Sunday, October 17, 2010

Why confirmation should be before the age of ten. Part 2

In the previous post I argued that restoring the sacrament of Confirmation before the Eucharist, say at 3rd grade, is good because it erases the misunderstanding that confirmation is about maturity and commitment to the Church. This is, we do not earn or merit our Confirmation, because sacraments are free gifts from God.

Today I will comment on the two remaining points: 1) restoring the order of sacraments makes the relation between them clearer, and 2) makes more coherent the practices of the church across history and time.

1) Relation between Baptism, Confirmation and Eucharist

When looking at the relation between sacraments it may be opportune to quote Pope Paul VI, who stated the following:
The sharing in the divine nature given to men through the grace of Christ bears a certain likeness to the origin, development, and nourishing of natural life. The faithful are born anew by Baptism, strengthened by the sacrament of Confirmation, and received in the Eucharist the food of eternal life. By means of these sacraments of Christian initiation, they thus receive in increasing measure the treasures of the divine life and advance toward the perfection of charity (CCC 1212).

Confirmation is a completion of Baptism by which we receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. And, as the Vatican II tells us the Eucharist is the source and summit of our Faith. (Lummen Gentium 11, CCC 1233) So at the end the question we have to ask is the same as Pope Benedict sets in his apostolic exhortation, Sacramentum Caritatis (2007). The Pope Says “Concretely, it needs to be seen which practice better enables the faithful to put the sacrament of the Eucharist at the centre, as the goal of the whole process of initiation.” What do you think is the answer?
As always your comments are very welcomed.

extra notes: some documents including local european councils that (with bad arguments) defended late confirmation age, an schema of the First Vatican Council forcing restoring traditional sacramental order, and comments form Pope Leo XII, can be found here.

extra notes: in the most important documents, like Vatican II constitutions, when mentioned together, Baptism Confirmation and Eucharist appear always in these order.

2) Coherence across time, returning to the origins

Some copy-pasted history will show how we get to the current situation in the western church.

In the early Church the sacraments of initiation were three: Baptism, Confirmation & Eucharist. They were celebrated together in a single rite, with a bishop as presider. This was the practice of the Roman Rite up until the 5th or 6th century when bishops could no longer be present at all baptisms, leading to a time of separation between baptism & confirmation. At first, the time of separation was short, but as time went on, the delay for the bishop to arrive grew. Still the Church celebrated the sacraments in the order of Baptism, Confirmation & Eucharist until this century.

In 1910, Pope Pius X recognized that children were not being allowed First Communion until the age of twelve to fourteen. He felt that such a denial was contrary to the vision of Jesus who always drew children to himself. Pius X ordered that children be allowed to come to the table of the Eucharist as soon as they could distinguish the Eucharist from ordinary bread. The age was then lowered to around seven. Confirmation was not discussed and therefore the order of sacraments was upset. The reforms of Vatican Council II called the Church to restore the original order of sacraments. This is not without challenges and difficulties. Such a change presumes a deep commitment on the part of the family to nurture the life of the young. Such a commitment means that parents have a need to understand the reasons for change & the ways

By placing the Eucharist before Confirmation Pius X was stressing the importance of the Eucharist in the christian life. Now to stress the Eucharist again shouldn't we lower as well the confirmation age?

extra notes: from the text it seems that CVII would recommend the restored order, when in fact it says only that it needs to be revised: The rite of confirmation is to be revised and the intimate connection which this sacrament has with the whole of Christian initiation is to be more clearly set forth; for this reason it is fitting for candidates to renew their baptismal promises just before they are confirmed. (Sacrosanctum Concilium 71)

2) Coherence across space

a) across western and eastern Catholic Church

In the East, the bishops of the Catholic Church were not so concern about administering confirmation themselves, so the traditional order remained untouched. The Confirmation follow immediately the Baptism and is administered by the priest. (see CCC 290 and 291 for more information)

The practice of the Eastern Churches gives greater emphasis to the unity of Christian initiation. That of the Latin Church more clearly expresses the communion of the new Christian with the bishop as guarantor and servant of the unity, (...) and hence the connection with the apostolic origins of Christ's Church.

b) across cristian initiation for adults and children

It should also be noted that the Baptism Confirmation Eucharist sequence is the one followed by RCIA (Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults) which requires that children and adults in the catechumenate receive all three sacraments together, even if the children are younger than the age at which the Catholic children of the parish are routinely confirmed and by the Eastern Catholic Churches for infants and adults alike (CCC 1232).

c) but, what about ecumenical relations?

Ecumenical relations with Eastern Orthodox Churches would probably be easy with this change but it remains to be seen how this would affect the Catholic-Anglican ecumenical movement. Maybe in the provinces with both Anglican and Catholic churches one can introduce a (voluntary) solemn proclamation of faith at the age of 16 years old or so, but would it not start the vicious circle again? I think I would rather not do this, but you may have other ideas or comments, which are as always very welcomed.
Hope you enjoyed the post.

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