Diocese of Gallup Restores Order of Sacraments for Children

On February 11, Bishop James S. Wall of Gallup, New Mexico, announced that the diocese will restore the order of the sacraments of initiation for children who are baptized in infancy. The process of implementing this change will extend over three years.

Gallup will be the thirteenth American diocese to adopt the practice of celebrating confirmation prior to first communion.

Pastoral considerations weighed heavily into the decision, which was reached in consultation with the Presbyteral Council. According to the bishop:

Receiving the Sacrament of Confirmation long after the reception of Holy Communion tends to weaken the understanding of the bond and relationship that the Sacraments of Initiation have with one another.  Since the Sacraments of Baptism and Confirmation lead the faithful to the culmination of their initiation into the Christian Life in Holy Communion,  the practice of postponing the reception of Confirmation until the teenage years has not always been beneficial.  An alarming percentage of our Catholic children who were baptized and received First Holy Communion, do not continue their formation for the Sacrament of Confirmation, and in too many cases, never receive the Sacrament.  As your shepherd, I believe it is important for our children, before they reach their adolescent years, to receive the strength of this important Sacrament.

You can read Bishop Wall’s entire letter here.

The diocese of Gallup was founded in 1939. It spans 55,000 square miles in the states of New Mexico and Arizona and primarily serves Native American and Hispanic populations.

28 comments

  1. Since some families see Confirmation as graduation from religious education this will require a serious effort at reforming rel ed to keep the children coming after First Communion. And if the children don’t come we will lose the parents too.
    At my parish we are investigating a new family based religious ed program. At the first pilot session 48/49 parents said they would recommend it to other families. If we want to keep the children involved we have to work with the parents.

  2. Both of my parents were confirmed before they received first Holy Communion at age 7 in the 1920s and 1930s. Why it was ever changed is beyond me.

      1. Reply to John Kohanski above:

        So he was. My point was that it was PX who lowered the age of First Communion to 7.

  3. As I have said elsewhere, the late and great liturgist Kevin Seasoltz OSB used to say “The problem with restoring the sequence of the sacraments is that it makes no real sense unless you also restore the chronology.”

    The Orthodox baptize, chrismate and administer First Eucharist to babes in arms in the same celebration. What we are doing is baptizing children and then, in effect, saying to them that they aren’t fully initiated until much later on. If we really believe that, we shouldn’t be baptizing them until they are older.

    The late and also great Aidan Kavangh used to say that if we were logical about our current attitudes, and the need for children to have attained the age of reason before full initiation, then we ought to wait to baptize children untll the age of 21 when they can decide for themselves if they want to be Christian……..

  4. Our diocese switched to Confirmation before Communion about a decade ago, and has recently announced that they are switching back. What age for Confirmation I do not know.
    I made my First Communion at age 7, and was Confirmed at 9, but that was over 70 years ago. I can recall that I took Confirmation seriously.

  5. Arguments can be made for Confirmation early or late, but to celebrate it purely as a realization of the failure to keep children (and their parents) engaged and active in the church seems tragic. It seems that that is what is being acknowledged by the Ordinary in his statement.

    Is this what it has come to? Since we cannot keep them active in church lets confirm them before they leave? How sad is that to effectively throw in the towel?

  6. The post above indicates that 13 US dioceses have restored the sequence of Baptism-Confirmation-Eucharist. I am aware of 12 (below). Can someone identify the missing diocese? Thanks.

    Denver, CO
    Fargo, ND
    Gallup, NM
    Gaylord, MI
    Great Falls-Billings, MT
    Honolulu, HI
    Manchester, NH
    Phoenix, AZ
    Portland, ME
    Saginaw, MI
    Spokane, WA
    Tyler, TX

    1. Can’t help with the missing diocese, but there were also some others that did it for a while and then switched back again. I seem to remember that Green Bay was one of those.

  7. The National Catholic Register just reported that Springfield in Illinois decided this, giving the date of the change as 2017.

    A look at the Springfield diocesan website shows that it will only begin this Spring (2019), so I am not sure about the accuracy of the Register. Was it really decided two years ago? Perhaps it was. In any case, the addition of Springfield brings the number to 13.

    https://www.dio.org/catechesis/restored-order.html

    1. Thank you, Rita.
      I believe that in addition to Greensburg, PA, the dioceses of Marquette, MI, and Galveston-Corpus-Christi, TX also implemented the Baptism-Confirmation-Eucharist sequence only to reverse course shortly thereafter.

      1. This sort of stuff is ridiculous. Bishops should not be allowed to make such decisions based on a personal preference.

      2. Jerry is right, there is no Galveston-Corpus Christi diocese. I believe Tim meant Galveston-Houston.

        I just went to their website to check, however, and I see something a little unusual, namely that there is no link for youth confirmation. There is children’s catechumenate, which is great. Then infant baptism, first eucharist, and adult confirmation. I suppose this could mean that they wait for adulthood to confer confirmation, but this isn’t usual. The guidelines for first eucharist are only available by password. If these guidelines contain an option for confirmation with first communion, I could not get at it. It may be that, like some dioceses, it is available if a pastor or parent requests it. There are many shades of grey in this business!

        Of course, Corpus Christi might be the diocese that once had restored order and then changed it back. Tim, do you know anything more about this?

