The other scary sacrament?

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A couple of weeks ago I wrote a Deacon Diaries reflection (#46) about the Sacrament of Reconciliation. After it was posted on the website I found myself having a discussion with someone about why it was ‘scary’. As the discussion continued we spoke about how Reconciliation was used in our preparation for receiving the Sacrament of Confirmation, and how in fact it is strongly recommended in the preparation for receiving any of the sacraments. And how important it is, that it forms an integral part of the Sacrament of the Sick.
We also wondered, a bit as a sidetrack, how is is that the number of young people that come forward for the Confirmation programme, is only about 20% of the numbers of the same year group that, probably only about 7ish years earlier, had first received the Sacraments of Reconciliation and Eucharist (Holy Communion)? What happens to the other 80%? If I had the easy answers to that one I think I’d be a very popular person!
Is the Sacrament of Confirmation even more scary than Reconciliation?
Let’s just think for a moment what the Sacrament of Confirmation is really about. In basic terms, YOUCAT describes Confirmation, based on the Catechism of the Catholic Church, as:
“Confirmation is the sacrament that completes Baptism; in it the gift of the Holy Spirit is bestowed upon us. Anyone who freely decides to live a life as God’s child and asks for God’s Spirit under the signs of the imposition of hands and anointing with Chrism receives the strength to witness to God’s love and might in word and deed. S/he is now a full-fledged, responsible member of the Catholic Church.” (CCC 1285 – 1314)
By way of giving an explanation, YOUCAT offers:
“?Confirmation. (From Latin confirmatio = strengthening, consolidation): Confirmation, like Baptism and the Eucharist, is one of the three sacraments of initiation of the Catholic Church. As the Holy Spirit descended upon the disciples who were gathered at Pentecost, so the Holy Spirit comes to every baptised person for whom the Church requests the gift of the Holy Spirit. It secures and strengthens him/her to be a living witness to Christ” (YOUCAT 203 – 207)
So, why wouldn’t anyone want to be both strengthened by the Holy Spirit, and considered to be a fully responsible member of the Church? Is it because it might bring expectations upon this person? Is it because the church isn’t an important enough part of their life?, or is it an age and peer pressure influence?
That last consideration is an important one, because it throws up a big question. A key element of the Sacrament of Confirmation is that the candidate reaffirms, and makes for themselves publicly, the baptism promises of Faith made on their behalf when they were baptised. At what age can somebody be reasonably expected to make the decision that they are taking the choice to ask to make their baptismal promises in full for themselves? In our Deanery we have decided and work towards people being in at least Year 10 of our school system. But is does vary from place to place.
But the Sacrament of Confirmation isn’t an age limited thing, so it surprises me when I hear adults say, “I missed the dates when I was at school, so I never got done!” Similarly, I also greatly admire those adults that decide that they want to pick up where perhaps they left off, and receive the Sacrament of Confirmation at any time in their life.
Perhaps it is pride or embarrassment, perhaps it is a feeling of it’s too late, or perhaps it’s not knowing that the Sacrament is still open to any baptised person at any age that acts as a barrier. I think that’s a great sadness for the Church. It is also a great sadness for those who deprive themselves of the help of the Holy Spirit, who strengthens our faith and lives.
If I’m reading this and thinking, ‘I’m okay, I was confirmed’, then that is only half the story. Part of our mission in the faith is to bring Christ to others through our lives. One of the important ways that Christ comes to us is through the sacraments. Therefore if we know that somebody, for whatever reason, has missed the opportunity of the strengthening grace of Confirmation, we should be encouraging them to seek the sacrament for themselves. Additionally, you will know that when somebody receives the Sacrament of Confirmation, they have a sponsor who represents the Church and walks alongside them in their preparation. Again an opportunity to witness and fulfill the promises we made at our own Confirmation.
It is never too late to receive God’s grace. Let us pray that everyone can be strengthened by our engagement with the sacraments. Nothing to be scared of, but a joy to be celebrated as the gift of God amongst us.

Deacon Ian Black

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