Sacraments of Initiation
Part 9 Conclusions

Chapter i98 Conclusions

Five Basic Definitions

Ten Important Questions

Unanswered Questions

Unfinished Agenda

Liturgy Both Catholic and Contemporary

Questions for Further Study and Evaluation

To Think About

Preliminary Questions

Five Basic Definitions

In the Fall of 1989 and 1990, and during the summer of 1998, at the beginning of the course each student was asked to write a brief definition of each of the following:  liturgy, baptism, confirmation, original sin, church. (Summer 1998: 1. What is Baptism? 2. What are the effects of Baptism? 3. What is the relationship of Confirmation and Eucharist to Baptism? 4. Why do Roman Catholics baptize infants? 5. What is the best sequence (e.g. Baptism, First Reconciliation, First Eucharist, Confirmation) for the first reception of the sacraments of initiation for those baptized as infants? Why? If this is different from the sequence in use in your diocese, how can the sequence you suggest be achieved? )  At the end of the course we revisited these definitions and then asked three questions: 1) What was your understanding of the topic at the beginning of the course? 2) What is your understanding now? 3) What can you say about the difference between the two?

1. What happened to "What is a sacrament?" (December 1989)

a. Moved from "sign of grace" to "celebration"
b. "Celebration" is not a "fluffy" word [It would be nice if...] but a theological concept
c. Celebration of sacrament, Church, Christ
d. Christ is THE sacrament. Sacraments mean what Christ means. The Church is the sacrament of Christ. (July 1990)
e. Celebration
f. noun to verb; thing to process
g. importance of community
h. importance of common story, anamnesis
i. the liturgical "today" makes present
j. the importance of symbolic actions
k. Christ is the sacrament (December 10, 1990)
l. Church is constituted liturgically
All sacraments are to be community events

2. What happened to "What is Liturgy?" (December 1989)

a. Celebration
b. celebration of whole church
c. celebration of life
d. lex Orandi
e. symbol

3. What happened to "What is Baptism?" (December 1989)

a. Process
b. BCE
c. Negative reasons for --  to positive reasons for — community
d. Baptism is the number one sacrament — I am ordained, professed because I am baptized.

4. What happened to "What is Original Sin?" (December 1989)

a. Not a big issue in baptism
b. poor translation of Romans: in whom we have all sinned or in so far as all have sinned.

5. What happened to "What is the RCIA?" (July 1990)

a. RCIA is not a program but a process
b. conversion therapy
c. multifaceted (Catechesis, Spiritual direction, Celebration, Ministry) and the whole Christian life has these components
d. The importance of community in the process.
e. A parish event (December 10, 1990)
f. More traditional than I had imagined

6. What happened to "What is Confirmation?" (December 1989)

a. Order of the sacraments
b. Eucharist completes B C E
c. Two tracks (July 1990)
d. Baptism Confirmation Eucharist
e. Part of initiation
f. A smaller sacrament than I previously thought
g. Initiation is an ongoing process
h. No independent meanings

7. What happened to "Why do Catholics baptize Infants?"

a. Children are the Norm (trust, the least, free gift)
b. We baptize them more for what baptism gives than for what it takes away.
c. Relationship with Church
d. The main thrust is now on being part of Christ instead of the urgency of Original Sin.

8. What happened to "What is the best sequence..."

a. Sequence is clearly Baptism Confirmation Eucharist
b. I have a fuller understanding of Rites of initiation
c. History points to B C E
d. I changed my mind about the sequence because I have a different understanding of Confirmation, and Eucharist.

9. What happened to "What does the fact that you are baptized mean to you personally? (When was the last time you thought about the fact that you are baptized?)" (December 10, 1990)

a. Not just washing away Original Sin, but entrance into a community.
b. I see more reminders around me of my baptism, e.g. Holy Water Font.

