Bishop Aquila (Fargo) receives Pope’s praise for reordering sacraments

The Diocese of Fargo, North Dakota has changed the order of the sacraments of initiation. Instead of confirmation coming third and at an older age, it is now conferred on children at a younger age and prior to First Communion.

Bishop Aquila said he made the changes because “it really puts the emphasis on the Eucharist as being what completes the sacraments of initiation” and on confirmation as “sealing and completing baptism.”

Read the full CNA story here.

30 comments

  1. I had a college student from Maine who also received “early” Confirmation. The previous Ordinary had done the re-ordering, but it is my understanding that the current Ordinary is going back to the otherwise dominant practice of Confirmation at a later age.
    Around here, the concern is that, if Confirmation is conferred at such a young age, there will be no “carrot” to keep kids in Religious Ed. Surely, we can think of better ways to do this; and if not, what does that say about religious ed? or Catholic parenting? Christian traditions that do not do a confirmation seem to manage Sunday School and youth programs just fine.
    My students see right through the “adult commitment” line; as they (rightly) point out, the culture does not expect them (trust them?) to make any other lifetime commitments in high school. Even career choices are normally open-ended until at least the sophomore year in college, and are not nearly as irrevocable as a religious commitment is supposed to be.

  2. Having experienced Greek Catholic relatives I am more and more for their (Catholic and Orthodox) practice concerning full initiation into the Church — the infant being Baptised, is also Chrismated (Confirmation) and receives the Eucharist. The growing child is then brought regularly to the Eucharist by the parents, and along with the other members of the family. After all, the Eucharist is, as they say, ‘the normal and Divine Food for the Christian Life.’

    This would mean an enormous reordering for the “Catechetical/Musical Complex” which in recent years (especially since Vatican II) has ‘taken charge’ of the religious education program in many, if not all, Roman Catholic parishes. The Sacramental Life could then be presented correctly as ‘a Way of Life’ to be grown into, rather than to be grown out of after a teen-age Confirmation as a sort of graduation from the ‘religious ed’ program.

    [If they would like to continue some sort of ‘adult commitment’ ceremony for teenagers, they should look at ‘knighthood’ and what some of the Scouts do after ‘summer camp’ with an all night vigil. This would be quite different than Confirmation’s proper purpose — and of course, be arranged for both young women as well as young men.]

    1. I have often wondered if the ceremony of knighthood might have been declared a sacrament if it had persisted longer. It certainly does seem to have shared some of the ceremonial aspects of Holy Orders. I suspect that we have 7 sacraments more because of the associations with the number “7” than because of the sacraments themselves. Some of our separated brethren refer to 2 sacraments, Baptism and Eucharist and consider Marriage, for example, to be a “rite”. Is it possible that Confirmation was teased out from Baptism in the first place in part to come up with the number 7?

      1. Sacrament was originally the oath sworn on joining the Roman military, so you may have the sequence backwards. Tertullian(?) noticed the similarity to baptism and opined that baptism is all the sacrament anyone needs. So the similarities of knighthood to a later usage of ‘sacrament’ is not surprising.

      2. One of the initiation practices, at least in Rome (or so I have been taught) was to do the water rite (in the nude?) out of public view. The neophytes were then escorted in their white robes into the assembly and in front of the Bishop, who would “confirm” what had been done in the water rite, extend the Kiss of Peace, and then continue with the eucharist with the neophytes remaining with the community for the first time.
        With the evangelization of northern Europe, the bishop would not be present for the water rite, and the chrismation remained w/ the bishop, who would confirm all those who had not yet received that part of their initiation.(In the East, the chrismation remained w/ the water rite, not the bishop.)
        Receiving communion was also delayed until after chrismation. I was blest to have an ecclesiology seminar w/ the ecclesiologist George Tavard, who remembered when the French bishops implemented Pius X’s directive to allow children to communicate at an earlier age. So he received a “first communion” that was not at all ceremonial, but simply what they were told to do. If I remember correctly, he did not routinely receive what passed for “regular and frequent” communion at that time until after confirmation — which was still earlier than we do now, I think he was about 9.

