Another Bishop Restores the Sacraments of Initiation to Their Proper Order

BishopAquila2012HeadshotBlack-200x236A little over a week ago, Pray Tell reported on Bishop Larry Silva’s plans to restore the sacraments of initiation to “their proper order” in the Diocese of Honolulu. Apparently, Bishop Silva is not the only one who has been contemplating a similar restructuring. Now Bishop Samuel Aquila of the Archdiocese of Denver is joining Bishop Silva in restoring the sacraments of initiation to their historical order: baptism, confirmation, first Eucharist. Bishop Aquila made the announcement in a post at the Denver Catholic website dated May 14, 2015.

Confirmation will now be celebrated in the third grade and first Eucharist will follow at the same ceremony. Bishop Aquila articulates his reason for this change:

When I was Bishop of Fargo and I restored confirmation to its original place, I found third-graders to be very receptive to the gifts of the Holy Spirit. Their childlike trust and wonder is beautiful to behold. Many times, their ability to see the truth and to trust God completely surpasses our own, and this allows them to receive the graces of the sacrament more deeply.

Bishop Aquila also articulated several theological reasons for placing confirmation before first Eucharist. Central to his theological reasoning is the profound connection between baptism and confirmation, “which perfects the grace of baptism.”

Bishop Aquila also sees some potential advantages in confirming children earlier:

By imparting the graces of confirmation at an earlier age, it is my hope and conviction that children will be better prepared to live a life of authentic discipleship, even as society becomes more secular.

Bishop Aquila ends his post announcing his upcoming pastoral letter, “Saints Among Us,” which explains in more detail the shift in the order of the sacraments of initiation. The letter is due to come out on May 24th and can be found at www.archden.org/saints. Along with the letter, Bishop Aquila is providing video and print resources to help in the transition.

Bishops seem to have been energized by recent conversations on the new national statutes for the catechumenate, and are now implementing reforms in their own dioceses. For more information on the national statutes, see this post from November and another from June.

It will be interesting to see if other bishops are planning to shift the order of the sacraments of initiation in their dioceses. Two bishops making changes to the order of the sacraments of initiation in the month of May does not seem like a coincidence. Now if only we could celebrate baptism, confirmation and first Eucharist at the same time. That is something to think about…

Below you can find the full text of Bishop Aquila’s post from May 14th.

Forming saints in our midst

May 14, 2015

When we celebrate Pentecost this year, something will happen that people have been talking about since I was appointed Archbishop of Denver in 2012. On the day when the Church celebrates the descent of the Holy Spirit upon the Apostles, providing them the grace to take the Gospel to the ends of the earth, the process of restoring confirmation to its original place will begin.

I have decided to do this because it is my responsibility to do everything I can to help every person in the archdiocese reach heaven, to help you become a saint, to grow in holiness. The Church, our families, and our society urgently need more saints.

Under the restored order, the sacraments of initiation will be conferred as follows: baptism, confirmation and Eucharist. While baptism will continue to take place at its normal time, confirmation will take place in the third grade, during the same ceremony as first Eucharist.

When I was Bishop of Fargo and I restored confirmation to its original place, I found third-graders to be very receptive to the gifts of the Holy Spirit. Their childlike trust and wonder is beautiful to behold. Many times, their ability to see the truth and to trust God completely surpasses our own, and this allows them to receive the graces of the sacrament more deeply. St. Thomas Aquinas acknowledged this when he said in the Summa Theologica, “Age of body does not determine age of soul.”

There are also important theological reasons for placing confirmation before first Eucharist. In the early Church, Christian initiation began with new life in Christ through baptism. This was followed by confirmation, which perfects the grace of baptism, fills us with the gifts of the Holy Spirit, and prepares us to receive Jesus in the Eucharist. In other words, the sacraments of initiation are “are bound up with the Eucharist and are oriented toward it” (Catechism, no. 1324). The Eucharist completes initiation and is the lifelong sacrament that nourishes and strengthens us to be authentic disciples.

