May 13, 2018
For 1500+ years Confirmation was the sacrament of membership in the Church. By this sacrament, those who had been ‘baptized into Jesus’ death’ received the same ‘Spirit who raised him to life’. As the sacrament of oneness with the risen Christ, it proclaimed and effected a real communion with the glorious Christ who is ‘Head of the mystical body, the church’.
Baptism was a ‘communion’ in the death of Christ; Confirmation, ‘communion’ in the resurrection of Christ; both, events of the ‘past’. The Eucharist, then, was communion with the now-living Lord who promised to be with the Church ‘until the end of time’.
In the early twentieth century, Pope Saint Pius X decreed that children who had achieved the intellectual maturity needed to distinguish ordinary bread from the Eucharist Bread, the Body of Christ, could receive that sacrament, even though they had not yet been baptized. With a single stroke of the pen, he completely scrambled up the order of these three sacraments and their connection to the historical events of Jesus’ death and resurrections and glorification. This meant that communion with the Head of the Church could be had without receiving the sacrament of the life-giving Spirit. And so, the sacrament of Confirmation became unattached from its historical place in people’s lives and its meaning in the Christian way of life.
Many of us became ‘soldiers of Christ’ at our Confirmation. Later generations became ‘filled with the missionary Spirit of Pentecost’, or ‘fully initiated into the Church’ or ‘adult members of the Church’. Confirmation was administered to sixth-graders, then to eighth-graders, then to tenth-graders – al in an attempt to match the psychological age of the recipient with the now-uncertain meaning of the sacrament.
Curiously, Confirmation retained its ‘church-communion’ meaning amongst the Episcopalians (until just recently) and in the case of baptized Christians who wish to become Catholics. It is also required for those who wish to become sponsors of others who are being baptized or confirmed. But in the usual course of events, its specific connection with the resurrection/glorification of Jesus is lost.
No one seems to be interested in undoing the sainted pontiff’s idea of early First Communion by restoring it to its post-Confirmation location. There are some dioceses in which the old order to the Sacraments of Initiation has been restored at the cost of delaying First Communion by two or three years. The educational and emotional challenges that this change brings with it are formidable indeed.
What remains constant is the unbreakable connection between Baptism, Confirmation and Eucharist. In the Catholic view of things, Baptism that does not lead to the other two sacraments is robbed of its fullest meaning; Communion that does not bring with it full and active participation in the life and work of the Church is pretty and pious, but it is purely personal and idiosyncratic; Confirmation that does not strengthen and manifest an ‘already’ communion with Christ and the Church is hollow. Indeed, there are some who would say that a relationship without all three of these sacraments is impossible, and any one or two these sacraments without the other one or two is sacrilegious.
Certainly, the last chapter in this part of the life of the Church has not been written.
Really and truly and sacramentally yours,