The mission of the Office for Sacred Worship is to assist the Bishop in promoting the full, conscious, and active participation of all the faithful in liturgical celebrations in the Diocese of La Crosse. Therefore, the Office for Sacred Worship offers pastoral and liturgical formation for the clergy and laity of the Diocese of La Crosse, and it serves as a resource for parishes and organizations in their preparations for liturgical celebrations.
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Registration of Confirmation
REGISTRATION OF CONFIRMATION
When the Sacrament of Confirmation is celebrated with more than one parish coming together at a single location, the fact of the conferral (names, minister, parents, sponsors, place and date (see Canon 895)) ought to be recorded in two registers. In the parish where the confirmation takes place, information for each one confirmed is entered, even for those from the visiting parishes. This is the obligation which canon 895 imposes. It is appropriate to indicate the parish to which the one confirmed belongs in the “Remarks” or “Annotations” column. In the confirmation registers of the parishes which are visiting, information for their own particular parishioners should be entered, being sure to note also the place of the confirmation. This information is then more readily available for reporting the number of parishioners confirmed on the “Annual Report to the Bishop,” for example, or issuing certificates of confirmation. So if Blessed Sacrament Parish and St. Mary Parish travel to Holy Name of Jesus Parish for Confirmation, the host parish—Holy Name of Jesus Parish—enters information for all who were confirmed into its own register. Blessed Sacrament Parish and St. Mary Parish record information for their own confirmed parishioners in their own parish registers. Each individual parish should also notify the place of baptism of the confirmation of its own parishioners.
Looking at the Rite of Confirmation
LOOKING AT THE RITE OF CONFIRMATION
Confirmation, it is sometimes said, is a “sacrament in search of a theology.” It is difficult to appreciate –so the thinking goes – what is unique about Confirmation, what it “does” or “gives” in the Christian life.
It’s tempting to say reflexively that it is the “gift of the Holy Spirit,” yet the indwelling of the Spirit and his gifts begin at Baptism (see CCC, 1266). Or perhaps it’s the sense of “adulthood” and (do we dare say it?) “graduation” into the full-stature of a Christian, even though babies are “chrismated” in the Eastern Churches or, when in danger of death, in the Latin Church. What is Confirmation’s unique contribution to worshipping God or sanctifying me?
Part of the problem may come from how the question is posed in the first place – how I have intentionally framed it here. To emphasize a sacrament’s “unique” or “singular” or “particular” character at the expense of its connection to the whole sacramental system will inevitably skew our vision. And the same can be said of any of the sacraments: take any given sacrament on its own, and one risks losing “the forest for the trees,” at it were.
The Catechism says from the very start that there is a “certain resemblance between the stages of natural life and the stages of the spiritual life” (1210). As there is natural birth, development, and nourishment, so is there supernatural generation by Baptism, strengthening by Confirmation, and sustenance in the Eucharist. So, too, are there parallels among the other sacraments. But these first three sacraments, the Sacraments of Initiation, constitute a unity which, for proper pedagogy and praxis, must be maintained. Thus in RCIA – which includes any person seven years or older – each of the sacraments are received together.
The relationship between these three sacraments is one of the essential keys to understanding any one of them alone, and this is especially true of Confirmation. Just as in the natural world there is no growth or development or maturation without a beginning birth, so supernaturally any special strengthening must be associated with birth. In other words, to find the elusive theology of Confirmation, one must see it in relation to Baptism.
Such is how the Catechism describes Confirmation: “It must be explained to the faithful that the reception of the sacrament of Confirmation is necessary for the completion of baptismal grace. For ‘by the sacrament of Confirmation, [the baptized] are more perfectly bound to the Church and are enriched with a special strength of the Holy Spirit. Hence they are, as true witnesses of Christ, more strictly obliged to spread and defend the faith by word and deed'” (1285). Notice the words used, all relative to the sacrament of rebirth: “completion of baptismal grace”; “more perfectly bound”; “special strength of the Holy Spirit”; “more strictly obliged.” We might summarize Confirmation as an “augmentation” of Baptism. It is “baptism” – but more.
When the Sacrament of Confirmation follows immediately the administration of Baptism – as in the East’s practice of initiating infants or the West’s Order for the Christian Initiation of Adults – it is easier to understand and the connection, completion, and augmentation of Confirmation to Baptism. But when these two sacraments are separated by many years, as many as 16 years for most in our Diocese, the relationship becomes strained, the theology less clear, and the appreciation of Confirmation’s beauty less felt.
Beginning on Pentecost this year, a newly-translated Rite for Confirmation has been used. Unlike the 3rd edition of the Roman Missal in 2011, or the 2nd edition of the Rite of Marriage later this year, where both a new edition of the rite and a new translation is given, this Rite of Confirmation is more properly a re-translation of the 1st edition of the Rite of Confirmation. But as slight as the changes may sound, the occasion does afford an opportunity to look at the ritual expression of the theology of Confirmation, especially as it relates to, and is clarified by, the Sacrament of Baptism.
Here’s four instances where the rite and the theology of Confirmation are tied to Baptism.
- It is becoming more common for confirmands to wear a white garment over their dress clothes. While not mandatory, the white robe makes the connection between Baptism and Confirmation more apparent. At Baptism, before clothing the child with the white garment, the minister says, “You have become a new creation, and have clothed yourselves in Christ. See in this white garment the outward sign of your Christian dignity” (n.63). Now, by the strengthening of the Holy Spirit, the confirmand is incorporated more firmly into Christ, which the white signifies still.