      3. Yikes, my knowledge of Texan geography is woeful.

        I just checked my records for information about “Galveston-Corpus Christi” and “Corpus Christi” by itself. I was unable to find anything about the sequence for initiation. Someone, somewhere, provided that information to me but I did not save the reference (bad scholar, Tim!). It is possible that the information I received was inaccurate or that I somehow misinterpreted the information.

  8. The whole thing is a mess, partly as a result of the fact that no one really knows what Confirmation is for. (“A sacrament in search of a theology” is a phrase often heard. The question of when and how post-baptismal anointing with Chrism morphed into Confirmation is lost in the mists of time.)

    In France, they confirm before First Eucharist, but then have Communion Solennelle, Communion linked with a renewal of baptismal promises, which functions as a rite of passage at the time of puberty around the age of 12. From the 17th century, this was in fact the age for First Communion in France, until Pius X changed it to 7 years old in 1910, so this relic of a former practice now does duty for teenage Confirmation in that country. It’s more often known as Profession of Faith these days, rather than Solemn Communion.

    1. Another angle would be a campaign to: Bring Back The Slap!

      I may have been in the last year of Catholics who had that as part of the ritual. The confirming bishop was IIRC a Lusophone American who was appointed for a diocese in the Amazonia, and would return to help out local ordinaries for confirmation in return for what I assume was a stipend+collection deal, and make the confirmands laugh during his homily.

      Most of my friends in suburban Long Island got big parties that sometimes rivaled our Jewish peers’ bar/bat mitzvah bashes (Protestants were much thinner on the local ground than Catholics and Jews, though the original English stock were Quakers from New England). My parents from New England cast a dim eye on such things: it was a pen set and a choice of restaurants for dinner, thank you kindly.

  9. Is there a possibility that Confirmation for the teenagers is closer to the original than the way Catholicism seems normal.

    When the Archbishop in the Archdiocese would visit our parish for Confirmation, he would ask, “well, are they ready, are they prepared?”

    I would usually tell him back, “please understand you are Confirming tenth graders. If we could promise them their driver’s license with this Sacrament, we would triple the the amount of students here.”

    Now I will say “please understand you are Confirming seven year olds.” That statement should get appropriate eye rolls.

    The Church is shoe-horning a Sacramental sequence because it won’t deal with the misplacement of infant Baptism.

    Because the emotional baggage (with salvation attached) for Baptism won’t move that Sacrament as well as the attachment to 7 year old Communion, let people get Confirmed when they want to. The liturgical purists will go nuts but this artificially forced activity of Confirmation on a child (“here seven year old, have the gift of ‘fear of the Lord.’”) may be abusive or completely misunderstood.

  10. The Sacrament in search of a theology! My understanding is the Confirmation developed as a sacrament following a time when Bishops were no longer the primary celebrants for the sacrament of Baptism. It was the final anointing of that sacrament that led to the development of a sacrament in which the Bishop sealed/anointed the person being baptized with oil and invoking the presence of the Holy Spirit. If you are to restore the original order…why not have the Bishop anoint all who have been Baptized but not confirmed when he visits a parish. This would speak to the person being received into the Church at Baptism and welcomed into and anointed by the Holy Spirit. A sign that they are part of the larger Church as represented by the Bishop. The present practice (even if the order is changed) still makes the Sacrament of Confirmation look like ar rite of passage rather than an action of grace.

  11. Did Confirmation not have a theology behind it before Catholic writers latched on to the fun of describing Confirmation as “a sacrament in search of a theology”? Does the text of the rite itself not address the theology of what is being done?

    1. I don’t think “becoming a Solider of Christ” … including a light slap to the face, speaks well of God’s grace and gifts of the Spirit. Is Confirmation a grace filled moment or the declaration/act of faith that speaks of a rite of passage? Is the age of the person or their ability to understand and answer questions about faith necessary elements; is it an affirmation of understanding or a calling for the Gifts of the Holy Spirit? From a pastoral approach: Does moving Confirmation to the same developmental level/time of ‘Second Graders’ place and unrealistic catechetical requirement on their religious teachers? It would be interesting to ask/pole youth who receive both Confirmation and Eucharist in the same year — What their understanding/differentiation of the Sacraments are? It does seem the practice of celebrating Confirmation with late teens is seen as a gate to their religious maturity–which many respond by no longer (at a minumum taking a hiatus) from the practice of worship. For many this may be a healthy ‘letting go’ so that they may later own their own faith.

      I would advocate that Bishops celebrate Confirmations as a sign of the Baptized (and the local Church) being a part of the larger community. Celebrating/sealing all the un-Confirmed when he visits a parish.

      If we want a celebration of adult commitment to faith, then we need to develop a rite to serve/celebrate that need.

    2. Scott,

      St. Thomas Aquinas had a theology of Confirmation (like most other things). It’s in his Summa Theologiae, tertia pars, question 72. I sometimes wonder if the real issue is people disliking the theology of Confirmation found in the tradition.

      1. Yes, Philip. I just keep thinking of the Confirmation Mass I attended at my mom’s church a couple of months ago: 40+ confirmands, church packed with families, a bishop sure of the theology and able to preach it well, and as far as I could tell, no one looking around for what this all meant.

      2. St Thomas Aquinas is a great source of thought on the subject. But I don’t think quoting him closes the door on discussion. Remember: Aquinas (and Augustine) argued to the need of prostitution in a community…much the same way a community needed a sewage system. Just because he discussed Confirmation, his scholastic teaching should not end the discussion –rather it should be a wave point in the discussion. I see the web (and this site) as a place for intelligent discussion.

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