Faith Forum: Father Charles Bober answers parishioners’ questions:
1. My grandson just received the Sacrament of Confirmation. I have spoken with him several times about Catholic faith and he does not seem to have the knowledge about the faith that I had when I was his age. What has gone wrong?
2. I have been asked to be the sponsor for my niece who is to receive the Sacrament of Confirmation. I received the Confirmation packet from her, and frankly what is being asked of her (and me) seems excessive. Why does the Church make these young people jump through so many hoops to get a sacrament?
The questions above demonstrate different approaches to the sacraments. The foundation of a response rests on the nature of the sacraments. Among other aspects, sacraments are the celebration of God’s grace in and through the Church. Because sacraments originate in God’s grace, they do not “belong” to the Church or its ministers—they belong to God. The Church and individual celebrants of sacraments are the instruments of unique sacramental grace, but sacraments are not their possessions.
However, it is the duty of the Church, the ordained and all those in catechetical ministry to ensure that those who approach the sacraments are appropriately prepared and have the proper dispositions. This is a duty that must be taken seriously while always assuming God’s grace and in the context of the salvation of souls.
The experience of the New Testament community illustrates this. When Philip encounters an Ethiopian reading Isiah, he speaks with him about Christ. The man believes and asks for baptism, and Philip performs it in nearby water (Acts 8:21-40). When Peter enters the home of the Gentile Cornelius, the entire family and household come to believe and are baptized (Acts 10:17-49). When Paul encounters Lydia on the riverbank, he teaches of Jesus. She invites Paul into her home, and she is baptized (Acts 16:11-15). In all of this, it is clearly the Holy Spirit that is acting, and the apostles are the instruments.
The above instances of sacramental life appear to have a simple and limited catechesis, yet the sacraments are celebrated. While this New Testament experience of sacraments was enhanced significantly over the centuries, the core believe is that sacraments are of Divine origin.
There must be a careful balance in preparing people for the reception of the sacraments. We must always leave room for God’s grace. We are to prepare people as well as we are able, fully aware that God’s grace is sufficient to make up for what is lacking in our human efforts.
We should also have an understanding that sacraments have undergone a Spirit-led “unfolding” over time. For example, the Sacrament of the Anointing of the Sick has had a different focus over the centuries. That sacrament today is not exactly what was celebrated in the last century. But the Spirit was active in all forms of that sacrament. Then, too, while catechists work diligently to ensure that young people are prepared for the sacrament of Confirmation, we must be mindful that the Eastern Churches (both Catholic and Orthodox) convey that same sacrament at baptism (with no catechetical preparation of the recipient).
In terms of sacraments, a balanced approach includes practical catechesis and a profound sense that it is the Holy Spirit that is working within the sacraments. We must leave room for that Divine activity.