10. What happened to "What is the relationship of Confirmation and Eucharist to Baptism?"

a. New understanding of the role of the Holy Spirit in all three sacraments
b. My understanding of Confirmation is not rooted in Baptism and Eucharist
c. The fact that Christ is the primordial sacrament gives a new understanding of how Christ is the baptized, the confirmed, and the eucharist.
d. Confirmation as an integral part of initiation and initiation as incomplete without it.


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Ten Important Questions

Two-thirds of the way through the course during the summer of 1994 we determined, together, what were our ten most important questions regarding initiation. The results were:

1. What is the relation between baptism and ministry? (7 votes)

2. What does the Roman Catholic Church have to offer Christians of other denominations? (6 votes)

3. What is needed to implement the reception of the Eucharist by baptized non-Catholics? (5 votes)

4. How can the community experience real presence without the elements of bread and wine? (5 votes)

5. How can one promote agreement regarding the idea that Baptism - Conformation - Eucharist is one event? (5 votes)

6. How do you "sell" the Easter Vigil as THE liturgy of the year (the BIG ONE)? (5 votes)

7. What does Jesus' baptism mean to our baptism? (5 votes)

8. What does the Church gain or lose by retaining infant baptism? (5 votes)

9. What is the correlation between how the ritual/worship space looks and the theology of baptism? (4 votes)

10. What rationale would you give to families concerning deferral of baptism of infants (where parents are non-practicing Catholics)? (4 votes)

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Unanswered Questions

At the end of the course, Summer 1998, the students were asked if they had any unanswered questions. Among the responses...

1. If the Church admits to "one Baptism" why not "one Eucharist"?

2. Why do Catholics not consider multi-culturalism in a parish a richness rather than a burden?

3. Why are not more steps being taken to restore the original sequence?

4. Why can't priests marry? Why can't woman be ordained?

5. Why doesn't Baptism take away all sin – including a failed marriage?

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Unfinished Agenda

At the end of the course, Summer 1998, the students were asked if they felt the Church had any "unfinished agenda" regarding the Sacraments of Initiation. Among the responses...

1. What is the role of the bishop in the restored sequence?

2. If RCIA's sequence is truly normative, why are we (they) dragging our feet?

3. What is being done to encourage ongoing adult education so that Catholics understand these matters?

4. Why doesn't Baptism take away all sin – including a failed marriage?

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Liturgy Both Catholic and Contemporary

On October 27, 1995 Bishop Donald Trautman, chairman of the Bishops' Committee on the Liturgy, gave an address to the annual liturgy conference of the Archdiocese of Los Angeles. The entire address appeared in the January 11, 1996 edition of Origins. Excerpts from his address are reprinted here.

Our experience of the life of faith is born of and nourished by our participation in a community of faith. The form of this faith experience varies widely from individual to individual, and even from one particular parish to another. The personal quality of such a faith experience ranges from that of the deeply involved and committed to that of the Christmas and Easter Catholic. The experiences themselves vary widely: some dramatic and emotional, others quiet and contemplative. We must be sensitive to the fact that people bring this varied experience of faith to the table of the Lord when they come to celebrate Eucharist. The challenge for the liturgy is to transform subjective, introspective and individualistic experiences of faith into those which are expressive of the whole community of faith.

There is a gap, a chasm of Grand Canyon proportions, between our experience and the language with which we express it, between the reality and our descriptive word. There are parish communities which are communities in name only. There are songs which are recited, acclamations which are muttered, meals at which no one drinks, gifts of the people which they do not give, celebrations which are simply a perfunctory fulfillment of an obligation. Christopher J. Walsh has put it so well: "Reforms and revisions we have had in plenty, but liturgical renewal will never be achieved until our texts, rites, and affirmations are translated, not into this or that sort of English, but into reality in the lived experience of the people; and they will rarely be experienced as real until the congregations celebrating them are genuine communities of faith, witness, and action."

