Reflecting on 21 Centuries of Faith

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Do You Know His Love?

the-love-of-godThis morning our parish offered a Confirmation retreat for the eighth grade Confirmandi. It was a glorious day.  We discussed the love of God and how He desires to have a personal and intimate relationship with us. For some of the teens, they had never considered that the Lord of the Universe could possibly be a Lover to His Beloved.

During a time of exposition, the parish offered the Sacrament of Reconciliation for all present. Some of the teens wanted to know what could block them from experiencing that love in their lives. The Catechism of the Catholic Church (CCC), paragraph 2094 offers five ways that we sin against His love for us which includes:

- indifference neglects or refuses to reflect on divine charity; it fails to consider its prevenient goodness and denies its power.

ingratitude fails or refuses to acknowledge divine charity and to return him love for love.

lukewarmness is hesitation or negligence in responding to divine love; it can imply refusal to give oneself over to the prompting of charity.

acedia or spiritual sloth goes so far as to refuse the joy that comes from God and to be repelled by divine goodness.

hatred of God comes from pride. It is contrary to love of God, whose goodness it denies, and whom it presumes to curse as the one who forbids sins and inflicts punishments.

At the end of the day, we shared with them that while the Lord desires to have an on-going, personal and intimate relationship with us, He is a gentleman. Thus, in order for us to experience and allow that love to grow, we must be intentional about it. He will never force us into a relationship we do not desire or will not pursue.  It is not a Sunday thing but a 24/7 attitude and relationship. If you are not, or have not chosen in an intentional manner to love and be loved by the Father, through His Son in the power of the Holy Spirit, today is the day of salvation! Jump on in!

So we know and believe the love God has for us. God is love, and he who abides in love abides in God, and God abides in him. (1 John 4:16)

As we enter into the Lord’s Day, may the love of the Most Blessed Trinity overwhelm and brood over you that you may be set ablaze with a passion for God and compassion for other people.

From the Mouth of the Most High: O Wisdom!

Psalm-18-28.lampSt. Louis de Montfort described the beauty of our Lord in his classic spiritual masterpiece, The Love of Eternal Wisdom. He exclaimed:

How gentle, attractive and approachable is eternal Wisdom who possesses such splendour, excellence and grandeur. He invites men to come to him because he wants to teach them the way to happiness.

Today, the Church starts her countdown clock with the O Antiphons at Vespers (Evening Prayer). St. Louis de Montfort said that our Lord desires to teach us the way to happiness and Church reveals us this evening in her liturgy that happiness is found by way of prudence:

O Wisdom, who came from the mouth of the Most High, reaching from end to end and ordering all things mightily and sweetly: come, and teach us the way of prudence.

The virtue of prudence allows us to see rightly. Fr. Hardon defined it as the, “Correct knowledge about things to be done or, more broadly, the knowledge of things that ought to be done and of things that ought to be avoided.”

This evening, the Lord invites us to see rightly and focus our attention to the order of His creation (CCC 31-35). Over the next seven days, the Church will unfold salvation history and starts, “In the beginning…”

Encourage & Teach: Mary, Model of Perfect Love

Statue-Ann-Mary-JesusWhen discussing the generation of our Lord within the Blessed Trinity among the youth, I sometimes explain it in this manner:

The Son is the Father’s infinite and eternal act of self-reflection from everlasting to everlasting.

“When the Father mirrored Himself in the infinite, he produced one Image with all the perfections of the Infinite,” and we call Him Jesus, the Son of God.

Creation, on the other hand, is a type of mirroring of God, but not such that it is an emanation (Catechism of the Catholic Church 300), but an expression of His wisdom and love (CCC 295). We might think, too, that the Father would need to create a perfect mirroring of Himself in the finite creation, but He does not need to see Himself thus. (Read more…)

Angel of God My Guardian Dear…

October 2 is the Feast of the Guardian though it is suppressed this year as it falls on the 27th Sunday of Ordinary Time. Christ, in the economy of salvation has destined us for glory as we struggle in this world.

