Religion Q&A: What Happened to 'A.D.' and 'B.C.'?

Plus: Bat mitzvah gifts, tipping the priest at a baptism, and how to greet a Buddhist lama

BY: Laura Sheahen

Have a question about another faith's religious ceremonies--or your own? E-mail with "Etiquette" in the subject line.

What do the new letters behind dates mean? I was reading an article and it stated the year as 125 C.E., what happened to 125 A.D. and B.C.? --Nancy P.

In our multifaith age, publications often use "C.E." for Common Era and "B.C.E." for "before the common era." They use these instead of B.C. for "before Christ" and A.D. for "anno domini," which means "year of the Lord" in Latin. There's no difference between 2004 C.E. and 2004 A.D. Read more about it



Some Christians may chafe at the change, saying that it's too PC, and that it's no big deal to go on using abbreviations that have been around for centuries. But let's not forget that there are Jewish, Islamic, Chinese, and other calendars all available for the picking (for example, the year 2004 is 5764 on the Jewish calendar). So the fact that most of the globe uses a calendar pegged to the presumed year of Jesus' birth can be looked at as a concession to Christianity.

What is the proper way to approach prayer in a large public event such as banquets etc. where several religions may be involved? Do you start with "Our Father" and how do you end? --Sharon D.

The writers' rule of thumb is important here: Know your audience. If a prayer shuts someone out, it's not really true to its essence. So try to figure out which people will be at the event and what kind of prayer would draw them together.

The Lord's Prayer is a Christian prayer, though like much of Christianity, it has its roots in Jewish thought. In an interfaith gathering, you might want to focus on prayers that reference simply "God" rather than Jesus, Allah, Krishna, etc. Here's a sample drawn from a

handy website

that lists opening and closing prayers:

Blessed are you, God of all creation,
Whose goodness fills our hearts with joy.
Blessed are you,
Who have brought us together this day
To work in harmony and peace.
Strengthen us with your grace and wisdom,
For you are God for ever and ever.

You'll probably want to tailor the prayers for the occasion (for example, expressing gratitude for the meal if the prayer begins a banquet). The opening prayer might reference the different groups in attendance, or your hopes for the event ("Bless the families who have gathered here to celebrate the end of the school year"). The closing prayer might ask for God's blessing on what was accomplished or discussed at the event ("May our work today lead to better homes for our community's poor").

Be sure to check out Beliefnet's

multifaith prayers

for specific needs.

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