Christian Initiation

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presbyter
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Christian Initiation

Post by presbyter » Sun Jan 11, 2004 11:57 pm

Oh let's go for it - the BIG question. How should the Church in the UK approach the Christian Initiation of Children?

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musicus
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Post by musicus » Mon Jan 12, 2004 12:56 am

Presbyter first touched on this question in the Children's Liturgy thread. I copy it here for your convenience:

Should we baptise infants who we will never see at Sunday Mass? Does Pius X's lowering of the age of First Commuion a century ago still seem a good idea today? Shouldn't Confirmation come before First Communion? [The Anglican practice of Confirmation and First Communion in teenage years is simply a continuation of the pre-Reformation Catholic practice of these islands - Synod of Lambeth 1221, if my memory serves me correctly]

And are children still being taught that they MUST go to Confession before going to Communion?

M

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Tsume Tsuyu
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Post by Tsume Tsuyu » Thu Jan 22, 2004 11:56 pm

Presbyter wrote:Should we baptise infants who we will never see at Sunday Mass?

My view is that we should. If they've been baptised, there is more chance of them coming forward for the other sacraments and, the more times we get them to Mass, the more opportunities there are for the parish community to welcome and encourage them and, hopefully, enable them to get to know God. If we refuse them baptism, I suppose they may come to it themselves when they are older, but I think maybe we are putting up a barrier to them getting there. I used to feel strongly that children who didn't attend church ought to be refused the Sacraments of Reconciliation and Communion. I now realise that the preparation for those is my opportunity to sow a seed that may take years to come to fruition (or, indeed, may never get there), but needs to be sown if it is to have a chance.

Presbyter wrote:Shouldn't confirmation come before communion?

I think so. I help with the sacramental preparation in our parish, preparing the 7 and 8 year olds for Reconciliation and First Communion. This year, we have a lovely group of children, willing to listen and eager to learn, and yet I still question just what is actually getting through. Sure, we can talk about loving one another, showing kindness to others, how we feel when people are kind to us - helping to develop Christian values. And, yes, that is important. But I'm not convinced they grasp what is happening when they go to Confession, or that they appreciate what they are receiving in the Eucharist. I suppose there is an argument for the school of thought that says they don't need to understand, but I prefer the idea that, having been baptised as a baby, the next sacrament ought to be Confirmation, and that at an age when the young person truly makes the choice for him/herself. After confirming the vows made at Baptism, isn't then the right time for the other sacraments to follow?

TT

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Post by presbyter » Fri Jan 23, 2004 10:54 am

Tsume Tsuyu wrote:If we refuse them baptism....
TT


A point of clarification. We never refuse Baptism but we can legitimately delay Baptism. The rite of infant Baptism requires that parents make a firm promise to bring up their child in the faith and that they clearly understand this responsibility. The sponsors make a firm promise to help the parents in this aspect of the child's life.

Canon Law instructs the parish priest to delay baptism if, in his judgement, there is no hope of these promises being kept.

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Post by presbyter » Fri Jan 23, 2004 10:59 am

Tsume Tsuyu wrote: After confirming the vows made at Baptism, isn't then the right time for the other sacraments to follow?
TT


Thanks TT for your understanding of what Confirmation is. Anyone else got a different view of this Sacrament? What is Confirmation?

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Post by Ros Wood » Fri Jan 23, 2004 4:31 pm

I am a Confirmation catechist in our parish. We specify that candidates need to be 14+ before they can join the programme. There are two reasons for this. Firstly, we didn't fancy trying to include 13 and 20year olds in the same group and secondly because of what we believe Confirmation is.

We tell the candidates that there is a two-fold confirming process. God confirms the gifts of the Holy Spirit that were received by all at Baptism. The Confirmandee(??) confirms their faith in God and accepts responsiblity for their own faith. This second part causes mixed reactions from the parents. Most think it's a great but a few are concerned that they will now longer be able to force their offspring to attend Mass! Our reply to this is that is the point of Confirmation. If the candidate is not old enough to decide for themselves then they should not be confirmed.

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Post by presbyter » Fri Jan 23, 2004 5:55 pm

Ros Wood wrote:God confirms the gifts of the Holy Spirit that were received by all at Baptism. The Confirmandee(??) confirms their faith in God and accepts responsiblity for their own faith.


Thank you RW. Some interesting thoughts emerging about how confirmation is being treated as an act of saying "yes" to God by the candidate. Interesting about the ages Confirmation is given too: 14 to 20, here it's 10 and 11. Anyone got any thoughts about the word "confirm" and that in its sacramental sense it may not be being used in the way we would understand it in everyday speech?

