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Confirmation 2014 Meetings have Begun: Confirmation, Baptism and Eucharist

Below are some prepared remarks for the first meeting. Jay Cuasay, Director of Christian Formation leads the English speaking meetings that are held in Atonement Hall. Santos Carrillo, a veteran catechist holds a similar meeting for the Spanish speaking community in the Theater area adjacent to Atonement Hall.

Parent Confirmation Meetings for the Confirmation 2014 Group have begun at Christ the Redeemer. The first meeting was held Tuesday, January 7th during our most recent polar vortex freeze. Temperatures were around 7 degrees outside, but a large turnout of English and Spanish speaking parishioners came to attend a meeting that talked about Confirmation as one of the three sacraments of initiation. An additional meeting date for those unable to make the Tuesday meeting will be held this upcoming week on Thursday, January 16th at 7:30 PM in Atonement Hall. Parents of the Confirmation 2014 Group may attend the meetings in either English or Spanish.

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Parent Confirmation Meeting #1
Confirmation as One of the Sacraments of Initiation

Instead of thinking “My child celebrated First Communion back in Second Grade and now that he or she is in Grade 8, it’s time to celebrate Confirmation,” I want you to consider Confirmation as a Sacrament of Initiation. Confirmation is one of three Sacraments of Initiation, the other two are Baptism and Eucharist. For most of you here, whatever you or child may or may not know about Confirmation, there is probably some familiarity with Baptism and the Eucharist.

One short phrase that might help you adopt this way of thinking is: “If you can’t see or imagine the future ahead of you, remember your past, whether it is distant or recent.”

Again: “If you can’t see the future, look to your past.”

In this case, whatever you or your child imagine ahead of you about Confirmation, you can look to your most recent Eucharistic celebration for some understanding and you can also look into the more distant past at your own Baptism.

Another helpful insight for tonight is to come to an understanding generally about sacraments and then talk about Sacraments of Initiation in particular. Just as the present, which moves us to the future is held together and supported by the past, so too our understanding of Sacraments is key to understanding the importance of celebrating Confirmation, which this group will do sometime in the Fall.

The Church’s Past: Distant and Recent

In the Church’s most distant past, sacraments of initiation were not firmly established from the very beginning. It wasn’t as if the minute Jesus ascended into Heaven he left behind parishes and dioceses, bishops, priests, schools and the Vatican. Instead, there were simply groups of people moved by their experience, contact, and relationship with the Risen One, the one who lived with them, who died, and who rose again. So moved were they by this experience and what it said about how God loved them, wanted to share his life with them, and had a plan for their lives and their future that they began to pour over all that Jesus said and did with them while he was on earth.

The first converts to Christianity were not “cradle catholics” bringing their children to be baptized or enrolling in Religious Ed. programs. They were adults who met with other members of the Christian community. They lived with them, spoke with them, conformed their lives and behavior to imitate them. And most importantly, they were invited to share in the Story of God—to hear and be transformed by the Word of God.

Over time, if they wanted to completely join the Christian community and take the journey of conversion, they did so by participating in important initiation rites—what we come to recognize today as Baptism, Confirmation, and Eucharist.

These adults were first welcomed into the Christian community by being washed in Baptism, clothed in the seal of Confirmation, and welcomed to the table of the Eucharist.

When I was in Japan and you visited a person’s home, you were treated as an honored guest. A hot bath was drawn for you, which you were invited into. While you were in the bath, someone usually took your travel clothes and laundered and pressed them so that they were clean and ready for you when you were finished. Or you were offered a clean robe when you left the bath. Finally, you were invited to sit down to a meal with the family.

It is this type of image that the early Christian community should evoke. But when you come to church, you see the same thing happen. We remember our baptism when we dip our hand into the baptismal font, we are embraced by the Priest’s greeting at the start of mass, “Peace of the Lord Jesus Christ, the love of God and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you all…” and finally we are invited to the table for Communion.

Pope Pius X and 1910:
Notice that in the description I just gave that there is a sensibility to the order and relationship of the Sacraments of Initiation. Baptism and Confirmation are distinct signs/rituals which ultimately lead to the fullness of membership, that of joining the Body of Christ in Communion.

Over time, adults no longer were the majority of converts to Christianity. Many people were already Christians in marriage who gave birth to children. Because the love of God they experienced in their lives was something that they wanted to share as soon as possible with their child (or perhaps because of their fears that their child might not live a long life), they brought their children to the church to be baptized. When the ordinary celebrant of Confirmation, i.e. the Bishop was available, these children were still baptized, confirmed, but not always offered Holy Communion—perhaps the Bishop was too busy just getting around to everyone.

Eventually, there were far too many people for the Bishop to visit regularly and the faculties to baptize were given to priests. In the east, Baptism always and still meant FULL INITITATION. Thus, these priests would baptize (infants or adults), chrismate (i.e. anoint/confirm) the child, and offer Holy Communion.

In the West, in our Roman tradition, the priest was given the powers to Baptize, but the power to Confirm was reserved for the Bishop.

If baptism was suitable for infants out of the desire to introduce a child to the community of faith and the love of God, then it seemed logical that the fullness of membership, entering into full communion should also be something that could be made available as soon as possible. Pope Pius X in 1910 did just that and allowed for children over the age of reason (8 or 9) to prepare for the sacrament of the Eucharist.