- There is not much in the Code of Canon Law about the requirements of the Confirmation sponsor, only that he or she “must fulfil the conditions mention in Canon 874,” that is, in the section on the baptismal godparent! In fact, “it is desirable,” the Code says, “that the sponsor chosen [for Confirmation] be the one who undertook this role at baptism” (Can. 893§2). At Baptism our godparents committed themselves to helping our natural parents raise us “in the practice of the faith” and to “keep God’s commandments.” Now, at Confirmation, they stand by us again to support us in the life of faith. As natural parents are present at our birth and growth, so our supernatural godparents are present for our supernatural birth and growth.
- Immediately prior to the conferral of the sacrament, the confirmands renew their baptismal promises. At Baptism, parents, godparents, and the entire Church professed the Faith on behalf of the infant. At Confirmation, the candidates themselves are called upon to renew with their own heart and voice the promises made at Baptism. After the renewal, the Bishop says, “This is our faith. This is the faith of the Church. We are proud to profess it in Christ Jesus our Lord.” The grace of Confirmation strengthens the confirmand to profess Christ proudly in word and deed.
- If baptized as an infant, the child is anointed with sacred chrism immediately after the baptism with water. Sacred chrism is consecrated each year by the Bishop who is joined at the Chrism Mass by his priests. The oil is then taken back to each parish or chapel where parish priests or deacons use the chrism at baptism. Part of the consecration of chrism involves the Bishop breathing over the opening of the vessel of chrism, his ruah or breath not unlike the Spirit which hovered over the waters of creation. Thus at Baptism, the sacred chrism, consecrated by the Bishop, is applied to the baby’s head so that he can conformed to Christ and inspired to live according to the Spirit. At confirmation, this year’s sacred chrism, consecrated by the Bishop, is applied again to the forehead – this time by the Bishop himself – to effect an even greater conformity to Jesus and an even fuller life in the Spirit.
Is Confirmation a “sacrament in search of a theology”? Only if we look with one eye closed. When both are open we see a larger picture – one that sees Baptism and Confirmation in the same frame – our understanding and celebration of Confirmation stands out in greater clarity and power.
Some Liturgical Clarifications
SOME LITURGICAL CLARIFICATIONS
Purification of Sacred Vessels by a Deacon
While the General Instruction of the Roman Missal allows the priest to purify the sacred vessels “at the altar or the credence table” (n.163), the deacon is to purify the vessels only at the credence table: “When the distribution of Communion is over, the Deacon returns to the altar with the Priest, collects the fragments, should any remain, and then carries the chalice and other sacred vessels to the credence table, where he purifies them and arranges them as usual, while the Priest returns to the chair” (n.183); the deacon may also purify the vessels immediately after Mass. “This clarification of the deacon’s role,” explains the Bishops’ Committee on Divine Worship, “helps to bring forth a further expression of our theology of liturgy and holy orders, matters which are indeed central to our life in the Church.” See fuller explanation here.
Book of Blessings: On always making use of the Sign of the Holy Cross in Blessings
“Since, from the established usage, the liturgical custom has always been in force that in the rites of blessing the sign of the cross is employed by being traced by the celebrant with the right hand over the persons or things for whom mercy is implored, this Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments, in order to dispel any doubts, has established that, even if the text of the part of the Roman ritual entitled The Book of Blessings remains silent about the sign itself or lacks an express mention of the appropriate time for this action, nevertheless the sacred ministers should adopt the aforementioned sign of the cross as necessary when carrying out any blessing. Without a mention, however, the appropriate time should be regarded as when the text of the blessing uses the words “blessing,” “to bless,” or similar or, lacking these words, when the prayer of blessing itself is concluded.” (From the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments, 2002) See full text here.
The Ritual Expression of the Gift of Peace at Mass
Pope Francis, in an audience of June 7, 2014, approved the Circular Letter Pacem relinquo vobis, “Peace I leave you,” on the ritual expression of the gift of peace at Mass. Beginning with Pope Benedict and the Synod of Bishops celebrated during the 2005 Year of the Eucharist, the liturgical meaning of the exchange of peace and its implications for Christian living have been much discussed. Among other things, the Circular Letter seeks to instill the deep meaning of the gesture. “It should be made clear once and for all that the rite of peace…has its own profound meaning of prayer and offering of peace in the context of the Eucharist. An exchange of peace appropriately carried out among the participants at Mass enriches the meaning of the rite itself and gives fuller expression to it. It is entirely correct, therefore, to say that this does not involve inviting the faithful to exchange the sign of peace ‘mechanically.’ … The intimate relationship between the lex orandi and the lex credendi must obviously be extended to the lex vivendi. Today, a serious obligation for Catholics in building a more just and peaceful world is accompanied by a deeper understanding of the Christian meaning of peace and this depends largely on the seriousness with which our particular Churches welcome and invoke the gift of peace and express it in the liturgical celebration.” See here for the complete text of the Circular Letter, and here for an explanation from the USCCB’s Committee on Divine Worship.
Office for Sacred Worship
Christopher Carstens, Director
Jen Mickschl, Administrative Assistant