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A Different Religion

Understanding Other Religious Faiths

Thirteen is considered the age of adulthood in many religions. In recognition of this, special religious ceremonies or events, such as a Bar Mitzvah or confirmation, are held. As friendships among children spread across religious beliefs, it's common for children to invite friends to these religious ceremonies. Yet many of us are unfamiliar with religious rites outside of our own faith, and this leaves us unsure about what is expected when our children accept invitations to attend these ceremonies.

The Jewish Bar or Bat Mitzvah and Christian confirmation are the most common religious ceremonies a guest will likely attend. Read on for your "insider's guide" on what to expect.

Christian

Both Protestants and Roman Catholics celebrate the rite of confirmation. In the Roman Catholic Church, it is one of the seven sacraments. "It is the in-dwelling of the Holy Spirit, in which we become fully members of the faith," says David Lapinksy, a deacon at Our Lady of Victory Parish, State College, Pa. In the Protestant churches, confirmation is also a sign of initiation into Christian discipleship.

Confirmation in the Catholic Church takes place outside of the regular Mass service, usually with the diocesan bishop presiding. It is common to invite extended family and friends to witness the confirmation. Much of the service follows the setting of a traditional Mass, with readings, responsorial hymns and Holy Communion.

During the mass, there will be periods of sitting, standing and kneeling. "Kneeling is a sign of adoration and penance," says Lapinsky. "A non-Catholic may choose to assume this position or not depending on one's personal belief." There may be a booklet or missal to follow, which will include instructions to the congregation on when to stand, sit or kneel, or simply follow the lead of the people sitting nearby. Most of the prayers and any hymns to be sung during the Mass will be included, as well.

Many non-Catholics are unsure what to do during Holy Communion, because in the Catholic Church, only those baptized into the Catholic faith are eligible to receive the sacrament. "During the Communion Rite non-Catholics may pray or simply remain silent and still," Lapinsky explains. "In some cases, you may approach a cleric and receive a blessing instead."

In Protestant churches, confirmation is often part of the regular church service. In the Lutheran Church, confirmation offers the recipient in his own heart the baptismal vows that his parents assumed on his behalf. In the Episcopal Church it is a sacramental rite completing baptism.

Sherry Tatar of Aurora, Ill., who attends a United Methodist Church, says that when her daughter made confirmation, it was a normal church service with the confirmation ritual, which is printed in the hymnal, included. "The service includes a mix of old and new hymns, announcements, prayer, The Lord's Prayer, offering collection, the sermon, the confirmation ceremony and the conclusion," she says.

There is no special dress expected for those attending a confirmation, although traditional church dress is appreciated. For those who wish to give a gift, something with a religious theme is appropriate.

Jewish

At the age of 13, a Jewish boy becomes a Bar Mitzvah (son of the commandments). Near that same age, a Jewish girl becomes a Bat Mitzvah (daughter of the commandments). According to Yitzchak Rosenbaum, program director of the National Jewish Outreach Program, the Bar or Bat Mitzvah signifies the coming of age religiously.

If your child or your family is invited to a Bar or Bat Mitzvah, it is helpful to know if the service is Orthodox, Conservative or Reform. Orthodox services are the most traditional, where men and women are separated within the congregation, and most, if not all, of the service will be done in Hebrew.

The Bar or Bat Mitzvah takes place during the regular religious service, Robert Schoen, author of What I Wish My Christian Friends Knew About Judaism (Loyola Press, 2004) says, and many of those in attendance will be there for the Sabbath. Expect the service to last two to three hours. If you need to leave or enter during the service, Gail Karlovsky of Bolingbrook, Ill., recommends that it be done while the congregation is sitting.

Males who enter the synagogue will be asked to wear a kippa (skull cap), whether or not they are Jewish, which will be at the door. Only Jews will wear the tallit (prayer shawl). Schoen explains that during the service there will be some responsive reading (a prayer book is provided), in which the guests may join in if they feel comfortable. Periodically throughout the service, the doors of the ark are opened or the Torah (the scroll that contains the five books of Moses) is held, and at those times, the congregation stands. "The Torah is carried around the room, usually by the Bar or Bat Mitzvah child," says Schoen. "The congregation sings and touches their prayer book or the tzitzit (fringe part of the tallit) to the Torah."

Sometimes parents and grandparents and others close to the Bar or Bat Mitzvah child are called forward to speak. This is not an open invitation to any of the child's guests to speak. At the end of the service, there is to be no applause. After the service, there is often a party. "At the party, there will be a candle lighting service and a prayer over the braided bread called challah, but other than that, it is a party like any other party," says Rosenbaum.

Recommended gifts are anything to do with the Jewish faith.

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