In the meantime, the whole life of the Church benefits from the mysterious and
powerful help of angels. (CCC 334)

It is only by revelation do we understand the work of the angels among us.  The Catechism of the Catholic Church proclaims:

From its beginning until death, human life is surrounded by their watchful care and intercession.202 “Beside each believer stands an angel as protector and shepherd leading him to life.”203 Already here on earth the Christian life shares by faith in the blessed company of angels and men united in God. (CCC 336)

Each person from the moment of their conception is assigned a heavenly companion to walk with them through life and into eternity. Saint Jerome explained this matter in his commentary when he said, “The dignity of a soul is so great, that each has a guardian angel from its birth.”

I am constantly amazed at the assistance I receive when I least expect it from my heavenly companion. Anyone have any good stories? Please share!

Witness to Holiness…First in Speech

We are all called to be witnesses for the Gospel, it is the Gospel mandate. The Catechism of the Catholic Church (CCC) in paragraph 2472 says it this way:

The duty of Christians to take part in the life of the Church impels them to act as witnesses of the Gospel and of the obligations that flow from it. This witness is a transmission of the faith in words and deeds. Witness is an act of justice that establishes the truth or makes it known.

All Christians by the example of their lives and the witness of their word, wherever they live, have an obligation to manifest the new man which they have put on in Baptism and to reveal the power of the Holy Spirit by whom they were strengthened at Confirmation.

As I continue to prepare for my God-willing Diaconate ordination, I am drawn to meditate on the following prayer that the Bishop admonishes the newly ordained Deacons to incarnate as he hands on the Book of the Gospel to them:

Receive the Gospel of Christ whose herald you have become.

Believe what you read,

teach what you believe,

and practice what you teach.

I think this admonishment is something we all need to inculcate into our daily lives. At the core of the prayer is the simple demand of becoming who we profess to be. St. Paul even gives a blueprint for success to the young (I pray I am still considered that):

Let no one have contempt for your youth, but set an example for those who believe, in speech, conduct, love, faith, and purity. (1 Timothy 4:12)

Hopefully, we remember that St. Timothy was about 17 when this was written to him. So, we could say that he is a young adult or adult due to the culture and time in which he lived. The first step towards become a witness to those around us, according to St. Paul, is speech. St. James in his epistle, rather pointedly shares with us the importance of our speech:

If anyone thinks he is religious and does not bridle his tongue but deceives his heart, his religion is vain. (James 1:13)

In fact, because of the sins of speech, he actively discourages those who want (or quickly volunteer) to be teachers (verbal witnesses) by proclaiming that if you cannot control your tongue, then you have no hope of controlling the rest of your conduct (Notice speech precedes and drives conduct):

Not many of you should become teachers, my brothers, for you realize that we will be judged more strictly, for we all fall short in many respects. If anyone does not fall short in speech, he is a perfect man, able to bridle his whole body also. If we put bits into the mouths of horses to make them obey us, we also guide their whole bodies. It is the same with ships: even though they are so large and driven by fierce winds, they are steered by a very small rudder wherever the pilot’s inclination wishes. In the same way the tongue is a small member and yet has great pretensions. Consider how small a fire can set a huge forest ablaze. The tongue is also a fire. It exists among our members as a world of malice, defiling the whole body and setting the entire course of our lives on fire, itself set on fire by Gehenna. (James 3:1-6)

Most of us think that this is just what we say. As every saint has taught, sins of omission are usually worse than sins of commission. This reminds me of Edmund Burke who once said, “All that is necessary for the triumph of evil is that good men do nothing.” We need to speak up,

For God did not give us a spirit of cowardice but rather of power and love and self-control. (2 Timothy 1:7)

Today’s society uses words as  a tool. The very fact we have the sayings, “Words are cheap” or “I’ll believe it  when I see it” should scandalize the Christian. Remember what Michael Card wrote in his song, The Final Word?

When the Father wanted to communicate His love, He expressed it in one final word. The Final Word was Jesus, He needed no other one…

We live in a world of broken promises, trite comments and conversations that really communicate nothing. Oddly enough, the only words we typically trust in are those in our music. For some reason we many times allow them to manipulate our emotions into believing that somehow the artist understands us, what we are feeling, or where we are – I thought that was the definition of friends and family. From the beginning, the Lord intended words or speech to express who we are and to communicate His holiness and presence.

