Saturday, May 4, 2013

Good counsel. . .

The child has no responsibility for the marital state of its parents. And then, the baptism of children often becomes a new beginning for parents. Usually there is a little catechesis before baptism, about an hour, then a mystagogic catechesis during liturgy. Then, the priests and laity go to visit these families to continue with their post-baptismal pastoral. And it often happens that parents, who were not married in Church, maybe ask to come before the altar to celebrate the sacrament of marriage. from Pope Francis. . . reflecting his own practice before becoming Pope. . .

It strikes me that there is some solid practical wisdom in these words.  I have often lamented that among some baptism is practiced indiscriminately -- y'all come -- and there is great pastoral wisdom in requiring a little catechesis before baptism.  And there is great pastoral wisdom in what comes after -- the follow up with the baptized lest they and their families be forgotten or allowed to forget the promises they made at the baptism.  How many of those who never make it past baptism have received follow up care from the Church?  Clearly this is not open ended baptism without pastoral care of the baptized.

I think it also strikes true for first communion.  It seems to me that when we withhold communion until confirmation we ask a great deal more of those who commune than other periods in history.  Luther communed youth at a far younger age than we regularly do.  I am not in favor of a great first communion ceremony or rite to compete with either baptism or confirmation but I do think that communing ought to be encouraged as soon as youth can understand what they are receiving.  I also require first private confession of those who seek first communion because that helps them understand the benefit of the Sacrament and what commends worthy reception (faith in the words and examination of life and conscience leading to contrition and repentance).

It often seems as if we think like those who ended up withholding the chalice from the lay -- some things are too holy to be given freely without demonstrating a certain level of worthiness and jumping through a few hoops.  Some catechesis before is good and salutary and the catechesis of the rite itself needs some focus but I wonder why we seem to ask more of those who come to the sacrament(s) for the first time than we ask of those who come back...

I personally know of situations in which Pastors have refused or made it difficult to baptize the child of parents living together.  Now, if you read this blog you know I do not believe we should leave such living arrangements unchallenged but neither do I believe that the child should be made to suffer for the sin of the parents.  Baptism represents an opportune window for some catechesis, for an encounter with grace, which, last I checked, we believed is the means through which God works.  The key here is balance -- preparation and catechesis but not roadblocks to the means of grace... But with all of this is the key - follow up!

3 comments:

John said...

Rev Peters,

I am a layman who has thought a lot about the subject of Holy Communion before confirmation.

Bill and Bob are best friends who are both in fifth grade and attend the same church. Bill clearly understands what is received in the Sacrament. Bob doesn't quite grasp it. Bill is welcomed to the Lord's table, while Bob is not. How is Bob to be counseled in this situation? How is the likelihood that the friendship between these two believing kids may be in jeopardy been taken into consideration? Worse yet, what if Bob, with the maturity of a 10 or 11 year old, comes to believe that he is less, to God than is Bill?

Further, don't we have to go beyond what is received in Holy Communion? Bill is 11 and is attending a Roman Catholic wedding. He knows what is received in Holy Communion. How should he know that he must not partake of Holy Communion there?

Isn't Holy Communion a corporate thing because one's attendance at the altar is, in fact a public confession of one's faith, thereby showing the unity of faith of the congregation?

Doesn't confirmation serve in order for the congregation to be shown that the confirmands pesented are properly instructed and, therefore fully prepared to participate in Holy Communion?

How about the parents request early confirmation instruction rather than early participation in Holy Communion? If Bill appears ready to receive Holy Communion, isn't he also ready to be instructed into that faith which he will confess each and every time he participates?

Jack



Mark Lovett said...

Jack, your points are valid. But they are answered not by black and white formulas (nor by confirmation which has not successfully kept our Lutherans from other altars or even coming to any altar) but by involving parents (who should explain why we don't participate in the Roman mass).

I do have a question about your scenario: what about the Sacrament does Bob not get? That it's Jesus' body and blood, or that Jesus wants him to have it?

John said...

Mark Lovett,

I'm not looking at either formulas or confirmation as some sort of magical means to keep people in the faith.

Luther begins each section of his Small Catechism with a statement that it is as the head of household should teach his family. How many catechumens have only learned the Catechism in Sunday School? How many catechumens are learning its lessons only after beginning confirmation instructions?

Congregations have long used confirmation instruction along with public examination as a means for the congregation to see that the catechumens have been rightly taught. I understand that a pastor and the congregation's elders will come upon individual circumstances that would cause them to allow that individual to partake of Holy Communion, but age, alone should not be the reason.

In the event that the parents, pastor and elders believe that a child, not yet in confirmation instruction is fully prepared and rightly taught in the faith, let that child be publicly examined with the next group of confirmands. The parents and pastor can certainly determine, together whether a child might be prepared to enter confirmation instruction at an earlier age.

Confirmation is no proof of a person's faith. It is, though a congregation's means to learn that the confirmand has been rightly taught and is prepared to make public confession of his faith each and every time he/she attends Holy Communion. That is the congregation's duty.

The scenario of Bill and Bob was to look at one possible scene upon the decision of others that one is worthy while another is not. I should have made that clear.

I am looking at this issue from the perspective of having been confirmed well over 50 years ago. Our class was over 20. Our public examination was a church packed service on the Friday evening before our Confirmation. My guess is that we lost about the same amount of folks from our class as are lost, today.

Confirmation is not a sacrament in our church. It is, though a proper way for a congregation to test both the confirmands and its confirmation instructors.

I have been blessed with many years since my confirmation. I have been on both sides of this issue many times and for many reasons, not all of them having anything to do with faith.

No person is being denied the Means of Grace when hearing the Word, properly preached.