My dear friends,
I write this letter the day after our Confirmation service at Holy Trinity, when six members of our church family received the Oil of Chrism and the Laying on of Hands by Bishop Mark. It was such a joyful occasion and felt to me to be a real celebration for and of the community. Very often we have Deanery Confirmations (which are lovely) but it is difficult for most members of a particular church to be present elsewhere to support their candidates during, say, a wet November evening!
Confirmation is part of our common heritage within the Western Church, and originally was administered at the same time as Baptism. Indeed, this is still the practice in the Orthodox Churches. Thus, in the Greek and Russian Orthodox Churches, once the person has been baptised and anointed with the Oil of Chrism, they receive Holy Communion – even as a baby. The West separated the sacrament of confirmation from that of baptism to re-establish direct contact between the person being initiated with the bishop – the chief shepherd of a diocese.
Communion, which continued to be given only after confirmation, was administered only on reaching the age of reason, and then some time after the 13th century, the age of confirmation and Communion began to be delayed further, from seven, to twelve and to fifteen. Further development within the Roman Catholic Church (preparing and allowing children to receive Communion before Confirmation) has developed largely in the 20th century – something also followed by other Churches. In the Church of England this form of allowing people to receive Communion before Confirmation is carried out between the incumbent and the PCC – the case at Cuckfield.
I must say that when I gave thought to this when I was training, I did feel that the Orthodox custom was very attractive as well as based on ancient custom. That said, in the earliest days of the Church, only adults were prepared for Baptism, Chrismation and Eucharist! The important thing to say in this 21st century, is that I hope that all would feel welcome at the Table of the Lord at Cuckfield. The joy which we experienced at our recent Confirmation Eucharist was a wonderful sign of those being confirmed stating in public their trust and commitment in the knowledge of the presence of Jesus Christ within their lives. Thus they, and all God’s people, Spirit-filled, are called to proclaim the Jesus Christ is the same, yesterday, today and for ever – the Love of God made known for all humanity.