Why are the Sacraments of Initiation in the Wrong Order?

I firmly believe that the Catholic Church is a sacrament of salvation and holds the fullness of truth. I love its mission of sharing the Good News of Jesus Christ with the world, am inspired by its many amazing examples of holiness, and could never imagine being a part of any other Church.

And yet… I’m okay pointing out that it is also a human institution with a complicated history, sometimes leading to peculiar ends. And trust me: there are some peculiar things about the Church!

This week, I want to share to one of my biggest “soapbox issues” within the Church, something that I can hardly hold my tongue about when the topic surfaces. It is such an important issue for me that, if I were ever unfortunate enough to be made bishop, it might be the first thing I would change in my diocese (one among many reasons why I should never be ordained a bishop!) It is an issue that affects everyone in the Church, and unknowingly, has probably caused a lot of confusion over the years.

That issue? The order of the sacraments of initiation. Is it baptism, eucharist, and confirmation? Or is it baptism, confirmation, eucharist? For adults entering the Church, the Church says the latter; for children, it’s generally the former.

Why the discrepancy?

Why so many different understandings of Confirmation?

Where did confirmation even come from?

Why do some dioceses have different rules about this order?

These questions, among others, are the reason that I have jumped up on my soapbox this week for a very long, very complicated, and very controversial episode of Catholicism in Focus. While I strongly believe that the Church is a sacrament of salvation, I also believe that human decisions within the Church are not always the most systematic or consider all of their implications, and sometimes, unknowingly, lead us to a place we never intended to end up. When we’re able to look to history and understand the origins of our sacraments and how they developed, it’s clear to me, at least, that we might just need a course correct. Whether you agree or not, hopefully this video will help your own understanding of this complicated story!

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4 Comments on “Why are the Sacraments of Initiation in the Wrong Order?

  1. The Romans should do like we do in the East… Baptism/Chrismation (Confirmation)/ and Eucharist all at the same time, on the same day. The person is baptized and confirmed and then receives our Lord later in that same liturgy. We rarely do baptisms outside of a divine liturgy. IT is the more ancient pratice

    • Infant baptism has its origins in a time when at least half the children born didn’t see their second birthday, so parents understandably wanted the taint of Original Sin removed. Even when I was a kid dogma was that unbaptised children went to Limbo. Not a bad place but not heaven.

  2. Every society has its rituals marking adulthood. In some African tribes, a young man makes a traditional hunt. In some Amazonian tribes, it’s when a young man moves from the women’s hut (where he lived with his mother) into the hut where the men lived. In the US, I think that it’s getting a driver’s license. 🙂 The Catholic Church is unmatched in its ability to move into a culture and absorb and transform its existing religious externals into Christian symbols (cf, saturnalia becoming Christmas, the Virgin of Guadalupe, Christmas trees). I’ve always thought the Confirmation was the Catholic version of the adulthood ceremony. Since we don’t really have one in our culture, to us the sacrament seems to be lost and looking for a home.

  3. It’s interesting that we receive the Blessed Sacrament at the end of the time of so-called ‘childhood innocence;. The nuns told us that if we died, we’d get a white coffin and go straight to heaven. Communion has become a deeply ingrained part of Catholic culture: little angels dressed in white kneeling at the alter-rail, sticking their tongues out . . . However even at six an seven many of us (the boys, at least) were beginning to develop South Park potty-mouths. So Penance at seven mightn’t be a bad idea. While principally responsible, dad and mom shouldn’t be the only resources for right and wrong. Ten Hail Marys beats detention! But I agree with you that Communion should probably wait until Confirmation.

    Confirmation for Catholics and most ‘Main-Line’ Protestants what Baptism is for Fundamentalists and Evangelicals,who believe the individual needs to come to Christ on his own hence it isn’t done until the teens. Thus we have Confirmation, which is like a baptismal booster-shot.

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