Confirmation before Eucharist?

Until I started graduate school, I didn’t really understand (or maybe I didn’t want to understand) what all the fuss was over “restored order” for the sacraments of initiation. I know from our conversations here in the diocese of Salt Lake City that there is a lot of emotion around this subject. The National Catholic Register has interviewed Bishop Aquila to shed some light on this topic. My guess is we will debate this topic for many years to come.


  1. What is meant by “we” in “we will debate this topic”? In the Eastern Churches it is not debated. The original order as you all know has been kept. It would be a big help, I think, to restore that practice in the Western Church. Confirmation is still looking for a theology. I do not know why a practice trumped tradition and theology. What are the debates about? Really.

  2. What I believe the debates are really about is the huge shift in how we ‘educate’ our children about the faith that will be needed. If the proper order is restored, then every curriculum currently in use will have to be overhauled. There will have to be a real change in how we inculurate children into the faith. Thank heavens we already have a process to look at….RCIA. Every religious formation/education program should be modeled on the RCIA and Lectionary-based catechesis. Then the formation of our children will flow from the liturgy/scripture/faith as lived in our actions within our communities.

  3. “In an August 2002 pastoral letter, Bishop Aquila instructed that after children receive the sacrament of reconciliation in second grade, they should receive confirmation and first Eucharist in the third grade during the same Mass.”

    I know that RC theology says that reconciliation is necessary before reception of the Eucharist, but wouldn’t the bishop’s model of reconciliation, confirmation, eucharist (the latter two in the same mass) mean that reconciliation is part of the initiation sacraments? It was my understanding that the three sacraments of initiation are all sort of packaged together as three parts of one sacrament.

    I think that confirmation and baptism are packaged as two parts of the same sacrament in the ELCA. Our hymnal and worship book lists confirmation as something or another within the subset of baptism.

    1. Does RC theology say that reconciliation is necessary before reception of the Eucharist?

      How many 7 year olds are indeed guilty of mortal sin? It is my perception that children are introduced to the Rite of Penance ahead of Eucharist because those in charge believe the families would never bring their children to Penance unless it is a bureaucratic requirement for First Communion. In other words, it is the sense of the parents that First Penance is not important, but First Communion is.

      Imagine a Church which made frequent use of the communal rite of Penance. (It is my understanding that the communal rite is as valid as the private rite, and not a second class substitute. ) Children would be introduced to the rite by their parents as part of a community, and would be made aware of the opportunity for personal confession when they felt the need. Maybe the time to introduce the Rite of Penance isn’t ahead of First Communion, but as part of the Confirmation preparation. Of course, when dealing with adolescents, one would have to deal with what the hierarchy preaches about sexuality. Good luck finding volunteers who agree with the hierarchy, let alone willing to discuss that subject with other people’s children!

      To pretend that Jesus handed the apostles a rule book listing the seven sacraments is folly. We the sacraments evolved, why would we think they are not still evolving?

      1. Perhaps a more knowledgeable person needs to clarify things – my understanding is that communal penance services still require individual (private) confession after-wards in order to be valid (except in times of emergency where individual confession would not be possible, like soldiers going into battle or a major catastrophe).

        In my area, the churches pool their priests together and hold penance services prior to Christmas and Easter. After the communal service, the priests go to stations and then hear individual confessions. There is no blanket absolution given to the crowd.

    2. The traditions that grew into Reconciliation include calling it a ‘second baptism.’

      So perhaps the proper way to approach this is to use first Reconciliation as a remembrance of personal Baptism. That memory of baptism is a foundation for the rest of initiation.

  4. I am very much in favor of restoring original order of the sacraments of initiation, and of moving penance out of the initiation sequence. Pius X may be a saint, but he goofed it up royally with that early communion move!!

