Sacraments of Initiation
Part 4 Initiation of Infants

Chapter i44 Confirmation of Catholics Baptized in Infancy

Preliminary Questions


Sequence of Initiation Sacraments

Soldiers for Christ 

Rite of Passage

To Think About

Preliminary Questions

What is the proper age for Confirmation?  What is the proper sequence for celebrating the sacraments of Initiation? 

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Michael J. Henchal. 
Celebrating Confirmation Before First Communion: A Resource Kit for Restoring the Order on the Initiation Sacraments.  (Available from

Joan McKamey.  Experience God's Spirit, Program Planner for the Catholic Update Video Confirmation Series Sealed with God's Spirit.  Saint Anthony Messenger Press, Cincinnati, Ohio. 2001.

Paul Turner.  Confirmation: The Baby in Solomon's Court.  Paulist Press, New York. 1993.

James A. Wilde (Editor). When Should We Confirm? Chicago: Liturgy Training Publications, 1989. $5.95. ISBN 0-930467-84-1.

Turner, Paul. "Benedict XVI and the Sequence of the Sacraments of Initiation", Worship, March 2008, (82:2), pp 132-140.  [This is a very important article;  see my notes below on the Sequence of Initiation Sacraments.] 

"Slap Them Sooner" , Commonweal Magazine

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Sequence of Initiation Sacraments

Phase one: Water bath (baptism) post baptismal anointing and Eucharist (with bread and wine) all at one liturgical celebration. for everyone (adults, children, infants) in both East and West. 

This sequence continues in the East. The next sequences occur only in the Western (Roman) Church.

Development of the Catechumenate and Initiation at Easter

Phase two: Catechumenate. Baptism, Confirmation, Eucharist at Easter Vigil.

After all the adults are initiated, emphasis shifts to infants.

Due to the 4th century shortage of bishops in Europe, post baptismal anointing is separate from the water bath and we have the origins of Confirmation in the Roman Rite. Eucharist is received as an "adult" (16 yrs old) with or without Confirmation.

Confirmation becomes separated from Initiation in the West.

Confirmation reserved to the bishop.

Babies refused Bread (they might spit it up). Adults refused cup.

Babies refused the cup.

Original Sin fades in / Catechumenate fades out.

Baptism of Infants "quam primum" [as soon as possible] -- Lost the "Easter" connection

Confirmation all but disappears.  Many of the baptized are never confirmed. [Jesus never said that you had to be confirmed. "Unless you are born again...." "Unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man...." No similar statement about Confirmation!]

Scholastic confession becomes a sacrament

Reformation: Catholic Confirmation becomes "Adult Baptism" e.g. involves "faith" and commitment on the part of the recipient.

Adults: Baptized with Emergency Rite. Receive Eucharist the next time they attend Mass. Confirmed (with the children) the next time the Bishop visits the parish.

Infants baptized with the adult Emergency Rite. Confirmation when Bishop visits the parish or when the parents next visit the Cathedral. First Eucharist when "adults" (age 16-21) [= Origins of "Solemn Communion"] preceded by First Confession.

Jansenism becomes an issue in Europe.

Phase three: Pope lowers age for First Communion. First Communion at "age of reason" (5 or 6?) preceded by First Confession. Now Confirmation is "regularly" celebrated after Eucharist and this becomes common practice which then shapes the "theology" of Confirmation (soldiers for Christ; completion of Eucharist, completion of initiation, further gift of the Spirit, adult Christians, etc.)  NOTE: THIS IS THE FIRST TIME ANYONE RECEIVED EUCHARIST WITHOUT HAVING FIRST RECEIVED CONFIRMATION!!!!!

USA - normal practice: Infants baptized, go to Catholic School, at the end of First Grade (e.g. Mother's Day) child goes to confession (Saturday) and makes First Communion (Sunday morning). The child is then confirmed when the bishop comes to the parish (once ever 2 or 3 or 4 years) and the child is in the 2nd to the 4th grade.

With the catechetical development and newer understandings of faith formation. Psychological studies on the faith development of children and adolescents.

Confirmation takes the place of "Believer Baptism" and becomes "Adult Baptism" (age moved up gradually from grade school to middle school to high school, age 12-18). Confirmation is delayed until Sophomore year of high school where it becomes the sacrament of Adult Commitment.

Priests can confirm Adult "converts"

Phase four [1980's]:  As the RCIA becomes normative, and Eucharist is again seen as the completion of the Initiation sequence, Bishops in various dioceses around the world mandate the practice of confirmation before First Communion (often at the same liturgy presided over by the pastor).

RCIA is normative for the theology and understanding of the Sacraments of Initiation

RCIA is the normative Rite for adults and children (everybody except infants)

Restores unity of the sequence Baptism / Confirmation / Eucharist

Restores "Easter" context.

"The Bishop is the ordinary minister of Confirmation" is changed to "the Bishop is the original minister of Confirmation."   Note that the bishop was the original minister of each of the sacraments!  Note that the change from "ordinary" to "original" was missed by many who read the text and is often quoted incorrectly.

