Saturday, November 22, 2008

Australian Bishop: Confirmation has become a "Sacrament of Farewell"

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The Bishop of Bunbury, Australia, Bishop Gerard Holohan, called for a radical reconsideration of the age and practice of the Sacrament of Confirmation at a meeting with the school principals of the Bunbury Diocese. He said that "in every practical sense, Confirmation had become a ‘Sacrament of Farewell'".

The Bishop contrasted the gap between the practice of today and the pastoral practice of the Early Church. Most Confirmation candidates today are the children of parents who have little if anything to do with the Christian community.

The Early Church conferred the Sacraments of Initiation on the children within families in which they were receiving, and would continue to receive, initiatory catechesis. The current practice of confirming children from families incapable of giving the necessary catechesis would not have been allowed in the Early Church. Sacraments were seen as sacraments of faith, and would not have been conferred outside a faith context.

The Bishop noted that today, instead of catechesis, we make do with religious education. Initiatory catechesis is an ‘apprenticeship in the faith', whereas religious education is an educational discipline offering an ‘understanding that leads towards faith'. Confusing the two, he said, is like confusing an electrical apprenticeship with the TAFE course required to qualify as an electrician.

One reason why the age for Confirmation has to be reconsidered is because of the move towards ‘Middle Schooling' in Western Australia. Another reason the Bishop cited is Pope Benedict's call for a review of pastoral approach to Confirmation in the light of whether it led into the 'community' where people ‘received formation' needed to appreciate the Eucharist as ‘the climax and summit' of the Christian life. He suggested that the current approach did the reverse.

Bishop Holohan concluded his remarks by saying a diocesan discussion is needed on the current approach to Confirmation. He suggested that among future possibilities was the one of "not completing Christian initiation until young people received adequate initiatory catechesis".

Practical implications of this approach included a new and focussed catechesis programme, a new level of parish and school collaboration, a catechesis strategy that draws in parents and even other family members so that families can offer catechesis and the raising of the Confirmation age.

The Bishop said the he wondered about the wisdom of reversing the order of First Holy Communion and Confirmation in the current pastoral situation. ‘There seems little sense in the Eucharist replacing Confirmation as the ‘Sacrament of Farewell'. CathNews

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