Tuesday, November 22, 2016

Confirmation and Communion

I was asked a question the other day as to whether it is proper for someone to receive communion before Confirmation. It's a good question, and there are indications that it is not necessary, though one must be careful.

First, notice that the Disciples receive communion in the last supper before they receive the Holy Ghost at Pentecost. That may not be much of a biblical precedent, but consider that Our Lord says:
He that believeth and is baptized shall be saved ; but he that believeth not shall be damned.(St Mark xvi.6)
We know that there is no salvation outside the Church, so it makes sense to see that Baptism does indeed form a criterion for salvation. Look carefully, though:

1) He who believes and is baptised shall be saved.
2) He who does not believe shall be damned.

What he does not say is, "he who believeth and is not baptised shall be damned," and we see that put into action on the Cross with St Dismas - the name tradition gives to the Penitent Thief who dies with Our Lord. In the words of Our Lord, We also see that he who is baptised and believes not shall be damned, because he believes not regardless of whether he is baptised or not. If we read Our Lord correctly, Baptism is not absolutely necessary for salvation, but the one who believes and is baptised can be assured of Salvation. What we do not know is whether such folk as St Dismas actually receive a form of Baptism directly from the hands of God - St Dismas was at least supremely fortunate enough to be talking to God directly. This, however, is God's business and not ours. However, it is clear that Our Lord emphatically presses for Baptism for very good reasons which St Paul explains:
Know ye not, that so many of us as were baptized into Jesus Christ were baptized into his death? Therefore we are buried with him by baptism into death: that like as Christ was raised up from the dead by the glory of the Father, even so we also should walk in newness of life. For if we have been planted together in the likeness of his death, we shall be also in the likeness of his resurrection: Knowing this, that our old man is crucified with him, that the body of sin might be destroyed, that henceforth we should not serve sin. For he that is dead is freed from sin. Now if we be dead with Christ, we believe that we shall also live with him: Knowing that Christ being raised from the dead dieth no more; death hath no more dominion over him.(Romans vi.3-9)
We see that Baptism unites us with the Body of Christ: we are baptised into him. St Paul says:"For by one Spirit are we all baptized into one body, whether we be Jews or Gentiles, whether we be bond or free; and have been all made to drink into one Spirit." (I Cor xii.13) and "for all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ."(Galatians iii.27)

It is clear, then, that Baptism marks the full reception of the individual into the Body of Christ. If that is the case, then Baptism is sufficient for the reception of the Eucharist. In writing about the duties of a priest, St John Chrysostom tells us that it is the duty of the priest to baptise and thus incorporate people as members of Christ. They become members of the Church:
These [priests] verily are they who are entrusted with the pangs of spiritual travail and the birth which comes through baptism: by their means we put on Christ, and are buried with the Son of God, and become members of that blessed Head. (On the Priesthood Book III chap vi)
Likewise, from the Seventh Council of Carthage, we read:
Marcellus of Zama said: Since sins are not remitted saved in the baptism of the Church, he who does not baptize a heretic holds communion with a sinner.
Also from the Seventh Council of Carthage, we hear:
"Aurelius of Utica said: Since the apostle says that we are not to communicate with other people's sins, what else does he do but communicate with other people's sins, who holds communion with heretics without the Church's baptism? And therefore I judge that heretics must be baptized, that they may receive forgiveness of their sins; and thus communion may be had with them." 
The implication is that the Baptism for remission of sins brings us into the Church whence we may receive the Eucharist. And yet, the Book of Common Prayer of 1549 says: "And there shal none be admitted to the holye communion: until suche time as he be confirmed," which is modified by 1662 to "And there shall none be admitted to the holy Communion, until such time as he be confirmed, or be ready and desirous to be confirmed." Where has this come from? 

At a Lambeth Council in 1281, Archbishop John Peckham of Canterbury decreed that confirmation was necessary in order to receive communion primarily as an encouragement for parents to bring their children to the sacrament of Confirmation. This was published in the Lambeth Constitutions. Until then, it seems that the Church in England did not believe that it was necessary to receive Confirmation. The amendment to the rubric in the Book of Common Prayer was amended in the 1550s so that Confirmation would not be seen as a completion of Baptism but rather a mark of maturity.

Of course, the Sacrament of Confirmation of all the sacraments has a bit of a disputed purpose. In the Eastern Church, the Mystery of Chrismation (i.e. Confirmation) occurs to the newly baptised directly after their baptism. Is there a biblical warrant for Confirmation?

In the Acts we read of St Peter:
Then Peter said unto them, Repent, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins, and ye shall receive the gift of the Holy Ghost.(Acts ii.38)
Further on, we read:
Now when the apostles which were at Jerusalem heard that Samaria had received the word of God, they sent unto them Peter and John: Who, when they were come down , prayed for them, that they might receive the Holy Ghost: (For as yet he was fallen upon none of them: only they were baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus.) Then laid they their hands on them, and they received the Holy Ghost.(Acts viii.14-17)
Confirmation is indeed therefore a completion of Baptism in the sense that one has come of age and wishes to live out a lively faith as a Christian working at the coal-face of life. The Holy Spirit is required in order to consecrate that working life and thus the proper minister for Confirmation is the Bishop who has received the fullness of orders.

Confirmation should be desired by all Christians and yet, while it does make sense for the Church to restrict the Eucharist to the confirmed or those desirous of it, there does not appear to be a warrant for it within the Primitive Church, though I'm willing to be corrected on that matter. Nonetheless, Confirmation and Baptism are very different Sacraments forming different functions. In Baptism, we demonstrate our desire to believe in Our Lord Jesus, repent of sin, and renounce the Devil and are thus received into the fullness of the Body of Christ. In Confirmation, we demonstrate our desire to work to build up the Church and take greater responsibility for our service in Christ and thus receive grace through the Holy Ghost to do so. For Baptism, the proper minister is the priest who stands as the head of the little family of the parish to receive the baptised into the fullness of the Church, though of course any layman can baptise in an emergency. For Confirmation, the proper minister can only be the Bishop and there is no emergency provision needed there, as Confirmation does not technically affect one's salvation, desirable though it may be.

Of course, all believers should seek to be baptised and confirmed if they are serious in their commitment to that belief. However, St Dismas shows that all things are possible with God.

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