      3. Ann, as I remember it, Baptism was accompanied by a full body anointing which was the responsibility of priest, deacon or deaconess. Then clothed in white the neophyte was brought to the bishop for the confirming anointing. The episcopal anointing was separated, but an anointing remained with baptism. Only recently has the relation of the two anointings become an issue.

        Also, Baptism and Chrismation are described by St Cyprian as a double sacrament, a sign that they were being “teased” apart several hundred years before people thought of 7 sacraments. Peter Lombard was the first to name the seven modern sacraments, but I think there were some attempts to name 7 before that.

  3. Chrismation was “teased out,” I have read, to maintain a role for the bishop a role in the sacraments of initiation.
    As baptisms became more common, we presbyters became the ordinary ministers of the sacrament, bishops being few and far between. The chrismation was reserved for the bishops when he visited.

  4. It was a bit discouraging to see that the comments on the original website were mostly negative. That suggests to me that the restoration of the RCIA has not really penetrated and renewed the typical pew person’s understanding, so that Eucharist is more fully grasped as the final and repeatable sacrament of initiation drawing us more and more deeply into the Body of Christ. The good bishop has his work cut out for him!

  5. Some bishops will pick up on this and try to get this going in their dioceses. Until, of course, they run into the Catholic school and RE hierarchs who will act as if they didn’t even know there was a traditional order of sacraments. They are heavily invested, along with innumerable parish priests into first communions and confirmations as two distinct sacred commodities. “All the teens will just stop coming and without the carrot of confirmation hanging over their heads the parents will have lost the stick.”

    The critical problem with all RE programs is that they assume the students are already believers. Might as well get the sacraments out of the way by 2nd grade and move on to figuring out how to make believers out of them. I would welcome the chance to devise other rites of passage that won’t be encumbered by liturgical rules. I already sent the Aquila bit to my archbishop who said he hadnt seen it but knew that some bishops were doing that. With that he’s off to his ad limina.

    1. Some of these kids do indeed need a rite of passage other than chrismation and communion. What about a circumcision ceremony to boys and girls around the age of 10? That’s a rite of passage they won’t soon forget.

  6. This is such encouraging news!!!!

    Here in Ontario (Canada) bishops who are coming in to replace retiring bishops, who had taken this step several years ago at the urging of the Vatican, are actually reversing that very process.

    1. No, as in reversing the ancient “traditional” order and restoring what many mistakenly believe is the “traditional” ordering. If by tradition they mean what they had as children.
      My understanding is that this issue did not arise until Pius X directed that children should be admitted to communion at an earlier age. The sacrament were simply 7 different rituals, and there was no living memory of the intrinsic unity of the 3 sacraments of initiation; indeed, the very idea of “three sacraments of Christian initiation” was the fruit of careful historical research.

  7. This is a good thing, as it brings us closer with the Orthodox. We need that. Let’s hope that it catches on in more diocese’ in the USA.

    OTOH, my mother, born in 1928, made her first confession, received confirmation and first Holy Communion, in that order, at the age of 7. I still have her certificate, prayer book, and candle. Not sure when things went awry with the ordering of the sacraments as we have them today, but at least around the NE US, it had to be sometime after 1935.

  8. In the days when “Restored Sequence” was being used as a banner for people to rally around, I remember hearing Dom Kevin Seasoltz commenting that “They have restored the sequence but they haven’t restored the chronology”.

    John’s comment about the Orthodox is apposite: they baptize, chrismate and administer First Eucharist all in the same celebration — to babes in arms.

