Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Reconnecting Confirmation

Derek helpfully opens up another conversation that is all the buzz in Episcopal circles—at least among liturgy geeks. The question is Confirmation. A movement is afoot to eliminate this rite as part of our 1979 process toward recovery of Holy Baptism as our ground. The claim is that it is a sacramental rite or Sacrament in search of a theology. I fear that like CWOB, to do this will cause our Anglican kin to pause and wonder about us regarding sacramental matters. In other words, it raises questions of catholicity.

The issue is that in the Western Church(es), a portion of the oil rites, due to distance, where overtime stretched from the water rite as dioceses became larger and bishops could only make such trips on occasion, sometimes once a in lifetime or even not at all. In know this is hard for us to imagine today, but remember that St. Augustine's own cathedral as we can reconstruct it was likely parish-sized. Connection to the bishop was not so far away. That changed. Both water and oil are part of a whole intended to signify our being made a member of Jesus Christ through Christ’s own Body, the Church, and deepened in this life and identity by the power of the Holy Spirit that continues with receiving Holy Communion. For the Roman and North African rites, those that most influence us, there are two oil rites, a pre-baptismal exorcistic anointing and a post-baptismal anointing [yes, I mixed these up in my comment’s at Derek’s blog]. For the Romans, the post-baptismal oil rites had two anointings. It is this second post-baptismal anointing that moved due to episcopal distance and sometimes lost a connection to Holy Baptism, becoming Holy Confirmation. Other rites had not a pre-baptismal anointing or only had one post-baptismal anointing. I might add, however, that Christmation was not always administered by the bishop, in the East, but could be and is today administered by parish priests as permitted by the bishop. And today, in the Roman tradition, a priest administers confirmation as so permitted as well, especially for adults. For example, I was baptized and confirmed in the Roman Catholic Church by my parish priest. So making too much of the necessity of episcopal hands and thumbs directly will not serve the claim of Bodily connections that the bishop signifies.

I do not see a reason why we cannot restore the connection between water and oil in one of two ways, either by placing Holy Confirmation with Holy Baptism as is done with adults being initiated and as the Eastern Churches do to this day for adults and babes alike, OR by restoring the connections theologically. I think both are worth much more consideration, and are less likely to severe catholic connections that are suggested to my mind by eliminating the rite altogether.

The former is a relatively easy fix, given we now commune babes, and the emphasis on understanding has been placed in a careful lifetime learning approach rather than on a moment with the caveat that understanding is always limited when it comes to the Mysteries.

I want to linger on the theological alternative that is in keeping with a recovery of our baptismal emphasis and that is rooted in centuries of Anglican practice and concern for formation. Just as Confession/Reconciliation is grounded in our baptism, as a moment of returning to our grounding in Christ and Christ’s Body, it does not seem a great stretch to suggest that Confirmation is a maturing of our baptism, as a moment of personal owning for oneself by profession of faith and of being strengthened in the life of Christ and Christ’s Body by hands of the one among us that signify our being bound with the whole and oil that signifies quickening of the Spirit in us for a life of service in the Community and for the world. Why is this not worthy? It is much of our present practice, and it has a sacramental practicality about it that is every bit as much valid as theology as the treatises and tombs we have on Holy Baptism and Holy Communion.

This is not so very different from current practice where some catechesis and making the faith one’s own is hopefully to occur and where the confirmand is prepared to take up responsibility in the Community.