Wednesday, July 12, 2017

Changing the pattern of Christian initiation. . .

On Pentecost Sunday 2015, Archbishop Samuel Aquila made history in the U.S. by announcing that the Archdiocese of Denver would be the first U.S. Latin-rite archdiocese to restore the order of the sacraments of initiation to Baptism, then Confirmation, and finally Holy Eucharist.  The age for Confirmation was lowered to third grade and received right before First Holy Communion at the same Mass, reversing a century long custom in the Latin Church in favor of a traditional order for receiving the sacraments that dates back to the Acts of the Apostles.  That process has begun its transition now in 2017 after giving the parishes and the people some time to consider the change and to reflect upon the reasons for it.

The Archbishop has explained:  Parents are the teachers of their children in the ways of faith, so their example is critical. Confirmation is not graduation or in the words of Pope Francis “the sacrament of farewell.” A key component in the restored order is the formation of the parents in assisting them to encounter Christ.

The greater challenge to address, however, is how do we form our children in the faith in a way that truly brings them into relationship with Christ, and that this relationship lasts and grows throughout their lives. We don’t have all the answers, but we are working with pastors and catechists to rethink how we approach youth ministry. One of the greatest helps I have found in helping people to encounter Christ, even young people is to teach them lectio divina. Every class should begin with lectio even with the children. Through lectio even young children can encounter Jesus, the Father and the Holy Spirit and it instills in them a love for Scripture and especially the Gospels.
The place of Confirmation “as a rite of passage for teens” has been a longtime problem not merely for Roman Catholics but also for Lutherans.  The instruction has long been dumbed down with less emphasis upon doctrine, catechism, and memorization and more upon the idea of relationship and the realm of experience.  The length of time spent in catechesis has diminished in some places to a month or even six months from its previous norm of two years.  While Lutherans should not simply follow Rome, this development should give pause to those who believe early communion and later confirmation is a better alternative than that which we have traditionally known.

I will admit that my own thinking is still evolving on this.  In the beginning I thought early communion, separated from confirmation, was the best direction.  Now I am not so sure.  While I have never been in favor of the very early communion espoused by those who hearken to the East, I have long thought that our previous practice of postponing first communion to eighth grade or the first year in high school was too late.  That said, I am not sure that we have adequately prepared our youth to regularly receive the Sacrament with a few session workshop on the Lord's Supper.  While I am certainly in favor of moving the age earlier rather than later, I am greatly concerned that we are not preparing our youth for a life of faith by shortchanging them on the intensive catechesis that leads to confirmation.  Further, I am more and more suspicious of youth groups that focus more on fun or relationship than on the continuation of the catechesis and the preparation of our youth for a world unfriendly to the faith and a college atmosphere where the faith is often ridiculed by those who believe that education begins by stripping our youth of their sacred beliefs.

I have no idea whether or not the Archbishop of Denver's plan will become the norm for Roman Catholics in the US (I rather doubt it), I think it is one more reason why this whole issue of catechesis and confirmation and first communion needs not only more study but more uniformity of curriculum and age across the expanse of the LCMS.  Our statistics of the loss of youth and young adults from the life of the church cries out for us to do more rather than less.


Carl Vehse said...

"While Lutherans should not simply follow Rome, this development should give pause to those who believe early communion and later confirmation is a better alternative than that which we have traditionally known."

The belief that early communion and later confirmation is a better alternative is a Lufauxran belief, which needs to be expunged from the Missouri Synod. The notion of "early communion" especially appears from various blogs, to be a thrill running up the legs of Bosporus-wading paedocommunionists infecting the LCMS.

"I think it is one more reason why this whole issue of catechesis and confirmation and first communion needs not only more study but more uniformity of curriculum and age across the expanse of the LCMS."