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Post by musicus » Fri Jan 23, 2004 9:03 pm

Welcome to the forum Ros.

Our children were all confirmed in their teens. It was what both we and they wanted, even though it wasn't the norm in the parish or in the diocese.

Ideally, the sacraments of initiation belong together: baptism - confirmation - eucharist. Now that infant baptism is the norm, at least in this country, that ideal is rarely attained. When it is - at the Easter Vigil - the power and impact of the rites is tremendous.

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Post by presbyter » Sat Jan 24, 2004 10:18 am

musicus wrote:the sacraments of initiation belong together: baptism - confirmation - eucharist. Now that infant baptism is the norm, at least in this country, that ideal is rarely attained.


But then teachers don't half get confused if there happens to be an Eastern Rite Catholic in their class for first communion or confirmation preparation. It's often a shock to find out that this particular eight year old received baptism, confirmation (chrismation) and eucharist all together as an infant.
No overtones of Confirmation being a sign of "yes" to God in young adulthood there.

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Post by musicus » Sat Jan 24, 2004 6:38 pm

presbyter wrote:But then teachers don't half get confused if there happens to be an Eastern Rite Catholic in their class for first communion or confirmation preparation.

It must happen all the time... :wink:

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Post by presbyter » Sat Jan 24, 2004 11:13 pm

musicus wrote:It must happen all the time... :wink:


Well I can think of one city in England not all that far from me where the Eastern Rite Catholics are so numerous that they have their own church and a permanent priest - no school though - they use the Western Rite parish school - hence the confusion when it comes to sacramental preparation

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Post by presbyter » Sun Jan 25, 2004 9:12 pm

If the trend is to see Confirmation as an adult "yes" to discipleship, would anyone be bold enough to suggest that it's Baptism that should be the adult "yes" and that children should just remain catechumens until they themselves seek initiation? That's not my view but I have heard it expressed.

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Post by Benevenio » Sun Jan 25, 2004 11:38 pm

Isn't the problem here one of language? What does the word confirmation actually mean?
Most people probably use confirmation to mean something that they do to agree or concur something - like confirming an hotel booking or airline flight. We confirm it.

Surely here we aren't talking about something we do... Isn't a sacrament something which God does for us?

In this instance, perhaps, the essence of the word confirmation comes more from the verb confer (from the Latin conferre, to bring together) than from the verb confirm (from the Latin confirmare, to make firm). [and yes, I do know that it really comes from the latter!]

God confers on us, and God's gift, the conferral, is that of the Holy Spirit. In my Confirmation, God brings the Spirit and me together. To separate this from Baptism, then, doesn't make much sense - it would seem to me to be inextricably linked and should occur together rather than be separated by many years.

If we accept infant Baptism (and greater minds than mine have taxed themselves over that) then, arguably, there could be a need for an adult publicly to accept what we are called to in Baptism. It is not my view though! I need to say yes to God just as Mary did - in private - and then fulfil Christ's calling to take the Good News to the poor, proclaim liberty to captives etc (cf the Gospel from 3rd Sunday).

God's confirmation of me, the bringing together of God's Spirit and myself, is my calling to mission. My confirmation to God, making firm that outpouring, is my acceptance of the call... and that can only be measured by how well I manage to put it into practice...
Benevenio.

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Post by pirate » Mon Jan 26, 2004 9:43 am

Anyone know anything about the 'Profession of Faith' which involves French children around the age of 12-13? It seems to be a parish-based occasion, with presumably some form of catechesis, which is celebrated with the children (male and female) wearing albs - you may have seen the photographs if you have holidays in France. It seems not to involve the sacrament of confirmation, but to be doing what many people in this country understand the sacrament as doing - ie providing an opportunity for baptised children to take on the responsibilities of following Jesus Christ for themselves. But I don't know when these French children receive confirmation. More info would be useful.

Second question: anyone out there from Salford, who can tell us what is happening with children's initiation in that diocese these days?

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Post by presbyter » Mon Jan 26, 2004 12:22 pm

Benevenio wrote: Isn't a sacrament something which God does for us?


Ah! Now we're getting somewhere. If a sacrament is something God does for us then does it matter so much at what age it is given? What is God doing for us in Confirmation?

Benevenio wrote:confirm (from the Latin confirmare, to make firm)


Isn't the English language a slippery thing. So many meanings for one word. Sacraments in their essence - i.e. that without which they are not - may be described in terms of matter and form - the ritual action (in this case the laying on of hands and anointing with the oil of Chrism) and the words that accompany the action. "Confirm" as "to make firm" is a fair stab at the meaning intended, which is "making complete" or, as the rite puts it (and the rite doesn't use the word "confirm" at all in its essence) being sealed .