The greatest offenses of speech today is blasphemy. The Modern Catholic Dictionary defines blasphemy as:

Speaking against God in a contemptuous, scornful, or abusive manner. Included under blasphemy are offenses committed by thought, word, or action. Serious contemptuous ridicule of the saints, sacred objects, or of persons consecrated to God is also blasphemous because God is indirectly attacked. Blasphemy is a grave violation of charity toward God. Its gravity may be judged by the capital punishment in the Old Testament, severe penalties of the Church, and in many cases also of the State for blasphemous speech or conduct. In order for a person to sin gravely in this manner, he must use blasphemous expressions and realize the contemptuous meaning of what he says or does.

To toss our Lord’s name around casually, or using His name as an exclamation in a text or IM would be grounds for being stoned in the Old Testament. Today, the penalty is well, hell (deliver us oh Lord!). We also need to remember that we participate in another person’s sin by choosing to ignore, confirm and/or allow the sin to continue. In other words, we incur the guilt as well. Example, what was the language like in the last movie or television show you watched? Did you encourage others to watch it and tell them it was a good/great movie if you just “overlook the language?” As a good priest friend also shared with me, being desensitized is not an excuse. It just means you choose to live with terminal cancer unless, of course, you take radical action.  For those who have no idea how to discover what is in a movie before you contribute to the profit: – fantastic service.

Let’s commit ourselves to recovering holy speech. To help us this Friday in our meditation on the Passion, the following is a quick list of offenses against truth that deal with speech- CCC 2463-2487.

Offenses against truthfulness:

  • False witness and perjury. When it is made publicly, a statement contrary to the truth takes on a particular gravity. In court it becomes false witness.276 When it is under oath, it is perjury.
  • [R]ash judgment who, even tacitly, assumes as true, without sufficient foundation, the moral fault of a neighbor
  • [D]etraction who, without objectively valid reason, discloses another’s faults and failings to persons who did not know them
  • [C]alumny who, by remarks contrary to the truth, harms the reputation of others and gives occasion for false judgments concerning them.
  • Every word or attitude is forbidden which by flattery, adulation, or complaisance encourages and confirms another in malicious acts and perverse conduct.
    • Adulation is a grave fault if it makes one an accomplice in another’s vices or grave sins. Neither the desire to be of service nor friendship justifies duplicitous speech. Adulation is a venial sin when it only seeks to be agreeable, to avoid evil, to meet a need, or to obtain legitimate advantages.
  • Boasting or bragging is an offense against truth. So is irony aimed at disparaging someone by maliciously caricaturing some aspect of his behavior.
  • [L]ie consists in speaking a falsehood with the intention of deceiving.
    • Lying is the most direct offense against the truth. To lie is to speak or act against the truth in order to lead someone into error. By injuring man’s relation to truth and to his neighbor, a lie offends against the fundamental relation of man and of his word to the Lord.

Have a great weekend and may the Lord bless you and your endeavors in recovering, rediscovering and building a Catholic culture for the glory of His name.

Grace: Investing in Eternity

Frequently, the following question is asked of me when discussing grace, “So, can we store up grace for a rainy day?” The answer, always straight-forward is, “It depends.” In order to shed a little light on this question we need to define two terms before we discuss it. Hold on tight as we delve into the mystery of the love of Father…

Most Catholics remember two basic categories of grace: sacramental and actual. Fr. John Hardon, S.J., of happy memory, teaches us in the Modern Catholic Dictionary that sacramental or sanctifying grace produces,

the supernatural state of being infused by God, which permanently inheres in the soul. It is a vital principle of the supernatural life, as the rational soul is the vital principle of a human being’s natural life. It is not a substance but a real quality that becomes part of the soul’s substance. Although commonly associated with the possession of the virtue of charity, sanctifying grace is yet distinct from this virtue. Charity, rather, belongs to the will, whereas sanctifying grace belongs to the whole soul, mind, will, and affections. It is called sanctifying grace because it makes holy those who possess the gift by giving them a participation in the divine life. It is zoē (life), which Christ taught that he has in common with the Father and which those who are in the state of grace share.

In contrast, Fr. Hardon defines actual grace as the,

Temporary supernatural intervention by God to enlighten the mind or strengthen the will to perform supernatural actions that lead to heaven.

The Catechism of the Catholic Church (CCC) §2000 speaks to the differences between the two graces:

Sanctifying grace is an habitual gift, a stable and supernatural disposition that perfects the soul itself to enable it to live with God, to act by his love. Habitual grace, the permanent disposition to live and act in keeping with God’s call, is distinguished from actual graces which refer to God’s interventions, whether at the beginning of conversion or in the course of the work of sanctification.