Unfortunately, the current confirmation process is not consistently forming authentic, lifelong disciples of Jesus Christ. Instead, as Pope Francis said in a 2013 address to Italian young people, “what is this sacrament called? Confirmation… No! Its name has changed: the ‘sacrament of farewell.’”

In the early Church, the descent of the Holy Spirit was an experience of empowerment that bestowed spiritual gifts on Apostles and brought them to spiritual maturity. Christ desires for this to be the experience of every believer today, too.

By imparting the graces of confirmation at an earlier age, it is my hope and conviction that children will be better prepared to live a life of authentic discipleship, even as society becomes more secular. My conviction comes from trust in Jesus Christ and the real, transformative power of the graces he pours out upon every person in the sacraments.

In contrast to this stands our culture, which will teach children to be nice, fair, and feel good about themselves, but will neglect their profound need for salvation and redemption. It will neglect virtue, teaching right from wrong, good from evil, and teaching them that true happiness is found in a relationship with God. But the secular approach is doomed to failure because it offers no help to those who fall short of being nice or good. It does not offer true healing or transformation, which can only be found in Jesus Christ.

“The Lord,” Pope Francis told the Italian young people, “is always with us. He comes to the shores of the sea of our life. He makes himself close to our failures, our frailty, and our sins in order to transform them.” Those of you who are parents are the primary teachers of the faith for your children and it is your task to show them how Christ has changed your life, to seek conversion, and to help them cultivate the graces they receive in the sacraments.

With the gifts of the Holy Spirit first given in baptism and completed at confirmation, the spiritual nourishment of the Holy Eucharist, and the generous commitment of all the people of God, we can expect to see ever-greater numbers of saints-in-the-making fill the Archdiocese of Denver.

To help form your children and grandchildren in the faith, I ask that you read my pastoral letter, “Saints Among Us,” which explains the restored order of the sacraments of initiation in greater depth. Along with video and print resources, the pastoral letter will be published on May 24 at www.archden.org/saints and will be available in your parish.

As we celebrate Pentecost, may the Holy Spirit stir into flame the gifts he has placed in your hearts!

 

 

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30 comments

  1. I fully agree with the moves made by these bishops. I would strongly protest, however, the celebration of the sacraments as is done in the Eastern Churches. That would be one more Easternization of the Roman Rite, and although I suppose the legislator could change the law, it would require the bishop of Rome to ordinarily unlock, so to speak, the ability of priests to confirm, as the bishop is the ordinary minister of the sacrament. I just am resistant to such an idea because it’s unhealthy to do something and use the Pope’s legislative power to undo the tradition. One might argue this move is untraditional, except it was only after S. Pius X that the latter two of the three sacraments were received out of order; at that time only the ages were “off.”

  2. I imagine many young families will welcome the change – they will only have to wait until third grade to stop attending weekend liturgy. Magical thinking is a dangerous thing.

    1. @linda daily:
      Linda, working in a parish, I understand the implications, but are we doing what we do simply to bind them to the pews for a certain number of years? That’s art of the problem. Every year I ask my students who may be in grades 8,9, or 10 how many of them go to church on a regular basis. If in a group of 25 I get 5 raised hands, it is a banner day. Typically I will get 2-4.

  3. While I support in theory all the reasons for giving the sacraments of initiation in their proper order (or even together), I am curious how people have dealt with the pastoral side of the question.

    For better or worse, Confirmation at a later stage does get young people ‘back’ at a crucial juncture in their lives – and while some do vanish thereafter never to be seen again, I have also had the experience of several teenagers for whom the Confirmation classes reawakened their interest and desire to participate in the faith life of the Church, even when their families were not practicing (and certainly the fact that they were old enough to be able to make the decision to e.g. come to Mass on their own, helped). They would never have ‘come back’ if it weren’t for the fact that there was this cultural obligation to receive the sacrament.

    Obviously, the ideal thing would be to have programs and a parish life that would engage young people across all ages – so they would still be connected to their church even after receiving the sacrament at a young age. But that doesn’t seem to be happening in many places, and it is a long process.