  5. I have a problem with this move to restored order of sacraments. Liturgically it makes sense to have an order of sacraments as baptism, confirmation, and Eucharist. Psychologically, I think this is extremely damaging to children because they are given a lot of responsibility based on our confirmation theology, and are not valued for themselves. Also, initiating children younger gives people in power more control over sacraments and how many people are registered in a Church.
    Also, if we’re looking at the effect of keeping people in the Church in my exploits around the diocese of Fargo it’s a rather mixed effect, some parishes have success, others lose lots of people, so it’s unclear whether this is a good effect.
    Yeah, I’m really bothered by this, because I think psychology should influence how we initiate people in the Church. In the early Christian period, most of the people initiated into the Church were older people. Initiation of infants happened more as the Church gained a sense of original sin. This led to the what we know as restored order, but there was little sense of psychology in this formation.
    It’s something I want to reflect more about because I want a better solution than the one I see from a lot of the comments here.

  6. The way the RC church typically celebrates confirmation, as a rite of passage into adulthood, is a square peg in a round hole. This is more in line with the Anglican theology of the sacrament than Catholic theology, but that hasn’t stopped every bishop whom I’ve experienced explain the sacrament in exactly that way.

    Theologically, this could all be cleaned up by fully initiating infants (baptism, confirmation, eucharist). Then, where it seems pastorally appropriate, craft a new “rite of passage” ceremony for adolescents where they affirm and renew their baptismal promises. The revised rite of Quinceanera is a great model.

    1. I understand the desire to move things back to the original order of initiation sacraments, but I see (at least) a few problems:

      1) if a new “rite of passage” is crafted, wouldn’t it look strikingly like a sacrament? Some of the Latino/as that I know consider the Quinceanera as a de facto sacrament already. If the RCC added another rite on top of that, wouldn’t that be slightly deceptive and certainly confusing? If there was a universal rite of passage added, that would make 9 sacraments and semi-sacraments for those in Hispanic cultures (7 Sacraments+Quinceanera+new rite of passage.) The new rite would have to be universal and not cultural specific, right? That seems to be the way things go around Rome. That could get messy.

      2) My memory back to Fr. Anthony’s undergrad sacramental theology class is fuzzy, but where is the area of Scripture that the RCC uses to classify confirmation as a Sacrament? Is there anything that could be drawn from Scripture to give directive to this issue?

      1. It could get confused, though I believe many people are already confused about the difference between sacramentality/sacramentals/Sacraments. Maybe we need better terms. A Sacrament is more than a time when the whole family goes to church (not just the old ladies and pious types), dresses up, and takes lots of pictures.

        The cultural anthropology/ritual experts would have a lot to add to this idea. Most cultures around the globe and throughout the ages have had explicit coming-of-age ceremonies. I think there is something fundamentally important, whether speaking of secular or sacred realms, about passing from childhood to adulthood. Our lack of a ritual to mark that change has resulted in a vacuum which has been erroneously filled by Confirmation.

        Our western culture has created a novel focus on “adolescence.” Most cultures consider someone a child until a certain age, then they go through a rite of passage such as dragging boys out into the wilderness, beating them up, and leaving them to survive on their own and find their way home, upon which they are welcomed as full-fledged adults with all rights and responsibilities. I don’t suggest we try that, but having a 30-something man-child living in his parents’ basement with mom doing his laundry is the other extreme.

    2. SP, if the rite of passage into adulthood sacrament First Reconciliation, here are some sermon suggestions:

      You are adults now. Children are often not culpable for their errors. They have a certain innocence.

      You, young adults that you are, have reached a stage beyond that innocence. You can be in conflict with your parents because you claim that you can handle responsibility and they treat you as if you cannot.

      Reconciliation is the Sacrament for responsible adults.

      With the ability to take on responsibility come the occasions that one knows one has failed to act responsibly. Conversation with a sound spiritual director is how one deals with a awareness of personal responsibility and the need for spiritual growth and personal failures.

      Sacramental Reconciliation is our means to fresh starts.

      It is the pit stop under the yellow flag after which one re-enters the race without having lost a lap.

      Reconciliation is the daily shower version of Baptism.

      Welcome to taking responsibility. Only you can decide when you are ready for and in need of First Reconciliation.

      We of the parish RCIA team have annual study groups where peers explore morality and Christian responsibilities and the means the Church offers for adult spiritual growth.

      We discuss the demands of personal charity and how it differs from alms-giving and from social justice.

      We introduce a variety of Catholic spiritual traditions and people who support them.

