28 April 2015

Bishop Silva to restore proper order of the Sacrametns of Initation

Citing the lamentable reality that the Sacrament of Confirmation has become for too many people "the sacrament of farewell," His Excellency the Most Reverend Clarence "Larry" Silva, Bishop of Honolulu is restoring the proper order of the Sacraments of Initiation in his Diocese:
Some may point out that we have been doing what we are doing for 100 years, so why change now? The reason is simple: What we are doing is not working very well. Confirmation is often experienced more as a graduation from the Church than as a free gift of God’s grace. Pope Francis acknowledged this: “There was this experience: the sacrament of Confirmation — what is this sacrament called? Confirmation? No! Its name has changed: the ‘sacrament of farewell.’ They do this and then they leave the Church. … Many young people move off after receiving Confirmation, the sacrament of farewell, of goodbye, as I said. It is an experience of failure, an experience that leaves emptiness and discourages us. Is this true or not?” (Sept. 22, 2013).

Sadly this is true in the Diocese of Honolulu, as it is true in many other places. While Confirmation programs do meet with success in many of our young people, who do become faithful disciples of the Lord, we are still missing the mark with many others. It is apparent that we are not accomplishing the goal of converting the hearts of all our young people to the Lord. Still the problem is bigger than that. A review of statistics shows that half of the children we baptize are never confirmed. Confirming children at the time of their First Holy Communion will increase the numbers of those being confirmed and receiving the grace of the sacrament.
I have long advocated for just such a restoration and wish now to repeat what I have said four years ago, with a few additions:
Too often in recent decades, the notion of the Sacrament of Confirmation as a 'rite of passage' has crept into the life of the Church. None of the Sacraments are milestones or rites of passage along the Christian life; the Sacraments are not about us as much as they are about Christ Jesus.

It is often said today that the Sacrament of Confirmation allows a young person - or an older person - to "accept the faith for themselves." Rubbish! This notion you will not find in the Rite of Confirmation, in the Catechism or - unless I am much mistaken - in the tradition of the Church. The Catechism reminds us that "although Confirmation is sometimes called the 'sacrament of Christian maturity,' we must not confuse adult faith with the adult age of natural growth" (1308).

Consider the following, all of which are true: 
A person accepts the faith for himself when he renews his baptismal promises during the Easter season.

A person accepts the faith for himself when he renews his baptismal promises during the Baptism of a child.

A person accepts the faith for himself when he recites the Creed, either the Nicene Creed or the Apostles Creed, whether at Mass or during the rosary or at any other time.

A person accepts the faith for himself when he responds, "Amen," to, "The Body of Christ," and receives the Eucharistic Lord.

If a person has not accepted the faith for himself he should be doing none of these things, for in so doing he would make himself a great liar.
If Confirmation really were the acceptance of the faith for oneself, then my own reception of this great Sacrament would be meaningless. Why? I was born, baptized and confirmed on the day of my birth because I was not expected to live. Certainly as an infant of less than one day old I could not have accepted the faith for myself, and yet "his grace to me has not been ineffective" (I Corinthians 15:10).

It has been said that Confirmation is "a sacrament in search of a theology." Hogwash! It has a theology, and it always has.

Regarding the Sacrament of Confirmation, the Catechism of the Catholic Church teaches, with my emphases:
Baptism, the Eucharist, and the sacrament of Confirmation together constitute the "sacraments of Christian initiation," whose unity must be safeguarded. It must be explained to the faithful that the reception of the sacrament of Confirmation is necessary for the completion of baptismal grace. For "by the sacrament of Confirmation, [the baptized] are more perfectly bound to the Church and are enriched with a special strength of the Holy Spirit. Hence they are, as true witnesses of Christ, more strictly obliged to spread and defend the faith by word and deed" (1285).
Because Confirmation is "a special outpouring of the Holy Spirit," it brings about "an increase and deepening of baptismal grace" (CCC, 1302-1303) and it
  • roots us more firmly to Christ;
  • increases the gifts of the Holy Spirit in us;
  • renders our bond with the Church more perfect;
  • gives us a special strength of the Holy Spirit to spread and defend the faith by word and action as true witnesses of Christ, to confess the name of Christ boldly, and never to be ashamed of the Cross.
I am in full support of a younger age for the recption of Confirmation, even before the reception of First Communion, both to restore the proper ordering of the Sacraments of Initiation and to strengthen the grace of God in our young people.

Consider this: if Confirmation really is the sealing with the fullness of the gifts of the Holy Spirit - which it is - why do we wait so long to give this gift to our children when they have already erroneously and - quite likely - invincibly formed their consciences? Would it not be wiser to confirm them when they are young so they have the fulness of the Holy Spirit to help them form their consciences according to the truth of the Gospel? 

I have written a few other posts on the Sacrament of Confirmation which might be of use in this discussion: on the theology of Confirmation and revisiting the age for Confirmation.

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