October 26, 2011

Born Out of Order

I was just looking over an article that one of the student brothers is working on for school, on a classic problem with the sacraments of initiation: If the ordinary means of intiating new Christians is as it is presented in the restored catechumentate of the RCIA, namely catechumenate, election, sacramental initiation through baptism, confirmation, and Eucharist (in that order), and mystagogy, then why do most come to be initiated in a seemingly contrary pattern of infant baptism, preparation for first Holy Communion, and then confirmation, perhaps with a 'first confession' thrown in somewhere as well?

Reading an earnest effort to say something about this little dissonance and what might be done to apply a pastoral remedy reminds me of how random and out of order my own sacramental initiation was: baptism according to the rite for the baptism of infants at age twenty on a random Saturday afternoon in Ordinary Time, first Holy Communion at the regular parish Mass the next day, and confirmation some months later by getting on the end of the line of the current batch of kids. The funniest part of the whole business is that anyone who knows me even a little bit knows that I would have insisted on every formality had I known any better at the time. But it was a blessed time nevertheless, in which I was trying to do my best to by faithful to a call from God, and in which those who helped me were doing their best to help me with every charity and kindness. To be honest, I wouldn't trade it for anything.

It all reminds me that the economies of God's grace in the creation are broader than the ordering and discipline of sacramental grace (in the broad sense) at any historical moment. As the Catechism proclaims, making this point in all of its holy mystery: "God has bound salvation to the sacrament of Baptism, but he himself is not bound by his sacraments." (1257) The Church is and carries within herself the saving mission of Jesus Christ, but the Church is not just what we can see, what we can put into pastoral procedures, or what we can write an article about. As we edge toward November and all the Masses for the Holy Souls in which we are reminded of the Church expectant, we find an eminent moment to remember that the visible Church on earth is only a small segment of the Church as she is in her whole mystery extended through time and space and into eternity.


Unknown said...

I appreciate that RCIA (and adult entry in general) is the ordinary means of entrance to the church. It bears solemn witness to the pilgrim nature of the church and makes prominent her mission to the ends of the earth with the Gospel.

Anonymous said...

from one friars minor who is, endlessly trying to reform the confirmation program, I really enjoyed reading this entry.