Vicar's Musings for Ordinary Sunday 24
11 September, 2016
The fourth in a series of musings on "Sacrament & Mission."
Over previous weeks we have looked at Baptism and Eucharist. This week we will reflect on the third in a trilogy of Sacraments: Confirmation. Despite being defined as a non-Dominical Sacrament in Article XXV, the Book of Common Prayer (BCP) preserves a liturgy of Confirmation from the thirteenth-century Sarum Missal. The Preface to this rite sets the bar high for both children and adults: "none hereafter shall be Confirmed, but such as can say the Creed, the Lord's Prayer, and the Ten Commandments; and can also answer to such other Questions, as in the short Catechism are contained" and in the final rubric adds "there shall none be admitted to the holy Communion, until such time as he be confirmed, or be ready and desirous to be confirmed." Today in the Anglican Church of Australia we admit children to Holy Communion (see Canon 6, 1985) but we still encourage all the baptised, when older, to prepare for Confirmation.
Although there is no clear Biblical witness to Confirmation, there are hints to it, for example in Acts: "Peter and John ... went down and prayed for them that they might receive the Holy Spirit (for as yet the Spirit had not come upon any of them; they had only been baptised in the name of the Lord Jesus). Then Peter and John laid their hands on them, and they received the Holy Spirit" (8:14-17). Tertullian (160-220) was the first of the early Church Fathers to clearly identify three distinct elements to Christian initiation, at that time administered together at the Easter Vigil: "[Christ] ... neither rejected the water of the Creator with which He washes clean His own, nor the oil with which He anoints His own ... nor the bread with which He makes present His own very body" (Against Marcion 1.14). Over time, in the West especially, Confirmation was separated from Baptism and became associated with a mature faith, as can be seen in the writings of Thomas Aquinas (1225-74): "For in Baptism [the believer] receives power to do those things which pertain to his own salvation, forasmuch as he lives to himself: whereas in Confirmation he receives power to do those things which pertain to the spiritual combat with the enemies of the Faith" (Summa, q.72, a.5).
At St Peter's Eastern Hill we keep the early Church tradition of combining the initiation Sacraments of Baptism, Confirmation and Eucharist at the Easter Vigil. We hold services of Baptism, and occasionally Confirmation, at other times in the year, but the eve of Easter is our main focus. It is a very special evening! Children and adults are all welcome to prepare for Baptism, Confirmation and First Communion, as well as Reception into the Anglican Communion for those of other denominations. Courses run throughout the year, so if you are interested or know someone who might be, please contact any of the priests after Mass or call the Parish Office. And pray for all who are being called by God to Confirmation.
The Rev'd Dr Hugh Kempster
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