Sanctifying grace remains in the soul as long as it is welcome by the individual. Meaning, as long as we do not commit a mortal sin sanctifying grace remains in perfecting the soul.

Mortal sin is a radical possibility of human freedom, as is love itself. It results in the loss of charity and the privation of sanctifying grace, that is, of the state of grace. If it is not redeemed by repentance and God’s forgiveness, it causes exclusion from Christ’s kingdom and the eternal death of hell, for our freedom has the power to make choices for ever, with no turning back. However, although we can judge that an act is in itself a grave offense, we must entrust judgment of persons to the justice and mercy of God. (CCC§1861)

So in the case of sanctifying grace, yes, we “store” it up for a rainy day when we continue living the spirit-filled life in accordance to the Gospel and the precepts of the Church. Actual grace is a different story.

As we previously read in CCC §2000, actual grace is situational. It is for a specific moment, for a specific event, for a specific reason. We need and should pray for these graces since they inspire us to do the great works of God and are the proximate cause of those service gifts that St. Paul speaks on in 1 Corinthians 12-13, Romans 8 and Ephesians 4.

Individuals who ask this question are usually saying, “I did not respond to His grace today but I am planning to tomorrow.” Unfortunately, that actual grace is no longer there. Remember, they are for a specific moment, for a specific event, for a specific reason. Lesson:  we need to respond when the grace is given and when we do not, appeal to the mercy of the Living God.

I would be remiss if I did not briefly mention how we obtain these graces. The two sources of grace in the supernatural life are the Sacraments and prayer. Right off, a distinction needs to be made:

  • Sacraments produce grace
  • Prayer obtains grace

When speaking of the Sacraments and the sanctifying grace it produces, there are two phrases that the Council of Trent offers us that are very helpful in this discussion. The first is ex opere operato which literally means “by the very fact of the action’s being performed”. This means that as long as the matter and form and intention are validly and licitly celebrated, the grace is produced.  That does not guarantee that the recipient receives the grace or the full potency of the grace. This is the object of the second phrase, ex opere operantis.

Ex opere operantis literally means “from the work done”. It addresses the subjective ability of the individual to receive the grace that is imparted.  It is here where Sacraments and Prayer intersect.  We obtain the grace to prepare our hearts to receive the sanctifying grace dispensed by the sacraments through prayer, and the sacraments produce the grace obtained by prayer to expand our hearts through the sacraments. Both are equally important and necessary for growth.

As we continue to grow in wholeness and holiness, let us remember to storm heaven and secure that grace which is ours in Christ. So take advantage of the sacraments and love the Lord in prayer…

Draw near to God, and He will draw near to you. (James 4:8)

Learning to Hear the Bridegroom’s Voice

In the Gospel of St. John, our Lord says,

My sheep hear my voice; I know them, and they follow me. (John 10:27)

As we know, sheep are stupid.  If sheep can know its shepherd’s voice, we who are enlivened with the gift of the Holy Spirit are configured to hear the voice of the Bridegroom.  Still, with all the distractions of the world we many times have forgotten what prayer is.  To understand prayer we must first understand that prayer is an act of love and thus the object of our heart. The Catechism of the Catholic Church (CCC) states,

2563 The heart is the dwelling-place where I am, where I live; according to the Semitic or Biblical expression, the heart is the place “to which I withdraw.” The heart is our hidden center, beyond the grasp of our reason and of others; only the Spirit of God can fathom the human heart and know it fully. The heart is the place of decision, deeper than our psychic drives. It is the place of truth, where we choose life or death. It is the place of encounter, because as image of God we live in relation: it is the place of covenant.

When we think of the heart and covenant we should naturally think of the Sacrament of Marriage.  Marriage from the beginning is at the “heart” of creation.  Not just in the universal sense but the personal sense.   The fullness of marriage in eternity begins here on earth as we grow in a relationship with the other.  This relationship is communicated through prayer which is further explained in the CCC:

2564 Christian prayer is a covenant relationship between God and man in Christ. It is the action of God and of man, springing forth from both the Holy Spirit and ourselves, wholly directed to the Father, in union with the human will of the Son of God made man.

