When a Mormon baby is born, it is given a name and a (father’s) blessing. This is traditionally done in front of the congregation, usually on the first fast Sunday following the birth or soon thereafter, but it can be done in the home with the bishop’s awareness (to create the certificate). Other men in the congregation who are Melchizedek priesthood holders, including male family members, and the bishop are invited to participate by placing their hands under the infant and holding it up while the blessing is given. Giving the baby’s full name as it will appear on the records of the Church is done at the beginning of the blessing, following a list of attributes and life experiences that are wished for the infant.

Unlike confirmation or infant baptism in other faiths, this is not a saving ordinance, but it does make the baby a “child of record,” appearing on Church rolls until adulthood. From Wikipedia:

After the blessing has been performed, a certificate is provided that details the date of the blessing and who officiated; it is signed by the presiding officer of the ward or branch. A membership record is created for children who receive this blessing: they are counted as members of the church and described as “children of record”. They remain on the church rolls unless they reach adulthood without being baptized or a request for name removal is received from their legal guardians. Children who were blessed in the church become confirmed members of the church when they receive the ordinances of baptism and confirmation, normally soon after their eighth birthday.

Growing up, my best friend was a “child of record.” While her mom was raised LDS, she had since left the Church, and while she didn’t mind her girls attending ward activities or being friends with Church members, she did not want them to be baptized until they were adults. This creates a middle-way membership for those who were blessed as babies, but who have never been baptized, a sort of outsider-insider status. Most members would consider this better than nothing and hope that it would lead to full membership at a future date.

Similar to confirmation rites, most families dress their infant in all white, although this is not required. There has been a lot of discussion about whether the mother may hold her baby during the blessing with the majority of Church leaders refusing this request (although in my Singapore ward this was the norm). Be that as it may, why do we perform this non-saving ordinance?

To beef up membership numbers. This may sound cynical to those who don’t like it, but to those who believe that membership in the Church is necessary, the more children of record, the better. The primary president and teachers can try to get the child (or parents) to attend Church and participate, but only if that information is on the records of the Church. And let’s be honest, it’s a whole lot easier than cold-calling, door-knocking missionary work.

To provide a Mormon placebo equivalent to confirmation. We have to do something, right? This is doing something that looks a whole lot like what other religions do, but it isn’t a saving ordinance.

To honor fatherhood. I couldn’t type “honor motherhood” with a straight face given the tendency of bishops to recoil with horror at the suggestion that a woman hold her baby during the ordinance. But a case could be made that this rite gives fathers and male relatives a formal way to participate in the process of bringing a child into the world (and the Church) that already so intimately and obviously involves the mother. It’s a gendered way to formally encourage fathers to take responsibility for their children.

Circle of Life. In the beginning of the Lion King, Simba, the new infant king, is held up for all the animals to see. Likewise, this rite presents a new human to the congregation so that the group will be mindful of his needs, support her growth, and generally wish the child well. It’s a community event, designed to welcome the new person to the world and the fold.

To promote child-bearing. I have never actually heard someone in the congregation declare suddenly that the blessing process made them want to procreate, but the lifelong exposure to this ritual creates a sense of purpose and journey that can make couples feel like it’s time to get on the bus. Maybe.