New Rite for Infants (which acknowledges that they are infants)

Original sin fades out / importance of faith development fades in (e.g. 1983 Code of Canon Law; Do not baptize infants unless there is assurance they will be raised Catholic.)

Phase five: Adults and children initiated with the RCIA. / Infants baptized with the new Rite of Infants. First Communion at "age of reason" (5 or 6?). First Confession also moved to "age of reason" before First Eucharist. Confirmation when bishop visits the parish and child is in middle school or high school, (age 10-18).

Fewer parents attend Sunday Eucharist. First Eucharist is moved from end of first grade to beginning of second grade so that they won't forget how over the summer.

Phase six:  Psychological studies regarding the moral development of Children.  (Sense of sin does not develop until about age 10 or 11)

Baptism (with 1969 Rite for Infants), Eucharist at beginning of second grade, First Reconciliation in fourth grade, Confirmation in tenth or eleventh grade.

Phase seven:  Code of 1983 legislates that First Reconciliation comes before First Eucharist [provided the infant has committed a mortal sin???]

Baptism (with 1969 Rite for Infants), First Reconciliation and First Eucharist (at beginning of) second grade. Confirmation in tenth or eleventh grade.

Growing awareness of the 1) history of the initiation process; 2) the normative nature of the RCIA; 3) the role of the Holy Spirit; and 4) Eucharist as the Culmination of the initiation sacraments – leads to some bishops authorizing pastors to confirm children before First Eucharist thus restoring the order: Baptism Confirmation Eucharist.

Phase seven:  Baptism (with 1969 Rite for Infants), First Reconciliation and Confirmation and First Eucharist at beginning of second grade. [Catechists begins to die of heart failure!!!]

Phase eight [2050?]  Baptism, Confirmation, Eucharist are once again united in one liturgical ceremony for adults, children, and infants (e.g. return to stage 1).

Paul Turner, who has written more extensively and intelligently on this issue than anyone I know, has published a important article "Benedict XVI and the Sequence of the Sacraments of Initiation" in Worship, March 2008, (82:2), pp 132-140.   Here are the opening and closing paragraphs of the article (which I strongly urge you to read the article in its entirety). 

Pope Benedict XVI has invited the curia and the conferences of Catholic Bishops to examine the relative effectiveness of the two sequences of confirmation and first communion. Confirmation precedes first communion throughout the Eastern rites and in the cases when the three sacraments of initiation are administered together in the West, for example, when a priest baptizes catechumens at the Easter Vigil. Although there are instances in the Roman Rite when children baptized in infancy receive confirmation prior to their first communion, the reverse order more commonly prevails. Benedict writes, "Concretely, it needs to be seen which practice better enables the faithful to put the sacrament of the Eucharist at the center, as the goal of the whole process of initiation."  [Turner then presents some key points in the history of this development.]

[Turner concludes the article:]  Surveying this history, one can see two tendencies. One, from local gatherings of bishops, favors the deferral of confirmation for its catechetical and inspirational value. Another, from Rome, favors the celebration of confirmation before first communion because of its historical and tradition value. Other arguments for celebrating confirmation before first communion could be advanced: to draw the practice between the Latin Rite closer to the Eastern Rites of the Church, to unify the theology of the sacraments of initiation, and to release the tension over the age of confirmation in pastoral practice in the West.

Pope Benedict, however, has laid out a new criterion:  "Which practice better enables the faithful to put the sacrament of the Eucharist at the center, as the goal of the whole process of initiation."  Now that the Roman Catholic Church has had some years of experience with the restored catechumenate, with deferring the age of confirmation, and with weathering the struggles of this sacrament, perhaps the time is indeed ripe for a decision to be made.

* * *

The theology of a rite should not be dependent upon the age at which it is celebrated. "The true test of our theology of Confirmation would seem to be whether it is applicable at any age. The great temptation is to let this theology be determined too narrowly by the priori issue of age." (Smits. Op cit. p 23.)

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Soldiers for Christ

Following the imposition of hands and invocation of the Holy Spirit and the anointing with oil, minister embraces the person being confirmed with the kiss of peace, or in the case of infants and children, with a kiss on the cheek.

In the Middle Ages when confirmation was often administered by the Bishop seated on his warhorse as he was passing through the village while leading his armies into battle, the kiss of peace became a love pat on the cheek which, when administered hurriedly, could look more like a slap than a love pat.

People observing this ritual might ask: "Why is the bishops slapping the children?" To which the response probably was: "I don't have any idea." But any good catechist can find an answer for any question and "I don't have any idea" was replaced with "He is slapping them because he is making them soldiers for Christ." Which would be a logical explanation as the Bishop himself was seated on his warhorse leading troops into battle.

There is nothing in the text of the ritual or in the theology of the sacrament that is dependent upon or even suggests that those being confirmed become "soldiers for Christ."