  9. Paul Olson found that Protestant Churches emphasizing the liturgical year had lower average attendance than Protestant Churches emphasizing weekly church attendance by having a uniformly high quality service each week.

    http://www.praytellblog.com/index.php/2010/07/19/the-liturgical-year-and-average-church-attendance/

    Emphasizing the Advent – Christmas and Lent – Easter cycles gives people the idea that it is not as important to go weekly during “ordinary time.” In fact churches often program for low attendance, e.g. by not having the choir sing during the summer.

    The same argument could be made for the elaborate preparations for First Eucharist and Confirmation. By saying these are so important, we are implying that regular Sunday church attendance is less important.

    If we combined Confirmation with First Eucharist we could present these as the beginning of a life long higher form of Sunday observance. When Confirmation comes after Eucharist we leave the impression that preparations for the two events, First Eucharist and Confirmation, are more important than regular Sunday Eucharist!

    Unintentionally liturgical churches are communicating that the Life Cycle (Baptism, First Eucharist, Confirmation, Marriage, Funeral) and the Annual Cycle (Advent – Christmas, Lent – Easter) are primary and the Weekly Cycle (Sunday Eucharist) is secondary. Liturgical Churches have mostly forgotten that there is a Daily Cycle (the Divine Office). We are now using the Liturgy to remove religion from close proximity to ordinary life (the weekly and daily cycles).

    Unfortunately a large part of the parish resources have become invested in the Life Cycle and the Annual Cycle with far less resources dedicated to the Weekly and Daily cycles. These vested interests make it very difficult to make changes, e.g. for the Choir to focus upon the Weekly and Daily cycles rather than seasonal and annual events like the Christmas Concert.

    1. The same argument could be made for the elaborate preparations for First Eucharist and Confirmation. By saying these are so important, we are implying that regular Sunday church attendance is less important.

      Jack,

      This is a really interesting point. My own experience certainly bears this out. People who are quite lax about weekly attendance are amazingly scrupulous about the “lifecycle” sacraments.

      1. Is it really a problem that we have degrees of participation? We tend to make the assumption that everyone should be at every Sunday Mass. Then, why not everyone at daily Mass? Why not everyone at Divine Office? Those called to the monastic life are certainly a resource for the rest of us, but not all are called to a monastic life.

      2. I am not one to scold the folks who show up only on Xmas and Easter, but there is a pretty long and strong tradition of attendance at the Eucharist on the Lord’s day as normative.

  10. Deacon, what is implied in your experience and mine too is what causes me anxiety about returning to the natural order of the sacraments which intellectually I endorse and have had experience with in the Eastern Rite Community in Augusta where my parochial vicar was pastor (it was a small parish).
    We have many who are lax about weekly attendance who do make sure their children are baptized, receive First Penance and Holy Communion and are confirmed (in our parish in the 9th grade). If we go back to the original order and do it at baptism as it should be done, will this improve the quality of participation at Mass and in the life of the parish or not for these “lax Catholics,” or will we lose them all together and if we do, should we care? Or if we wait until the second grade and let the bishop confirm them and then have First Holy Communion at that same Mass, will we see that group that doesn’t normally participate at Sunday Mass again? I don’t know, but I think we won’t. This may lead to an even smaller Catholic Church that is more faithful, but I’m not sure and thus my anxiety about pushing the tepid even further away from the Church or not giving them more opportunities for them to bring their kids to Church for these “rites of passage” as they are now.
    The other concern is that if we do change the order, I think it should be nationwide. We live in a very mobile culture now and we all know that kids are missing confirmation because of this mobility and the fact that even now different dioceses confirm in different grades. What does Fargo do when they have teenagers moving there that weren’t confirmed as small children? They’ll still have to prepare them and have special classes for them.

    1. My experience at the services that I attend at the local Orthodox (OCA) parish is that they have all ages. Not just teenagers, but people in their 20s and 30s.

      Now I don’t go to their Sunday Liturgy but I do go to “minor” feasts, and various forms of the Divine Office. I don’t see the disproportional “parents with kids” or ‘gray heads” that I see on Sundays at Catholic parishes.