2565 In the New Covenant, prayer is the living relationship of the children of God with their Father who is good beyond measure, with his Son Jesus Christ and with the Holy Spirit. The grace of the Kingdom is “the union of the entire holy and royal Trinity . . . with the whole human spirit.”[1] Thus, the life of prayer is the habit of being in the presence of the thrice-holy God and in communion with him. This communion of life is always possible because, through Baptism, we have already been united with Christ.[2] Prayer is Christian insofar as it is communion with Christ and extends throughout the Church, which is his Body. Its dimensions are those of Christ’s love.[3]

It is the Church who teaches us to pray (CCC 2661).  How do we first learn to hear His voice…through Holy Scripture during the Liturgy:

2659 We learn to pray at certain moments by hearing the Word of the Lord and sharing in his Paschal mystery, but his Spirit is offered us at all times, in the events of each day, to make prayer spring up from us. Jesus’ teaching about praying to our Father is in the same vein as his teaching about providence:[4] time is in the Father’s hands; it is in the present that we encounter him, not yesterday nor tomorrow, but today: “O that today you would hearken to his voice! Harden not your hearts.”[5]

The Liturgy is much more important than we understand.  Let us start at the Divine Liturgy to lean how to pray.

[1] St. Gregory of Nazianzus, Oratio, 16, 9: PG 35, 945.

[2] Cf. Rom 6:5.

[3] Cf. Eph 3:18-21.

[4] Cf. Mt 6:11, 34.

[5] Ps 95:7-8.

Special Blog: Burial vs. Cremation

This is a special post to assist a friend who unfortunately is with family burying their cousin.  The question was asked, “Why does the Catholic Church prefer burial over cremation?”

In order to understand inhumation (traditional burial) and cremation, we need to understand how the Church views the human person and resurrection of the body.  The Catechism of the Catholic Church (CCC) will assist us in our discussion.

Due to resurgences in the ancient heresy of Manichaeism, it is a common misconception, that the body is a container that holds or traps the spirit.  Moreover, many believe that there is no need for the body or the soul.  This Gnostic teaching devalues the body and elevates the soul or spirit as if the human person is an angelic being.  In contrast, it has been the consistent teaching of the Church that the soul is who you are while the body is the instrument by which we express ourselves:

Man, though made of body and soul, is a unity. Through his very bodily condition he sums up in himself the elements of the material world. Through him they are thus brought to their highest perfection and can raise their voice in praise freely given to the Creator. For this reason man may not despise his bodily life. Rather he is obliged to regard his body as good and to hold it in honor since God has created it and will raise it up on the last day.[1]

To separate the body from the soul is an abomination that occurred through original sin:

The unity of soul and body is so profound that one has to consider the soul to be the “form” of the body:[2] i.e., it is because of its spiritual soul that the body made of matter becomes a living, human body; spirit and matter, in man, are not two natures united, but rather their union forms a single nature. (CCC §365)

A person is not truly “human” without his or her body. A human soul without its body has no way of learning or experiencing/perceiving the physical world for it has no senses.  The body therefore is an integral part of who and what we are – two realities that cannot be separated.

The Christian belief in the resurrection is central to her teachings (CCC §991). Additionally,

“The Church teaches that every spiritual soul is created immediately by God – it is not “produced” by the parents – and also that it is immortal: it does not perish when it separates from the body at death, and it will be reunited with the body at the final Resurrection.” (CCC § 366)

Again, the CCC §364 states,

“The human body shares in the dignity of “the image of God”: it is a human body precisely because it is animated by a spiritual soul, and it is the whole human person that is intended to become, in the body of Christ, a temple of the Spirit.”

And finally, CCC §2300 says,

“The bodies of the dead must be treated with respect and charity, in faith and hope of the Resurrection.”

Still, even after death the body is of vital importance defining who we are.  The resurrection is the divine reconciliation to the problem of bodily separation won by the Christ on Easter Sunday.

There was a time during Church history that cremation was not allowed for Christian burial.  The challenge the Church had (has) is not so much with cremation but with the reasoning behind those who wanted to be cremated.

In his book Questions and Answers, Father John Dietzen explains “the first general legislation banning the burning of bodies as a funeral rite burning of bodies as a funeral rite came from the Vatican’s Holy Office in May 1886, noting the anti-religious and Masonic motivation behind the movement. The 1918 Code of Canon Law continued that ban because cremation was still considered a flagrant rejection of the Christian belief in immortality and the resurrection.”  Exceptions were made in the code for urgent crises that arose from plagues, epidemics and wars.

