As our diocesan church prepares to restore the proper order of the sacraments of initiation, my parishes anticipated the need to have a number of our children “catch up” in the sense of having received all three sacraments: baptism, confirmation and Eucharist. Therefore, last November, over 140 of our young parishioners, in grades 3-8, received the sacrament of confirmation from Bishop Thomas John Paprocki. This was done at two different Masses on consecutive evenings at our neighboring parish, Ss. Peter and Paul in Collinsville, where we had ample space to do this “catching up.”
We are now anticipating our first Mass — coming on Tuesday, Oct. 1 — when Bishop Paprocki will confer confirmation on our third-graders, who celebrated their first reconciliation last spring. (Reconciliation is not a sacrament of initiation.) At the Oct. 1 confirmation Mass, these third-graders will receive the holy Eucharist for the first time.
Thus, the order of the sacraments of initiation is restored. Baptism and confirmation, closely related and received only once, are followed by our ongoing nourishment in the holy Eucharist, which we receive repeatedly and frequently.
Many of us have been accustomed to think of confirmation as a sort of “graduation” event for young people who are “completing” their faith formation. We have heard a good deal of emphasis on mature faith or of one’s making a personal commitment to the faith. We even think of confirmation as the future event which keeps young people coming to their faith formation classes, or even coming to Mass at all!
These ideas are distractions. We have to go back to the word initiation and appreciate what it means. We recognize the opening of a door, and our stepping in. Initiation means beginning. There is so much more to learn and experience.
A major element of the immediate preparation for confirmation has been the keeping of a journal. By this I do not mean a blank notebook. Our faith-formation leaders have devised a journal, worked through in keeping with the calendar, in which, among other things, the young people report on what they experienced at each Sunday’s Mass. We have devised a description: The young people are being “Spirited into the Body of Christ.”
Initiation means that nothing is ending. My parishioner Jocelyn, who is 9 years old and has just entered fourth grade at a public school, tells me that she finds time for quiet and prayer in the morning and in the evening. She has an older sister who serves weekend Mass, and she is looking forward, along with her twin brother, to taking up this service as well. My parishioner Brenden is likewise 9 years old and in fourth grade at an interparochial school. He has begun to serve Mass. He tells me that he looks upon his Christian initiation as “a great responsibility,” but he certainly isn’t glum about this. He tells me: “I enjoy serving really well. I find it fun. I like helping the church.”
These young people have plenty of growing to do. They grow as they keep coming to Mass and to faith-formation classes. They have received the gift of completing their Christian initiation.
It is a wonderful thing to receive a gift and to discover that, as we grow, the gift has more to give us than we had first perceived. The sacraments of initiation are with us as we grow. And no one ever stops growing.