28 January 2011

Liverpool Rules OK!

Three cheers for the RC Archbishop of Liverpool, who has decreed that Confirmation should precede First Communion in his diocese. We Anglicans know that this is the right thing to do (however much we sympathise with some of the general principles behind S Pius X's promotion of frequent Communion), and it is good to see a rolling-back of the (really distinctly iffy) common RC practice of deferring Confirmation until after First Communion.

And another cheer for Liverpool; these Sacraments will be conferred on eight-year-olds. There has been a most unfortunate tendency among some in the Roman Catholic Church to follow a deplorable Anglican mistake: of regarding Confirmation as a sort of Christian Bar-Mitzvah, an adolescent Rite of Passage. In my view - I did spend 28 years teaching 13-19 year-olds - nothing is more misguided than mixing up the Sacraments of Initiation in this way with the hormonal problems which thirteen-year-olds are having to face. Moreover, Confirmation is a Sacrament, not a Rite of Passage.

I think this is the time to resurrect a persistent argument of Dom Gregory Dix; that Confirmation is in fact that Baptism in the Spirit of which Biblical and Patristic texts speak. So Confirmation really is terribly important; arguably more important, Dix provocatively urged, than Water Baptism!

Dix's argument has weaknesses; the biggest of which is that liturgical patterns in the early centuries, we now know, were not as uniform as he liked to think; which makes it a little dodgy to try to force every liturgical tradition into the same straight-jacket. But the main reason while Dix was so vilified was that his emphasis on the importance of Confirmation created a very unwelcome obstacle to the pan-Protestant ecumenical schemes then in vogue. It implied that one would have to tell Free-Church people that they lacked something immensely important; or the equally unfortunate alternative of telling them that they were OK after all because they had 'equivalent' rites, such as extending the right-hand of fellowship to adolescents (here again we have a spin-off from the old Anglican error that Confirmation is really about Adolescence).

You don't need to try to persuade me that Byzantium has got things right in its simple, logical, unwillingness to sunder the Sacraments of Initiation at all. I rather tend to think that too. Indeed, I suspect that, more recently than we always assume, Confirmation was conferred upon newly-born Westerners if only their parents were of enough consequence to have a tame bishop right on tap. Isn't this what happened to Elizabeth Tudor? Perhaps the general Western custom of separating Baptism and Confirmation would never have arisen if Christianity had stuck with the old Mediterranean city-bishopric system, in which the bishop was fairly accessible because he was in the nearest market town, rather than acquiring the vast tribal dioceses of Northern Europe*.

But the Instauratio Liverpudlitana is a splendid step in the right direction for Latin Christians. There are elements in S Pius X's 'reforms' which, a century later, can do with reexamination.

Will the Ordinariate be supporting LU or Everton?


*The Thames formed the boundary between Lincoln and Winchester!


Joshua said...

Absolutely right, hear, hear!

It saddens me, precisely as a Catholic with hopes to be true to the Faith, to find conservative Catholics horrified by bishops putting Confirmation before First Communion, not realizing that the ancient order was precisely that, and was only changed as a consequence of Pope St Pius X's encouragement of frequent communion back just over a century ago.

Confirmation before Communion, and Communion only for the confirmed.

Gallery said...

Another very heartening aspect of this is that the bishop of Liverpool has decided to do this alone, without having to get all his fellow episcopes to agree. More of that, I say.

Edwin said...

It will be for the Liverpudlian Ordinary to decide whether it is LU or Everton.

Christopher said...

This return to the traditions of our fathers is welcome indeed.

But in our haste to approve such felicitous developments, I fear we may have overlooked one important detail. To quote the cathedral's 'Weekly Record':

'The families of these children will be invited to explore and celebrate Reconciliation with them during Advent each year, while teenagers and their families will be invited to explore and celebrate Reconciliation during Lent each year.'

Does this sentence mean that the children will be instructed to receive Confirmation and Holy Communion without having prepared themselves through sacramental Confession? A recent conversation with one of the catechists who will be responsible for implementing these changes suggests that this is indeed the case. She seemed to be under the impression that Confession was unnecessary, since such young children who have only recently reached the age of reason are constitutionally incapable of culpable sin.

Perhaps we should turn our attention towards the pastoral benefits and historical precedents for this practice, not to mention the interpretation Canon 914.

William Tighe said...

Elizabeth Tudor was indeed confirmed (by Cranmer) immediately after her baptism. So, also, was the son born to Cecilia, Margravine of Baden (a daughter of Gustav Vasa, Sweden's version of Henry VIII), during her visit to England in 1566. The same Elizabeth Tudor offering to be his godmother, she named the child "Edwardus Fortunatus," and he was baptized and confirmed at one and the same time -- by Matthew Parker I think.

Once I Was A Clever Boy said...

