Monday, October 29, 2007

Confirmation standards

In my e-mail the other day came this note from Fr. Charles Nalls addressed to a list of friends:

This morning I have been thinking about the importance of catechesis. Here is what my daughter, who is attending a Roman Catholic school is required to know along with her friends who will be confirmed at Holy Cross parish. Some may scoff at and malign the RCC, but do we teach these things or, at least, teach them consistently? As for me, I can't throw stones at a church that makes these demands of confirmandi. We can make all of the anti-Roman statements we want, but, face it, their catechism is more thorough (if we are being honest).

I know that Bp. Florenza has a great set of confirmation materials ... Here's a hint, though, none of these rely on the American Church Union booklet ...

In a former province far, far away, I can name at least one set of children of a professed Anglican priest who, I will warrant you, can recount virtually none of the items in the list below--none, but were confirmed. Why? You might ask him. I was once witness to a confirmation where the child couldn't even recite the creed. ... Fortunately, that's in the past.

The message, here, is that we must put [an end] to being social Anglicans, Catholics, or, for that matter, Christians. If your children do not have a ready answer to the questions below, you need to talk with your priest, and, while you are at it, look in the mirror. If you yourself don't have an answer to these questions, blame... well... (And, no, the answer to the Decalogue question is not "Sneezy, Dopey, Happy, etc.")

Young people are going into a world of increasingly militant atheism, and they'd better be able to make an account of their faith. If we are not doing these basics, we need to reevaluate our teaching. And, if your confirmandi can't do the following, they shouldn't be advanced for the Sacrament until they are able.

I will post the rest of this, the list of questions the children in the RCC school have to answer, below. It is obvious to me that Fr. Nalls is not suggesting that we approach Confirmation merely as an academic exercise, but, rather, that it is time for clergy and parents to restore standards of learning for the benefit of the confirmands themselves. Obviously, we would not want the grace of the sacrament to be withheld from someone due to a learning disability (such as retardation). The point is, however, that everyone should be taught the essential points of the Faith as fully as possible. Whether it is a child or an adult who is being prepared for the sacrament, this teaching period in someone's life is the closest we come to the ancient practice of teaching the catechumins in order that they may enter fully into the sacramental life of the Church.

In modern times it fell out of fashion to teach converts, as if it was not polite; and with the decline of catechesis in the Episcopal Church, people joined quickly and easily with the assumption (as I heard quite a few times) that Anglicanism has no theology. We are supposed to have no distinctive theology of our own (a closed or innovative system like, for example, Calvinism), but only that held by the Catholic Church from the beginning. But, for an adult to join without any serious catechesis, or for a young person to be confirmed with barely any teaching, became common practice in ECUSA. This was one obvious cause of the shipwreck that has drowned that whole denomination. Maybe some of our own people need to unlearn bad habits that were picked up there.

Failure to teach is a sin.

Hear, O Israel: The LORD our God is one LORD: And thou shalt love the LORD thy God with all thine heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy might. And these words, which I command thee this day, shall be in thine heart: And thou shalt teach them diligently unto thy children, and shalt talk of them when thou sittest in thine house, and when thou walkest by the way, and when thou liest down, and when thou risest up.
Deuteronomy 6:4-7

"And, ye fathers, provoke not your children to wrath: but bring them up in the nurture and admonition of the Lord."
Ephesians 6:4

The first responsibility is that of parents, especially of fathers from what we see in St. Paul's words. However, there is this also, work attributed by Paul to the mother and grandmother of Timothy:

"But continue thou in the things which thou hast learned and hast been assured of, knowing of whom thou hast learned them; And that from a child thou hast known the holy scriptures, which are able to make thee wise unto salvation through faith which is in Christ Jesus."
II Timothy 3:14, 15

The first responsibility is that of the parents who must teach the children at home, and then of the clergy who must help them and must maintain standards in the Church. Preparation for Confirmation is an opportunity to make sure that this teaching has been proceeding as it should, while it is refined and furthered by the standards of the Church guided by responsible and pastoral priests.

