Restoring the Ancient Order of the Sacraments of Initiation

Bishop Aquila of Fargo wants to see the Sacraments of Initiation restored to their historic order.  I am very excited by this move because the main thing that has bothered me about the modern separation and re-ordering of the Sacraments of Initiation is that the historical reason for permitting the change no longer exists.

Originally the Pope permitted Eucharist to be received even if Confirmation had not been because Confirmation required the presence of the Bishop and due to problems traveling some parishes might not see the Bishop except once in a decade or longer.  Rather than force people to live without the Eucharist for years at a time, the Pope allowed for the reception of Eucharist to take place even if the Sacrament of Confirmation had not been conferred.

The Sacraments of Initiation were originally, Baptism, Confirmation and Eucharist.  These would be conferred in that order on adults or children, even infants.  The Eastern Churches still do keep the ancient tradition and even infants receive all three Sacraments of Initiation together.  Ancient writings indicate that the three Sacraments of Initiation were not separated but given together.  Thus there was not a problem with the theology explaining Baptism, where the person receives new life in Christ, Confirmation with the reception of the Holy Spirit, and Eucharist where we first receive Christ, Body, Blood, Soul and Divinity.

Separating the Sacraments of Initiation leaves a question over if the infant who is Baptized has the Holy Spirit when that is what the sacrament says, and then in Confirmation, the explanation is a conferral of the Holy Spirit for service. The questions that come up are: When does the person finally receive the Holy Spirit? Is Baptism not complete until Confirmation? Can a person receive the Holy Spirit in part in Baptism and then completely in Confirmation when God is not divided? How can the infant be fully saved if the Bible says baptism is water and Holy Spirit? Does this mean that a Baptized person lives without the Holy Spirit until Confirmation? and the questions go along these lines. In the ancient practice, Baptism was followed immediately by Confirmation because the newly Baptized person needed the help and indwelling of the Holy Spirit to help him grow as a Christian.  Because these two Sacraments were always given together, there were no questions about when the person receives the Holy Spirit. No theological tap dance to justify their separation, and no quick talking to answer the questions people have once they begin to understand what each Sacrament does.  It was clear by the order in which the Sacraments were given and that they were always given one, two, three that the Early Church never dreamed that the Sacraments would ever be separated.

In the West, where the order is disrupted, the Rite of the Initiation of Adults, requires the ancient order of the Sacraments of Initiation be given to adults when they enter the Church.  It also makes provision for children over the age of reason, age 7, to enter the church with all three Sacraments of Initiation.  This is in contrast to the parish practices where young people must wait into their teens before permitted Confirmation.  Without the limitations of travel, where is the justification for separating Baptism and Confirmation? We restore the proper order and immediacy of reception in our Rite of Christian Initiation.  There is no longer ANY sense in maintaining the separation.

In some places, the Rite of Christian Initiation is violated to keep convert’s children from receiving all three Sacraments of Initiation so that they are in line with the parish practices with other children. This is wrong, in my mind, to deny what is a right by canon law to one group of children in order to justify a different pattern among the other children of the parish.  It would be much better to restore the proper order of the Sacraments of Initiation for all rather than violate canon law in regard to convert children for the sake of maintaining the Sacraments separate and out of order.

Like this Bishop, I believe that it is time to restore the Sacraments of Initiation to their original order.  I would love for the restoration to be complete and that the ancient order be given together as was done in the early church. But just restoring the correct order is a wonderful and beautiful thing and much to be desired and in some places Confirmation has been moved down in age and given just before the first Eucharist.  This is a move in the correct direction, but restoring Confirmation to its place immediately following Baptism would be better yet.

I am thrilled to read Bishop Aquila say that young people NEED the indwelling of the Holy Spirit sooner than their teen years and restoring it to just before their first Eucharist.  This is clearly a move very much in the proper direction.  But if the children need the Holy Spirit to help them through their teen years, what about their need for the Holy Spirit in their infancy and early childhood when the TV has so much input and their understanding is so undeveloped that they cannot filter it properly? Do they not need the Holy Spirit even MORE as infants and children?

I am grateful to Bishops for considering the ancient practice of the Church and, seeing that the reasons for the changes no longer exist, moving to restore the proper order of the Sacraments of Initiation.


Restoring the Ancient Order of the Sacraments of Initiation — 2 Comments

  1. My brother and his family (five children still at home, ages 2-17) have been attending the cathedral in Fargo and are investigating the possibility of RCIA this fall. They really appreciate Bp. Aquila!!

    • From the article, I think they are very blessed to have him as their bishop. I hope that eventually we will return fully to the ancient tradition of Baptism, Confirmation and Eucharist given at the same time; even infants need the spiritual aid of ALL the sacraments of initiation because of the world they will need to negotiate while learning to be citizens of God’s City. Spiritually, the Sacraments of Initiation were always given together and in the Orthodox they are still given together and in RCIA they are supposed to be given together. Currently some people receive them together and others received them separated and out of order. This move to correct in practice the order of the Sacraments is a major move in the right direction.