Confirmation

The 1979 revision of The Book of Common Prayer made clear that baptism is the rite by which persons are made full members of the Body of Christ, the church; an understanding reinforced through The Episcopal Church’s ecumenical dialogues with the Roman Catholic Church — the Anglican Roman Catholic International Consultation (ARCIC) — and the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America — Called to Common Mission; and in the ongoing ecumenical discussions sponsored by the World Council of Churches which in 1982 resulted in the groundbreaking Baptism, Eucharist and Ministry document. 

bishop confirming - bishop confirming three webIf baptism is our means for becoming Christian, then what are we to make of confirmation?  This question has prompted serious study and reform of initiation practice and policy in many dioceses and helped inspire the emergence of spiritual formation programs like Journey to Adulthood. In the Catechism of The Book of Common Prayer, confirmation is listed as one of five “other sacramental rites,” following sections on baptism and Eucharist, the church’s two great sacraments. It is described as a liturgical rite by which baptized members “express a mature commitment to Christ, and receive strength from the Holy Spirit through prayer and laying on of hands by a bishop.” Before the liturgical revisions in the 1970s, it was customary in many churches to use confirmation as an entry rite to receiving communion, an attempt to partly mirror the order of initiation in the early church. In its first two centuries, the Church incorporated confirmation and Eucharist with baptism in a single liturgy of initiation. The candidate was baptized with water, confirmed through anointing and laying on of hands, and invited to share in the messianic banquet, the Eucharist. This is still the practice in the Orthodox church, which unlike the Anglican and Roman Catholic churches, allows priests as well as bishops to confirm. 

The three rites of initiation were the culmination of a two to three-yearcatechumenal process for adult candidates. As the church grew and bishops were unable to be present for all baptisms, confirmation was delayed until the bishop’s next visit to a congregation which could be several years. By the 13th century, the Roman Catholic Church had conferred sacramental status on confirmation, recognizing it as a means for conveying special strength through the Holy Spirit to confirmands for witnessing the faith to the world. 

Following the Church of England’s lead, the drafters of the first Episcopal prayer book in 1789 included a rubric barring anyone not confirmed or preparing for confirmation from participating in the Eucharist. Though dropped in the 1979 prayer book revision, the practice is still followed in some congregations.

But confusion persists over the significance of confirmation, given canonical provisions requiring confirmation as a precondition to serving on church vestries, as convention delegates, and as lay readers and eucharistic ministers. One may be baptized into the faith but must be confirmed to serve in the church.

Increasingly, confirmation is being seen as a celebration of being formed in the faith, as opposed to a conferring of status and privilege. Scripture, church history and polity, creeds and sacraments, and liturgical practices are still part of preparation, but are now being supplemented by spiritual formation and engagement in ministry. Journey to Adulthood (J2A), developed in the 1980s by a North Carolina parish and now spread to most dioceses, is a comprehensive formation program for children and youth that combines spiritual formation with preparation for adulthood. 

Resources

Confirm and Not Conform 

Journey to Adulthood