SC: Order of the Initiation Sacraments

Post-conciliar liturgists, catechists, and pastors in many places have struggled with the ideal order for Confirmation and Eucharist after Baptism. Pope Benedict, in Sacramentum Caritatis addresses the issue briefly in section 18 before handing off to the bishops:

There is a clear variation between, on the one hand, the ecclesial customs of the East and the practice of the West regarding the initiation of adults, and, on the other hand, the procedure adopted for children. Yet these variations are not properly of the dogmatic order, but are pastoral in character. Concretely, it needs to be seen which practice better enables the faithful to put the sacrament of the Eucharist at the center, as the goal of the whole process of initiation. In close collaboration with the competent offices of the Roman Curia, Bishops’ Conferences should examine the effectiveness of current approaches to Christian initiation, so that the faithful can be helped both to mature through the formation received in our communities and to give their lives an authentically eucharistic direction, so that they can offer a reason for the hope within them in a way suited to our times (cf. 1 Pet 3:15).

It may not be entirely true that the Western variation is entirely pastoral at its root. Confirmation and Eucharist were delayed for the arrival of the bishop, sometimes for many years. A cynic might contend that the desire for episcopal oversight, rather than the pastoral need of the laity was foremost in this development.

However one interprets the Western separation of Confirmation from Baptism, (what is really operative here) one can certainly say that the early and frequent reception of Communion promoted by Pope Pius X was a pastoral inspiration. And it has left us with the dilemma of a displaced Confirmation. Does it work?

The pope seems to suggest that forming an “authentically eucharistic direction” should be the prime consideration. Ideally, the US bishops would arrive at a broad consensus approach for the nation, possibly with some leeway for pastoral judgment. It may yet come our way, a reunification of Confirmation with Baptism. But I suspect not before at least a decade or two has passed.

About catholicsensibility

Todd lives in the Pacific Northwest, serving a Catholic parish as a lay minister.
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3 Responses to SC: Order of the Initiation Sacraments

  1. Fred says:

    Great points, Todd.

    I would add that moving Confirmation to before Communion would also put Catholics back in line with Orthodox practice. When I read this bit, I imagined that it would mean that 2nd grade would be the occasion for reception of three sacraments: confirmation, confession, and first communion – or it could be a two-year program.

    The other question would be how to shift from a sacrament-driven catechesis to a catechesis aimed at formation for living.

    And yes, it’s going to be a while before any re-ordering of the sacraments takes place. These things should take time anyway.


  2. Eric B says:

    Some dioceses are already doing confirmation with first communion, my diocese of San Jose has a pilot program of 5 parishes doing what they call Restored Order of the Sacraments – my parish is one of them. It is supposed to be a 2 year program but the 2nd year is when most things happen (classes about the sacraments with parents involved). I know also that the Diocese of Phoenix is going to the 2nd grade confirmation/1st communion/confession model – though I forget when that was going to be implemented. Other bloggers have blogged about this and the debate is treating confirmation as a seal of baptism (doing it early) or as a seal of your faith (doing it in High School so as to keep kids in religious ED longer). It seems to me that we should treat confirmation as it was originally planned for and that was a seal of baptism that occurred before the reception of the eucharist.

  3. Fred says:

    that’s very cool. Now the challenge will be to attract parents and kids to religious ed now that the carrot of confirmation has been removed.

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