Last week we talked about the sacramentals and how they differ from the Sacraments. The primary difference is this: Sacraments work spiritual effects in our life with certainty, because Christ promised that they would when he gave them to the Church. Sacramentals work with less certainty because they attain spiritual effects in our lives through prayer, the prayer of the Church Universal. They are similar, however, in that they both use external visible elements as part of the prayer (e.g. Holy Water [sacramental] and the Water Poured in Baptism [Sacrament]). Indeed, the sacramental should remind us of and lead us toward a deeper immersion in the Sacraments of the Church.
Today we see specific directions for the revisal of some of the Liturgical Rites for the Sacraments of the Church. I would like to draw our attention briefly to two: Confirmation and Anointing of the Sick. This week we will look at Confirmation. We see that the revision of the rite of Confirmation called for wording that revealed “the intimate connection which this sacrament has with the whole of Christian initiation.” What does this mean? Christian Initiation consists of the reception of three Sacraments: Baptism, Confirmation, and Holy Communion.
There had been, and still is in some places, a tendency to see these three Sacraments as unrelated, with Confirmation being treated as the most unrelated of all. Often it has been and is celebrated in High School as a coming of age ritual – a Catholic version of the Jewish Bar Mitzvah. However, in reality, it is to be understood as an integral part of entering into the full Christian life in union with Baptism and Eucharist.
Originally, in the Eastern (Orthodox) and Western (Catholic) Churches, all three Sacraments were celebrated at the same time. Regardless of age, if one were to be baptized, they would also receive Confirmation and the Eucharist. To this day, the Eastern Churches still follow this practice, even for infants. When parents present their child for baptism, they are also confirmed and receive a very small part of the Body and Blood of Christ in Holy Communion.
Vatican II called us as a Church to reemphasize the unity of these three sacraments by revising the words of the Confirmation Rite to make this connection more clear. However, some diocese (like our own) have gone further gone further in the spirit of Vatican II and returned to the initial ordering of the Sacraments-Baptism, then Confirmation, and finally Holy Communion (similar to our Eastern brothers). This movement to having confirmation at a younger age and before Holy Communion is called the “restored order.”
The restored order, in addition to emphasizing the unity of the Sacraments of Initiation, also highlights the truth that the Sacraments are not something earned (as can be the impression if there is a rigorous preparation and requirements for the reception of Confirmation at a later age), but are gifts given by the Lord Jesus and administered by his Church.