Sunday, August 10, 2008

Confirmation and Sacramental Intention

The following was written and posted on The Continuum on May 6, 2006. Because we have many new readers, since those early start up days, it seems wise to post it again now.

rom the Book of Common Prayer, Second Office of Instruction, p. 291 in the 1928 (American) 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 understanding, 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 that dates 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?


Anonymous said...

Excellent post! Just another reason to beware of the 1979 book of alternative services - in good
conscience I can't call it BOOK
OF COMMON PRAYER. Not only has the
theology been changed, it is no longer the words of, or in the literary style of, Archbishop Cranmer.

1928 BCP Supporter

Anonymous said...

I joined the Episcopal church in 1978, and by then the 1928 PB was long gone. Having been confirmed in 1979 under the new prayer book, I find your last question very upsetting. Should I be asking my Bishop to re-confirm me?


Anonymous said...

This is a very good analysis. (And yet another reason why I am desirous of receiving conditional confirmation.)

John Dixon said...

The 79 seems to be an outright attack on all the Sacraments. It has been awhile since I have looked t one and I knew of many changes but this one slipped me.

Sorry to be picky but I do not think that the 28' is exactly the literal words of Cranmer or necessarily his literary style. After all there has been a number of revisions since the 1549 and much of what he assembled had prior authorship. I think the trap with giving to much attention to the author is to be of 'Cephas' or Apollos' . Cramner did a huge work but he is one man in one time, I doubt he ever imagined either his impact or that people would be more concerned with his authorship than with the Councils or Scripture. Please do not think I am suggesting you are implying as much but I certainly know those who do.

BTW anybody know if Dr Toon's book on the 79 vs BCP picked this issue up? Many leaning protestant do not care about Confirmation or the other lessor Sacraments.

Anonymous said...

I take your point that the Confirmation rite provided in the
1979 book is of dubious validity.

But what if a TEC bishop consecrated after that date used the historic rite? Would it be a valid sacrament? Is "intention" located in the mind and heart of the minister? in the liturgical form used? or in the official doctrine of the church as expressed in its canons and official liturgy? Bluntly, can TEC, which abandoned catholic doctrine and apostolic order in 1979, have ANY valid sacraments?
How do their sacramental ministrations differ, if at all, from other heretical Protestants?

Fr. Robert Hart said...

ACA Musician:

You wrote: Having been confirmed in 1979 under the new prayer book, I find your last question very upsetting. Should I be asking my Bishop to re-confirm me?

I believe you merely went through a ritual with, I am sure, your own sincere intentions. So, my answer is yes. Your bishop is a wise and compassionate man, so your need will be foremost in his mind, I am sure.

Fr. Wells wrote:

Bluntly, can TEC, which abandoned catholic doctrine and apostolic order in 1979, have ANY valid sacraments? How do their sacramental ministrations differ, if at all, from other heretical Protestants?

This is one of those very important theological questions that requires the serious attention of Continuing Anglicans. I believe they have forfeited every sacrament that requires Holy Orders. And, as they drift further and further from Christianity, the real question is, what is the Intention of their whole sect?

Anonymous said...


If you actually compare the 1928 to the 1549, written by Cranmer, the words are very close, with few changes.

I do not honor Cranmer above what he deserves as the author, but the BOOK OF COMMON PRAYER that he authored was orthodox, and has stood the test of time.

However, my point was that to call something that is not close to his words the "BOOK OF COMMON PRAYER",
is, morally,a copyright violation.
Legally, they could do it, but morally you can't call something so different by the name "BOOK OF COMMON PRAYER". They should have been honest and labeled it what it truly is - a book of alternative services.

1928 BCP Supporter

John A. Hollister said...

Fr. Hart wrote, anent the Domestic and Foreign Missionary Society of the Protestant Episcopal Church in the United States of America (i.e., the body that likes to call itself "THE Episcopal Church"):

"I believe they have forfeited every sacrament that requires Holy Orders." As written, this would seem to except Baptism and Matrimony from invalidity so as to leave them still available to TECites.

I would go a step farther than Fr. Hart did. Anyone who conducts a baptism and, in so doing, uses the rite contained in the 1979 "Book", is at least arguably not intending to do what the Church has always done in Baptism (i.e., to abjure the world, the flesh, and the Devil, and to put on Christ) but instead to join some vague social service organization, it is entirely possible that PECUSA (aka "TEC") cannot validly confer even that Sacrament.

