Restored Order: For the Love of the Eucharist
By Mikki Sciba
The Current State of Unbelief
The fastest growing religious demographic in America today is referred to as the “nones.” These are people who choose not to affiliate with any formal religion. According to the Pew Research Center, “13% of all U.S. adults are former Catholics – people who say they were raised in the faith, but now identify as religious ‘nones,’ as Protestants, or with another religion.” Members of our Catholic family are leaving the faith. This is devastating and truly heart wrenching because as Catholics, we have the pearl of the most precious price, Christ himself in the Eucharist. Catholics must reclaim our identity as a Eucharistic people, and the Bishop of Tyler knows this. In the Constitution on Teaching, Bishop Strickland wrote:
It is of singular importance that every Catholic in the Diocese understand the Real Presence of Jesus Christ in the Most Holy Eucharist. It is a great tragedy and a sad reality that many are unable to recognize the Lord Jesus in the Eucharist. I feel very strongly that this unbelief is the “source and summit” of many of our problems. A lack of belief in the unique gift that is the Eucharist leads to an indifference concerning the Catholic Faith. It leads to a lack of evangelical vigor. It leads to a laxity in following the precepts of the Church. It leads to a lack of priestly and religious vocations. And it denigrates a rich family life in the Diocese and in the world. This must end. (34-35)
One way to address this current state of unbelief is to examine how we, the Church, approach the formation of those seeking the sacrament of the Eucharist.
The Eucharist is one of the Sacraments of Initiation along with Baptism and Confirmation. These lay the foundation for the Christian life and incorporate us fully into the Catholic Church. The Catechism says we need the sacraments to advance towards perfection in life.
The faithful are born anew by Baptism, strengthened by the sacrament of Confirmation, and receive in the Eucharist the food of eternal life. By means of these sacraments of Christian initiation, they thus receive in increasing measure the treasures of the divine life and advance toward the perfection of charity. (CCC 1212)
Sacraments of Initiation in the Diocese of Tyler
In 2005, under the leadership of Bishop Alvaro Corrada, the Diocese of Tyler started celebrating the “restored order” of the Sacraments of Initiation. Restored order refers to the practice of celebrating the Sacraments of Initiation in the following order: Baptism, Confirmation, and Eucharist. Note that this restored order is different from what many people are accustomed to today (Baptism, Eucharist, then Confirmation). It restores the Holy Eucharist to the climax of initiation.
When introducing restored order to the Diocese, Bishop Corrada wrote in his pastoral reflection, “For a Christian publicly to take his place in the Eucharistic assembly is the greatest participation in the apostolic mission of the Church that is imaginable.” Let us take a look at the history of restored order in the Church, the connection and relationship of the Sacraments of Initiation, and our diocesan plan for the celebration of these sacraments which is all designed to lead the faithful toward greater Eucharistic participation.
Sacraments of Initiation in the Catholic Church
In the early Church, the order of the reception of the sacraments for catechumens (those who desired and were in the process of becoming Catholic, seeking full initiation into the Church) was this order we seek to restore: Baptism, Confirmation, then the Eucharist. In fact, the sacraments of Baptism and Confirmation (although two distinct sacraments) were referred to as a “double sacrament” celebrated in one continuous rite of initiation, usually at the Easter Vigil. The catechumens would profess their faith before the bishop who would then baptize them, confirm them through the laying on of hands, and anoint them with oil, followed by the reception of the Holy Eucharist for the first time. This sounds much like our current practice in RCIA of initiating new Catholics into the Church at the Easter Vigil.
The rapid growth of Christianity throughout the first five hundred years of the Church made it more difficult for the bishop to be present to celebrate all the Sacraments of Initiation in the same liturgy. Therefore, the bishop granted permission to the priests to baptize and administer First Eucharist, while reserving the celebration of the sacrament of confirmation for the episcopacy.
Throughout the Middle Ages, the practice in the Western Church of giving First Eucharist to infants faded, so children were often not admitted to Holy Communion until the age of reason. In 1215, at the Fourth Lateran Council, it was declared that after reaching the “years of discretion” all the faithful are obligated to go to confession and receive the Eucharist at least once a year. Although this decree was made, what constituted the “years of discretion” was debated and in some areas two different ages were assigned: one for confession and another for First Communion.
Generally speaking, though, First Communion was administered around the ages of ten to twelve. When addressing the age for confirmation, the Council of Trent in 1547 declared that although confirmation could be administered to anyone after baptism.