      Part of the reason is that there are a lot of things for young people to do at these services. There is a choir of about half a dozen. Then there is the role of reader (who chants on a tone psalms, prayers, lessons). These parts are so extensive that sometimes several people do them. The choir and readers are very disproportionally people under 40.

      My understanding of the Eastern tradition is that “obligation” is more something communal than personal. By going to the Liturgy or the Divine Office even when it is not Sunday you are helping to fulfill the parish’s divine worship more than just you own. That means that you do not have a personal obligation to be there on Sunday; the community fulfils your worship even if you are not there.

      That to some extent has caused low Sunday attendance at many Orthodox Churches, especially the Greek Orthodox. Many of these people still speak Greek, and I suspect continue to get their Greek Orthodox identity from doing so. They also have larger parishes (e.g. 500-600) and much less an opportunity for participation in specific roles at Liturgy.

      The OCA parishes have mostly lost their ethnicity; the majority of priests as well as laity are not cradle Orthodox. They are smaller (100-200), more intentional and with greater opportunities for participation in specific roles.

      The Orthodox also have a greater emphasis on fasting than we do, or did before VII. They have many fast periods throughout the year, and the Lenten fast is far deeper, e.g. abstaining from fish, dairy, even sometimes oils. This is a strong tradition not something that binds under sin but it does give an Orthodox identity to daily life.

  11. I think the “teasing apart” (a la Jim McKay’s post) was part of the allegorizing of the different parts of the ritual. One author even “teased out” the disrobing prior to the water bath! So it was natural that the chrismation would be “teased out”. Clearly it was a distinct part of the ceremony, or it would not have been problematic about whether or not it could be done in the absence of a Bishop.
    Mark Searle once commented that Catholics are in a sense “anabaptists” — we do clinical baptism, but we don’t fully initiate until people are about the age at which they might be admitted to baptism in Baptist or other evangelical traditions that really do rely on an experience of the Risen Lord in their life. And until then, infants and small children are often considered a “nuisance” at mass; I wonder how the liturgy itself might be different if we really took seriously its role in passing on the tradition to the next generation.
    I wonder how much the fear of losing religious ed students influences the emphasis on sacramental prep, which has the effect of turning sacraments into rewards for good behavior, and confirmation becomes “graduation” from religious ed. One of my students wrote about her confirmation as making her an adult in the eyes of the Church, and her first decision as an adult in the Church was to stop attending mass.
    Instead of the sacramental life of the Church being lived as the fullness of God’s Word and God’s grace in our midst, it has become the slenderest of threads for hanging on. I would hate to sever that thread, but I really think we need a different motivation and theological rationale for religious ed. Maybe it shouldn’t be an “education” model; maybe it should be a “teaching by doing” model, or some such.

    1. I really think we need a different motivation and theological rationale for religious ed. Maybe it shouldn’t be an “education” model; maybe it should be a “teaching by doing” model, or some such.

      Perhaps a discipleship model? 🙂 Jesus’ disciples didn’t call it quits after they received the Holy Spirit on Pentecost; on the contrary, they put what they had received to work!

    2. Ann, I am glad one of your students found meaning her confirmation. What do others think? Does it have any significance for their lives? Are they wiser or more understanding? Filled with the Holy Spirit? Or is it just a ritual moment that fades as quickly as it happens?

      If more people felt it as a moment of assuming authority, making decisions, etc we would have a richer sacrament. But maybe fewer in Church!

  12. I think also part of the problem with the “thinking” of many is that Baptism is the end all and be all of Christian initiation, when in fact it is the three sacraments, Baptism, Confirmation and Holy Eucharist. Being in full communion with the Church by all three and the on-going full communion by participating in Holy Mass and receiving Holy Communion worthily should constitute our life in the Holy Spirit, which is always on-going and in need of purification, sanctifying and actual grace, not to mention deepening of one’s knowing, loving and serving Jesus Christ through the divine institution of the Church which like Jesus has two natures, human and divine.