    I know in some places they have experimented with a substitute coming-of-age style ceremonies, but these do not seem to have the resonance that Confirmation does in the popular mindset.

  4. I don’t think it’s accurate to say that Archbishop Aquila is joining Bishop Silva. Rather it’s the other way round. Archbishop Aquila has been publicly campaigning for the restoration of the sequence for the past two years or so, so it is far more likely that Bishop Silva has acted in response to Archbishop Aquila’s initiatives. Now Archbishop Aquila is in a position to take action himself in his “new diocese”.

    Unfortunately he has opted for combining Confirmation and First Eucharist in the same celebration. Pastoral experience over the past 20 years and more shows that this option causes confusion and is not necessarily as effective as the Archbishop would like it to be. I also draw attention to Kevin Seasoltz’s wisdom, quoted by me in the other thread.

    1. @Paul Inwood:
      it doesn’t matter who was first…. as long as it gets done!! Silva and my great friend OFM Russell Becker, have been speaking on this subject for the past 15 or more years…. it’s just now beginning to be acted upon …. let’ s try to all get behind it and STOP making Confirmation a graduation. In our program, sacraments are conferred midway in the “academic” preparation and only AFTER the children or the young persons serve the liturgy or parish in some capacity– it’s NOT service hours.. it’s service, conversion and discipleship.

  5. Sometimes “change” is simply “change” – not “restoration”. It is likely with the best of intentions, but it is enacted in the hope that the results will be better.

    Two of my fellow choir members had kids who were recently confirmed as high school juniors. They’re a bit incensed on two fronts. First is that the diocese has been “experimenting” for almost 10 years with some parishes confirming in 4th grade, others in 10th. They feel cheated that they’ve waited an additional 6 years. (And no report yet on the efficacy of either waiting period from the diocese.)

    Then at Easter Vigil they truly felt disappointed. Several new Catholics were welcomed into the church, including two eight-year-old converts who had attended lessons with their parents for a year. One of the choir kids pointed out that he’d been an altar boy since he was eight, helped as an usher from 14, and these two newbies waltzed in and received the gifts of the holy spirit on a platter. Catholics evidently aren’t good enough? (They also asked when the newcomers will study Confession since they bypassed that in light of their new baptism.)

    If we seriously want “restoration,” why not follow the true proper order? Baptism by immersion at age 30, the Eucharist three years later, and receipt of the Holy Spirit some arbitrary “40 days” after that?

    There should be no real question why older teens just walk away when they see this naked stupidity, but let’s not pretend we’re “restoring” anything.

    1. @Sean Keeler:

      “Then at Easter Vigil they truly felt disappointed. Several new Catholics were welcomed into the church, including two eight-year-old converts who had attended lessons with their parents for a year. One of the choir kids pointed out that he’d been an altar boy since he was eight, helped as an usher from 14, and these two newbies waltzed in and received the gifts of the holy spirit on a platter. Catholics evidently aren’t good enough? (They also asked when the newcomers will study Confession since they bypassed that in light of their new baptism.)”

      There’s a parable about this.

      This is all great news! Hopefully this practice spreads to my diocese by the time my son is First Communion age.

      Confirmation is a gift – not a carrot to draw teens into CCD. And it works whether the recipient understands or not.

    2. @Sean Keeler:
      Sean — The disappointment felt by those teen choir members is another reason to move confirmation out of the teen years and away from this adult commitment to the Church attitude. I once had a parent complain that her 9 year-old son receiving confirmation at the Easter Vigil was “cheating him” out of what his sister baptized in infancy was going to go through. (!!!)

      A late departed auxiliary bishop in our diocese strongly endorsed confirmation in high school years because of the “peer pressure” teens were under in those years (drugs, sex, etc.). I suggested he should talk to parents of grade school children, and he would find that “peer pressure” is already at work in the first grade!!

      The “newbie” language used either by you or the choir teens smacks of the Parable of the Vineyard Workers all being paid the same amount regardless of the differing hours of work. Not kewl!!

