Friday, 28 January 2011

The Sacraments of Initiation

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.


Laura said...

Yes, I agree with all of that.

Fr William R. Young said...

I have always deplored the disruption of the order of the Sacraments of Initiation. I suspect that Pope Pius X blithely presumed that bishops would get round to confirm before it got to time for Holy Communion, even at the earlier age. I therefore applaud efforts to restore the order, even Salford and Liverpool. However, I do agree that is it not right that simple priests, even VGs and PPs should regularly confirm. It should be the bishop. I wonder if the problem of numbers could be solved by having the priests associated with the bishop in the anointing. The bishop would be the celebrant. The priests would concelebrate the Sacrament with him. This would preserve the bishop's role.

Don Henri said...

Here in France, Communion Solennelle has disappeared. Now we have our kids doing their first communion at 7 or 8, and confirmation quite early, at 10 or 11, rarely more. And Confirmation is alway conferred by a bishop, because here the dioceses are little and numerous(we have 101 dioceses in France, one in each département), and we have a lot of auxiliary, former missionary now living in France, and retired bishops who have time to confirm, and even to have 2 or 3 meeting with the children before Confirmation. Perhaps England need more auxilliary bishops, in order to have all Confirmands confirmed by bishops.

Anonymous said...

In the Eastern Churches as you know, the Eucharist, Baptism, Chrismation (Confirmation) Marriage, Confession, anointing of the sick and last rites have from earliest times been delegated to the priests. So what is the Western problem of bishops letting go of Confirmation? It's just so strange to me.

Matthew the Perturbed

Lyd Kidarsa said...

Dear Father Sean,

I agree better have confirmation at greater age of reason.

I put your picture in our page of celebrating our Formatrist golden Jubilee, 50 years in religious life. There was a prayers for vocation, which I try to illustrate. Hope you don't mind, but if your do let me know.

Lyd Kidarsa

PS: I heard a good news that 'quiet center' has resumed to normal - center for all :) can be used for Lent too.

GOR said...

”Our bishops have become increasingly distanced from their dioceses.”

Hear, hear, Father! For some time it has bothered me that the bishop is rarely seen as the “father of the diocese” – or seen at all, actually. In many dioceses the only time one sees – or hears of – the bishop is at some function which may or may not be of a religious nature. He may be in evidence at the Annual Dinner for (insert group here), the opening of some edifice (Youth club, sports field, or even possibly - though rarely these days - a new church…). But, in the local parish community…? Rarely, if ever.

Granted, in my younger days in Ireland about the only time we did see the bishop was…at Confirmation. So it was with some regret that I discovered years ago that in many dioceses Confirmation had been relegated to the PP. The bishop “didn’t have time” or was “too busy” to get around to all the parishes to confirm. Huh? HUH…?

Back in the day when Catholics practiced in far greater numbers than today and when the means of transportation were more primitive, the bishop could unfailingly administer Confirmation to ALL the children in his diocese, but today he cannot?

Something doesn’t add up here. We have lost something, or more properly, someone…our father!

Anonymous said...

Liverpool are going down the road followed some ten years ago by most Scottish Dioceses - who are now reverting to the former practice for the very reasons you mentioned! Did anyone in Liverpool check to see if the reordering had gone 'belly up' north of the border? I wonder...