Why the Change?
The theology behind it...
Many find this change in the order of the Sacraments quite confusing.
In fact it is restoring the order as begun by our Church.
In the late 1800s people had become very frustrated that their children had to wait until they were teenagers before they first received Eucharist. They asked if the age of First Communion might be changed so family members could join them at the table during the Mass at a much earlier age. Pope Pius X replied that because full initiation was a personal decision it was about the ‘age of reason’. Much debate ensued and it was finally decided that a young person could willingly choose at around seven years of age. The age of First Communion was then changed by decree in 1910. The result of this was a change in the order of the reception of the sacraments of Confirmation and First Communion. Not long after the Second Vatican Council Pope Paul IV requested that the original order of Confirmation prior to First Communion be reinstated.
Here is part of a conversation from the book Saving the Bishop:
Dan turned to face the bishop asking, ‘Do you do many Baptisms?’
‘Well, the initiation used to always be the work of people like me,’ he said.
‘What’s in-i-she-ay-tion?’ Dan said with a messy look on his face.
‘It’s welcoming people fully into the Church. We call that initiation,’ Jane said.
‘So every week when people are welcomed in nicely on a Sunday, that’s initiation?’ Maura asked.
‘No, not just into Mass, but fully becoming members of God’s family. Initiation is about a set of Sacraments, something for people who have decided to make the Church a regular part of their life,’ Jane said. She pointed at the bishop, and he saw it was his turn to do some talking.
‘Even though you become a member of the Catholic Church with Baptism, you’re not fully a member until you’ve also received the Sacraments of Confirmation and First Communion. In the beginning all three used to be done together. People were put into water, then they had hands laid upon them and they were blessed with lots of Chrism. After that they would join everyone for Mass and get Holy Communion for the very first time,’ he explained.
‘So it was the same as now, but all three were together,’ Dan said.
‘Pretty much the same,’ Bishop Vargas said with a smile. ‘In fact some Christian churches still do all three together. When this all began, the services were led by the local bishop. However, so many people wanted to be initiated that the bishop just didn’t have enough time. A bit like I was with Samantha today!’ he said.
‘Ah!’ said Dan, ‘so they split it up into different pieces?’
‘Well, yes, in our Catholic Church they did,’ replied Jane. ‘It was put into parts. Priests were given permission to do the bit at the beginning, the part with water, which they called Baptism, and the end part, First Communion. The middle bit, the laying on of hands and the blessing with Chrism, was given the name Confirmation, and it was kept out for the bishop. It’s important that Confirmation happens closer to Baptism because it seals our Baptism and reminds us of what it was all about before we make that big connection with the community by receiving the Eucharist with them.’
Reflecting on Church history Pope Pius X stated in 1910:
“The pages of the Gospel show clearly how special was that love for children which Christ showed while He was on earth. It was His delight to be in their midst; He was wont to lay His hands on them; He embraced them; and He blessed them. At the same time He was not pleased when they would be driven away by the disciples, whom He rebuked gravely with these words: “Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for of such is the kingdom of God.” It is clearly seen how highly He held their innocence and the open simplicity of their souls on that occasion when He called a little child to Him and said to the disciples: “Amen, I say to you, unless you turn and become like little children, you will not enter into the kingdom of heaven….And whoever receives one such little child for my sake, receives me.”
The Catholic Church, bearing this in mind, took care even from the beginning to bring the little ones to Christ through Eucharistic Communion, which was administered even to nursing infants. This, as was prescribed in almost all ancient Ritual books, was done at Baptism until the thirteenth century, and this custom prevailed in some places even later.”
From Quam Singulari, Decree of the Sacred Congregation of the Discipline of the Sacraments on First Communion, 1910, paragraphs 1& 2.
The dioceses who have inaugurated this practice of Confirmation before Baptism are actually instigating something declared by the Vatican many years ago.
After the Second Vatican Council (1962-1965) the rites of Baptism and Confirmation were closely studied by theologians at the Vatican.
In 1971 Pope Paul IV stated in the apostolic constitution, Divinae consortium naturae (On the Sacrament of Confirmation)
The faithful are born anew by Baptism, strengthened by the Sacrament of Confirmation, and receive in the Eucharist the food of eternal life. By means of these Sacraments of Christian initiation, they thus receive in increasing measure the treasures of the divine life and advance toward the perfection of charity. (Introduction, sentence 2)
In 1983 John Paul II promulgated our current Code of Canon Law which states
The sacraments of baptism, confirmation, and the Most Holy Eucharist are interrelated in such a way that they are required for full Christian initiation. (Canon 842 §2)
In 1992 John Paul II promulgated in our current Catechism of the Holy Church stating
The sacraments of Christian initiation – Baptism, Confirmation, and the Eucharist – lay the foundations of every Christian life. (1212)
Christian initiation is accomplished by three sacraments together: Baptism which is the beginning of new life; Confirmation which is its strengthening; and the Eucharist which nourishes the disciple with Christ’s Body and Blood for his transformation in Christ. (1275)
The holy Eucharist completes Christian initiation. Those who have been raised to the dignity of the royal priesthood by Baptism and configured more deeply to Christ by Confirmation participate with the whole community in the Lord’s own sacrifice by means of the Eucharist. (1322).