The Sequence for the Celebration of the
Sacraments of Initiation of Children
in the Diocese of Gaylord
The Fathers of the Second Vatican Council completed their written work about thirty-five years ago. Now, from our historic vantage point of that same thirty-five years, we can more easily see their overall intentions. Vatican II intended to throw open the windows of the Church so that new light might enter. Liturgy was one area of Church life that the Council did affect. First, the Council Fathers intended to move us, the faithful, from over-dependence upon the secondary sources of the spiritual life, which are private devotions, to dependence upon the primary sources, which are the sacraments. Second, the documents of Vatican II do not present the sacraments as seven similar spigots of grace but as an interrelated whole with the Eucharist as the central sacrament of the Church. Third, the other six sacraments are interrelated with the Eucharist: Baptism and Confirmation lead to the Eucharist; Marriage, Orders and the Anointing of the Sick flow from the Eucharist; Reconciliation, in its basic reality, is akin to a second baptism and, therefore, also leads to the Eucharist.
In light of these facts, during the last twenty-five years, there have been many discussions among bishops, those who study the liturgy, sacramental theologians as well as the faithful about the question of the appropriate sequence for the celebration of the Sacraments of Initiation of Children. This period of discernment calls all of us to review our sacramental practice and the theological reasons behind the practice.
The history of the practice regarding the sequence for the celebration of these sacraments of initiation of children presents two approaches. The older practice, which took place in the earliest centuries of the Church, had the initiation of children take place through the celebration of baptism, confirmation and first Eucharist in one continuous ceremony with the bishop presiding.
After a letter of Pope Innocent I in 412, a change was gradually introduced that had one celebration for baptism by the parish priest and later a celebration of confirmation and first Eucharist, or confirmation by itself, celebrated by the bishop. The reason for the change was not theological but practical in nature. Dioceses had grown larger, travel was difficult and the bishop could no longer reach each of his parishes annually. Because of this new practice, many children could not receive the sacraments of confirmation and first Eucharist until around the age of fourteen.
In 1910 Pope Pius X issued the encyclical, Quam Singulari, in which he directed that children receive first Eucharist at about the age of reason. In this letter the Pope did not mention an appropriate age for confirmation. Thereafter, the practice arose of celebrating the initiation process with children by having baptism at infancy and first Eucharist at the age of discretion, or about seven, and confirmation sometime later when the bishop could be present.
The current official documents of the Church restate the traditional order of the Sacraments of Initiation of Children. In 1972, the Sacred Congregation for Worship issued “The Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults.” The document states:
At this third step of their Christian initiation, the children will receive the sacrament of baptism, the bishop or priest who baptizes them will also confer confirmation, and the children will for the first time participate in the liturgy of the Eucharist. (305)
In Appendix III, National Statutes for the Catechu- menate, we read:
Children of Catechetical Age: Since children who have reached the use of reason are considered, for purposes of Christian initiation, to be adults (Canon 852:1), their formation should follow the general pattern of the ordinary catechumenate as far as possible, with the appropriate adaptations permitted by the ritual. They should receive the sacraments of baptism, confirmation, and Eucharist at the Easter Vigil, together with the older catechumens. (18)
This understanding is also found in the Code of Canon Law (1983):
The sacraments of baptism, confirmation, and the Most Holy Eucharist are so interrelated that they are required for all Christian Initiation. (842:2)
What is prescribed in the canons on the baptism of an adult is applicable to all who are no longer infants but have attained the use of reason. (852:1)
Unless a grave reason prevents it, an adult and children who have attained the use of reason who are baptized are to be confirmed immediately after baptism and participate in the celebration of the Eucharist, also receiving Communion. (866)
The sacrament of confirmation is to be conferred on the faithful at about the age of discretion unless the conference of bishops determines another age or there is danger of death or in the judgment of the minister a grave cause urges otherwise. (891)
Such directives found in official texts of the Church have made people rethink the traditional sequence and age for the sacraments of initiation. I have, with the help of advisors, reviewed the history of the sacraments of initiation, the Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults and the Code of Canon Law. After going through this study and review, I am pastorally convinced that the original sequence for the sacraments of initiation is the appropriate way for celebrating the sacraments of initiation with adults and children of the age of discretion. I am convinced that this original order enhances the centrality of the Eucharist, gives a place and meaning to confirmation in the interrelated sacramental system and encourages both parishes and parents to assist the beginning and continuing of the faith life of the child that is a gift of the Holy Spirit. This can only be accomplished with the ongoing gift of the Holy Spirit.
Hence, I decree that within the boundaries of the Diocese of Gaylord, as of January 1, 2003, the sequence for the initiation process for children will be baptism, confirmation and first Eucharist. I also decree that the time for the celebration of the sacraments will be as follows: baptism normally celebrated near the birth of the child, the celebration of confirmation and first Eucharist in the same ceremony at about the age of discretion.
This effective date has been chosen to enable parishes to put in place the necessary process of formation for the sacraments and continuing parish program for faith development as a lifelong process for parents and children. Such a formation process must be family-centered, scripturally-based and carried out in a mystagogical mode.
In preparation for the introduction in all parishes of this formation process, I have asked the directors of our program secretariats to prepare for parishes and parish staffs the appropriate materials for an understanding of such a process, as well as formation experiences for parish leaders who will oversee and facilitate this process in the parishes. These materials and experiences will be available in advance of January 2002.
Those parishes that do have or will have a process that has the characteristics mentioned above may implement this sequence for the celebration of the sacraments of initiation with children prior to the compulsory date of January 1, 2003.
I thank in advance each and every one of the pastors and their co-workers who will study this change in our pastoral practice of initiation of children and implement it in a faithful manner.