I read with excitement a post yesterday about the bishop of Honolulu, Bishop Larry Silva.
You can read the article from their Catholic newspaper here. The bishop is inaugurating a process for the restoration of the order of the sacraments of initiation (Baptism-Confirmation-Eucharist). Many dioceses across Canada and the United States have done so, some with great success, others with limited success or even failure, resulting in a "un-restoration." The process to return to the original sequence of the sacraments is one that takes courage, lots of catechesis, and the bringing on board of an entire diocese, both clergy and the lay faithful.
The argument against restoration, which I hear so often, is that we will "lose the kids" if we confirm them at the time of the First Communion at the age of seven or eight. Bishop Silva's letter addresses this point:
Some may point out that we have been doing what we are doing for 100 years, so why change now? The reason is simple: What we are doing is not working very well. Confirmation is often experienced more as a graduation from the Church than as a free gift of God's grace. Pope Francis acknowledged this: "There was this experience: the sacrament of Confirmation--what is this sacrament called? Confirmation? No! Its name has changed: the 'sacrament of farewell.' They do this and then they leave the Church . . . Many young people move off after receiving Confirmation, the sacrament of farewell, of goodbye, as I said. It is an experience of failure, and experience that leaves emptiness and discourages us. Is this true or not?" (Sept. 22, 2013)
He goes on:
The challenge, though, is not just to put the sacraments into their proper order. The challenge is to provide a transformed youth ministry approach that empowers young people to live as disciples of Jesus in our world today, draws them to responsible participation in the life, mission and work of the Catholic Church, and fosters the personal and spiritual growth of each young person.
Having two distinct pastoral practices for the sequence of the sacraments has created confusion and theological obscurity. The "theology" of the sacrament of confirmation (that this is the person's turn to make their "adult commitment" to the faith) is simply a "made up" theology that was invented to somehow give substance to the separation of the sacrament from its original order and placed later in the person's life. Pope Benedict XVI, in Sacramentum Caritatis called the Church into a conversation about the practice:
The Eucharist, the fullness of Christian initiation
17. If the Eucharist is truly the source and summit of the Church's life and mission, it follows that the process of Christian initiation must constantly be directed to the reception of this sacrament. As the Synod Fathers said, we need to ask ourselves whether in our Christian communities the close link between Baptism, Confirmation and Eucharist is sufficiently recognized. (46) It must never be forgotten that our reception of Baptism and Confirmation is ordered to the Eucharist. Accordingly, our pastoral practice should reflect a more unitary understanding of the process of Christian initiation. The sacrament of Baptism, by which we were conformed to Christ,(47) incorporated in the Church and made children of God, is the portal to all the sacraments. It makes us part of the one Body of Christ (cf. 1 Cor 12:13), a priestly people. Still, it is our participation in the Eucharistic sacrifice which perfects within us the gifts given to us at Baptism. The gifts of the Spirit are given for the building up of Christ's Body (1 Cor 12) and for ever greater witness to the Gospel in the world. (48) The Holy Eucharist, then, brings Christian initiation to completion and represents the centre and goal of all sacramental life. (49)
The order of the sacraments of initiation
18. In this regard, attention needs to be paid to the order of the sacraments of initiation. Different traditions exist within the Church. There is a clear variation between, on the one hand, the ecclesial customs of the East (50) and the practice of the West regarding the initiation of adults, (51) and, on the other hand, the procedure adopted for children. (52) Yet these variations are not properly of the dogmatic order, but are pastoral in character. Concretely, it needs to be seen which practice better enables the faithful to put the sacrament of the Eucharist at the centre, as the goal of the whole process of initiation. In close collaboration with the competent offices of the Roman Curia, Bishops' Conferences should examine the effectiveness of current approaches to Christian initiation, so that the faithful can be helped both to mature through the formation received in our communities and to give their lives an authentically eucharistic direction, so that they can offer a reason for the hope within them in a way suited to our times (cf. 1 Pet 3:15).
Kudos to Bishop Silva and the other bishops in the United States and Canada for responding to the call to examine the Church's pastoral practice and move toward a process to restore the sequence. Challenging, for sure. Your thoughts?
Gotta sing. Gotta pray.