Here is that list (I would not regard the mysteries of the Rosary as essential for Anglicans; but, they certainly couldn't hurt):

For your 8th grader:

The test has a possible 64 points. The passing grade is 70% or 45 points. You also have the chance to earn free bonus points that will bring up your score!

Here is a list of what you should STUDY and KNOW for the test:

The Gifts of the Holy Spirit - KNOW THESE IN YOUR SLEEP!

The 10 Commandments - know what they mean and know them in order

The Beatitudes (not necessarily in order)

The types of Sacraments and what they do

The similarities between Baptism and Confirmation

What happened at Pentecost

What happens during Confirmation

The Theological and Cardinal Virtues

What is the Holy Trinity?

Types of sin

Days of fast and abstinence and what they mean

The Nicene and Apostles' Creeds

The 4 Marks of the Church

The Lord's Prayer

The Corporal Works of Mercy

The Holy Days of Obligation

The Mysteries of the Rosary

Pray to the Holy Spirit to bless your studies and your test-taking.

God bless you,

Miss K


Ken said...

That's a good list, but I'm sure that, in the RCC, your mileage may vary depending on location.

One thing that I haven't found is an Anglo-Catholic catechism geared towards children. I'm suprised that no continuing church has seen it as a worthy goal.

However, based on the comments in Fr. Hart's post, maybe there is some catechism (or other material) out there?


Nathan said...

It has been 33 years, but I still have my "Christian Essentials" check list for Confirmation. In addition to the list given, I have these: Our Bounden Duty. The 6 Basic Rules of the Church. The 3 Christian Duties. The 5 steps in prayer. The 7 Capital sins and 7 Godly Virtues. The 7 stages of sin. The 9 ways of sharing in the sins of others. The 7 Spiritual Works of Mercy. The 12 Fruits of the Spirit. The 3 tests of Catholicity. The 3 dangers to the soul. The 4 Last Things.
Thanks for the refresher course! Now that I've dug this out of the archives, I think I'll print up a nice copy and frame it for my girls. They are 3 years old (twins). It's about time they started learning this stuff.


Anonymous said...

I'd like to see some solidly Anglican catechesis of confirmation candidates. (Perhaps I am reflecting my own local experience by doubting that it happens.) The Romans certainly do have a hugely fat catechism, but it seems to function more as a kind of pseudo-Napoleonic code distillation of the Faith into a series of short-answer questions, which I actually find quite culturally foreign, than a teaching aid for the young. I also would like to see candidates tested as to their understanding of issues such as the authority of Scripture and the place of Tradition. Too often I read or hear 'where in the Bible does it say that . . .?' in relation to things as diverse as not being able to ordain women to the priesthood and clergy wearing clerical collars. There are more important things about the Faith than reciting a lot of lists (although I do note that some of those questions did require explanation of what was being listed). But then, I'm just funny.

Alice C. Linsley said...

"Young people are going into a world of increasingly militant atheism, and they'd better be able to make an account of their faith."

Not only do our children need to understand the Faith, the sacraments, and the duty of every Christian, they also must be made aware of the physical evidence that supports the Christian worldview against the flimsy physical evidence of Darwinian evolution. Unfortunately, not a few Roman Catholic high schools teach a "Christianized" evolutionary of human origins.

Anonymous said...

I think this is a dangerous idea. Confirmation is not as once was thought, some graduation ceremony or a proficiency exam for awarding of a "license to receive." Confirmation is merely the second half of Baptism, a deferred completion of one sacrament.

It would make more sense to return to the traditional First Penance in first grade, Confirmation and First Communion in second grade. Or even more sense to recover the oldest tradition--Confirmation and First Communion immediately after Baptism.

Save proficiency exams for something else, like voting rights in a parish meeting.

Anonymous said...

I think this is a dangerous idea. Confirmation is not as once was thought, some graduation ceremony or a proficiency exam for awarding of a "license to receive." Confirmation is merely the second half of Baptism, a deferred completion of one sacrament.