Unintended Consequences
Just as we are in the midst of adjusting to the new translation for the Mass today, whatever the noble intentions for change, there are unintended consequences. For the New Translation, it starts out seeming like a straightforward process, just change the words. But now it affects the book the priest uses for mass. Now we have to look in our pews to relearn how to pray once familiar prayers like the Gloria or the Creed. Now there is new music that has to be learned and sung. And we’re not done yet. The rites for baptism, confirmation, matrimony and the other sacraments, these texts/rubrics all need to be re-examined and edited.

So too, with Pius X, there was an unintended consequence. The sensible order of Baptism/Confirmation leading to Eucharist became more like we know it today: infant baptism, with Holy Communion celebrated around the age of reason, and Confirmation celebrated some time later.

In other words, it made it appear like the progression of the Sacraments leads up to Confirmation instead of our being fully incorporated in the Church through Communion. This lead to some distortions in what Confirmation is really about.

Confirmation became a “nice, but not necessary” sacrament. For the average person, if you could go to mass and receive communion, what more did you need. If you were going to become a priest, or perhaps if you were going to get married, then maybe Confirmation would come up. But otherwise, you could go on without it.

Confirmation when celebrated some time after Communion also tends to become seen as a Rite of Passage, a coming of Age, a sacrament of Maturity. This is a protestant view. It is not a Catholic one. Again, because Eucharist/Communion is the source and summit of the Sacraments of Initiation, it is not sensible to think of Confirmation as “when you know more”, so that when you celebrate Communion (before Confirmation) you are celebrating the source and summit, but in a less than complete or inadequate way.

How do we reconcile these distorted views with what we practice today?

First, it is helpful to realize the tradition that I outlined. You and your child should not consider the celebration of sacraments simply as following a tradition, as if it was always already this way. In fact, it was not. Baptism, Confirmation, Eucharist was the pattern of the church for most of its history (and still is in the eastern churches).

Second, one should look at the motivation or rationale behind the celebration of sacraments. Recall that it has more to do with wanting to experience and share the love of God for us by imitating and following the example of Christ through important ritual actions that he did while he was here on earth. This explanation helps us focus on finding God who is coming to meet us in the sacraments rather than simply following a process that is just set in stone.

On a practical level, recall your reasons for why you have come to celebrate sacraments. Why did you bring your child to be baptized? Was it simply out of fear of hell and wanting to protect them? Or can you recover the immense love of God that he showed us by sending his Son to suffer and die to our distorted humanity so that we could follow him into eternal life? That this is a God who forgives sins (even though we may die) and offers us eternal life?

With your own marriage, was it simply so that you could “follow rules” of the church and be obedient. Or, as perhaps you may have discovered over the years, because there is a place for God in your mutual lives that nourishes you and provides a deep, immediate place for you to witness God in your life?

Sacraments in General:

In previous generations, my own included, we prepared for Confirmation by memorizing a series of questions and answers. I know that there are still parishes that work this way and indeed at the Confirmation Mass, it is the Bishop’s prerogative to ask questions of the candidate. Here you can see that something that was supposed to give evidence of a faith passed on from one generation to the next in a living tradition became a canned “set it in stone” list of things to memorize.

Nevertheless, one of the things we had to memorize was the definition of a sacrament, which if my memory serves me was something like:
“A sacrament is a sign instituted by Christ to give grace.”

When I meet with adults who wish to become Catholic and instruct them on Sacraments of Initiation, we look at this definition and we break it down. A sacrament is a sign: that means it involves our senses (what do we see, hear, taste, touch, smell?), it’s instituted by Christ, so it has some kind of scriptural/biblical basis, and more importantly it has something to do with the one who was born, died and raised to new life, and it has something to do with “grace”, a share in God’s life (our salvation and redemption).

So eventually I move them from this traditional definition to a more dynamic, everyday definition:
“A sacrament is an encounter with the real presence of God for the purposes of our salvation.”

Now in the Eucharist, this simple definition is probably easiest to see or apply. But you can and should be able to help your child experience this truth in the two other sacraments of initiation as well.

In Baptism, as St. Paul says, we are baptized into the life, death, and resurrection of the Lord. So that just as Jesus Christ died to sin and rose to new life, so too we enter into the baptismal waters and die to sin so as to rise to new and eternal life. Or more emphatically, as we sing at the start of a funeral mass when the white pall is placed over the coffin as a reminder of the baptism of the deceased, “You have put on Christ, in Him you were baptized.” In other words, in Baptism, we become like Christ, he who was freed from sin so as to live in the promise of the kingdom. What could be more real and present than God and your salvation? Your existence as a new creation?

In Confirmation, the Bishop calls down the Holy Spirit in an invocation that is similar to the blessing of the Holy Waters of Baptism and the epiclesis during the Eucharistic prayer when the priest with the Assembly pray “that by the power of the Holy Spirit these gifts may become the Body and Blood of Christ.” The Bishop anoints the forehead of the confirmandi calling them by name and saying: “Be sealed with the Holy Spirit” and offers them the sign of Christ’s peace.
What could be more welcoming, real and present than being called BY NAME, anointed, and offered the sign of peace. Anointing is for king’s coronations and priestly ordinations…and for the baptized and confirmed.

One final image to leave with you: the Hebrew word MESSIAH is what is translated into Latin as CHRISTUS or CHRIST. Christ is the Anointed One. We who are anointed by Baptism/Confirmation are Christians, followers of the Anointed One and members of the Body of Christ. What could be an encounter more real in the presence of God for purposes of our salvation?

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