I tremble in having to disagree with His Patrimoniality Fr Hunwicke, with whom I find myself in almost constant agreement. He warmly applauds the action of the Archbishop of Liverpool in celebrating the Sacrament of Confirmation before First Holy Communion. I, I'm afraid, do not.
Now I cannot but agree with all Fr Hunwicke's arguments; he is of course quite right to say that the proper order for the Sacraments of Initiation is Baptism, Confirmation, Communion, and that there has been agreement on this in the West right down to the (relatively recent) time of Pope St Pius X. I agree too that there was more loss than gain in this change. He is also right to assert that this is a Sacrament, not a Rite of Passage.
What I deplore is the ceasing of the ancient custom that this Sacrament be conferred by a bishop. If Confirmation is simply to become an adjunct to the celebration of First Holy Communions, which happen all within a few weeks of each other,
1) There is no way that even a bevy of bishops could get to every celebration. They will have to delegate the parish priest in each case, as has been happening in the Salford Diocese for several years now.
2) Given the fuss and celebration of First Holy Communion, the Sacrament of Confirmation risks becoming entirely overshadowed.
3) I cannot see that adequate catechesis in these sacraments can be given by the age of 8. Given the deplorable state of the teaching of RE in many schools there will now be no opportunity to catechize our young people. This will have to be worked around in another way, but a number of priests will simply not bother, and a number of young people will simply not bother either.
4) And what about Confession? Does the Archbishop seriously think that his teenagers are going to make a solemn Confession, like the French Communion Solenelle?
Our bishops have become increasingly distanced from their dioceses. The ever-increasing bureaucracy of the Bishops' Conference, of committees and all the mechanisms of senior management, is sucking the lifeblood out the relationship between bishop and diocese. Many years ago, the then Bishop Cormac Murphy-O'Connor ceased doing Confirmations in the parishes because, he said, it gave less time and focus to his proper parish visitations. So Confirmations were moved to the Cathedral, a deanery at at time, and thus they remain. The trouble is that when parochial confirmations ceased, so did parochial visitations. The Bishop since has just come to lend dignity to big 'occasions'.
The ancient custom in the West was, I believe, that everybody was confirmed by the Bishop as soon as possible after their baptism. That meant that when a Bishop arrived in a locality, everyone who had been baptised, from infants upwards, went (or was taken) to the Bishop to be confirmed. I remember hearing that some Bishops would confirm when passing through a district without ever descending from their horses.
Would that not be preferable to the Liverpool/Salford solution? Each bishop will regularly visit his parishes, and while there confirm all those who have been baptised. At the age of 7 or 8 they can make their First Confessions and Communions.
If that is not thought suitable, then let's leave things alone! The Ordinariate can maintain its (more ancient) practice.