A Pray Tell reader writes:
I’m catechist at the Church of Saint Paphnucius, where we celebrated confirmation recently. The bishop was not able to be present so a priest presided. He gave each person being confirmed a small slap on the cheek after anointing with chrism. I understand that this slap was in the preconciliar rite with the meaning that the newly confirmed should be a “soldier of Christ.” Is it still an option in the reformed rite?
The reformed rite of confirmation eliminated the sacrament’s most famous moment: the bishop’s slap. The slap first appeared in the 13th century. Incongruously, the bishop tapped the confirmand’s cheek while saying, “Peace be with you.” The slap inspired military imagery and fostered an interpretation of confirmation as a maturity rite. Durandus, who inserted the slap into the ritual, also thought it would serve as an exorcism and as a memory device to keep people from forgetting that they were confirmed. Its meaning was poorly understood. The removal of the slap supported the council’s desire that confirmation be connected more closely to initiation. The slap never had anything to do with initiation, and its removal helped purify the sacrament’s meaning.
So the answer to the reader’s question is: No, the slap is not an option.
I suppose some will say that it’s not expressly forbidden so nothing prevents adding it back in. I’m sure some will say that it is the “mutual enrichment” desired by Pope Benedict XVI if our stripped down reformed rites are gradually loaded back up with the accretions they acquired over the course of the centuries.
In this season we’re in of “re-Catholicizing” and “reforming the reform,” I think it’s more important than ever to celebrate the reformed rites as they appear in the liturgical books. Thing were omitted for a reason, and that should be respected.
What do you think? Is there a case, ever, for adding in preconciliar mannerisms? Anyone want to argue for flexibility?