In the early Church the sacraments of initiation were three: Baptism, Confirmation & Eucharist. They were celebrated together in a single rite, with a bishop as presider. This was the practice of the Roman Rite up until the 5th or 6th century when bishops could no longer be present at all baptisms, leading to a time of separation between baptism and confirmation. At first the time of separation was short, but as time went on, the delay for the bishop to arrive grew. Still the Church celebrated the sacraments in the order of Baptism, Confirmation & Eucharist until this century.
In 1910 Pope Pius X recognized that children were not being allowed First Communion until the age of twelve to fourteen. He felt that such a denial was contrary to the vision of Jesus who always drew children to himself. Pius X ordered that children be allowed to come to the table of the Eucharist as soon as they could distinguish the Eucharist from ordinary bread. The age was then lowered to around seven. Confirmation then came after First Eucharist. The reforms of Vatican Council II called the Church to restore the original order of sacraments. This is not without challenge and difficulties. Such a change presumes a deep commitment on the part of the family to nurture the life of the young. Such a commitment means that parents have a need to understand the reasons for change & the ways in which they can help their children.
Since this is not done everywhere in the Church, why does the Diocese of Hamilton do this?
Bishop Browne, in 1998 following the lead of official documents issued by the Church after the Second Vatican Council — made the decision to move to this restored order. In doing so he wished to demonstrate that this sacrament makes strong (con-firm) in the person the Gift of Baptism. Other bishops who recently have moved to the restored order have received personal encouragement from the Pope himself. In 2012 Pope Benedict XVI told Archbishop Aquila of Denver Colorado, “I have always desired this” The age for Confirmation in the Church’s Canon Law is the age of reason.
What kind of benefits might do we see from the restored order?
First, it underscores the fact that the Holy Eucharist, not Confirmation, is the culmination of Christian initiation.
Second, as theologian Jared Staudt has written, “The reception of the grace of the Holy Spirit at a younger age will give children greater courage and guidance in facing the ever-increasing difficulties of living a Christian life. Waiting another five or even ten years to receive this grace unnecessarily deprives one of the grace of the Holy Spirit, which is so vital for spiritual growth and maturity.”
Third, it will also provide more opportunities for parents to take their rightful place as the primary religious educators of their children, by placing sacramental preparation at an age when children are naturally more eager for the participation of their parents.
How can children make an adult commitment to the Church at such a young age?
Contrary to a widespread misperception, Confirmation is not the sacrament of adult commitment to the faith. Confirmation is a cause of spiritual maturity, not a recognition of physical maturity. As the Catechism says, “Although Confirmation is sometimes called the ‘sacrament of Christian maturity,’ we must not confuse adult faith with the adult age of natural growth, nor forget that the baptismal grace is a grace of free, unmerited election and does not need ‘ratification’ to become effective.”
First Reconcilliation, Confirmation and First Communion Preparation begins in term 3 of the School Year. Children who have attainted the use of reason are invited to be enrolled through the Parish office.