I think your ecclesiastical geography is letting you down Father - the Thames divided the diocese of Lincoln (Oxfordshire and Buckinghamshire) from that of Salisbury (Berkshire). Winchester had the Surrey bank, and London the Middlesex shore. However, your basic point about the size of north European dioceses holds good.

Anonymous said...

To Joshua's verdict: ''Confirmation before Communion, and Communion only for the confirmed'', I can only add ''Amen!'' Ideally, Confirmation should immediately follow upon Baptism, and First Communion upon Confirmation. But confirming and then communing eight-year olds is certainly a huge step back in the right direction, the direction of Tradition. In the editions of Pontificale Romanum and Rituale Romanum in my possession, the rubric directs confirmation sponsors to set their right hand upon the right shoulder of the confirmand, and, if there be any infants to confirm, to hold them in their arms. I believe that Fr. Hunwicke is also correct in his insights regarding the advantages of the original small medidterannean city-bishoprics versus the huge northern bishopdoms. Alas, Italy at some time eventually followed eventually norhtern pattern, reducing the number of its bishoprics. The abolished bishoprics became titular dioceses. As a result, our modern-day boships are no longer Fathers of their priests and faithful, but distant business administrators.

Rubricarius said...

Hear, hear too!

The restoration of the proper order for Baptism, Confirmation and Communion is most welcome.

Hopefully not the only change of Pius X that will be reversed in time...

IanW said...

Neque LU neque Everton, sed Waterloo.

davidforster said...

If it's more Traditional, then I'm in favour of it, obviously.

Furthermore, I can see the reasoning for administering confirmation sooner, instead of leaving it until the teenage years. That's as much a pastoral question as theological, perhaps.

However, can someone more theologically learned than me explain why, on doctrinal grounds, it is preferable for confirmation to be administered prior to communion. Is communion somehow more efficacous if you've been confirmed? Or what? I would appreciate enlightenment on that point.

William Hyland said...

Fr. H, I really appreciate this post.

I almost feel that Confirmation must on some level be implicit or included in infant Baptism under the current Roman understanding, or else how can the whole current RC praxis be justified in light of the whole tradition?

That of course requires an answer to what exactly is meant to happen in the current RC sacrament of confirmation, or at least why it is necessary, since it clearly is no longer seen as a sine qua non for receiving Holy Communion.

When people convert to the RC Church, they receive the sacraments in the proper order, at least.

Maureen Lash said...

Instauratio Hepatipolitana, surely.

carl said...


My understanding is that Communion is a more full share in fellowship with the Persons of the Blessed Trinity than is Confirmation, and so should follow upon Confirmation. Communion before Confirmation is in a sense giving the more profound sacrament earlier, which just doesn't make sense. The sacraments of initiation should build upon one another, from the beginning of God's life in your soul (baptism) to a deeper connection with the Spirit in particular (confirmation) to receiving the very body, blood, soul, and divinity of Christ (communion).

Joshua said...

In my own (not terribly marvellous) Catholic diocese, firstly children must make their first confession (termed "First Reconciliation", to my mind an awful mouthful and harder to for kids to understand than "confession", but there you go), and then later on are confirmed: at that very Mass, they go on to make their first Communion (again, rather oddly termed "First Eucharist", which strikes me as a bit of a misnomer, since presumably they have attended celebrations of the Eucharist previously).

This has been a recent change, and I think children are being shriven, chrismated and houselled at younger ages than previously - which may mean catechesis isn't what it should be (but that is an ongoing problem for all ages, sexes and conditions), but does prevent the turning of confirmation in particular into a Catholic bar mitzvah, mixed up with adolescence and ideas of graduation to adult maturity.

One vexing issue in Australia is that too many parents only seek to get their kids "done" (a.k.a. Catholic sheep-dip) because once their offspring have the certificates to prove they've received the sacraments, they have a better chance of enrolling them at Catholic schools, which have the reputation of having (slightly) better discipline than government schools, and being a cheap form of private education.

This has the result of filling up Catholic schools with persons only nominally Catholic, and of, in the words of one disgusted priest, "giving the sacraments to pagans". Sacrilege?

(Here, while all private schools receive government funding, the Catholic and independent schools remain separate, and charge fees. About one third of all students in Australia attend such private schools.)

Steve Cavanaugh said...

Communion is not only a sacrament of encounter with the Lord, but also of ecclesial unity (which is why the Church forbids communion of those who do not share the faith and are outside the bounds of communion, except in rare circumstances). And the guarantee of our communion with the wider church is our communion with our bishop or ordinary, who is himself in communion with the Apostolic See. I take it that this is the primary reason why confirmation was separated from baptism, as Fr. Hunwicke mentioned, so that it could continue to be administered by the bishop, and thus be an effective sign of communion with the Church. Our Holy Communions then strengthen that ecclesial communion, as well as our personal union with the Lord.

To have side-stepped confirmation which confers the gifts of the Holy Ghost, is to render our worship "in spirit and in truth" a bit less substantial, it seems to me.