I have recently come across some questions about the sacrament of Confirmation, both about its nature and when children should receive it. In the Netherlands, the general order, for children at least, is Baptism-First Communion-Confirmation, which is actually rather illogical. That is a conclusion that Bishop Samuel Aquila, of the Diocese of Fargo in the United States, also reached. In recent years, he has changed that order of reception to Baptism-Confirmation-First Communion. In his own words, from a lecture on Confirmation he gave in June of 2011*:
“Confirmation is a sacrament of initiation which gives the fullness of the Holy Spirit. This gift of the Spirit completes baptism and bestows a special strength that enables one to be a witness to Jesus Christ, more perfectly binding one to the Church, and allows one to worship the Father in spirit and truth.
Confirmation is ordered to the reception of the sacrament of the source and summit of our lives, the holy Eucharist. The order of initiation that marked the early Church is baptism, confirmation, and Eucharist; and in only recent history has another order been tried. The teaching of the Church since Vatican II has supported the restoration of the order of the sacraments of initiation.”
In essence, Confirmation allows us to participate more fully in the Catholic community’s faith life, a community based on the Eucharist. Therefore, Bishop Aquila argues, it makes far more sense to return to the custom of the ages: Baptism, then Confirmation and ultimately the source and summit of our Catholic life: the Eucharist. Both baptism and Confirmation are ordered to the reception of the Eucharist, which means that they prepare for and refer to it.
Pope Benedict XVI, last week, took the time to tell Bishop Aquila about his full agreement with the bishop’s efforts, asking if other bishops were picking it up as well. “I was very surprised in what the Pope said to me,” the bishop, who is on his ad limina visit to the Holy See, said, “in terms of how happy he was that the sacraments of initiation have been restored to their proper order of baptism, confirmation, then first Eucharist.”
Apart from the theological reasons, I think a return to the old order is also a sign of taking children seriously. We don’t need to wait until some hypothetical age at which they can ‘understand’ what they receive. A baby does not understand baptism either, but is nonetheless initiated into the faith, just like an adult would. A seven-year-old receiving Confirmation is also as well-prepared spiritually for a future First Communion as as adult would. It doesn’t all depend on us, after all.
*You can read Bishop Aquila’s full lecture on this topic here.