…until children shall have attained the use of reason, its administration is inexpedient. If it does not seem well to defer (Confirmation) to the age of twelve, it is most proper to postpone this Sacrament at least to that of seven years.
Thus, the consensus was that the minimum age of a baptized Catholic to receive confirmation was around seven, but in practice confirmation was often celebrated in adolescence. This practice was accompanied by a growing and popular thought that confirmation was a sacrament of maturity.
In the nineteenth century, several French Church councils argued for Confirmation to take place after first Eucharist. In 1849, the Council of Avignon stated, “…in the province of Avignon, this sacrament (Confirmation) may not be administered to children until after their first communion.” One year later the Council of Rouen said people would not be admitted to the sacrament of Confirmation if they had not already received Holy Eucharist and sacramental Confession.
Two major thoughts drove this order of the sacraments. One idea was that the soul would bear more fruit from Confirmation had it first received Eucharist, and the other was that deferring Confirmation kept young people enrolled and engaged in religious education longer. These same ideas prevail to this day.
In 1897, the French bishop of the Diocese of Marseilles had asked for clarification from Rome on the order of the sacraments since he decided to celebrate Confirmation before Eucharist. Pope Leo XIII responded quite favorably to the bishop’s proposal writing:
We praise your proposal to the highest extent…for the beginnings of cupidity are in the souls of children. Unless they are erased as early as possible, they gradually grow stronger, entice those inexperienced in matters, and lead to great danger. Therefore, the faithful, even from the tender years, have a need ‘to be clothed with strength from on high’ which the sacrament of confirmation as borne to produce. Moreover, adolescents having thus been confirmed become more conformable to understanding precepts, and more fit for receiving the Eucharist afterwards, and they grasp more abundant benefits from what they receive.
Many current bishops who have moved to restored order echo similar sentiments. For example, Bishop Wall in the Diocese of Gallup, New Mexico, said confirmation “brings the recipient into Christian maturity and is given the strength through the Sacrament to live one’s Christian life even in a heroic way.” He further notes that throughout the history of the Church, many of the faithful who demonstrated “heroic virtue and strength” in tumultuous times have been young children. Strengthening them with the grace of Confirmation as early as possible is paramount as they encounter the temptations and challenges present in our society today.
Entering the twentieth century, the minimum age of a person who could be confirmed was seven, but the order of Confirmation followed by Eucharist was not universally standard. In any case, they were generally celebrated between the ages of ten to twelve. Pope Pius X acknowledged in his letter, Quam Singulari, (1910) that there were errors and abuses that occurred within the church when determining the proper age for First Eucharist. He noted that postponing Eucharist until the age of ten, twelve, or even in some regions fourteen “has been the cause of many evils.” He went on to say:
It happened that children in their innocence were forced away from the embrace of Christ and deprived of the food of their interior life; and from this it also happened that in their youth, destitute of this strong help, surrounded by so many temptations, they lost their innocence and fell into vicious habits even before tasting of the Sacred Mysteries. And even if a thorough instruction and a careful Sacramental Confession should precede Holy Communion, which does not everywhere occur, still the loss of first innocence is always to be deplored and might have been avoided by the reception of the Eucharist in more tender years.
He thus lowered the age of reception of First Eucharist to seven, but failed to mention anything about Confirmation which, in effect, led to our current day’s more commonly practiced order of celebrating first Eucharist before Confirmation.
Currently in the United States, the age for Confirmation ranges from around seven to sixteen. Thirteen dioceses have returned to the “restored order” of the celebration of the Sacraments of Initiation. Although there have been differences about restored order, it’s important to note that these differences are based on pastoral practices and not dogma.
The Sacraments of Initiation
Theologically, the Sacraments of Initiation are intimately intertwined and understanding their connectedness will help clarify why the Diocese of Tyler celebrates the restored order of the sacraments. Through the grace of the sacraments, the faithful are drawn into a deeper union with God. Baptism is the foundation of the whole Christian life and the entryway into the Church. It provides the faithful with access to all the other sacraments. God speaks this name over every baptized person: “My child.” The rest of one’s life will be either identifying with that name or not. But to always and forever live as God’s child takes supernatural strength. This is what Confirmation does.
The word Confirmation means “strengthening”. The gifts and graces received at Baptism are strengthened in Confirmation, and this strengthening can happen any time after Baptism. This is consistent with the Catechism of the Catholic Church (1308), which reminds us that the graces received in these sacraments are free gifts from God and cannot be earned. They do “not need ‘ratification’ to become effective.” The maturity of body does not determine the maturity of faith.