But what is it that is being sealed - made complete? The candidate or God's gift? Is it the candidate that is sealing - making complete - his/her intention to follow a life of discipleship? Not at all. The candidate is receiving a gift from God. It's the gift of the Holy Spirit in Baptism that is being sealed - made complete. (And in my opinion, the English translators of the rite (ICEL?) have got the theology mixed up here - the nuance given to the sacramental words in English is that it is the candidated who is being sealed - completed - whereas what is being completed is the gift of the Spirit. Accipe signaculum doni Spiritus Sancti - Receive the seal of the gift (that is the) Holy Spirit - but we have " 'Name' Be sealed with the gift of the Holy Spirit".

Benevenio wrote:To separate this from Baptism, then, doesn't make much sense - it would seem to me to be inextricably linked


On theological grounds I would agree with you there Benevenio. What we call Confirmation was originally part of the rite of Baptism. Historically it became separated from that rite in the West simply because the final anointing in the Baptism rite remained reserved to the Bishop. As the Church grew and Bishops found themselves "overseers" of a diocese wherein they appointed presbyters to parishes, the Bishop himself could not attend every baptism. The newly baptised had to wait for a Bishop's visitation before the rite could be completed.

Benevenio wrote: there could be a need for an adult publicly to accept what we are called to in Baptism.


Indeed there could - a personal, spiritual, psychological need and what a wonderful pastoral practice that could be - young and not so young adults - the whole community of faith together making a firm response of "yes" to God - young adults being supported and reinforced in their (possibly individually professed) commitment through being surrounded by older adults renewing their commitment made years ago. Wonderful! I'm all for it. But that wouldn't be the conferral of a sacrament and guess what! We have such a rite already. It's called the renewal of our Baptismal promises. Why not celebrate such a rite at Pentecost? Take the young adults to your brimming font after the homily. Perhaps get them to cup their hands full of water and thoroughly wet their own heads - don't we do this every time we come into church - cross ourselves with the waters of baptism from a holy water stoop? Get them then to make an individual profession of faith? I'm all for people in their late teens or older publicly "confirming" their faith amidst the community of faith but whatever we want to call such a rite it is not the sacrament of Confirmation.

Perhaps also we can begin to see that the "correct" order of Christian Initiation is Baptism - Confirmation - Eucharist. The Eucharist is the food for those whose Baptism is completed - sealed. In giving the Eucharist to children before Confirmation, we are feeding those whose Baptism has not yet been completed.

The question remains though - at what ages should the various stages of Christian Initiation take place? The Eastern tradition is to give God's gifts in abundance in infancy. All right, as to an understanding of the wonderful gifts given and how they will personally affect the candidate's life, that will come as the child grows up as part of a community of lived faith. The Western tradition regarding Eucharist and Confirmation looks for a degree of response and understanding from the candidate - the "age of reason".

At whatever age these sacraments of Christian Initiation are given, they are gifts of God. Yet if the effect of these gifts is not supported, sustained, nourished and helped to grow into an adult faith through the community of faith [i.e. the parish as a whole, not just the school] then they could be gifts that, as it were, are locked away in a cupboard still in their wrapping paper. It is so sad to see some children making their First Communion knowing that in some cases this will also be their Last Communion and that they may never be Confirmed.

Sacraments are freely-given gifts of God. We don't have to feel worthy of them - God has already judged us worthy of them on Calvary. We are worth dying for. And when it's God who wants to give someone a gift, who am I to stand in the way of that by perhaps by making judgements about a candidate's intellectual capacity to understand the gift or the degree of commitment to Christ the candidate has? Sacraments are not gifts God dishes out as rewards to elite, committed Christians who already possess a lively faith. The effect of a sacrament is to strengthen faith, no matter how weak or non-commital the faith of the candidate might be.

Yet that Canon I referred to above does ask me to make a judgement - will this infant who I am being asked to baptise be brought up in the faith? Delay the baptism if I think it won't be. And if I do delay, I must be prepared to be pestered by Grandparents giving voice to anxiety about Limbo.

In my opinion, it is the support of the community of faith given to candidates for the sacraments that is really important - not so much the age at which they are given. In the history of pastoral practice in the Church, catechesis on the sacraments has been given both before reception or after reception. What should be done now?
Last edited by presbyter on Mon Jan 26, 2004 9:56 pm, edited 2 times in total.

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