Peter Jesserer Smith is a staff reporter for the National Catholic Register. He covered Pope Francis’s historic visit to the United States in 2015, and to Jerusalem and the Holy Land in 2014. He has reported on the Syrian and Iraqi refugee crisis, including from Jordan and Lebanon on an Egan Fellowship from Catholic Relief Services. Before coming on board the Register in 2013, he was a freelance writer, reporting for Catholic media outlets as the Register and Our Sunday Visitor. He is a graduate of the National Journalism Center and earned a B.A. in Philosophy at Christendom College, where he co-founded the student newspaper, The Rambler, and served as its editor. He comes originally from the Finger Lakes region of New York State.
With the recent pastoral letter “Come, Holy Ghost,” Bishop Steven Lopes revealed the Ordinariate of the Chair of St. Peter would now become the 14th Latin-Rite diocese to make the reception of Holy Eucharist normally follow Confirmation, something commonly called “restored order” of the sacraments, with a focus on involving the child’s family in sacramental preparation.
“The principle upon which the Ordinariate’s practice must be founded, therefore, is the essential bond between the Sacraments of Confirmation and Holy Communion,” Bishop Lopes said in his pastoral letter on the Holy Spirit. “Ideally, therefore, Confirmation and First Holy Communion are conferred in the same celebration.”
Bishop Lopes also explained that rather than follow a “mechanistic approach,” the Ordinariate’s parishes will have parents integrally involved in the sacramental preparation of their child. Parish sacramental programs will take their cues from this family-centered approach to religious education. Both the child’s parents and pastor, he explained, will determine the “readiness of a child to receive these Sacraments of Initiation.” He said the norm in the Ordinariate will be to admit a child to Confirmation and Eucharist “around the age of discretion, [according to canon law] being sometime between the ages of 7 and 11.”
The Ordinariate is one of three Latin Rite dioceses with Anglican traditions established under Benedict XVI’s 2009 apostolic constitution Anglicanorum Coetibus, and includes 43 parishes in the U.S. and Canada. The pastoral change in the Ordinariate follows that of the Diocese of Gallup in 2019, and before that the Latin-Rite Dioceses of Springfield, Illinois and Manchester, New Hampshire in 2017.
In his pastoral letter, Bishop Lopes discussed the theology of the Holy Spirit with the insights of St. John Henry Newman, and how the Holy Spirit equips Christians for the “adventure of discipleship.”
The bishop explained that the Holy Spirit transforms Christian disciples, imprinting on them the image of Christ himself and transforming their entire relationship to the Body of Christ. The Holy Spirit enables them to bear witness to Christ, sharing his love with others.
“As the Holy Spirit on the day of Pentecost transformed a group of disciples into apostles, literally pushing them out of the Upper Room to preach the Gospel of Christ to the nations in unfamiliar tongues,” he said, “so too does the Spirit strengthen the one being confirmed in order to bear personal witness to Christ.”
And in this way, he said, “Christ’s mission to preach the Kingdom of God and reveal the love of the Father has become our mission as well.”
Charting a New Family-Centered Approach
Since the Ordinariate is a diocese with a missionary character and fewer than 10 years old, it has an opportunity to chart a new course for sacramental preparation in its parishes. Many of its parish communities have already had a custom of restored order, conferring Confirmation and then Holy Eucharist at the same Mass. The new policy cements that custom as the norm for all Ordinariate parishes going forward.
Bishop Lopes, who has 10 years prior experience working in the Vatican’s Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, acknowledged that it is “commonplace” among U.S. dioceses to align the sacraments with a child’s academic grade level, such as first Confession and First Communion in second grade, followed by Confirmation in eighth grade or later. But he expressed misgivings with this “mechanistic approach to the life of grace,” where sacramental preparation is “often approached as a classroom experience or a series of prerequisites to be fulfilled,” and parents are often not integrally involved in their children’s religious education.
The Ordinariate’s approach, he explained, intends to build a culture of formation for the sacraments that involves the parents from the get-go. Programs for sacramental preparation should be seen in that context as “moments of particular intensity in the ongoing evangelization and formation of young people into mature Christians.”
Bishop Lopes said the Church has a mission to accompany the baptized throughout life, “equipping her children for mature discipleship and missionary engagement.”
“First and foremost, then, preparation for the Sacraments begins with the regular practice of worship, faith, and active charity by the family,” he said.
He noted that The Duties in the Ordinariate’s baptismal rite for parents and godparents outline both the connection between Confirmation and the reception of the Eucharist, and also provide “some basic criteria for admission to the Sacraments of Confirmation and the Holy Eucharist.”
Some of these conditions are fundamental instruction in the Faith, the Nicene Creed and Catechism, interiorizing the basics of Christian prayer, especially the Apostles Creed, the Lord’s Prayer (Our Father), and the Hail Mary; Christian formation of conscience—based on the Ten Commandments— to recognize and renounce sin in Confession, and grow daily in virtue and holiness. Finally, that includes identifying with Christ, “so that the child understands that Confirmation and the Eucharist are ordered to the strengthening of Christian life, including the grace of being configured to Him for the purpose of service to his mission.”
The bishop recommended introductory catechesis for preschool-age children, highlighting Catechesis of the Good Shepherd as one such program. He stressed “family faith formation” for parents and children in elementary and middle-school; youth-centered initiatives for teens, adult education classes, lectures and programs, Bible studies and “small faith sharing groups.”
Homeschooling parents who wish to do sacramental catechesis at home, he said, must provide their pastor or religious education director the curriculum they’re using, and “parishes are to develop a list of resources for home-schooling families and have catechists available to assist parents when needed.”
Bishop Lopes concluded his pastoral letter by pointing Catholics to the Blessed Virgin Mary, who is “not only our model but also our powerful intercessor and guide.”
“Her fidelity and docility to the prompting of the Holy Spirit point out the way to a new flourishing for the Church and for our Ordinariate—a new Pentecost,” he said, “in which the Spirit-filled proclamation of the Gospel calls new people into the adventure of discipleship and the joy of Catholic communion.”
Register Note: The following U.S. Latin-Rite dioceses have currently embraced a restored order for the Sacraments of Initiation: Saginaw, Michigan (1995); Great Falls-Billings, Montana (1996); Portland, Maine (1997); Spokane, Washington (1998); Fargo, North Dakota (2002); Gaylord, Michigan (2003); Tyler, Texas (2005); Phoenix, Arizona (2005); Honolulu, Hawaii (2015); Denver, Colorado (2015); Manchester, New Hampshire (2017); Springfield, Illinois (2017); Gallup, New Mexico (2019); and the Ordinariate of the Chair of St. Peter (2020).