      We introduce the differences between spiritual direction for adults and religion classes for children and we introduce some of the people and organizations who make spiritual direction available.

      We will introduce your group to several nearby priest-confessors and their discussions of how they see Reconciliation and how they conduct the sacrament.

      The Adult Responsibility Study Groups we offer are not classes. There is no passing or failing or attendance taking. We also offer older age group versions.

  7. According to the Code of Canon Law (which binds Roman Rite Catholics, not any of the Eastern Rites), Sacramental Confession must be made prior to the reception of First Communion.

    Since the age of reason is set at around 7 years of age by the same Code, it stands to reason that First Communion should be made after this age (not having the code in front of me, I can’t verify that it does or does not state anything about a minimum age for reception of First Communion directly).

    I’d point out that this is a matter of discipline, not doctrine, so could in fact be changed at a later date… or, even granted a dispensation from for particular circumstances (such as the whole clerical celibacy for those CofE folks being received in to the Church through the AC provisions)

    Someone above mentioned RCIA as a model for an amicable solution– I agree completely! The General Directory for Catechesis goes so far as to state that the Catechumenal model is the type for all other catechesis…

    Finally, the solution for keeping kids in the Church is not delaying the Sacraments, which they need so desperately for the grace they provide… the solution for keeping kids in the Church and becoming mature adults is responsible parenting, and education of parents to be capable of being the primary educators of their children.

    1. Agreed. We treat Confirmation like it’s an award to be earned for completing an educational program, like a diploma. And how: after many teens are confirmed, they act like they have graduated from church and don’t return until they get married.

  8. where is the area of Scripture that the RCC uses to classify confirmation as a Sacrament?

    Acts 8:14-17 is the most basic text, because it establishes that there is something distinct from baptism that an apostle (=bishop) can confer at a later date. By the laying on of hands, they convey the Holy Spirit which was not given at Baptism.

    With the reform of the rite in the 70s, Paul VI used Pentecost (Acts 1-2) as a text for Confirmation. Again, this moment is distinct from baptism as Pentecost is after Easter. But St Paul in Romans, Corinthians and Galatians rounds out the meaning of the Holy Spirit filling the Church.

    I don’t think either of these offers much about sequence. In the Gospels, the Eucharist precedes the death of Jesus which St Paul equates with Baptism!

    Is there anything that could be drawn from Scripture to give directive to this issue?

    Personally, I think we should look to the story that is to be told wherever the gospel is proclaimed to the whole world. (Mk 14:9) That would take the anointing of Jesus and make it a model for the anointing that the East calls Chrismation, and the Catholic West considers equivalent to Confirmation. (actually, some in the West, eg Poland, refer to Baptism as christening because of the anointing therein)

    Then we have the sequence in the Gospels — Jesus is baptized, and when later anointed, immediately celebrates the Eucharist. (except in Luke) The public ministry of Jesus, when he preaches and heals, falls between baptism and anointing if anyone wants a break to allow the infant to grow.

    Of course, this story has a woman, rather than one of the Twelve, as the minister of the sacrament, so don’t hold your breath waiting for this to happen.

  9. A local parish has done Confirmation with first Eucharist. The pastor did the confirmations at all Masses on one Sunday during the Paschal Season. Each Mass lasted 90 minutes.

    I came accidentally. Had I known it was going to be Confirmation Sunday, I would not have attended. But the experience was very well done and very enjoyable. Something extra for the Paschal Season that did not take near the time of the Holy Week Services! So it was certainly successful as a liturgical event for the parish.

    We really spend too much time on First Eucharist and Confirmation. The only things I remember about them are the class pictures kept in a box by my mother. I remember my eighth grade public school graduation which was held in my local Nazarene Church (over the objections of our priest) in great detail! We graduates got to sit in the choir stalls in the sanctuary!

    Our pastoral ministers spend a huge amount of time on Christmas season and Lent-Easter season, and a huge amount of time in preparing for First Communion and Confirmation.

    What do our people learn? They learn to do what the pastoral ministers show are important by their behavior.

