During the Easter Season, there are a lot of things in the Church’s liturgy which reminds us of the Sacraments of Initiation: Baptism, Confirmation, and Eucharist. Of course, the Easter Vigil, the most solemn Mass of the year, is the traditional time for initiating persons into the Church. This year we welcomed Janice, a widow who encountered Christ in the midst of her grief over her husband’s death as she spent time in our Adoration Chapel. It was there that Christ called her, and she responded. She is still smiling.
The Easter liturgy itself reminds us of the Sacraments of Initiation, even if we had no one entering the Church at the vigil. The Vigil begins in darkness, representing the darkness of sin, but then as the Paschal Candle enters the church, the Light of Christ begins to cast out the darkness as from the Christ Candle the other candles are lit. The tabernacle is still empty, until after we celebrate the Eucharist — Jesus’ gift of His very Body and Blood, Soul and Divinity. The water in the baptismal font is blessed, and we all renew our baptismal promises. We are sprinkled with Holy Water. We celebrate the Great Commission, to go out and spread the Good News, when we are dismissed from Mass, with the emphasis of the Alleluias at the end.
It is usually during the Easter Season that parishes celebrate First Holy Communions, as we did just a couple of weeks ago. This year the preciousness of the Eucharist was especially poignant not only in the excitement of the children as they received Jesus for the first time in the Eucharist, but also in one elderly gentleman — I presume it was the grandfather of one of the children. He was in a wheelchair, and apparently could not get out of the house very often, but for this special event the family made to extra effort to get him there. When I went to give him Communion, he wept for joy, saying how much he longed to come to Mass each week.
This past week we had 43 of our young people receive the Sacrament of Confirmation. Of course, they first received the gift of the Holy Spirit at their Baptism, as the Spirit incorporated them into the Mystical Body of Christ, the Church. Now, through the further outpouring of the Holy Spirit in the Sacrament of Confirmation, they are empowered by the Gifts of the Holy Spirit — Wisdom, Understanding, Counsel, Fortitude, Knowledge, Piety, and the Fear of the Lord — to participate in the mission of the Church to make disciples of all the nations.
You may have noticed the order in which I listed the Sacraments of Initiation: Baptism, Confirmation, and Eucharist. You might think I have it wrong, since in the US most of us receive Eucharist before Confirmation. No, I have it correct; theologically the Eucharist is the fullness of initiation into the Church. It was an accident that the order has been disrupted for about the past 100 years. Based on modern, psychological evidence on when children reached the age of reason, Pope Pius X lowered the age for receiving Holy Communion from 12 to 7. He did not mention Confirmation, presuming that the proper theological order of the sacraments would be maintained, but they weren’t. Recent popes have encouraged restoring the proper order of the sacraments. I asked a friend of mine, who is the Bishop of Gaylord, MI, about this as he mentioned that his predecessor had restored the order in that diocese. He said that the children are confirmed at the same Mass they will also receive their First Holy Communion.
It is not a decision that I could, not necessarily would, make. It is something only the diocesan bishop can decide, and I think there are serious issues on both sides of the proposal that need to be considered, and I am glad that I don’t have to decide it. I just have to celebrate the sacraments as the Bishop directs us to, and to encourage all of us to take time during the Easter Season to reflect more deeply on the Mysteries, the Sacraments, that God has blessed us with.