Fr. Dietzen also mentioned that the Holy Office in 1926 shared that there are times that cremation may be desirable due to, “financial, emotional, hygienic, and others.  It presumes that people who request cremation are doing so in good faith, not out of some irreligious motive.”

For these reasons, the Church encourages burial over cremation.  The sanctity of the body in life remains even in death.  It is through the daily experience of the body that virtue is achieved and holiness is received through the Holy Spirit.

[1] Gaudium et Spes 14 § 1; cf. Daniel 3:57-80.

[2] Cf. Council of Vienne (1312): Enchiridion symbolorum, definitionum et declarationum de rebus fidei et morum (DS) 902.

Sacraments in Focus: Confirmation

What is this Sacrament called Confirmation?

In the teaching of the Roman Catholic Church, Confirmation is one of the seven sacraments instituted by Christ entrusted to the Church for the conferral of sanctifying grace and the strengthening of the union between the individual and the Blessed Trinity.

The Catechism of the Catholic Church in its paragraphs 1302–1303 states:

It is evident from its celebration that the effect of the sacrament of Confirmation is the special outpouring of the Holy Spirit as once granted to the apostles on the day of Pentecost.

From this fact, Confirmation brings an increase and deepening of baptismal grace:

  • it roots us more deeply in the divine filiation which makes us cry, “Abba! Father!” (Romans 8:15);
  • it unites us more firmly to Christ;
  • it increases the gifts of the Holy Spirit in us;
  • it renders our bond with the Church more perfect;
  • it gives us a special strength of the Holy Spirit to spread and defend the faith by word and action as true witnesses of Christ, to confess the name of Christ boldly, and never to be ashamed of the Cross:

Recall then that you have received the spiritual seal, the spirit of wisdom and understanding, the spirit of right judgment and courage, the spirit of knowledge and reverence, the spirit of holy fear in God’s presence. Guard what you have received. God the Father has marked you with his sign; Christ the Lord has confirmed you and has placed his pledge, the Spirit, in your hearts.

Confirmation in the Latin Rite

According to canon law for the Latin or Western Catholic Church, the sacrament is to be conferred on the faithful at about the age of discretion (generally taken to be about 7), unless the Episcopal Conference has decided on a different age, or there is danger of death or, in the judgement of the minister, a grave reason suggests otherwise (canon 891 of the Code of Canon Law). The number of Episcopal Conferences that have set a later age, usually between 14 and 16 years of age, has diminished in recent decades, and even in those countries a bishop may not refuse to confer the sacrament on younger children who request it, provided they are baptized, have the use of reason, are suitably instructed and are properly disposed and able to renew the baptismal promises (letter of the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments published in its 1999 bulletin, pages 537–540).

In the Latin-Rite (i.e., Western) Catholic Church, the sacrament is customarily conferred only on persons old enough to understand it, and the ordinary minister of confirmation is a bishop. Only for a serious reason may the diocesan bishop delegate a priest to administer the sacrament (canon 884 of the Code of Canon Law). However, a priest is not only by law empowered (canon 883), but, in the absence of a bishop, is obliged[7] to confer the sacrament, if he baptizes someone who is no longer an infant or admits a person already baptized to full communion, or if the person (adult or child) to be confirmed is in danger of death. Baptism and confirmation of an adult would normally occur at the Easter Vigil.

In Eastern Catholic Churches, the usual minister of this sacrament is the parish priest, using olive oil consecrated by a bishop (i.e., chrism), and administering the sacrament immediately after baptism. This corresponds exactly to the practice of the Early Church and the non-Catholic Eastern Churches.

The practice of the Eastern Churches gives greater emphasis to the unity of Christian initiation. That of the Latin Church more clearly expresses the communion of the new Christian with the bishop as guarantor and servant of the unity, catholicity and apostolicity of his Church, and hence the connection with the apostolic origins of Christ’s Church.

History on the  Rite of Confirmation in the West

The main reason why the West separated the sacrament of Confirmation from that of Baptism was to reestablish direct contact between the person being initiated with the Bishop. In the early Church, the Bishop administered all three sacraments of initiation (Baptism, Confirmation and Eucharist), assisted by the priests and deacons and, where they existed, by deaconesses for women’s Baptism. The post-baptismal chrismation in particular was reserved to the Bishop. When adults no longer formed the majority of those being baptized, this chrismation was delayed until the Bishop could confer it. Until the twelfth century, priests often continued to confer Confirmation before giving Communion to very young children.

