CV NEWS FEED // Receiving the three Sacraments of Initiation is a major point in solidifying our relationship with Christ in communion with his holy Church.
While most American Roman Catholics alive today have received them in the order of Baptism, First Communion, and Confirmation, there is a growing movement in the Church in the United States to use what is called the “restored order,” in which Confirmation is received before First Communion.
Currently, 14 U.S. dioceses have returned to the restored order of sacraments, which are rooted in the practice of the early Church. The restored order also reflects how they are conferred in the Order of Christian Initiation for Adults at the Easter Vigil. The Catechism of the Catholic Church also lists the sacraments in this order (CCC 1212).
“The sacraments of Christian initiation — Baptism, confirmation and the Eucharist — lay the foundations of every Christian life. … The faithful are born anew by baptism, strengthened by the Sacrament of Confirmation, and receive in the Eucharist the food of eternal life.”
Since the Eucharist is the source and summit of the Christian life, the movement for restored order seeks to place the emphasis on the reception of Holy Communion as the culmination of Christian initiation.
In 2015, the Archdiocese of Denver switched to using the restored order. The archdiocese lowered the Confirmation age to third grade, which allowed children to receive Confirmation right before First Holy Communion at the same Mass. Denver’s Archbishop Samuel Aquila explained to the National Catholic Register at the time that, “to view Confirmation ‘as a rite of passage for teens’ is an erroneous understanding of the sacrament.”
Aquila also mentioned a personal audience he had with the late Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI in 2012, after the pope expressed his support of the restored order in his document “Sacramentum Caritatis.” Aquila at the time was bishop of Fargo, North Dakota, which had successfully returned to the restored order. In response, Aquila said the pontiff told him, “You have done what I always wanted to do.”
In “Sacramentum Caritatis,” Pope Emeritus Benedict quotes the Second Vatican Council in saying that “all the sacraments, and indeed all ecclesiastical ministries and works of the apostolate, are bound up with the Eucharist and are directed towards it.”
While Benedict mentions that the different traditions for the order of sacraments are based currently more on pastoral practices, he also lists them in order of Baptism, Confirmation and First Holy Communion.
The Archdiocese of Denver reiterated on its website that,“Holy Eucharist, not confirmation, is the culmination of Christian initiation. It will also help to remind the faithful that the six other sacraments are bound up with the Eucharist and are oriented toward it.”
It also stated that children faced with the dangers of today’s secular world, “need more grace at an earlier age to become saints.”
In another interview, Aquila further explained that confirmation equates with spiritual maturity, not an “adult” commitment to the faith. “If they’re old enough to receive reconciliation and the Eucharist,” said Aquila, “they are old enough to receive confirmation.”
In the Church’s history, the three sacraments of initiation were originally received together – and still are in the Eastern Rite – to demonstrate how closely intertwined they were. This later changed in the Latin Rite to being spread out throughout a child’s formative years, although still in the same order, and was due partly to limited availability of bishops present at the sacraments.
However, First Communion was often pushed off until the teenage years, which is why in 1910, Pope Pius X promulgated that children should be able to receive the Eucharist as soon as they reach the age of reason, around seven years-old. Pius did not mention anything about Confirmation, which led many in America especially to then reverse the sacramental order and delay it until adolescence. This was often seen as a pastoral way of keeping children in the fold past First Communion.
Bishop Steven Lopes of the Ordinariate of the Chair of Saint Peter, also embraced the restored order in 2020. He emphasized that spacing the sacraments out according to academic age is a “mechanistic approach to the life of grace, where sacramental preparation is often approached as a classroom experience or a series of prerequisites to be fulfilled.”
The Ordinariate is a diocesan jurisdiction based in Houston Texas, and was established under Pope Emeritus Benedict for Anglican and Methodist converts in the U.S. and Canada. Lopes related that the Ordinariate’s approach to the restored order heavily involves the parents in their child’s spiritual formation and involves “family faith formation” for both parents and children.
While some catechists may worry that the restored order will defeat the purpose of youth groups and faith formation for teenagers, Bishop James Wall of the Diocese of Gallup, New Mexico, says it will actually allow catechetical programs to expand their focus beyond just preparation leading up to a final sacrament. Instead, Wall says youth formation can “help our young Catholics grow in their faith, discern their vocation and prepare for that Christian vocation as they approach adulthood.”
After being initiated into the Church at a young age, Wall says that parishes can then focus on developing “creative programs to accompany, form, and integrate young members of the parish – now fully initiated – into the life of the Church.”