As hinted in section 17, The order of the sacraments of initiation remains a contested piece for contemporary Roman Catholicism. The theology is important, and the draining away of baptized persons from active faith suggest some flaws in our approach. Don’t get me wrong: confirming infants or seven-year-olds isn’t a panacea for the phenomenon of nones. But it does suggest adjustments might be needed in our pastoral approach.
Speaking of pastoral practice, Pope Benedict isn’t naive about the importance of this. He may have been a few decades removed from diocesan ministry, but I take his awareness as something he knows is important for the present and future practice.
18. In this regard, attention needs to be paid to the order of the sacraments of initiation. Different traditions exist within the Church. There is a clear variation between, on the one hand, the ecclesial customs of the East (Cf. Code of Canons of the Eastern Churches, canon 710) and the practice of the West regarding the initiation of adults, (Cf. RCIA, General Introduction, 34-36) and, on the other hand, the procedure adopted for children. (Cf. Rite of Baptism for Children, Introduction, 18-19) Yet these variations are not properly of the dogmatic order, but are pastoral in character.
We can say there’s nothing objectively wrong with infant baptism, or with RCIA, or with established practices, even a delayed Confirmation.
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.
This is important, and I know: the point of this document. More concerning for the present day is the neglect of Baptism and its vocation in the life of all the faithful, perhaps including many priests. Another topic for another document.
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 Peter 3:15).
This examination is directed mostly to active believers. Many Christians do not participate in the Eucharist, so the “direction” mentioned here may not apply. If we have confidence Baptism leads to the Eucharist, then perhaps we need to do all we can to examine our practices of Baptism and the expectations we give regard that sacrament and its character.
This document is copyright © 2007 Dicastero per la Comunicazione – Libreria Editrice Vaticana