After the Fourth Lateran Council, Communion, which continued to be given only after Confirmation, was to be administered only on reaching the age of reason. The 1917 Code of Canon Law, while recommending that Confirmation be delayed until about seven years of age, allowed it be given at an earlier age.  Only on 30 June 1932 was official permission given to change the traditional order of the three sacraments of Christian initiation: the Sacred Congregation for the Sacraments then allowed, where necessary, that Confirmation be administered after first Holy Communion. This novelty, originally seen as exceptional, became more and more the accepted practice.

In the mid-twentieth century, Confirmation thus began to be seen as an occasion for professing personal commitment to the faith on the part of someone approaching adulthood. However, the Catechism of the Catholic Church, 1308 warns:

Although Confirmation is sometimes called the ‘sacrament of Christian maturity,’ we must not confuse adult faith with the adult age of natural growth, nor forget that the baptismal grace is a grace of free, unmerited election and does not need ‘ratification’ to become effective.

The present (1983) Code of Canon Law maintains the rule in the 1917 Code, stating that the sacrament is to be conferred on the faithful at about the age of discretion (generally taken to be about 7), unless the Episcopal Conference has decided on a different age, or there is danger of death or, in the judgment of the minister, a grave reason suggests otherwise. The Code lays down the age of discretion also for the sacraments of Penance and first Holy Communion.

The number of Episcopal Conferences that have set a later age has diminished in recent decades, and even in those countries a bishop may not refuse to confer the sacrament on younger children who request it, provided they are baptized, have the use of reason, are suitably instructed and are properly disposed and able to renew the baptismal promises (letter of the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments published in its 1999 bulletin, pages 537–540).

Effects of Confirmation

The Catholic Church teaches that, like baptism, confirmation marks the recipient permanently, making it impossible to receive the sacrament twice. It accepts as valid a confirmation conferred within Churches, such as the Eastern Orthodox Church, whose Holy Orders it sees as valid through the apostolic succession of their bishops. But it considers it necessary to administer the sacrament of confirmation, in its view for the only time, to Protestants who are admitted to full communion with the Catholic Church.

One of the effects of the sacrament is that “it gives us a special strength of the Holy Spirit to spread and defend the faith by word and action as true witnesses of Christ, to confess the name of Christ boldly, and never to be ashamed of the Cross” (Catechism of the Catholic Church, 1303). This effect has been described as making the confirmed person “a soldier of Christ”.

The same passage of the Catechism of the Catholic Church also mentions, as an effect of confirmation, that “it renders our bond with the Church more perfect”. This mention stresses the importance of participation in the Christian community.

The “soldier of Christ” imagery was used, as far back as 350, by St Cyril of Jerusalem.  In this connection, the touch on the cheek that the bishop gave while saying “Pax tecum” (Peace be with you) to the person he had just confirmed was interpreted in the Roman Pontifical as a slap, a reminder to be brave in spreading and defending the faith: “Deinde leviter eum in maxilla caedit, dicens: Pax tecum” (Then he strikes him lightly on the cheek, saying: Peace be with you). When, in application of the Second Vatican Council’s Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy,[18] the confirmation rite was revised in 1971, mention of this gesture was omitted. However, the French and Italian translations, indicating that the bishop should accompany the words “Peace be with you” with “a friendly gesture” (French text) or “the sign of peace” (Italian text), explicitly allow a gesture such as the touch on the cheek, to which they restore its original meaning. This is in accord with the Introduction to the Rite of Confirmation, 17, which indicates that the episcopal conference may decide “to introduce a different manner for the minister to give the sign of peace after the anointing, either to each individual or to all the newly confirmed together.”

Information on other effects and broader matters concerning this sacrament can be found in the Catechism of the Catholic Church, 1285–1321.

Heaven help us: Confirmation name

In many English-speaking countries and in German-speaking lands, in Poland, and in Lithuania, it is customary for a person being confirmed in the Roman Catholic Church (and some Anglican dioceses) to adopt the name of a saint whom that person admires or feels a special affinity with, thus securing an additional patron saint as protector and guide. This practice is unknown in many other countries (including the Spanish-speaking countries and French-speaking lands, and in Italy), and is not mentioned in the official liturgical book of the Rite of Confirmation. Obviously, the custom prevailing in a country influences, often decisively, the practice of immigrants from another country, even if they keep their own language.