Yet, in the West, the reason for that "delay" which puts that 2nd half later in life is precisely because it has to wait until individuals have reached an age of mature discernment and understanding.

Remember, baptism in the Early Church was, initially, for adults. Indeed, many delayed it until quite late in life because of the difficult burden of living sufficiently virtuously afterwards.

Before that baptism, catechumen were expected to undergo substantial tutoring in morals and ethics -- and, afterwards, additional instruction in the "mysteries" of the faith.

It was only the influence of the theology of original sin -- and concerns over the spiritual state of those (such as infants) who died without baptism -- that the annointing with water and chrism with oil were separated... not by moving "Confirmation" later in life, but by moving "Baptism" earlier.

So, in fact, as conceived by the practices of the Early Church and the teaching of the catholic tradition, Confirmation is indeed supposed to be something like a "proficiency exam" and done to give "license to receive". That is part of the whole point.

It is the idea that communion should be casually distributed and confirmation not include an examination of a candidate's commitment and understanding which is the dangerous innovation -- not the other way around.

Recall how seriously Scripture enjoins us to treat reception of Communion:
For as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the Lord's death until he comes. Whoever, therefore, eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner will be guilty of profaning the body and blood of the Lord. Let a man examine himself, and so eat of the bread and drink of the cup. For any one who eats and drinks without discerning the body eats and drinks judgment upon himself. That is why many of you are weak and ill, and some have died (1 Cor 11:26-30)


I wonder if this problem of catechesis is, in fact, a manifestation of a more general disregard of the Eucharist and contemning of sacramentality as a whole.

Even in some of the most "catholic" parishes, Communion sometimes appears to be understood chiefly as a "social" event -- as if you're entitled to receive it just for showing up, listening to the sermon, and dropping a dollar into the offering plate -- rather than as a sealing of sacramental membership in the Body of Christ.

How many priests -- if a new couple, unknown to him, shows up at a service, appears to follow along, and presents themselves at the rail -- will simply give them the Sacrament without demure (perhaps out of a desire to avoid scandal or offense)... not even knowing whether they are baptized, if they understand the basics of the faith and believe in the Real Presence, if they are living in adultery, etc?

Should not the assumption be, rather, that no one is entitled to receive the Sacrament until they have been duly interviewed and (if necessary) instructed by the clergy to ensure that they are baptised, confirmed, and understand the basics of that in which they are participating, especially in view of that 1 Cor 11 passage cited above? Don't we believe that any more?

Seems to me that (FWIW) -- at least if we take Scripture and Tradition seriously and honestly call ourselves sacramental Christians... and if we wish to set a non-hypocritical example of living out what our Church teaches -- that such caution should be the case everywhere.

pax Christi,

Anonymous said...

A thoughtful answer, LP. Not to pile on to Aramaean (ok, well, mayhaps a little piling on), but how does a confirmand honestly answer the bishop’s question without the knowledge to do so? That question would be:

DO ye here, in the presence of God, and of this con- gregation, renew the solemn promise and vow that ye made, or that was made in your name, at your Baptism; ratifying and confirming the same; and acknowledging your-selves bound to believe and to do all those things which ye then undertook, or your Sponsors then undertook for you?

But, it looks like PECUSA already was getting squishy on confirmation standards by the 1928 BCP. I actually like the charge to the confirmand from the 1892 book which drives home the point to an assent to the corpus of the faith:

TO the end that Confirmation may be ministered to the more edifying of such as shall receive it, the Church hath thought good to order, That none shall be confirmed but such as can say the Creed, the Lords Prayer, and the Ten Commandments; and can also answer to such other Questions, as in the short Catechism are contained: which order is very convenient to be observed; to the end, that children, being now come to the years of discretion, and having learned what their Godfathers and Godmothers promised for them in Baptism, may themselves, with their own mouth and consent, openly before the Church, ratify and confirm the same; and also promise, that, by the grace of God, they will evermore endeavour themselves faithfully to observe such things, as they, by their own confession, have assented unto.

Ok, so how do you measure the knowledge that the little darlings have? Well, you give them a test to see what they know and where you have to remediate.

