Restoring the source and summit of faith

Denver archbishop advocates reordering of confirmation to liturgical commission

Nissa LaPoint

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.

COMING UP: The Catholic Church has five new saints

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With 50,000 people in attendance from all continents, Pope Francis declared John Henry Newman, Mother Giuseppina Vannini, Mother Mariam Thresia Mankidiyan, Sister Dulce Lopes Pontes, and Marguerite Bays Catholic saints at the beginning of a festive mass in St. Peter’s Square, Sunday Oct. 13.

Mother Mariam Thresia (1876-1926)

Mother Mariam Thresia (1876-1926) was an Indian mystic and founder of the Congregation of the Holy Family. Her prayer life was characterized by frequent ecstasies in which she would sometimes levitate above the ground. In 1909, Thresia received the stigmata, after which she also suffered from demonic attacks.

Mother Thresia cared for the poor, sick, and dying in Kerala, visiting those with leprosy and measles. She also preached to the poor and the rich alike the importance of happy, healthy families to uplift all of society.  In 1914 Thresia founded the Congregation of the Holy Family, which has grown to have 176 houses around the world with 1,500 professed sisters.

“Our main charisma is family apostolate. We have schools, hospitals and counseling centers etc. But our main focus is the family apostolate. Making the families like a Holy Family of Nazareth,” Sister Dr. Vinaya of the Congregation of the Holy Family said.

Pope Francis recognized the second miracle attributed Mother Thresia in February. A grandmother of a dying child had a relic of Mariam Thresia and asked the nurse — a sister belonging to the Congregation of the Holy Family — to place the relic on the child’s heart and pray. From that moment forward, the young boy began to breathe normally and was cured.

Marguerite Bays (1815-1879)

This 19th century Swiss laywoman and stigmatist dedicated her life to prayer and service to her parish community without marrying or entering a religious community. As a Third Order Franciscan, she lived a simple life as a dressmaker and carried out a lay apostolate as a catechist.

When Bays was diagnosed with advanced cancer in 1853, she prayed to the Virgin Mary to be able to suffer with Jesus rather than to be healed. However, on the day that Bl. Pius IX proclaimed the Dogma of the Immaculate Conception, Sept. 8, 1854, she was miraculously healed. Pius made the proclamation on Marguerite’s 39th birthday.

“From that moment on, after Marguerite was healed of her illness in a completely inexplicable way, she proclaimed the Passion of the Lord, because every Friday she had these moments of suffering in which there was blood and the stigmata, the very pain of the Passion,” Father Carlo Calloni, the postulator for Bays’ canonization cause, told EWTN’s Vaticano.

Blessed Marguerite died on the feast of the Sacred Heart of Jesus in 1879 at the age of 63. After her death the Vatican approved a miracle attributed to her intercession in which a two-year-old child was completely healed after being run over by an 1,800-pound tractor wheel. She was beatified by St. John Paul II in 1995.

Mother Giuseppina Vannini (1859-1911)

Giuseppina Vannini is a 19th century religious sister from Rome known for founding the congregation of the Daughters of St. Camillus dedicated to serving the sick and suffering. She is the first Roman woman to be canonized in more than 400 years, according to ACI Stampa.

Vannini spent much of her childhood in an orphanage near St. Peter’s Square after losing her father when she was four, and her mother when she was seven. She grew up among the Daughters of Charity sisters, who ran the orphanage. On the day of her first communion, young Giuseppina felt that she was called to a religious vocation.

This desire was not realized until 1892 when she was 33 because she was rejected by the Daughters of Charity after her novitiate due to her poor health.

Despite her own health problems, Vannini went on to find the Daughters of St. Camillus, whose charism is to serve the sick, even at the risk of their own lives. However, she did not live to see the congregation fully recognized by the Vatican. She died at the age of 51 in 1911.

Today the Daughters of St. Camillus have grown to 800 sisters in 22 countries. The Giuseppina Vannini Hospital in Rome is named in her honor.

Sister Dulce Lopes (1914-1992)

This Brazilian sister was nominated twice for the Nobel Peace Prize. Born as Maria Rita Lopes in 1914 in Salvador de Bahia, Lopes began inviting the elderly and those in need into her home at the age of 16. Two years later she joined the Missionary Sisters of the Immaculate Conception of the Mother of God.

In 1959, she founded the Charitable Works Foundation of Sister Dulce, which grew into largest charitable organization in Brazil providing healthcare, welfare, and education services. Today the foundation includes Roma teaching hospital in Bahia and the Santo Antonio Educational Center which provides free education to 800 children living in extreme poverty.

Sister Dulce died in 1992 after 30 years of respiratory illness. After her body was found to be incorrupt, Sister Dulce was beatified in 2011 and was selected as one of the patrons of World Youth Day in Krakow as a model of charity.

She is now the first Brazilian-born female saint.

John Henry Newman (1801-1890)

St. John Henry Newman is the most famous English theologian in modern times. Born the son of a London banker, he was baptized in the Anglican church, began studies in Oxford at the age of 16, and was ordained an Anglican priest.

After joining the Oxford Movement, he sought to recover Catholic aspects within the Church of England. However, in 1845, putting aside his academic career, he converted to Catholicism and subsequently spent the last 40 years of his life as a parish priest in Birmingham. There, he cared for the poor and wrote works that have had a major impact on Catholic theology, including in the Second Vatican Council. Leo XIII made him a cardinal, but he never became a bishop.

In 2010, Pope Benedict XVI beatified Newman in London. Benedict noted Newman’s emphasis on the vital place of revealed religion in civilized society, but also praised his pastoral zeal for the sick, the poor, the bereaved, and those in prison. Saint John Henry Newman’s liturgical feast is October 9.

John Henry Newman has been called the “absent Father of Vatican II” because his writings on conscience, religious liberty, Scripture, the vocation of lay people, the relation of Church and State, and other topics were extremely influential in the shaping of the Council’s documents. Although Newman was not always understood or appreciated, he steadfastly preached the Good News by word and example.

Catholic News Agency contributed to this report.

Featured image by Daniel Ibanez/CNA