Since May 2005, the Catholic Diocese of Phoenix has restored the traditional order of the Sacraments of Initiation: first Baptism, second Confirmation, third Eucharist, which will be received at third grade. This very wise movement of bishop Olmsted is well sounded in theology, ecclesiology and pastoral care.
Restoring the sacramental order is a good idea because:
- it makes the relation between sacraments clear: Confirmation as a completion, or perfection of the Holy Spirit received in Baptism; and the Eucharist as a source and summit of our faith.
- it erases the common misunderstanding that Confirmation is about maturity and adult commitment to the Church, which in turn is an opportunity for a renewal of the youth ministries.
- it makes more coherent the practices between eastern and western traditions of church and across history.
Today I will copy-paste some questions and answers regarding point b), which I get from the Diocese of Phenix web page. I very much liked to write about a) first, but since I already have this information at hand I'll go ahead. Next post I will comment on the other points. As always your opinions are very welcomed.
Q: When our children are confirmed prior to First Eucharist, how are they to make an adult commitment to the Church?
A: All sacraments are a gift from our Heavenly Father, who desires to give us His very life, which we call grace. Sacraments are not earned or merited. For this reason, Confirmation should not be perceived as the sacrament of adult commitment to the Church. In fact, the Church even requires priests to confirm infants and children younger than the age of reason when they are in danger of death so that they may receive the fullness of the Holy Spirit. An authentic mature commitment to Christ and the Church is expressed in full participation in the Eucharist and apostolic life of the Church. It is not achieved at a single moment but throughout the life-long deepening of our relationship with Christ. This begins in childhood and continues until death.
I'd like to stress: adult commitment to Christ is expressed in fully participation in the Eucaristh and apostolic live of the Church.
Q: Isn't Confirmation a sacrament of maturity that should come after First Eucharist?
A: Not really. Confirmation is actually the completion of Baptism (by the full gift of the Holy Spirit). The perfection of baptismal grace found in the Sacrament of Confirmation is not dependent upon age or knowledge of the confirmand. The grace that is conferred is a free gift and ‘does not need ratification to become effective (Cf. CCC 1308). The common practice of high school reception of Confirmation has given the impression that somehow the sacrament is merited by virtue of age or training. In truth, the Sacrament of Confirmation is an effective vehicle of grace at any age as long as it is validly conferred. Thus, those that receive the sacrament are able to reap its benefits from the moment of reception. The graces of this sacrament conferred at a young age could be of great assistance to young people as they grow toward adolescence and young adulthood. Regardless of age, Confirmation is always a Sacrament of Initiation. The important thing to remember is that sacraments are not about age alone, they are about growing in faith, about sharing in God's grace. In the Diocese of Phoenix as of May 15th, 2005 established the reception of Confirmation and First Eucharist in the Third grade.
I'd like to stress: confirmation is a free gift not dependent on knowledge, the graces conferred could be of great assistance to young people as they grow towards adolescence and adulthood.
Q: How will this change impact ministry to teens and our youth ministry programs?
A: In the long run, we believe this is a great step for youth ministry. “Receiving” the sacrament can be used as a carrot or bottom-line motivation for attendance. Instead of drawing teens by our own creative efforts and quality ministry, we can easily be tempted to rely on having a “captive” audience who is required to be present. The problem with captives is that they may really feel and act like prisoners, as they are forced to be present at meetings they really do not want to attend. Also, because the sacrament tends to be the focus and destination, few teens stay involved once confirmation is celebrated. Instead of understanding the sacrament of confirmation as a beginning or the strengthening for a more committed Christian lifestyle, many teens walk away with a sense of relief that it is all over. As a result, it is viewed more as a rite of graduation from religious education. The irony is that confirmation celebrates an initiation into a church from which many immediately drop out. Parish based Youth Ministry programs are called to have the mission of the church as its purpose. They are called to incorporate the proclamation of the Gospel, through evangelization, growth in holiness and fullness of faith; and by loving and serving all those in need. Our youth ministry teams must evangelize, build teens up through formation, and send them out to minister, thereby help these young disciples, through the power of the Holy Spirit received in Baptism and Confirmation, become mature apostles to their peers.
I'd like to stress: releasing adolescents of being captive until confirmation-graduation could indeed help youth ministry.
Hope you find it interesting: more on the following post.