The ancient Church, and in Eastern Churches today, the sacraments “of initiation” were given “continuously”, that is, all at once. Even infants were confirmed after baptism and then given the Eucharist. The separation of confirmation came about probably as a result of the large number of converts and children born into Christian families once Christianity was legal and rapidly spreading. The bishop couldn’t do them all himself. Therefore, confirmation was delayed.
In some circles there is talk that the ancient practice should be restored.
From the UK’s best Catholic weekly, The Catholic Herald comes this story.
Archbishop puts Confirmation before Communion
By David V Barrett
From next year children in the Archdiocese of Liverpool will be confirmed before receiving their First Communion, reversing the usual order of sacraments in the Catholic Church.
A leaflet being sent to all parishes in the archdiocese next week explains the changes. It says: “These three sacraments make up the process of belonging to the Church (called Christian Initiation). The sacraments weren’t always in that order, and adults preparing for initiation have always received them in the original order: Baptism, Confirmation, Eucharist (Communion).”
From September 2012 children in the archdiocese who have been baptised will follow this order.
“Those aged eight by September 1 2012 will be invited to receive Confirmation and First Communion in the days between Ascension Sunday and the Feast of the Body and Blood of Christ (Corpus Christi) in 2013, and the same pattern will be followed each year after that,” the leaflet said.
The details are also on both the archdiocesan and Liverpool Metropolitan Cathedral websites. The decision to restore the order of the sacraments of initiation and to introduce a family catechesis approach, supported by parishes and schools, was made by Archbishop Patrick Kelly of Liverpool,?with?the encouragement of the Council of Priests, at the end of 2008.
The new procedure will involve families far more in the way children are prepared for the sacraments.
“Instead of teachers, catechists and priests teaching children and parents about the sacraments, they will help the parents to hand on their own faith to their children, fulfilling the privileges and responsibilities expressed in the Rite of Baptism. New resources will help parents to prepare their own children for these sacraments with the support of the local church community,” the leaflet says. [Some publisher will be happy.]
“These changes are meant to help us understand that sacraments are gifts of God’s grace, that parents are the first teachers of their children in the ways of faith, and that we are all called to get to know Jesus better throughout our life’s journey.” [And that will be accomplished by reversing the order of the sacraments? They want to confirm at an earlier age because confirmation "helps them know Jesus"? I am not convinced that that is the purpose of the sacrament of confirmation.]
The families of these children will be invited to explore and celebrate the Sacrament of Reconciliation with them during Advent each year, while teenagers and their families will be invited to explore and celebrate Reconciliation during Lent each year.
The next two years will be a transition period from the old process to the new. In 2011 there will be no First Communions in most parishes. Children in Year 6 (aged 10-11) should be confirmed; in 2012 this will be children aged 8 to 11. From 2013 onwards the norm will be that children aged eight will receive Confirmation and Holy Communion during the same celebration.
There could be good reasons to reverse the order of sacraments. However, I hope that their reasons reach beyond “getting to know Jesus better”.
I am sure that their catechetical materials will be thorough.