Tuesday, July 15, 2008

On Confirmation

An Orthodox infant being Confirmed immediately after Baptism.

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.


Anonymous said...

I agree certainly with the obvious corollary to your comments. That is, in the West we should adopt as the norm the Eastern (Catholic as well as Orthodox) practice. [In fact the present ritual does provide for 'complete initation' for anyone, of whatever age, who can answer for themselves. This was one of the rethinkings of the Initation Rites after Vatican II.] The sole problem, and a very difficult one practically, is that it will put the 'catechetical complex' out of business -- or at least will make it have to go through a very serious re-tooling.

Anonymous said...

This really strikes a chord with me and I am inclined to agree with earlier confirmation although it does seem rather odd for a baby to receive this Sacrament.

One of my sons has never been confirmed. He fell ill during the time of the Confirmation classes and had to drop out. By the next year it was too late and I did not feel I had the right to force him to do something he no longer believed in. He was never a difficult teenager and if he had not been ill he would have been confirmed with his peers.

I do feel guilty sometimes in not having pushed my son the following year but I did believe that it had to be his own choice and not that of his parents. If Confirmation was given younger then as parents we would be able to influence our children - but as young adults I firmly believe they have the right to refuse if they no longer accept the faith as was sadly the case with my son.

I hope and pray that one day he will return to find the riches of the faith ...

Volpius Leonius said...

I disagree, if anything confirmation still takes place far to early and is to easily given, it should be given at 21 in my opinion, this is the age at which knighthood was traditionally bestowed and the two are linked.

The reason why so few infants who are baptised do not go on to be confirmed is simply because they are not brought up Catholics and the parents presenting them for baptism are often lapsed Catholics themselves and have no intention of bringing the child up Catholic.

Naturally if the parents and child are not practising Catholics they are not going to turn up at 16 to be confirmed.

If Catholics in the West do not see Confirmation as necessary then the Church needs to take a good look at the way it teaches the Faith, especially the Catholic Schools, many of which are Catholic in name only.

The main reason for these problems is poor formation of the laity and the surrender of large parts of the Church to secularism.

When the Church militant is no longer militant then naturally confirmation which makes us soldiers of Christ willing to be martyred for the faith, to make the supreme sacrifice for Christ our Captain, loses its relevance.

gemoftheocean said...

Quite agree with you father. I recently mentioned on one of Fr. Tim's comboxes that I really hated how "they" jacked around Confirmation to try and make it something it isn't: "i.e. now you're all grown up" BS --AND they're waiting so late many kids no longer get confirmed, and for the ones who do sometimes it's a two YEAR program with many "service hours" and year long classes at precisely the age when teenagers lives start to get really busy busy. One stupid parish I know of makes kids wait unti. age 16-17 how dumb is that. Let's see you have kids oftentimes having their first jobs, a LOAD of school work, because now it "counts" anda good portion of them are trying to get into good colleges. You've got the catechetical industry outright LYING to them about the nature of the sacrament itself. Et. I knew one kid who was having trouble logistically was threatened and discouraged from receiving the sacrament because he'd missed so many classes. I told his mom, "whatever happens DON'T let them initimidate him, because by the time confirmation rolls around he'll be 18 and there's no way they can deny him." Thanks be to God they hung tough.

You've got these stupid diocesan policies making kids wait and adding burdens on...all the while pushing the age, up, up, up...to the point where teenagers start to lose the faith. Meanwhile secular society has been pushing "sex with no consequences" and every debauchery at them -- and there they are with NO protection of the grace of the sacrament working in them. Thank God I was confimred at age 9 without a lot of folderol. The oil and the bishop's symbolic tap on the cheek meant far more to me than 100 "service" hours. It also helped fortify and strengthen me. I knew I was to "defend the faith" for one thing. The pashish I was in at the time confirmed children aged 6-7 (depending if it was the on/off year for the bishop) plus any of the school kids who'd transfered from another parish (like myself) I think we had all of perhaps 4 extra classes where those of us who hadn't been confirmed (apart from the 6 year ols) were pulled together. No hoops.

