Restoring the Order of the Sacraments of Initiation

Learn More

The Gift of the Father:
Pastoral Letter from the Most Reverend James Sean Wall
on the Restoration of the Order of the Sacraments of Initiation

To the Faithful of the Diocese of Gallup:

“I will ask the Father, and He will give you another Advocate to be with you always, the Spirit of truth…”. John 14: 16-17

Through the grace of Christ each baptized person is called to share in God’s divine nature.  The Sacrament of Baptism itself immerses us into the Divine Trinity, Whose light eliminates all darkness of sin and allows us to begin a life in which we are capable of understanding through faith the eternal life to which we are called. “…What has not entered the human heart, what God has prepared for those who love Him, this God has revealed to us through the Spirit.[1]  In Baptism, each of us has become in a unique way a child of God called to give witness to His love in the world.

The Sacrament of Confirmation is important because its grace confirms and strengthens the supernatural life we have received in Baptism and it also enables us with its grace to live in a more mature way our lives as Christians giving witness to Christ in all that we do.  Through this Sacrament, the Holy Spirit, Who gives witness to Christ, enables us to give Him witness.[2]  The Sacrament of Confirmation is sometimes called the Sacrament of the Holy Spirit because it “marks” the soul with His indelible seal and confers on those who receive it the grace-filled power of carrying on His mission in the world.

At the same time, the Sacrament of Confirmation is ordered toward a deeper communion with the Lord and to His Church through this witness to Him, a communion which receives its greatest expression and grace in this life in the sacrament of Holy Communion.

After consultation with the Presbyteral Council and having prayerfully considered it, I have decided to restore the Sacraments of Initiation to their original order, that is, Baptism, Confirmation and Holy Eucharist.  Together with this Pastoral Letter of presentation, I am sending you the new Policy for the Restored Order of the Sacraments of Initiation for the Diocese of Gallup.

Historical Background

During the first five hundred years of the Church the three Sacraments of Initiation were celebrated together, whether those who received them were adults or children.  From the fifth century until the 13th century, the Sacrament of Baptism was separated from the sacraments of Confirmation and Communion, Baptism being celebrated during infancy and Confirmation at about the age of 7.  Holy Communion was administered later, usually around the beginning of adolescence.  In this way, the order of the sacraments was conserved but they were administered in separate celebrations throughout childhood.  In 1910, Pope Saint Pius X decided that it was important for children at a younger age to receive Holy Communion and it was granted to them when they reached the age of reason, that is, about 7 years old.  This positive change had the unintended consequence of moving the Sacrament of Confirmation to an older age, thus inverting the original order of the Sacraments of Initiation.

Canon Law and the United States Episcopal Conference do not specify an age for the reception of Confirmation saying that “it shall be conferred between the age of discretion and about sixteen years of age.

Today, it is normal that any person baptized after reaching the age of reason receives in the same celebration the three Sacraments of Initiation (this often takes place at the Easter Vigil).  However, up until now, a child who was baptized as an infant would receive Holy Communion at around the age of 8 and receive the sacrament of Confirmation at a later date, sometimes waiting until they are 15 or 16.

Some Pastoral Considerations

Receiving the Sacrament of Confirmation long after the reception of Holy Communion tends to weaken the understanding of the bond and relationship that the Sacraments of Initiation have with one another.  Since the Sacraments of Baptism and Confirmation lead the faithful to the culmination of their initiation into the Christian Life in Holy Communion,  the practice of postponing the reception of Confirmation until the teenage years has not always been beneficial.  An alarming percentage of our Catholic children who were baptized and received First Holy Communion, do not continue their formation for the Sacrament of Confirmation, and in too many cases, never receive the Sacrament.  As your shepherd, I believe it is important for our children, before they reach their adolescent years, to receive the strength of this important Sacrament.

The effects of the Sacrament

All the Sacraments of the Church are wonderful gifts left to us by Christ to unite us more closely to the Blessed Trinity.  After being born anew in the Sacrament of Baptism, Confirmation gives us an outpouring of the Holy Spirit which strengthens us.  This Sacrament brings the life in the Spirit, which was begun in Baptism, to maturity and enables us to be “more perfectly bound to the Church”.[3]  This bond with the Church brings in practice the obligation “to spread and defend the faith both by word and deed, as true witnesses to Christ”.[4]

Although grace builds upon nature and much depends upon the disposition in faith, the piety and charity of the one who receives it, the sacraments work in us in a different way.  As long as the recipient does not have any impediment, the sacraments will produce in us their grace on their own (ex opera operato).[5]  This is important when we consider the age of the reception of the sacraments.  Confirmation, sometimes called the Sacrament of Christian maturity, does not require the recipient to be physically mature in order to transmit its grace.  On the contrary, the Sacrament 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.  Although the recipient of the Sacrament always must seek to remove obstacles to grace in his or her life and cooperate with the strength of the grace that is offered to the individual, the power of the sacraments to transform one’s life has been well established.