Now that the kiss of peace has been restored to the ritual actions of the sacrament, I wonder if the "soldiers for Christ" metaphor will disappear now that there is no "slap" which the metaphor was invented to explain??? In his first parish celebration of the sacrament of confirmation in a Roman parish as Pope, Pope Francis embraced and kissed each of the children. It seems he was more concerned with teaching them that they were beloved children of "Our Father in heaven" then with teaching them that they were "soldiers for Christ".

The Catholic News Service (as reported in The Criterion, May 3, 2013, p 1) reported that Pope Francis celebrated the Sacrament of Confirmation with 44 young people during Mass in St. Peter's Square on April 28, 2013. "After making the sign of the cross with chrism oil on the foreheads of those being confirmed, Pope Francis rubbed the oil all over their foreheads, sealing them with the Holy Spirit. After wishing them peace, he gave each a quick kiss on the cheek."

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Rite of Passage

Many feel that American youth need some "Rite of Passage" into adulthood in the Church.  Confirmation can be used for that purpose.  For example the following article appeared in the column by John L. Allen Jr. in the National Catholic Reporter, August 26, 2005. 

Despite the above, it would be a mistake to think that the goings-on in Rimini are principally about theological reflection or hierarchical pow-wows. In fact, the focus is deliberately ad extra, looking to the outside world.  Sr. Maria de Los Angeles Vasquez, a Mexican missionary in Kenya, spoke about her struggles against the practice of female genital mutilation in the tribe with which she has worked since 1985 in the Rift Valley, the Kipsigis, a word that in their language means "to be reborn." 

Vasquez described the procedure.   "At midnight on the day established by the tribal elder the rite begins, with an old knife or a piece of a spear, always the same for everyone, whether HIV-infected or not," she said. "The girls must not cry or even close their eyes, they have to show that they're not in pain, which would signify that they're not ready to become women."  "But the experience is not over when the procedure is finished. The girls have to spend a month in reclusion, all together, with a mask of goat's skin on their face, until the wound is healed. They can't wash themselves, they can't be seen or recognized by the others."  

Vasquez said the experience makes a strong point.   "They have to learn that to be a woman means to serve the men, to respect them and not to speak in front of them," she said. "To help make the point, force is used -- strong words, humiliation, beatings. No one is supposed to talk about what happens, with the threat of the death penalty or divine punishment."  At the end of the reclusion, she said, the Kipsigis women go to the river, wash themselves, remove the mask, and they're ready for marriage. 

When she discovered all this, she said, she was horrified. At the same time, she said, she realized she couldn't just overturn a centuries-long tradition. So she spoke with the women to find out what might help. What she realized, Vasquez said, is that the Kipsigis needed a ritual that would mark the transition to adulthood, but in less violent fashion.  

In the end, Vasquez said, she explained to the Kipsigis mothers that the Christian sacrament of Confirmation performed more or less the same function. On December 6, 1995, the first group of 25 young girls took a two week-long retreat to prepare for Confirmation, and then received the sacrament. Since then, the ritual has been repeated every January.   Vasquez showed a picture of 20 young girls wearing red dresses and white veils in the local church, waiting for the bishop to arrive. She said that by and large the Kipsigis men have accepted the change.   Vasquez's story offers a fascinating example of what theologians call "inculturation" -- expressing the gospel through the language and circumstances of the local church, in this case in a way that seems to have made a powerful difference.

What was it Luther said?  "Confirmation is a not too burdensome a rite so that bishops will not be entirely without work to do in the church."

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To Think About

At the beginning of this course you wrote a brief definition of Confirmation. How would you now define Confirmation? What can you say about the difference between the two definitions?

What are the effects of Confirmation? How is the gift of the Holy Spirit received at Confirmation different from the Holy Spirit received at Baptism?

From what you have learned about the history and theology of the sacrament of confirmation and from what you know of the current pastoral situation in your (arch)diocese, speak of the future pastoral developments with regard to: a) the order of the sacraments of initiation; b) the age of confirmation; and c) the minister of confirmation. Give reasons for your opinions and speak of the history and present status of these pastoral problems.

Who can be sponsors at Confirmation? What would you tell parents and those to be confirmed about sponsors?

Know by heart the current essential formula for Confirmation.

You are speaking to the members of your parish who are going to be confirmed this year. Their parents and sponsors are also at the meeting. Outline for them the structure and elements of the Rite of Confirmation. What is going to happen when the bishop comes? What is the high point of the rite?

Does your (arch)diocese publish guidelines for the Sacrament of Confirmation? Many local Churches have a "Planning Guide" for the liturgical celebration of the sacrament.

What are the oils used in the Catholic Church.  What are their names and when is each one them used.  Identify: OC, OI, SC. In which sacraments are each of these Holy Oils used? What is characteristic of each?  Where are the oils kept?

On Holy Thursday you are going to have a solemn reception of the oils from the cathedral into your parish.  Write a little half-page Sunday bulletin insert explaining the names of the three oils, and what they are used for.

Is not getting up (at Mass) and coming forward to receive the Holy Eucharist "The Catholic Commitment Ceremony" -- I am not sure everyone knows what they are promising to the community and to God when they come forward for Communion.

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