BTW, for anyone really wanting to deflate a pompous catechist of the "let's wait until they're old enough to have lost the faith" variety -- when they go off into their "it means their a grown up in the faith" BS -- simply ask them if they think the eastern rite Catholics infant cnfirmation means its not effective. They get deflated quickly. Odds are they don't even know that's the custom in the eastern rite. I REALLY don't think confirmation should be delayed after age 12 or 13 -- certainly not wait til late in the secondary schooling.

But I do like the custom of picking a saint's name -- and the eastern rite doesn't give you that chance.

Physiocrat said...

Surely there is much to be said for a specific sacrament of assent by those who are able to answer for themselves. But perhaps this should take place before the individual is allowed to receive communion.

It seems to me that the main problem is poor liturgy and teaching in a babyish idiom which puts across the idea that religion is something to grow out of rather than something to grow into as part of becoming adult.

Father Cory Sticha said...

My diocese has been celebrating the Sacraments of Initiation in the "restored order" for about 10 years now. Our previous bishop set it up so that they would receive Confirmation at the same Mass as first Communion. This means that most children receive Confirmation at about age 8. The restored order seems to have limited the idea of "graduating" from Religious Education through Confirmation, which was very prevalent when I was confirmed at age 16, but I don't know how it has affected the youths' willingness to engage in catechesis. From personal experience, that has more to do with the family's view on the Faith than on the effectiveness of the catechetical program.

Unfortunately, many Latin Rite Catholics seem to view the Sacrament of Confirmation as a "coming of age" event, in which the Church views the newly Confirmed as adults who can make their own decisions. It also seems to be viewed as having no connection to the Sacrament of Baptism, which is definitely not the case. There is a lot of catechesis needed surrounding the Sacrament of Confirmation, both for our youth and for their parents.

Annie said...

Father Martin was our parish priest for a while, and we have very fond memories of him, especially his voice!

Anonymous said...

I do not know statistics for the UK, but what it looks like is this: the initiation sacraments are used simply as Rites of Passage for those wishing to remain "Culturally Catholic".

Baptism - Party to show off the new baby.

First Communion - Age of reason - aren`t they growing up. Nother Party.

Confirmation (Barmitzpha) - final attempt at inculturation before they disappear until some major adulthood crisis recalls them.

What would be interesting to know is if the Orthodox experience the same percentage of falling away. Not a bad study for anyone contemplating a Phd.

Michael Clifton said...

I agree with Volponius on a later age and there is no question that other sacraments depend on confirmation first. For me that would be ridiculous. The best age would still be around 12 shortly after secondary school starts with the opportunity for a renewal of the content of faith, not shirking the question of sexual sin which is often not dealt with as opposed of course to explicit sexual teaching now the complete norm and a disaster to be left to schools anyway. I found that when children arrived at secondary school they tended to know very little about anything. The need is to present the Church's teaching as a way of life.

Fr Ray Blake said...

"... there is no question that other sacraments depend on confirmation first."

The Fathers would say that Confrirmation was not necessary for Salvation but that it was necessary for Sanctification.

Is this not a Western problem, deriving from a semi-Pelagian mentallity? Putting Confirmation in adulthood, depriving someone in their early years of the Power of the Sacrament seems Pelagian to me.

Physiocrat said...

Fr Ray, from your experience, at what age do you think a child is old enough to receive the Eucharist?

Atlanta said...

I think its time for me to reveal the fact that I am a convert to Orthodox Christianity and I did not grow up a Christian. My mother is Catholic. She was confirmed as a child.

Anonymous said...

Isn't Confirmation known, rather unkindly, as the leaving Sacrament?

Anonymous said...

Only for those with no faith, Mary.

The rest of us regard it as something approaching the opposite. A "joining for Eternity" Sacrament. I know, it`s counter cultural... shhh.

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