In the words of St. Thomas Aquinas, “Age of body does not determine age of soul. Even in childhood man can attain spiritual maturity. Many children, through the strength of the Holy Spirit they have received, have bravely fought for Christ even to the shedding of their blood.” Confirmation is an outpouring of the Holy Spirit that strengthens the individual for a life in service to God, seals one with the gifts of the Spirit, and calls the individual to use those gifts according to his ability. Through Baptism and Confirmation the faithful are claimed by God and for God to be his disciples, but constant nourishment is needed for this mission. There is no greater nor more sufficient spiritual aid for this mission than Christ in the Eucharist.
The Eucharist is the sacrament of the sacraments. All of the other sacraments “are bound up with and are oriented toward it” (CCC 1324). Jesus chose to institute the Eucharist the night before he died. How a person spends his last days of life speaks volumes of what is most significant to him. At the Last Supper, Jesus took bread and wine, blessed it and said it is His Body and Blood given up for you and me. The God of the universe becomes present on the altar at every Mass and invites his children to share in his divine life. What physical food does for our bodies, the Eucharist does for our souls: helps us grow, keeps us healthy, gives us strength, and nourishes and maintains us throughout this life. The Eucharist is the “source and summit of the Christian life” for it “contains the Church’s entire spiritual wealth: Christ himself” (Ecclesia De Eucharistia 1). Let us never forget that as Catholics we are claimed by God in Baptism, strengthened in Confirmation and nourished daily, if we choose, by Christ himself in the Eucharist.
Norms for the Diocese of Tyler
All faith formation efforts, especially sacramental moments, should constantly draw the faithful to full Eucharistic participation. Our diocesan practice of restored order is intended to do just that. In his pastoral reflection upon instituting restored order in our diocese, Bishop Corrada wrote:
It is through the grace of Baptism and Confirmation that the Holy Spirit and the Church prepares a person for full communion in the Holy Eucharist. Reception of the Eucharist prior to receiving the Sacrament of Confirmation may create some confusion in the community or in the person. Anyone who professes the true faith and participates in the sacrifice of Christ, receiving the Body and Blood of Christ, should be a fully initiated Christian through both Baptism and Confirmation, inasmuch as they are participating in the full, public worship and witness of the Church.
As baptized children enter into the sacramental formation process around the age of seven, catechesis will begin with a review and emphasis on the meaning of the Sacrament of Baptism and the basics of the Catholic faith. Next, formation for and reception of the Sacrament of Reconciliation will take place. To grow in a deeper relationship with Christ, monthly Confession should become part of the candidate’s life of faith, especially leading up to the celebration of Confirmation and Eucharist. A time of formation for the sacraments of Confirmation and First Eucharist will need to occur before their celebration.
To highlight the Eucharist as the “source and summit” of our faith, all members of the Diocese, especially those who celebrated their First Eucharist throughout the year, are invited to participate in the Eucharistic procession to be held around the Diocese on the Feast of Corpus Christi. To distinguish the year’s First Communicants, they are encouraged to dress in their First Eucharist garments and take part in the procession already set forth in the Constitution on Teaching:
I call upon each parish and mission in the Diocese to arrange for a procession on the Sunday of the Solemnity of the Most Holy Body and Blood of Christ (Corpus Christi Sunday). A procession, no matter how humble, is a teaching witness to ourselves and to the world of our faith in the Real Presence of Jesus Christ in the Holy Eucharist. (37)
Designating this special invitation and recognition to our First Communicants during the procession highlights their full initiation into the Church and offers them an opportunity to proclaim, by their presence and example, that their lives are ordered towards Christ in the Eucharist. Devout devotion to Christ in the Eucharist, the apex of full initiation into the Catholic Church, will flood our souls, our families, our churches, and our diocese with the grace and love of our Lord. Bishop Strickland once wrote the following:
There is much of the beautiful wonder that is our Catholic faith that remains unknown and unexperienced by the people of God today. It is my firm belief that we can make great progress in addressing the ills of our day if we are able to know and share basic truth that has inspired disciples to lives of holiness through the ages.
To the faithful of our Diocese, may our belief and fidelity to our Eucharistic Lord shine forth in our lives so all who know and experience our witness may come to know and experience the most beautiful wonder of our Catholic faith, the Eucharist!
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