    Our people come to church for the Christmas and Easter Seasons, and they send their children to First Communion and Confirmation preparation. And generally most skip much of the rest. They have certainly learned well what are the important things and the unimportant things.

  10. We had this same discussion when I was doing my liturgy degree at Catholic U back in 1980. We didn’t solve the problem then either! Certainly the ancient model of Christian Initiation as one event with 3 distinct actions, the water bath, chrismation and Communion makes a great deal of theological sense. But when would we celebrate it? There is a good ex opere operato case to be made for infancy, but that takes the faith experience out of the picture. Full initiation at the “age of reason” (a term for 7 year olds obviously coined by someone who never had kids) sounds good at first, but culturally how could we undo 1600+ years of infant Baptism? Developmentally, Confirmation as currently practiced in the US makes sense (developmentally–not theologically) We do need our rites of passage. It does also serve the purpose of keeping kids in religious ed. a few years longer. Again not a particularly theological reason. So, maybe pairing Confirmation and first Eucharist would work, if episcopal schedules would permit. Canon law aside, the imposition of Reconciliation into the midst of the Initiation is poor sacramental theology. So, solutions anyone?

  11. the ancient model of Christian Initiation as one event with 3 distinct actions, the water bath, chrismation and Communion makes a great deal of theological sense.

    This is also the modern model, practiced in the RCIA.

    Difficulties arise from the exceptions, including infant baptism and Acts 8. Should these be forced to follow the sequence of the norm?

    I think the key is the anointing in baptism which explicates our anointing as prophet priest and king. If the priestly office is conferred with baptism, there is no reason to demand confirmation before Eucharist. And if the priestly office is conferred with confirmation, why can’t a child participate in the Eucharist within his parent’s faith, much as their faith allows participation in baptism while an infant? (I use “priestly office” because it makes the most sense to me on this issue, but substitute “spiritual gifts”, “maturity” or whatever theology defines confirmation for you.)

  12. “Priestly office” makes a great deal of sense Jim. “maturity” seems to be the watchword in confirmation catechesis, but is awfully tough to define as a theology.

  13. the anointing in baptism which explicates our anointing as prophet priest and king, …substitute “spiritual gifts”, “maturity” or whatever theology defines confirmation for you

    Perhaps the words “Christian leadership” where leadership is used in the social science sense of a person exercising influence over other people rather than holding office. It is also the meaning of apostolate as used in the Decree on the Apostolate of the Laity. Leadership can be seen as the other side of the coin of discipleship, being influenced by others.

    Christ’s baptism is celebrated in the Byzantine tradition as the “theophany” the manifestation of the Trinity; so too should our baptism, which is in the name of the Trinity, be seen as our fundamental ordering to Trinitarian life.

    Although our ordering to Trinitarian life implies mission to the world, perhaps a separate sacrament (confirmation) celebrating that mission is appropriate.

    Greeley has found that most of the vibrant religiosity of conservative Protestants is related to one or more of the following items of his Evangelicalism scale 1) belief in literal interpretation of the Bible, 2) a born again experience, 3) inviting others to accept Christ. To these also add for Pentecostals 4) speaking in tongues.

    Certainly the more vibrant forms of Protestantism seem to be based upon adult religious experiences that express changes in a person’s relationship not only to God but to others.

    Perhaps mission as the theme of confirmation might be a beginning for deeper involvement in Christian life; maturity as a theme seems to signify an end (to religious education).

  14. Implicit in all of these discussions is the theological problem that necessarily arises when the practice of initiation was clouded by the division of the rites of initiation. While done initially for cultural and political reasons it created the need to reformulate the precise definitions of the respective rites of Baptism, Confirmation and Eucharist.
    The result of this practice has been to create a community that only recognizes these rites to be marginally connected.
    Then enter the Church with it’s insistence that reconciliation must be practiced, (albeit celebrated) prior to Eucharist. And not one voice is raised about the practice of encouraging the simulation of a sacrament. Anyone who advocates that a child of seven has reached the use of reason should be consistent in their view and like any seventeenth century Catholic insist that seven year olds be tried in civil courts as adults.
    Would it be so novel to allow the sacraments to nourish faith rather than vehicles to enforce conformity?

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