The saint’s name is often used in conjunction with the confirmee’s middle name, but is without effect in civil law, unless, of course, the confirmand pursues the appropriate legal avenues.

All in the Timing: Holy Tuesday

Synoptic Gospels

When we speak of the Gospels we group them as the three Synoptic Gospels and the Gospel of John.  The Gospels known as the Synoptics are so termed because Matthew, Mark and Luke “see the same” events in our Lord’s life.  These three Gospels find it important to share the good news in ordinary or ordinal time.  One of the distinctive elements of the Gospel of John is that he seems to be using a different calendar when establishing the events in our Lord’s life.  For many modern readers, this can pose a perceived quandary because we are so tied to an ordinal understanding of time.  This is especially true of Holy Week.  To begin to comprhend the perceived conflicts we should first look to the purpose of our calendar.

Our Liturgical Watch

Rabbi Samson Raphael Hirsch helps us understand how Judaism views its calendar by stating:

“The catechism of the Jew consists of his calendar.  On the pinions of time which bear us through life, God has inscribed the eternal words of His soul-inspiring doctrine, making days and weeks, months and years the heralds to proclaim His truths.  Nothing would seem more fleeting than these elements of time, but to them God has entrusted the care of His holy things, thereby rendering them more imperishable and more accessible.”[1]

This perspective is also shared by Catholics.  We recognize that faith is more caught than taught.  Our calendar is constructed liturgically to orient our lives and prayer in accordance to the heavenly liturgy as expressed in Sacred Scripture.  The Catechism of the Catholic Church (#2705) also teaches us that the Father wrote two books.  One divinely revealed through Sacred Scripture and the second book revealed through creation.  Thus, our liturgical calendar also coordinates its solemnity and feasts in relation to the Verbum Dei as expressed in the natural order of creation.

The Timing of the Holy Week and the Last Supper

At one time, biblical scholars believed that first century Judaism was a cohesive and liturgically consistent religion.  Archeology on the other hand has discovered that Judaism at the time of the Christ has very factious and was composed of many splinter groups.  A good example that relates to our topic is the liturgical calendar.

The Synoptic Gospels tell us that Jesus celebrated the Passover before Good Friday (Mt 26:17-20; Mk 14: 12-17; and Luke 22: 7-16) while in John’s Gospel (Jn 18:28, 19: 14), the authorities did not celebrate Passover until the evening of Good Friday.  In fact, John’s Gospel specifically tells us that Jesus breathes his last when the Passover lambs were being slaughtered in the temple.

The priests and Sadducees who managed the Jerusalem Temple followed a 354-day lunar cycle.  Through the discovery of the Dead Sea Scrolls scholars have come to learn that the Essene Jews of Qumran followed a 364-day solar cycle calendar.  This would mean that Passover would fall on a different day of the week every year.

The archeology evidence seems to indicate that Jesus celebrated the Passover in the Essene quarter (which later became the Christian quarter of Jerusalem).  If we are to believe that our Lord celebrated the Passover on Tuesday evening, this would assist in understanding how all the extensive legal proceedings that took place prior to His crucifixion with a limited amount of time.  These legal proceedings include:

  • Annas – Jn 18:13, 19-23
  • Caiaphas – Jn 18:24
  • Sanhedrin – Lk 22:66-71
  • Herod – Lk 23:6-11
  • Pilate – Jn 18: 28-40

It has been the tradition of the Church that our Lord celebrated Passover on Holy Thursday.  This may have arisen from a strict interpretation of the Synoptic Gospels or may be historically accurate.  Regardless, our liturgical tradition helps us understand the order of the events which does not change.

Through liturgy, we are allowed to accompany our Lord during His final days.  We get a front row seat to the Bridegrooms epic feat of love which is recalled in the Paschal mystery.  May we set aside the troubles of our week to enter into His mystery.

For a further treatment of the timing of the Passion in John’s Gospel, I would encourage you to read the article, When Did Jesus Celebrate the Last Supper? found on page 44 in the Ignatius Catholic Bible Study: The Gospel of John.

[1] The catechism of the Jew: Samson Raphael Hirsch, Judaism Eternal (London: Soncino, no date), 3.