    1. Baptism can refer to either the immersion in water, or to the whole initiation rite, or something in between. For many, probably most, of the Reformed churches, baptism IS the end all and be all of initiation. It is normal for Catholics to use the terminology that way, even though we have additional rites that accompany baptism that are not signified by the immersion: white garments, candles as well as anointing with Chrism. (immersion is the literal meaning of baptism, and I use it here to refer to all methods of applying water for baptism.)

      As Bishop Aquile points out, the Eucharist is the true completion of Baptism. The theology of Confirmation needs to be developed better to establish its relation to Baptism and the sequence of initiation. I think the best avenue for that is the post baptismal anointing of infants as prophets priests and kings, which should precede a person’s priestly participation in the Eucharist. But that runs counter to a millennium of almost ignoring the Chrism and ascribing these effects to Baptism.

  13. Brigid Rauch :

    Is it really a problem that we have degrees of participation? We tend to make the assumption that everyone should be at every Sunday Mass. Then, why not everyone at daily Mass? Why not everyone at Divine Office? Those called to the monastic life are certainly a resource for the rest of us, but not all are called to a monastic life.

    Brigid, yes it is a problem, since it is a grave sin to intentionally miss Sunday Mass. There is no requirement for attendance at daily Mass.

    As the CCC says, 2181: “The Sunday Eucharist is the foundation and confirmation of all Christian practice. For this reason the faithful are obliged to participate in the Eucharist on days of obligation, unless excused for a serious reason (for example, illness, the care of infants) or dispensed by their own pastor. Those who deliberately fail in this obligation commit a grave sin.”

  14. The inclusion of a norm, such as 2181, in the CCC does not ipso facto confer on that norm any extra or different authority from that which it had before the catechism was published.

    In this case, the norm could also add to the clause “unless….dispensed by their own pastor,” “or by their own conscience.”

    1. Peace to you!

      The Catechism tells us what is genuine Catholic belief. It is useful here, as an authoritative reference, to demonstrate that it is a grave sin to miss Sunday Mass. It is true that it was a grave sin before the CCC was published!

      The assertion that one can dispense oneself from Sunday Mass, on the basis of “conscience” is not Catholic teaching.

      Basically, we are required to go to Mass unless it is impossible for us to go (example: the car breaks down on the way) or illness prevents it. The only other exception is if your pastor dispenses you, which is normally done when people are in a situation where Mass attendance is not possible. For example, if a person is required to work all day Saturday and all day Sunday, they may ask the pastor for a dispensation from Sunday Mass, until their work schedule changes to allow Mass attendance. But this would presume that the person is also legitimately trying to do everything possible to allow them to attend Mass.

  15. Gerard Flynn :

    The inclusion of a norm, such as 2181, in the CCC does not ipso facto confer on that norm any extra or different authority from that which it had before the catechism was published.
    In this case, the norm could also add to the clause “unless….dispensed by their own pastor,” “or by their own conscience.”

    Peace to you!

    The Catechism tells us what is genuine Catholic belief. It is useful here, as an authoritative reference, to demonstrate that it is a grave sin to miss Sunday Mass. It is true that it was a grave sin before the CCC was published!

    The assertion that one can dispense oneself from Sunday Mass, on the basis of “conscience” is not Catholic teaching.

    Basically, we are required to go to Mass unless it is impossible for us to go (example: the car breaks down on the way) or illness prevents it. The only other exception is if your pastor dispenses you, which is normally done when people are in a situation where Mass attendance is not possible. For example, if a person is required to work all day Saturday and all day Sunday, they may ask the pastor for a dispensation from Sunday Mass, until their work schedule changes to allow Mass attendance. But this would presume that the person is also legitimately trying to do everything possible to allow them to attend Mass.

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