Should we confirm Catholics at the Easter Vigil?

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We have a new pastor, and he told us that we are not supposed to be confirming adult Catholics at the Easter Vigil. If confirmation is an initiation sacrament, what’s wrong with celebrating it at the Vigil?

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Your question raises a larger issue of who should be celebrating sacraments at the Easter Vigil. I’ve seen group weddings celebrated at the Vigil because the couples were being “initiated” into married life. Simply attaching the word “initiation” to a sacrament does not automatically mean is needs to be celebrated at the Vigil.

Primary purpose of the Easter Vigil

The Easter Vigil is primarily for the initiation of unbaptized adults. If you turn to RCIA 23, you’ll read, “The celebration of the sacraments of Christian initiation should take place at the Easter Vigil itself.” There are exceptions, but initiating unbaptized adults at the Vigil is the norm.

Children of catechetical age are considered “adults” for the purpose of the rite, but the Easter Vigil norm is a bit more flexible if they are under 14 years of age. Turn to paragraph 304 in the section on adaptations for children: “[C]elebration of the sacraments of initiation should preferably take place at the Easter Vigil or on a Sunday ” (emphasis added).

That’s really about it for the norm—the usual situation envisioned by the RCIA. Every other situation is some kind of an exception. Unfortunately, in some places, the exceptions are starting to become the norm. Let’s look at some of them.

Baptized, uncatechized adults

In many parishes, the baptized candidates make up the bulk of the catechumenate. It is not unusual in some places to have one or two catechumens and a couple dozen baptized candidates at the Easter Vigil. So should the baptized candidates celebrate confirmation and Eucharist at the Easter Vigil?

There are conflicting guidelines on this question. RCIA 409 says yes, the Easter Vigil would normally be the time when the baptized candidates would celebrate confirmation and Eucharist. The National Statutes for the Catechumenate, on the other hand, say no, it is not generally recommended that the baptized candidates celebrate confirmation and Eucharist at the Vigil (see NS 26 and 33).

Baptized Catholics

There is one more complicating factor with this group. Usually there are both Catholics and those baptized in another tradition. The National Statutes seem to suggest that, while it is not recommended, the Catholics might celebrate confirmation and Eucharist at the Vigil because they are, in fact, completing their initiation.

Baptized Protestants

The National Statutes state more strongly, however, that those baptized in another tradition not celebrate their sacraments at the Vigil. The reason for this is they are not “completing their initiation”; they are being received into full communion. The reason those from other traditions would not normally be received into full communion at the Vigil is to scrupulously avoid any “possible misunderstanding of or even reflection upon the sacrament of baptism celebrated in another Church or any perceived triumphalism in the liturgical welcome ” (NS 33). Exceptions are allowed, but reception at the Vigil is clearly not the norm.

So celebrating sacraments at the Easter Vigil with baptized candidates is a gray area, with Protestant candidates being a little grayer than Catholic candidates.

Baptized, catechized adults

Okay, right off the bat, let’s just be clear that if a Catholic, who has not been confirmed, is partaking in Communion every Sunday, or even only once a month, he is not completing his initiation in the way the RCIA speaks about initiation. The goal of initiation is sharing in the Eucharist. Those who are already at the table are already initiated. The DRE might cringe when you say it, but these folks are catechized. It doesn’t mean they are model Catholics, but if someone had decided they “knew enough” to bring them to Eucharist—no matter how long ago—that is all the RCIA requires to determine if someone is catechized. If they have forgotten how or refused to live the Christian life, that is a matter for reconciliation, not initiation.

Likewise with those baptized in another tradition. If they were active enough in their own tradition to have celebrated their version of the Lord’s Supper, they can be considered catechized. That does not mean they need zero preparation before they are received. It only means they should not be treated like catechumens. Their preparation should be accommodated to their needs, and they should be received into full communion as soon as possible (see NS 31).

The only place for baptized, catechized candidates at the Vigil is in the worshiping assembly, praying for those who are to be baptized.

“Restored order” children

I’m not crazy about the term “restored order,” but that’s what most folks call it. As you know, the traditional order of the initiation sacraments is baptism, confirmation, Eucharist. Early in the 20th century, for pastoral, not theological reasons, that order got disrupted. So most of us who were baptized as infants celebrated first Communion around age seven and were confirmed five to ten years later. Now some parishes are returning to the original practice of initiating children in the traditional order. That means there are a lot of seven-year-old Catholics who are celebrating confirmation and first Communion in the same liturgy.

Because this is a completion of their initiation, some parishes have begun to bring these children to the Easter Vigil also. I think that is a mistake. While it is true these children are completing their initiation, they are not catechumens and are in no way like catechumens. For example, these children were never “inquirers,” and they are typically members of practicing Catholic families. (I know there are exceptions, but exceptions should not establish the rule.) Also, the numbers of them tend to be large. So even a small parish might have 100-plus children “completing” their initiation at the Vigil. That would surely shift the focus of the liturgy away from the initiation of the catechumens.

Managing the exceptions

As I see it, the only folks who should absolutely celebrate initiation sacraments at the Vigil are catechumens over the age of 14 and possibly younger catechumens. Remember, however, the rite indicates that Sunday liturgy can be just as appropriate for the young ones.

Baptized, uncatechized Catholic adults who are completing their initiation might also celebrate their sacraments at the Vigil, but this is a gray area.

Everyone else should usually be celebrating their sacraments at some other time and place.

Usually. There are always going to be exceptions. These are the norms to strive for. The question I always ask myself is not did I do everything perfectly, by the book. Rather, I ask what plans I will put in place for next year so our parish can move a little closer to the ideal. If we can continually work just a little closer toward the vision of the rite, we won’t be in danger of letting the exceptions become the norm.

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Comments

  1. Thanks Nick. This is what I understood from the Beginnnings and Beyond session I took in August 06…but my pastor has been arguing with me and insisting that even Baptized, Catechized Catholics and Protestants must sign the book of Election when we do the Rite of Election and are unable to send them to the Bishop due to distance! This year time in the three years I’ve been at this parish that he finally has been persuaded to actually read part of the RCIA and we are only initiating our Elect at the Easter Vigil, and two very young children during Easter Sunday Mass in Spanish. (4 and 6th grade). Everyone else will make a profession of faith and or make First Eucharist and Confirmation at the Confirmation Liturgy with the Bishop.

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