Saturday, May 06, 2006

Confirmation and Sacramental Intention

From the Book of Common Prayer, Second Office of Instruction p. 291 in the 1928 edition:

Question. What special means does the Church provide to help you to do all these things?

Answer. The Church provides the Laying on of Hands, or Confirmation, wherein, after renewing the promises and vows of my Baptism, and declaring my loyalty and devotion to Christ as my Master, I receive the strengthening gifts of the Holy Spirit.

From the Book of Common Prayer, The Order of Confirmation, selections from pages 296 and 297 in the 1928 edition:


REVEREND Father in God, I present unto you these persons to receive the Laying on of Hands.
¶ Then the Bishop, or some Minister appointed by him, may say,
Hear the words of the Evangelist Saint Luke, in the eighth Chapter of the Acts of the Apostles.
WHEN the apostles which were at Jerusalem heard that Samaria had received the word of God, they sent unto them Peter and John: who, when they were come down, prayed for them, that they might receive the Holy Ghost: for as yet he was fallen upon none of them: only they were baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus. Then laid they their hands on them, and they received the Holy Ghost...
…Bishop. Let us pray.


ALMIGHTY and everliving God, who hast vouchsafed to regenerate these thy servants by Water and the Holy Ghost, and hast given unto them forgiveness of all their sins; Strengthen them, we beseech thee, O Lord, with the Holy Ghost, the Comforter, and daily increase in them thy manifold gifts of grace: the spirit of wisdom and under-standing, the spirit of counsel and ghostly strength, the spirit of knowledge and true godliness; and fill them, O Lord, with the spirit of thy holy fear, now and for ever. Amen.

In comments on Al Kimmel’s Blog, Pontifications, I just happened to mention the problem of the Rite of Confirmation in the 1979 Book of Common Prayer (so-called). I recalled that when my brother, Addison, was in Seminary (during his wayward youth as an Episcopalian), one of the designers of the 1979 Book boasted to him that, concerning Confirmation, they had “changed the theology of the church, and no one noticed.” Specifically, the service called Confirmation does not contain the Sacramental Intention so clearly defined above in the selections from the Book of Common Prayer, and that maintained the Catholic understanding dating back to the beginning, indeed, back to the time of the Apostles Peter and John. Instead of the Catholic understanding of the Sacrament, supported by the scriptures that reveal its meaning, a Lutheran concept was introduced. According to this view, all that takes place is a commitment on the part of a baptized person to live as a Christian. Now, that is certainly fine, as far as it goes. In fact, it is a very important element that really ought to be stated before Confirmation is administered by any Bishop. But, is it the true meaning? Does it state the Intention of the Sacrament?

The answer is easy to find. Just look at the selections from the Order of Confirmation above (remembering that the Office of Instruction, also quoted above, has informed the confirmand of what this sacrament is all about). Here we see the Apostles Peter and John administering Confirmation from the eighth chapter of Acts, as one account of this Apostolic ministry among others in Saint Luke’s narrative (such as the 19th chapter where Saint Paul confirms the Ephesian Christians after their Baptisms). Later, after this portion of scripture has been read, the Bishop must say a prayer that states the Sacramental Intention. That Intention is that the baptized person receives the Holy Ghost, and that His gifts will empower the Christian for service and for a holy life. It is supernatural, it is grace imparted through those three elements of a Sacrament, Form, Matter and Intention.

Though oil is generally used to anoint the Confirmand, the essential Matter of the sacrament is the Laying on of the Apostle's (Bishop's) Hands. In this the ’79 Book is not lacking. But, the Intention of Confirmation is stated both in the reading of scripture, and in the Bishop’s prayer. These elements of the Form are missing from the Rite in the 1979 Book. And, with their omission goes the Intention. Imagine a Mass without the Words of institution, or a Baptism without any words spoken. Similarly, just what is the meaning of the service called “Confirmation” in the ’79 Book? Without the Form that states the Intention, the whole ritual is meaningless. Should we regard it as valid?

2 comments:

Phil said...

Fr. Hart, I’m the person who asked the question on Pontifications that prompted your reply. I reviewed the 1979 Book, and, it appears to me that, while the Intention has certainly been butchered to a great extent, it has not been completely eradicated. For instance, in the laying on of hands, the Bishop has, as one alternative:

Strengthen, O Lord, your servant N. with your Holy Spirit; empower him for your service; and sustain him all the days of his life. Amen.

Compare to the 1928 as you note in your original post:

Strengthen them, we beseech thee, O Lord, with the Holy Ghost, the Comforter, and daily increase in them thy manifold gifts of grace: the spirit of wisdom and under-standing, the spirit of counsel and ghostly strength, the spirit of knowledge and true godliness; and fill them, O Lord, with the spirit of thy holy fear, now and for ever. Amen.

(emphases mine)

These appear to be somewhat similar in language. Much poorer an expression, to be sure (like most everything else in 1979), but roughly the same expression. As you say, Acts 8 has been excised, and the Intention has been muddied. In fact, the second alternative given to the Bishop is, as you say, not sacramental whatsoever:

Defend, O Lord, your servant N. with your heavenly grace, that he may continue yours for ever, and daily increase in your Holy Spirit more and more, until he comes to your everlasting kingdom. Amen.

Anecdotally, while I don’t remember what was said at my own confirmation, I have heard the second alternative used more often than the first.

What are your thoughts on the first instance in the 1979 service? To be clear, I have no brief for the 1979 Book; in fact, I consider it a travesty.

Thanks – I enjoy your writing.

Fr. Robert Hart said...

Phil:

Sorry to take so long to reply.

We are faced with a question here. Does this satisfy the idea of "minimal Intention to do what the Church does" to a sufficient degree? This requires an answer to another question: why is the mention of the Holy Spirit only an alternative? Also, the Intention of Confirmation is very much along lines that a good Pentecostal or Charismatic would appreciate (even without a grasp of Form, without a concept of sacraments): namely, receiving the Holy Spirit and the gifts He brings.