Many celebrate the Sacraments of First Eucharist and Confirmation during spring, and one listener named Titus asks Father Dave about the order of the Sacraments of Initiation.
Titus asserts that the Catechism establishes the order as “Baptism, Confirmation, then Eucharist” but many dioceses offer first Communion before Confirmation. He asks, “What are the advantages of following this order: Baptism, Eucharist, Confirmation?”
Father Dave begins, “In terms of ritual and how we celebrate the Sacraments, this is definitely a hot topic.” He first offers a correction to Titus’ interpretation of the Catechism, and reads a section regarding these Sacraments. The Catechism says, “The Sacraments of Christian initiation – Baptism, Confirmation, and the Eucharist – lay the foundations of every Christian life. The sharing in the divine nature given to men through the grace of Christ bears a certain likeness to the origin, development, and nourishing of the natural life. The faithful are born anew by Baptism, strengthened by the Sacrament of Confirmation, and receive in the Eucharist, the food of eternal life” (1212).
“It does list them in the order that you’re talking about: Baptism, Confirmation and Eucharist,” Father Dave says. “I should point out that in Church documents, when something is a must, it is indicated as a must. The Catechism makes a nice, theological, and poetic argument for that particular order. But it does not say, nor does any element of universal Church law, such as the code of Canon Law, say that they must be celebrated in this order.”
He does note that Baptism comes first since it opens the door to those other sacraments. “We can’t celebrate Eucharist before somebody is baptized. We can’t have the Sacrament of Confirmation before somebody is baptized. So the only thing that’s really legislated, Titus, is that Baptism must come first,” Father Dave says.
An alternative order that many in North America and around the world follow is “Baptism, Eucharist, Confirmation.” Father Dave explains some of the history, and that all three Sacraments of Initiation were once celebrated at the same time at a young age. This changed in the 1800s, as he explains, “The Church adopted this practice that we would have Baptism as an infant, and then Confirmation and Eucharist still in that order at a much later age. Not even the age of reason, but more like the teenage years, and embracing a philosophy that to be fully initiated, one should at least be mostly formed in their faith.”
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Father Dave continues, “In 1910, Pope St. Pius X said we shouldn’t be delaying the Eucharist until so late in life. The Eucharist is the summit and source of our faith, it nourishes us, it allows us to grow in our faith. So why are we waiting until somebody is 14 or 15? So he moved the age of first Communion to younger, the age of reason.”
“So since 1910, until now, we’ve been doing Baptism at infancy, Eucharist at the age of reason, around age 7, first or second grade. Then waiting until that later part in life for somebody to be more fully formed before receiving the Sacrament of Confirmation,” Father Dave says. “As you can see, this happened over many years with different popes and different factors affecting the Church. Different ways in which, we would say, that the Holy Spirit is inspiring the Church to act.”