      1. @Lee Bacchi:
        To my own post — I should have said language about newbies waltizing in and receiving the gifts of the Spirit on a platter smacks of the Parable of the Vineyard Workers who all get paid the same amount although some worked longer hourrs than others.

      2. @Lee Bacchi:
        The “newbie” language used either by you or the choir teens smacks of the Parable of the Vineyard Workers all being paid the same amount regardless of the differing hours of work. Not kewl!!

        If you think of the Gifts of the Holy Spirit as a paycheck, or a reward for past work, you’re correct.

        But if you believe what the Church teaches, that Confirmation brings us greater strength to do right through the Gifts of the Holy Spirit, then the Church’s decision – hopefully not God’s – to delay these Gifts into late teenhood is idiotic at best.

  6. “Bishop Aquila also articulated several theological reasons for placing confirmation before first Eucharist. Central to his theological reasoning is the profound connection between baptism and confirmation, “which perfects the grace of baptism.”

    The profound connection???

    This is adults forcing a meaning on a third grader…profound for a third grader is Hannah Montana changing to Miley Cyrus. This profound move is a numbers move only that has very little to do with grace, it is so our parish registers will be filled with Confirmations.

    The profound connection will be learned if the wisdom of the Holy Roman Catholic Church put those sacraments into adulthood. When baptism was moved to infancy to protect souls we started a path that now let’s some of the more learned in the Church’s ranks acknowledge that third graders are really receptive to this grace. At the first Communion today in my Church, the biggest concern was the cake at the end of Mass.

    If the wisdom is now first or second or third grade baptism, then let’s be dead on serious where the profound meaning lies.

    According to his pastoral letter, we are now comfortable enough to say to a…let’s be generous here…an 8 year old “these gifts of the Holy Spirit which you know all about…well they are now completed in you as a person.” Oh by the way… best of luck with the Fear of the Lord one.

    One more thing…when this Former Bishop of Fargo was complimented by Pope Benedict XVI for restoring the proper order on his last ad limina visit, the same Benedict XVI spoke at a youth gathering of teenagers in a stadium complimenting them for making the adult choice to be Confirmed.

  7. Perhaps this will act as a catalyst for effective youth ministry. It’s true that they won’t stick around after Confirmation if all you offer them is a boring lecture out of a textbook in a classroom setting on Monday evening. Maybe if we don’t have Confirmation as a carrot/stick, we’ll actually have to develop attractive and engaging youth ministry programs.

  8. “When I was a child, I used to talk as a child, think as a child, reason as a child; when I became a man, I put aside childish things.
    At present we see indistinctly, as in a mirror, but then face to face. At present I know partially; then I shall know fully, as I am fully known.”
    I believe this two verse passage from 1 Corinthians speaks directly to this conversation. I want to start by saying the problem is not that children don’t have the mentality of adults, the problem is that adults (more often than not) have the mentality of children.
    I am an elementary school teacher (35 years) and I am floored by the fact that the kids have more sense and sense of responsibility than their parents. We are putting the cart before the horse when we teach the children our faith and fail to acknowledge the lack of faith in their parents. How do we reach the primary educators of our children? We all see this time and again at baptism and first communion when the spiritual dimension is less important than the digital photo op. Confirmation (along with the other two) has become a cultural “Kodak” moment. And it really won’t matter what age we administer the sacrament as long as the parents are so disconnected from the power of God present in the sacrament. We still have a long way to go in learning how to evangelize Catholic families… parents included.

  9. The best rationale for the traditional order, the order now being restored, is in the prayer for the anointing after baptism:
    “He now anoints you with the chrism of salvation.
    As Christ was anointed Priest, Prophet, and King,
    so may you live always as a member of his body,
    sharing everlasting life.”

    With Confirmation, this gift of baptism is fulfilled and people are a part of the Body of The Anointed who speaks as a prophet, acts as a King, and offers sacrifice as a priest. Confirmation should enable them to own the Eucharist as what they do, with Christ, rather than see it is as something they watch to be entertained.