Throughout the history of the Church, countless young children have shown the witness of heroic virtue and strength in the face of enormous temptations and trials.  Faced with the challenges young Christians face in today’s world, it has become all the more important for them to receive the strength of the Sacrament of Confirmation as soon as possible to assist them.

Pope Saint Paul VI mentions one last effect of the Sacrament of Confirmation: that is, that “it is so closely linked to the Holy Eucharist that the faithful, after being signed by Holy Baptism and Confirmation, are incorporated fully into the Body of Christ through participation in the Eucharist[6].  It is this link with the Eucharist that will be emphasized by uniting the Sacrament of Confirmation with the reception of the First Holy Communion in the same celebration of the Sacrifice of the Mass.

How will it take place?

Our new diocesan policy will be fully implemented over the next three years.  The progressive lowering of the age for Confirmation will take place as follows:

  • Invite all those of High School age to begin preparation in the Fall of 2019 to be celebrated in the Spring of 2020. 8th graders, if the pastors wish, may be included in this group.
  • Invite all 6th graders and older to begin preparation in the Fall of 2020, to be celebrated in the Spring of 2021.
  • Invite those in 4th grade and older to begin preparation in the Fall of 2021 to be celebrated in the Spring of 2022.
  • Invite those in 3rd grade and older to begin preparation in the Fall of 2022 to be celebrated in the Spring of 2023.

In smaller parishes this schedule can be adjusted to allow for a quicker step down process, keeping in mind that children of very different ages will require different approaches to preparation for the sacraments.

There will always be the possibility of children older than 3rd grade seeking the Sacrament, especially those who move into our diocese from other areas, as well as adults who seek the reception of Confirmation.  For this reason, there will have to be available an intergenerational model of catechesis or catechists prepared to take on classes of different age groups to prepare them for Confirmation.

Living the life-long commitment

As we know, the sacraments (particularly the Sacraments of Initiation) are means and not ends in themselves.  They are an introduction and aids to living an authentically Christlike life, to prepare ourselves for our passage into our longed-for eternal life in heaven and to give a clear witness to the world.  Perhaps the biggest challenge parishes will face with this change in policy will be the need to develop creative programs to accompany, form and integrate young members of the parish – now fully initiated – into the life of the Church.  Therefore, our catechetical program after the 3rd grade will no longer be tied to the reception of a sacrament, which will offer the diocese and parishes the possibility of developing resources, programs and activities that will help our young Catholics grow in their faith, discern their vocation and prepare for that Christian vocation as they approach adulthood.  The diocese welcomes the possibility of discerning new experiences and best practices that the parish communities develop to share with the rest of the diocese.

Conclusion

As we implement these new policy changes we are attempting to face the great challenges of our time.  I want to thank the pastors of the diocese for their very faithful service to their flocks.  I ask you to work closely with the families of your communities to help them accomplish their vocation as first catechists and witnesses of their faith.  The parish should become a community of communities where the family, the domestic Church, can find guidance in the Word of God, strength in the Sacraments and support in their daily struggles.  Your assistance to the families of your parish to provide them with what they need to accompany their children in their pilgrimage of faith is invaluable. May the Good Shepherd bless you continually in your ministry of guiding your parish community.

May Our Lady of Guadalupe, Patroness of the Diocese of Gallup and our Mother, Saint Kateri Tekakwitha, heroic witness to the faith, intercede for all of us, for you and your families, and may the Lord bring to completion the good work He has begun in us.

Sincerely yours in Christ,

+ Bishop James S. Wall
Bishop of Gallup
11 February 2019
Memorial of Our Lady of Lourdes

[1] 1 Corinthians 2: 9.

[2] Cfr.: John 15: 26.

[3] Pope Paul VI, Apostolic Constitution on the Sacrament of Confirmation, citing the Second Vatican Council, Lumen Gentium, n. 11.

[4] Pope Paul VI, Apostolic Constitution on the Sacrament of Confirmation, citing the Second Vatican Council, Decree on Missionary Activity of the Church, Ad Gentes, n. 11.

[5] R. Garrigou-Lagrange O.P., Las Tres Edades de la Vida Interior, p. 160-161, cfr.: St. Thomas Aquinas, Summa Theologica Part 3, Question 68, Art. 8.

[6] Pope Paul VI, Apostolic Constitution on the Sacrament of Confirmation, citing the Second Vatican Council, Decree on the Ministry and Life of Priests, Presbyterorum Ordinis n. 5.

Read the new sacramental policy
Contact:
  • 503 W. Highway 66
    Gallup, NM 87301
    PO Box 1338
  • (505)-863-4406
  • [email protected]
Follow Us!
Promise to Protect

The Diocese of Gallup is committed to maintaining a safe environment for all who live and worship in our Diocese.

If you or someone you know has allegations of abuse against a minor, you can report it to us by contacting:

Elizabeth Terrill,
Victims Assistance Coordinator
505-906-7357

Your information will be kept confidential.