I have a friend here, Fr Martin Thompson, a priest of Arundel & Brighton who is working in Albania, we tend to talk and talk. Last night we were exploring the Sacraments of initiation.
Until the arch-moderniser Pope St Pius X, the order of the sacraments was Baptism, Confirmation and Holy Communion. St Pius in order to encourage more frequent Communion allowed the reception of Communion before Confirmation, an innovation!
In our diocese 15/16 is the age for Confirmation, our previous bishop refused to allow any discussion about the age, now, for most of the diocesan clergy it is not an issue. Here in the centre of the city some years we have no candidates. The result is that of the 13 infants baptised in 1991, in this parish, only 4 have been Confirmed, notification is always sent from the place where confirmation takes place to the parish of baptism. This means that of those 13, only 9 are not fully initiated into the Church, their initiation is defective.
Could it mean that of 1.1bn Catholics in the world only a ¼ billion are fully initiated?
Orthodox Christians are given all the sacraments of initiation at baptism, including Confirmation, they are given Holy Communion by the priest wiping his finger on the inside of the unpurified chalice and placing it in the child’s mouth, or in some places are expected to return for communion within 40 days. In the East the priest is the usual minister of Confirmation.
The point is that all Orthodox Christians are fully initiated, whereas only the minority of Latin Rite Catholics are, to be provocative, the initiation of most Catholics is seriously defective. If we work on full initiation there are as many Orthodox as Catholics in the world!
In the West we do not see Chrismation or Confirmation as necessary, in the East Confirmation is seen as the necessary empowerment for the “life of Grace”. In my own diocese Confirmation has come to be seen as a sort of graduation ceremony, a presentation to the bishop, anointing, a handshake, and a few words, often followed by lapsation.
In West we see Confirmation as an opportunity for a programme of catechesis, in the East it is seen as a moment of sanctification, just the same as we see The Rite of Christian for Adults, primarily as a time of Catechesis or teaching rather than as a series of moments of sanctification, done through the Church but with God as the real actor.
To be honest, in the West Confirmation, and therefore the Graces that come with it, are not necessary, which perhaps says something about our understanding of the Holy Spirit.
One of my hopes for this Pontificate is that the order of the sacraments is restored and Baptism and Confirmation is seen as necessary, not only for Sanctification but the reception of the other Sacraments.