No one can escape being conditioned by the culture in which we live. No one can remain untouched by the mentality, the intellectual climate of our contemporary culture. If our liturgy is to be intelligible, if it is to speak effectively to our age, it must speak in the language of our culture. To recognize this cultural factor is to acknowledge that there can be no final liturgical revision. Liturgical development and renewal are an unending task, for liturgical formulations themselves are culturally conditioned. As our cultural forms change, our liturgical formulations need continuing review and, at times, reformulation. This is a truth that Catholics in the United States need to hear over and over again. In my opinion and the opinion of many others, the Church in the United States today is experiencing a retreat, a falling back to an era that has passed, the era that preceded the Second Vatican Council. Are we still committed to a future built upon the vision of Vatican II? We all experience the complexity of modern life and the dominance of its secular values; some recent approaches to renewal appear to be bankrupt. Perhaps these are the reasons that prompt people to seek simpler times, simpler solutions. Those who seek a return to liturgical life, as it was prior to Vatican II, offend the teaching of that very Council, which calls us to a "full, conscious and active participation in liturgical celebrations."

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Religion in America at the End of the Millennium

Research conducted by George Gallup, Jr., reveals that there are ten factors which will impact religious life in America as the twentieth century ends: (Taken from: Conversion: A Newsletter of the Paulist Fathers to Encourage Catholics to Invite, Teach and Initiate Unchurched Americans and Inactive Catholics, January-February 1987, p 16.)

Questions for Further Study and Evaluation

l. If you were to define "baptism" now, how would that definition differ from your understanding at the beginning of this course?

2. If you were to define "confirmation" now, how would that definition differ from your understanding at the beginning of this course?

3. What are the main things you learned from the study of the history of Christian Initiation?

4. Using the ten periods of the historical grid discussed throughout this course, mention the most important developments in the shape and history of the celebration and theological understanding of the sacraments of Christian Initiation.

5. Take the various historical grid pages of your notes and study each of the ten periods horizontally [comparing one grid with the others]. Do you see any relationships between what was happening in one area and in the others?

6. Describe a Baptismal Spirituality.

7. Our understanding of Christ's Paschal Victory and its expression ion the sacraments is not a static understanding but one which continues to grow and unfold as we strive to come to the plenitude of truth. In preparation for our final discussion of this course "Sacraments of Initiation" review your notes and class materials and in the space below list what you would consider to be the ten most important changes or shifts in our understanding of Christian Initiation during the past forty years. [Bring this paper with you to the final class period.]

(Examples of "pastoral issues")

1.  Should Confirmation be delayed until adolescence?
2.  Should infants be denied Holy Communion?
3.  Should the pastor of the parish be the common minister of Confirmation?
4.  Does limbo exist?
5.  Does Baptism take away Original Sin?
6.  Should Eucharist ever be received before Baptism?
7.  Should Protestants participate in the RCIA to come into full communion with the Catholic Church?
8.  Should Protestants who wish to come into full communion with the Catholic Church celebrate the Sacrament of Reconciliation before First (Roman) Eucharist?
9.  If there is one Baptism, one Lord, and one Spirit,  can baptized non-Catholics receive the Catholic Eucharist?
10.  Does the important statement of the World Council of Churches
Baptism, Eucharist and Ministry (World Council of Churches, Geneva, 1982) express the Roman Catholic understanding of Initiation?
11.  Should Catholics receive Holy Communion at non-Catholic Eucharist? 
12.  Should Catholics invite protestants and Orthodox to receive Holy Communion at Roman Catholic Eucharist?
12.  Is there salvation outside the Church?
13.  Can Jews and Muslims enter heaven without baptism?
14.  Should baptized children who are in danger of death receive both Confirmation and the Anointing of the Sick?

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To Think About

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© Copyright: Tom Richstatter, Franciscan Province of St. John the Baptist, Cincinnati Ohio, Order of Friars Minor. All Rights Reserved.  This page was created by Fr. Thomas Richstatter, O.F.M.  Every effort has been, and is being made, to acknowledge sources when the ideas are not my own.  Any failure to comply with the United States Copyright Act (Title 17, United States Code) will be corrected immediately should I become aware of it.  This site was updated on 03/20/15 .  Your comments on this site are welcome at