    If Confirmation is not the goal of their education, they can be taught how to be adults. They can learn from liturgy so that they will know how to learn from it when they are older. They can worship at liturgy so they will know how to worship later. They can learn how to make good choices so they will know how to later in life. The purpose of religious education will not be receiving sacraments, but living them out through their whole lives.

  10. I know the liturgists are clapping their hands saying the Sacraments of Initiation are now as they belong. It makes sense that we would not want to disturb these moments of grace as seen in their right order.

    We are taking pivotal moments of faith in our institutions and, in our wisdom of full and active conscience participation, we are now ready to bestow the seven gifts of the Holy Spirit on an 8 year old.

    Nicholas #8 “And it works whether the recipient understands or not.” I have to disagree. It doesn’t. The 8 year old may get the grace the Church claims to have sealed upon this young soul but overwhelming experience and observed cognition of third graders will quickly become clear…you are Confirming an 8 year old.

    If Confirmation works as you say simply by bestowing whatever kind of grace may come with it, then the many numbers of high schoolers confirmed in the last twenty five years would now all be 40 something year olds with kids in the pews and disposable income to feed the poor. The most efficacious Confirmations I have experienced are when college aged kids make a decision with little or without any parental influence.

    Parents should ask their bishops who have this deep desire to Confirm 3rd graders just to live with them for a month. Quite possibly the catechesis has not been bad about Confirmation but really..about infant Baptism. But most everyone knows that to move that Sacrament, with its well taught emotional responses and a recipient that has NO CLUE as to what has happened, would blow up the PrayTell blog page in about a minute.

  11. So corrected Lee … I will stand down to have the Snickers Bar. Too many Confirmations …too many Confirmations.

  12. As the debate continues on this page on which way is better- a third grader recieving confirmation vs. a junior/senior high school student- I wish to pose another train of thought. I would like to see a study on which is better. I would like to see a response and church attendance numbers by those who are now in their 20s and above who recived Confirmation in junior/senior high. Then compare them to the numbers of those children confirmed at a younger age when they are in the 20s and above. The purpose will be to evaluate whether it matters when one gets confirmed if they remain active in the church. Also if congnitive ability plays a role in the reception of the sacrament and its graces.

    This debate has always intrigued me, and I am looking forward to Kim’s future posts on this subject.

  13. I’m not sure there is that much of a difference between having it in third grade vs. high school if making confirmation an “adult choice” is what is important. Scientific studies indicate that middle and high school age kids don’t have the ability to think as rationally as adults and anyone who has been around that age group knows they often make naive and rebellious decisions.

    I don’t ascribe to the idea that confirmation is a graduation of sorts and think the sacraments should be given at an early age. The Church should then work on creating ways to keep them involved after that. Then the person will be better prepared and already have the grace to make the real adult choice of a Catholic – to live the faith every day.

  14. linda daily : I imagine many young families will welcome the change – they will only have to wait until third grade to stop attending weekend liturgy. Magical thinking is a dangerous thing.

    Not all young families are this way. Have a Snickers bar.

    1. @Lee Bacchi:
      I’d prefer that young people take this important step after they develop some degree of abstract thought. Whether and why they continue to worship is a separate issue.

      1. @linda daily:
        Linda — I would think both taking the importat step and continuing to worship are very closely related. Why and how do you see them as separate?

      2. @Lee Bacchi:
        Like it or not, many factors in addition to and outside of the sacraments influence whether and why individuals or families continue to worship within the Church – a welcoming community, a dismissive priest, etc.

  15. Sorry I can’t respond Nicholas because I just finished my Lee mandated Snickers Bar and now Sean has left another one for me.

    Confirmation does not a good Catholic adult make. CCD does not a happy teenager make.

    I know, I know…keep eating.

  16. It appears that everyone is forgetting the order of events in the Bible. Jesus is first baptized, then initiates holy communion, and finally bestows the holy spirit on the apostles. You can debate all you want as to which age to give these sacraments, but let’s not change the order and say it is to put them back into the original order. The Bible already states that.

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