Time was when there were “solidly Anglican materials” out there, replete with study questions and test questions. The problem is that we have forgotten them, like so much other great Anglo-catholic/Anglican material, and, even when we discover them, we traditional Anglican folks seem to lack the time, money and energy to revamp them and get them published. (This might lead to a general rant on stewardship and giving that would lead some to think me churlish!)

As for the RCC’s Catechism, it is the source for instructional materials and manuals, rather than the teaching tool itself. My daughter studies from a religion book, suitably graphically presented for the discerning 21st century thirteen year-old, that narrates the Catechism, provides stories and vignettes to accompany material, and study questions at the end. (Actually, it is a heck of a lot better than the adult-level RCIA stuff, which is generally even more badly taught than it is written.)

So, my hope is to work with the materials that Bp. Florenza has shared with me, and put out something more useful than a thirty page pamphlet that essentially says, “Memorize the Creed and the Lord’s Prayer in proper English, dearie, and the nice bishop will let you in the club.” The times require a little more militans in our ecclesia, and that necessitates more rigorous catechesis.

In Christ,

Fr. C.

Anonymous said...

Sorry, boys, you're wrong. And you're right. And no, I'm not schizophrenic. (And neither am I!)

Right: We need better educational materials, and we need better catechesis, and we need well-taught laity--and all of this means that most of all we need well educated clergy. All the things in that list from Fr Nalls are important, and every single Christian needs to know them, and know them backwards and forwards!

Wrong: Confirmation has nothing to do with it. (LP--you've got it exactly backwards. Read Aidan Kavanagh, for example.) We need to lose the ridiculous notion that receiving the Blessed Sacrament has anything whatsoever to do with comprehension. Teach a seven year old that "it's Jesus, and no, Johnny, we don't know how, exactly, but He said It is, and we trust Him." Johnny has the rest of his life to work on the how.

poetreader said...

Even the best confirmation class is absolutely incapable of teaching someone enough to qualify him or her to approach the Sacrament. If we give the impression that this right has been earned by attending a course or passing a test, we are teaching both falsely and dangerously.

"He that eateth and drinketh unworthily eateth and drinketh damnation ..." Right on! How does one become worthy? Isn't it through repentance? Isn't that the admission, "Lord, I am not worthy ..."? It was the Pharisees who believed they could come worthy to the Lord -- and they were called 'vipers' and 'whitewashed sepulchres', and 'hypocrites'. He that thinks he is worthy, isn't.

It's a matter of discipline when the Sacrament of Confirmation is to be administered, whether in infancy or later. There may indeed be sound reasons for both approaches, and both are solidly rooted in the Tradition of the Church. We may decide to link the sacrament to education, which has been the Anglican practice, but if we do so we need to be 100% certain that the pouring out of the Holy Spirit is not dependent upon what we know, but upon God's free gift through the Church.

Is catechesis, then, unimportant? By no means. The teaching (and learning) of the faith is an integral part of Christian life. For the child brought up in the Church and therefore baptized as an infant, it begins even before speech has begun, and is the primary responsibility of the parents, and is expected to continue, by various means, until the Christian breathes his last breath. Confirmation is not a graduation in any sense if the word, and the perception that it is is one of the most serious problems we as a church face.

For the adult convert, catechesis is preparatory to entering the Church by Baptism and Confirmation, and constitutes merely the beginning of a lifelong Christian education.

In either case anything that produces the appearance of a stopping place in study is no less than a lie.

That all being said, the outline given is a good one. Actually, all those things should be a part of a Christian child's background knowledge long before entering what we call a confirmation class. If this is not so for most of our children, we have been cheating them grievously


Anonymous said...

I heard it said that every Sunday is a day of obligation, But is it possible to be too legalistic about such things?

Is it a sin to work on Sunday, even after you've gone to Church in the morning?

Is it a sin to miss Church because you're not feeling well, or someone in your family is sick?

Is Sunday the Christian Sabbath, and should we observe it the same way the Jews observed their Sabbath (or would this be a form of the Galatian heresy)?