Then there is a similar doubt regarding PECUSAn/TECite Matrimony. Where PECUSA/TEC has publicly demonstrated that its concept of marriage includes 4X and 2X2Y chromosomal pairings, it can also be argued that those who express their intention to be married under the oversight of PECUSA/TEC likewise no longer intend to do what the Church has always done in the Sacrament of Matrimony.

That is, PECUSA/TEC's situation may well be analogous to its situation with respect to Holy Order: having created a new social state, into which its members may now enter who but who are not eligible to receive the Church's actual Sacrament that is aped by the new state, it must be presumed that all PECUSAns/TECites who participate in such rites intend to do what PECUSA/TEC now does, not what the Church has always done.

If this analysis be correct, then PECUSA/TEC cannot validly offer the Sacrament of Matrimony, either, even though that Sacrament does not require a minister in the Apostolic Succession any more than Baptism does.

John A. Hollister+

Alice C. Linsley said...

Continuing Episcopalians early raised concerns about the theology and structure of the 1979 Prayer Book. The formularies of the Book of Common Prayer were engrained in these clergy and shaped their belief. Continuing clergy were concerned about the preservation of the Book of Common Prayer. When they waded into the “new” Prayer Book (1979), they were able to discern the dangerous currents. They resisted pressure to use the 1979 Book and were often belittled by liberal bishops for their critical stand, especially since they also opposed the innovation of women priests.

It was in the exercise of their pastoral offices that many clergy became most painfully aware of the departure of the 1979 Book from the tradition of the Church. The new pastoral offices gave early warning that something was amiss with the theology of the Episcopal Church and the Standing Liturgical Commission. Pastoral offices express in a concrete way the theology of the Church and traditonalist clergy were reluctant to lead their flocks down an un-traveled road, so they persisted in using the 1928 Book of Common Prayer.

In the earliest centuries of the Church confirmation immediately followed baptism. This remains the practice in the Eastern Church, but in the Latin Church the two became separated because, as I understand it, for a long while the Bishop of Rome retained the prerogative of laying hands on the newly baptized. This meant that newly baptized persons had to travel to Rome to receive confirmation. This did not pose an obstacle to people living in Rome, but it became impractical as Christianity spread.

Numerous English church councils attempted to restore the connection between baptism and confirmation, but in reality few people were presented for confirmation. This led Archbishop Peckham to rule in 1281 that baptized persons who had not been confirmed could not receive communion. This was the rubric in the pre-Reformation Sarum rite in use at Salisbury Cathedral, considered the most significant influence on the first Book of Common Prayer (1549). This ruling was in effect in the American Prayer Books until the 1979 edition. The requirement was eliminated because it was regarded as a “barrier to fellowship” with Christians of other denominations. This accommodation is now recognized as having a negative effect on the doctrinal and catechetical integrity of the Church.

John Dixon said...



I think the 28 is the best out there and I am no expert, but it seems to me a lot of people put it on a pedestal similar to the Protestant 'KJV only' tribe who generally do not understand that there are several editions- it is always funny when you show such a Holman Bible from the 1800's with Apocrypha!

I have compared but the books are still different and there are different emphases in places.

I am on board as the 'intent' of the 79 Book of Common Propaganda

Steve Cavanaugh said...


it was not that the Bishop of Rome had to do the laying on of hands, but that the bishop of the diocese did. It was never the case that the faithful of another diocese had to travel to Rome to be confirmed. In the East, a priest confirms, but only with holy myron consecrated by the bishop. In the West, it has generally been the case that only the bishop confirms, using sacred chrism that he consecrated at the Chrism Mass of Maundy Thursday. (Although it has long been the Roman practice that any priest could, in an emergency, administer confirmation, so that no one might die without the sacrament.) Modern Roman practice allows the pastor of a parish to confirm new converts, and on occasion to confirm children baptized earlier. It was formerly the practice of Roman Catholics to postpone communion until after confirmation, but since the early 20th century, that has not generally been the case, although there is a movement to restore that order of the sacraments.

Canon Tallis said...

Another little quirk of '79 vs '28 and the classical prayer books. I will use no names to protect those not quite wise enough to abandon '79, but a friend of mine objected that the wording of the "Nicene Creed" in the '79 book was a serious mistranslation. The rector of his parish, admitting that his Greek was rusty, called in the new curate and between the two of them they went back to the original Greek and came to agree with my friend. Instead of reverting to a classic and historically approved version of the creed, they made their own which the parish is now using.

From my point of view and his that is congregationalism. But that is what is going to happen again and again if those currently leaving TEC for GAFCONism don't have the sense to revert to a classical and historical prayer book rather than attempting to create their own rite.