This has been settled as previously been documented on this blog from numerous excerpts of Scripture, the Lutheran Confessions, writings of Lutheran theologians such as Chemnitz, Walther and others, the CTCR, and the LCMS guidelines for defining a communicant member of a congregation. The settlement has been demonstrated by the new CPH instruction book, Explanation of Martin Luther's Small Catechism, to be used for both youth and adult catechesis, and includes the teaching of doctrine from the various Symbols in the Book of Concord. The issue addresses whether a Lutheran pastor and congregation practices closed communion or practices open communion.

What the CTCR stated in its "Admission to the Lord’s Supper: Basics of Biblical and Confessional Teaching" (p. 57), applies to youth and adults who take their confirmation vow to become communicant members of a Lutheran congregation:

"[C]ommunicants are also confessors and members of church bodies. As such, it is not merely what the individual knows that is in view. It is the doctrine confessed by his or her church body that is the important thing. We ask those who join our church if they accept the teaching of the Lutheran Confessions even though they may have only studied the Small Catechism." [Emphasis added]

Anonymous said...

The popular de rigueur at Lutheran confirmation dinners now is for the confirmands to regale their proud parents with a creative power point presentation answering the ineluctable question, “What Jesus means to me.” Alrighty then!

David Gray said...

Vows only mean what the words contained in the vow indicate. Wishing on a star doesn't change the words of the vow.

Anonymous said...

Definition of boilerplate lip service:
This Congregation accepts and acknowledges all the canonical books of the Old and New Testaments as the
inspired Word of God, and all the confessional writings of the Evangelical Lutheran Church contained in the
Book of Concord as a true and sound presentation of Christian doctrine taken from and in full agreement with
the Holy Scriptures; and in the Congregation no doctrine shall be taught or tolerated which is at variance with
the Word of God as exhibited in these confessional writings of the Evangelical Lutheran Church, viz.,
a. The three Ecumenical Creeds: the Apostolic Creed, the Nicene Creed, and the Athanasian Creed;
b. The unaltered Augsburg Confession;
c. The Apology of the Augsburg Confession;
d. The Smalcald Article;
e. Luther's Large Catechism;
f. Luther's Small Catechism; and
g. The Formula of Concord.
According to this norm of doctrine all doctrinal controversies which may arise in this Congregation shall be
decided and adjudged.
Section 1. General
This Congregation shall be a member of The Lutheran Church - Missouri Synod (LCMS) as long as the
Synod conforms to the Congregation’s confessional standards as set forth in this Constitution.

Carl Vehse said...

Before a Lutheran congregation can be a member of the Missouri Synod , the LCMS Constitution Committee will determine that the congregation's constitution and bylaws are in harmony with Holy Scripture, the Confessions, and the teachings and practices of the Missouri Synod. The
Guidelines for the Constitution and Bylaws of a Lutheran Congregation

The Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod requires that its member congregations accept the confessional standard of the Synod. It is recommended that Article II of the Synod’s Constitution be adapted for inclusion in congregations’ constitutions. A congregation's confessional standard cannot go beyond that of the Synod.

BTW, in Footnote 11, the CCM sheepishly admits:
"Historically, The Treatise on the Power and Primacy of the Pope is not listed in Article II of Synod’s constitution, but it is included in the Book of Concord of 1580, and is therefore one of the confessional writings of the Synod. Because it is not listed separately in Synod's constitution, it does not have to been listed separately by a congregation, but a congregation may chose to do so."

Under 5.0 Membership the CCM provides a definition of "communicant member":

"Communicant members are those baptized members who have been instructed and are familiar with the contents of Luther’s Small Catechism, have been confirmed in the Lutheran faith, and accept the confessional standard of Section _____ of this Constitution."

Pastors and congregations who treat these confessional standards and commitments lightly in a Lufauxran manner should not be surprised when the youth and young adults in their congregation do the same.

David Gray said...

Mr. Strickert, you take the vows very lightly. I'm glad my son did not when he took them.

David Gray said...

And to clarify, lest I be misunderstood, I don't mean you take them lightly in an emotional sense but in the sense that you are almost utterly indifferent to what the words of the vow actually say.