Denver Archbishop Samuel Aquila told a liturgical commission in Pennsylvania last week that a reorder of the sacraments of initiation is needed to provide children “the armaments of battle” in an increasingly relativistic society.
He advocated a reversion to the historical order of the sacraments to allow children at the age of reason—typically age 8—to receive graces from baptism, confirmation and then the Eucharist to assist in the heightened spiritual battles of a secular society.
“In a secular culture that teaches relativism as a way of life, many young people are at a great disadvantage,” Archbishop Aquila said to the Federation of Diocesan Liturgical Commissions Oct. 9. “We experience too many young adults, and older ones, who are not spiritually mature, but spiritually have regressed into a state of indifference or despondence toward God.”
Bringing the sacrament of confirmation to children at a spiritually-mature age, rather than a biological one, will bring hope and grace needed to live a Christian life, he said.
“If (children) are mature enough to receive the Eucharist, the crown of the sacraments, are they not mature enough to receive a sacrament that is ordered to it?” he asked.
Archbishop Aquila restored the order of the sacraments of initiation in 2002 as bishop of the Diocese of Fargo in North Dakota. The sacrament of reconciliation was received in the 2nd-grade and the sacraments of confirmation and first Eucharist in 3rd-grade. Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI praised his decision.
A plan to reorder the sacraments of initiation in the Denver Archdiocese has not been announced.
Reasons to restore
Archbishop Aquila talked about how his approach to the sacraments evolved throughout his priestly ministry. After his ordination, he saw confirmation as a “sacrament of maturity” reserved for high school students. Advocates argued delaying confirmation keeps youth active in their faith.
But the archbishop said it’s not the only way.
“In other words, preparation for Confirmation is no substitute for youth ministry, or for the instruction and formation that parents should give their children,” he said.
He also doubted the delay of confirmation after witnessing RCIA candidates receive all three sacraments at the Easter Vigil. When studying in Rome, he learned of Vatican II’s call to revise the order of confirmation, whose placement after the Eucharist “muddied” its primacy as initiation into the Church.
The archbishop gave the liturgical commission three reasons for a reorder: restore confirmation to a spiritually-mature age, place the Eucharistic as the source and summit of the rites, and restore intimacy between the three sacraments of initiation.
“It’s worth pointing out that the average age of first exposure to pornography is 8, the age of reason,” he noted. “Does it not make perfect sense that we need to provide children with ‘the armaments of battle?’ They may not be ready to go to war, but they are already engaged in a battle with evil.”
In addition to age, Archbishop Aquila said the early Church celebrated the sacraments of baptism and confirmation in a continuous rite leading up to the reception of the Eucharist. This is still the practice in Eastern Rites of the Church.
Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI later called on bishops’ conferences worldwide to “examine the effectiveness of current approaches to Christian initiation, so that the faithful can be helped both to mature throughout formation received in our communities and to give their lives an authentically eucharistic direction.”
Furthermore, the Catechism of the Catholic Church states the unity of the three sacraments “must be safeguarded.”
After a reordering in his former diocese, the archbishop said he witnessed greater engagement in catechesis and an emphasis on parent’s role as evangelizers.
“If we are to promote a culture of encounter and not exclusion, I believe that the inherent order of grace found in the sacraments of initiation, the reforms promoted by Vatican II and the increasing secularization of our culture all point to the need to restore the order,” he concluded.