I had the pleasure of visiting with a former student recently, who has worked within the Diocese of Springfield, Illinois after her graduation. As she and I tend to talk about things Church-related, she reported that her Diocese had just switched the “Restored Order,” and that she wondered how this would affect programming for the upcoming year. “The Restored Order…” the suspicious historian inside me said slowly…. “Restored to what?”
Thanks to my former student’s kind introduction to this interesting “new-ish” trend in the Roman Catholic Church, I am now relieved of my ignorance. The Restored Order, as PrayTell’s Alan Hommerding reported as recently as this past April, refers to a re-ordering of the sacraments of initiation, moving confirmation from a location in adolescence (usually between 8th grade and juniors in high school in U.S. contexts) to the day of First Communion itself. Thus, while baptism still is administered to infants, the actual reception of the sacraments becomes baptism, confirmation, eucharist, not baptism, eucharist, confirmation.
Grappling with this reality for the first time, I felt like years of my indoctrination regarding the wonders of fourth-century Christianity were suddenly shunted into 21st century reality…mostly. We know that, for the early Church, in most places through the 4th century, Christian initiation occurred as a single event, not one which was sundered across many years of one’s life. And, in some of our prized resources witnessing Christian initiation dating in the 300’s, we see a general pattern of washing with water and anointing with chrism preceding first eucharist.
The separation of these sacraments is well-documented elsewhere and need not be rehearsed here. Significant to note, however, is that the general order of baptism, confirmation, eucharist was retained until Pope St. Pius X’s issued instructions regarding increased frequency of reception of the eucharist (Sacra Tridentina 1905) and the the importance of the need for children who had reached the age of reason to begin receiving first communion (Quam Singulari 1910). His Quam Singulari lowered the age of communion reception to 7, but said nothing about reception of confirmation (around age 14). Thus, while First Communion migrated to the second grade, confirmation was left marooned in the midst of adolescence. Thus, over the course of the twentieth century, the practice of receiving first communion prior to confirmation (after which one would receive one’s first solemn communion) developed.
Meanwhile, we know that a thrust of the Second Vatican Council’s post-conciliar liturgical renewals followed a strategy of ressourcement (returning to the sources). These sources were often the much-privileged fourth-century witnesses. This preference, in turn, shaped the revision of rites and the establishment of the Rites of Christian Initiation for Adults itself. Why did not the post-conciliar reforms also include restoring the “order” of sacraments for all, not just for situations of adult conversion? Indeed, not only confirmation, but first reconciliation was “out of order.” In many dioceses (including my home diocese of the Archdiocese of Indianapolis), first confession was made several years after first holy communion.
My final wonderment in this interesting Catholic ritual puzzle are four inter-connected questions: who is making the change to the “restored order”; where it is being reported; what is the rhetoric surrounding the “restoration”; and, finally, how is it affecting the faithful.
Thus far, thirteen dioceses in the United States have implemented the “Restored Order” for the sacraments of Initiation: Saginaw, Michigan (1995); Great Falls-Billings, Montana (1996); Portland, Maine (1997); Spokane, Washington (1998); Fargo, North Dakota (2002); Gaylord, Michigan (2003); Tyler, Texas (2005); Phoenix, Arizona (2005); Honolulu, Hawaii (2015); Denver, Colorado (2015); Manchester, New Hampshire (2017); Springfield, Illinois (2017); and Gallup, New Mexico (2019). According to the National Catholic Register, two dioceses (Greensburg, PA and Marquette, MI), had restored the order of sacraments but have since returned the order to baptism, eucharist, confirmation.
The location of dioceses and archdioceses who have moved to a restored order is widespread, if small in number (197 particular churches in the United States–so about 6%). On the other hand, reporting on the “restored order” has appeared in a variety of Catholic news sources–from the aforementioned National Catholic Register and the Catholic News Agency to The Commonweal. Interestingly, most such sources, approaching from a theological and catechetical lens, enthusiastically praise the restored order of sacraments. As Rita Ferrone (also an author on Pray Tell) wrote in her 2017 Commweal piece:
“Eucharist is the high point and culmination of Christian initiation. All our history and theology back up this assertion. Eucharist is the continuing sacrament of initiation. Rather than striving to structure programs that will lead—finally—to confirmation, our catechetical and ministerial efforts should lead toward Eucharistic participation. Eucharist is the icon of Christian living. Eucharist, not confirmation, is the ongoing and effective sign of belief and belonging.”
Certainly, restoring the order makes complete sense if you are a liturgical historian or theologian–or even an enthusiastic and well-informed member of “the faithful”! But I can’t help being worried about two things. First, the aforementioned “rhetoric” surrounding the implementation of the restored order which appears in some documents describing it; and, secondly, the impact on catechetical programs for middle-school children and adolescents.
I’ll offer an example from Archbishop Samuel J. Aquila’s passionate and clear pastoral letter, Saints among Us: The Restored Order of the Sacraments of Initiation (2015). In it, he writes,
“The last century has made it clear that innovations do not save humanity. We still have wars, sickness, corruption and injustice. What will save us is not the next “thing,” but rather, the flood of grace and love that the Holy Trinity desires to pour out upon us. This is what restoring the sacraments of Christian initiation to their original order is all about.”
Archbishop Aquila is absolutely correct regarding “innovations” as not saving humanity–and he rightly recounts the historical estrangement of confirmation from baptism in the context of his letter. Yet, the annoying twentieth-century liturgical renewal enthusiast in me has her ears tweaked by the note regarding “innovations.”
I know that many things in Roman Catholic liturgical life–from the vernacular to hymnody to aesthetic principles to the very existence of a reformed Roman Rite–have been interpreted as “innovations”: unwanted, unwarranted, and unwittingly foisted upon the members of the faithful. And, there are those who identify as Roman Catholic who would seek to “restore” the Roman Catholic rite to a form which is understood to be “original” or “more authentic” or “correct.” Thus the language regarding a “restored order” naturally has me on edge.
Yet, in practice, the “restored order” of the sacraments leaves me confused. Unlike most understood twentieth-century liturgical “innovations,” the need for the “restored order” seems to be the result (or fault?) of Pope St. Pius X’s reforms, not Pope St. John XXIII’s or Pope St. Paul VI’s!
Am I reading too much into this? Should the “restored order” be read as some “victory” for one Catholic “camp” or another? And, if the restored order truly is a dream come true for us liturgists faithful to the Second Vatican Council’s reformed principles, why do we (at least in the United States) not seem to be talking about it more, and calling for its practice in every diocese?
Last but not least–I truly wonder what the fall-out for adolescent programming in catechesis has been and will be. Have those of us in dioceses/archdioceses who have begun practicing the restored order (some since 1995!) kept records of the resulting numbers of practicing Catholics? Active teens? Well-informed gradeschool children?
In short, I have no answers–only a confused opinion and many questions. I am most curious to see how–or if–the “restored order” continues to garner any followers. And, if it is, indeed, a dream-come-true for liturgical historian/theologians, why aren’t we paying more attention to this trend?