s gift of life, just ordinary physical life, but also the offer of spiritual life to all of us, so life forever,” explained Welby in a video released by Lambeth Palace on Tuesday. “All through Christian history, for 2000 years, being baptized meant you joined the family of the church, and that’s what it means today. What a family.”

Infants in the Church of England are baptized in a symbolic assertion that God’s grace precedes even a person’s ability to choose faith. Like all priests who perform a baptismal service, Welby will mark Prince George with the sign of the cross on his forehead. He will also splash water Prince George’s head three times, in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. “It is an extraordinary moment, because that is the sign by which we understand that this person belongs to God,” Welby explained.

Baptism services in the Church of England typically follow traditional liturgy from the Book of Common Prayer and Common Worship. Usually that means the parents of the child being baptized offer confessions of their Christian faith—they verbally reject the devil, deceit, and sin, they submit to Jesus Christ, and they commit to lead their child to do so as well. There are a small handful of varying liturgies available for a baptism service, and the royal family has not made the details of the one they have chosen public, so it is unclear whether or not Welby will give a short sermon. But Welby does say he has a message for the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge, George’s parents. “My message to them would be, What a treat, what an amazing gift, what wonderful times that you will have. There will be great times and tough times, there always are with children,” he said. “Through christening, you are bringing God into the middle of it all, and I know when he is in the middle of it all, somehow it is held in his hands, and that is extraordinary.”

Welby’s message for young George is a blessing and a reminder, Welby says, that originated in the Church of Scotland and carries weight even though George is too young to understand its full meaning: “For you Jesus Christ came into the world. For you he lived and showed God’s love. For you he suffered the darkness of Calvary and cried at the last, ‘It is accomplished.’ For you he triumphed over death and rose to new life. For you he reigns at God’s right hand. All this he did for you, though you do not know it yet.”