You know, I love a good news report involving the details of liturgical events and the Agence France Presse recently served up, well, a really BIG liturgical story. How big? Here's a clue, in the headline: "Baby Elephants Christened en Masse in Sri Lanka."
OK, first things first. I immediately wanted to know if this was "en Masse" or "in Mass."
Let's try to find out, starting off with the fact that -- in terms of religion -- Sri Lanka is a pretty complex place.
So, we can assume -- since this is described as a christening -- that these animals were given names. In fact, the story tells us:
Thirteen babies born last year and two in 2010 were given names chosen from among thousands suggested by visitors to the Pinnawala orphanage, director Nihal Senaratne said.
"An astrologer looked at the time of birth of each elephant. He then decided on the first letter of each baby's name according to its horoscope," Senaratne told AFP when contacted by telephone.
"The lucky letters were published and visitors were asked to suggest names accordingly," he said, adding that Sunday's ceremony was the biggest ever at the facility since it opened in 1975.
Uh, the names used in this "christening" -- it's safe to say that we now officially need the quote marks -- came from where? An astrologer? What kind of a baptismal, "christening" or dedication rite was this, anyway? Why is it being given this very specific name, in terms of religious language?
Good luck with that question.
It appears that all religions are sort of the same for the team that produced this story or, perhaps, for the people who staged this media event.
So what is going on? Later on, readers are given this additional information about this rite.
Elephants are considered sacred animals and a number of the babies born at Pinnawala have been gifted to Buddhist temples to be paraded during annual pageants.
So this is a BUDDHIST "christening" ceremony? Is there a rite in Buddhism that can accurately be described with the word "christening"? It appears that some Buddhists do perform rites with water that may resemble baptism, but the meaning of these rites -- yes, there appear to be debates about this -- is obviously very different and not at all Christian.
Which raises this basic journalism question? What kind of rite was this? Why use the word "christening" without some kind of context or definition.
I know. I know. I am being picky. Words don't have specific meanings, anymore.