Sacraments of Initiation
We all know that sacraments are outward signs instituted by Christ to give grace, or as we might say today they effective signs. The effect is God’s assisting presence through grace giving in the actions of Baptism Eucharist and others. Today we also speak of Baptism, Confirmation and Eucharist as the three sacraments of initiation.
We know that the command of Jesus to “go and make disciples of all nations baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.” Matt 28:19 In Acts 2:38-39 we are told that baptism is for the forgiveness of sins and the sending of the gift of the Holy Spirit, so the promise of Christ to be present in that Christian action and sign is absolutely clear. The sign in effective sign in Confirmation is a bit more confusing to some. In the Eastern Churches three of the sacraments of initiation are all administered together as they are in the Roman Rite for adults in the Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults.
As the Catechism notes, there were two anointings in Baptism in the early Church. One anointing was performed by the bishop. As the number of baptism increased and especially after it became common practice to baptize children the second anointing remained a function of the bishop but became separated from baptism. This second conferral of the Spirit became known as confirmation, confirming both the call to the individual and their acceptance of the call. While it was not practiced as a totally separate event in the early church it is clearly an effective sign part of a ritual performed from ancient times as a completion of Baptism and now usually separate.
Confirmation preceded Eucharist during much of the history of Roman Rite. Only with the action of Pope Pius X to promote earlier and more frequent communion did young Christians commonly receive Eucharist before confirmation. The timing of rituals changes with cultures and ages of maturity, but the changes do not affect their purpose of importance.
As we are familiar with the Biblical mandate of Jesus to baptize all nations so too we know is command to “do this in memory of me.” Luke 22:19. St. Paul the earliest reporter of the form of Christian worship also reported on the fact that earliest communities of believers understood and followed that mandate. After recounting Jesus words Paul points out the importance of believing that Jesus the Christ is present “For anyone who eats and drinks without discerning the body, eats and drinks judgment on himself. (1 Cor 11: 29).
We believe in the sacraments not as inventions of the Church but as means to God’s grace, that we might be saved. God loved us enough to enter our world to die once for all, he also loves us enough to be present to us in all ages offering that same grace of salvation to believers. The promise of grace assures us of God’s loving presence in the action of the church. The action of the Church assures us of unity with others in this Church of faith.