Tuesday, February 1, 2011

"Re-ordering" the Sacraments of Initiation

Fr. Ray Blake has an interesting commentary on what is going on over in the Archdiocese of Liverpool. I'd point you to his blog for some interesting commentary on the notion of reception of Holy Communion and Confirmation.

In our diocese, we do Confirmation in 7th grade. Apparently, prior to this move by the previous Ordinary, Bishop David Ricken (now of the Diocese of Green Bay-- go Steelers! haha), Confirmation was conferred in High School.

I am a fan of lowering the age, and even re-ordering the Sacraments of Initiation to the correct order: Baptism, Confirmation, Communion. I think that, generally speaking, the sooner one receives the Sacrament of Confirmation, the better, and even think that perhaps the ideal solution would be to return to the custom of the Fathers by having the Bishop Confirm all of the newly baptized during his yearly visit. If the only fruit of this would be to get rid of the silly notion of it being a "sacrament of graduation," I think it would be a success!

I say, "ideal solution..." Well, ideally, every parish in a diocese would have such a developed sense of community life being rooted in the parish, and all of the families would truly live a Catholic way of life-- if this was the case, then such a need for catechetical programs to educate the children/youth in the Faith would be non-existent: they'd be getting it at home, and by attending Mass regularly, and participating in the devotional life of the Church.

As it is, this is far from the case in most parishes. Pastorally, I think that, rather than a diocesan norm implemented regardless of the particular circumstances, it would be better to allow each parish to (in consultation with the Bishop) set an age appropriate to the needs of the community-- perhaps with an upper limit set on when they ordinarily should be Confirmed by.

I think, for instance, of the good parishes of St. John Cantius in Chicago, or the Birmingham Oratory which I attended when I lived in England. The families that flock to these types of parishes do so precisely because they are living a parish life that is in the heart of the Church! These parishes probably could do Confirmation at a much lower age, perhaps even for the newly Baptized upon the occasion of the annual visit by the Bishop.

As for our own parish here in Jackson, I'm not sure. With the hispanic community, the only time we see the kids is for a sacramental year, or if a girl wants to have a quinceneara. Very rarely do we get students who are active in the following year-- at least, that has been the trend in the short time I have been here. They consistently have a very low knowledge of the Faith, though their devotional life is very rich (though, sometimes bordering superstitious).

For our english-speaking community, I think, regardless of the age, more onus has to be put on the parents to engage their children in the Faith daily. Until then, it is probably a good thing to have a "mandatory" class for youth at an age that they are starting to become more independent, so that way they get the formation from the source on how to live their lives as Catholics. Is Confirmation the carrot that gets kids to that type of class? Unfortunately, yes. Should it be? Well... I'm not sure.

With regard to the parents in this whole situation, who are really at the root of the it all, I'd just say that this problem is not because they are "bad parents"-- they've just never been given the education themselves. We're now several generations on of people having received the catechism of John Lennon: "all you need is love". Is that the understanding of Faith of mature Catholic? Definitely not.

As for the solution... I think we have to be more assertive in parish leadership about what it really is to be a Catholic, what it is to be a Catholic married couple, what it is to be a Catholic family; and how that "being Catholic" is manifested in daily life and parish life. We have to require more than simply filling a space in the pews.

Solve that problem, and I think we'll see more than just the problem of the age of Confirmation being solved-- we'll see more vocations to the priesthood and religious life, more involvement in ministries of the parish, an increase in the collection plate, and an expansion of the Church like there hasn't been seen since the great missions!

Perhaps the discussion of the age of Confirmation is just the thing to help get the ball rolling.

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