The Ministry of Christian Initiation unfolds in the parish community. As the core business of the Church, Christian Initiation is the concern of all the baptised. That includes you and me. To leave it to the parish leader, to Father, or the Parish Sacramental and RCIA Teams is to misunderstand our baptismal responsibility.
Go therefore, make disciples of all the nations; baptise them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teach them … to observe all the commandments I gave you. [Mt 28:19-20]
Until fairly recently, as the Church of Maitland-Newcastle, we have put a lot of energy into the celebration of Confirmation. In part, this is because the bishop is the ordinary presider, and any liturgy in which the people gather with their Bishop is meant to be the very best we can do in our parish context.
The review of our current Pastoral Guidance for the Preparation and Celebration of the Sacrament of Confirmation was intended to take place in 2020. It was delayed first by COVID and then by the death of our late Bishop, Bill Wright. It is nearly 12 months since Bishop Michael Kennedy was installed and he has now experienced a ‘Confirmation season’ here in Maitland-Newcastle. We are, therefore, ready to undertake our long-awaited review. In fact, the timing of this review is ideal, as there has been significant change in our life and mission since 2017.
Any review is an opportunity to do more than consider the practicalities of our procedures and processes. A review invites us to reflect deeply, firstly on the understanding and appreciation of the Ministry of Christian Initiation that we bring to the Sacrament of Confirmation. We find the Church’s best understanding in the Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults (RCIA). It is the Church’s intention that this understanding inform and shape the Sacraments of Initiation for children. The following reflection summarises the vision of Christian Initiation articulated in the RCIA.
is a journey into the mystery of God’s love within the Church’s tender care (RCIA a.95).
It begins in response to God’s presence and prompting in the life of a person.
and takes place within the parish community, understood as 100% of Catholics.
The journey takes time and varies
according to personal circumstance,
the grace of God and the movement of the Holy Spirit.
The community of faith meets people where they are
and accompanies them through opportunities to encounter the mystery of Christ
in life, prayer, scripture, liturgy, and the life and mission of the parish community.
Encounters with Christ are the focus of reflection
in search of what God is revealing
and to discern its meaning for discipleship lived within the Catholic Tradition.
Christian Initiation is a journey marked by conversion,
and discerning readiness
to celebrate the Sacraments of Initiation.
Those initiated continue to hold a place of honour in the community
with accompaniment to continue in the first year after Initiation.
Take time to sit with this reflection.
What do you notice?
What is Christian Initiation about? What does it mean?
What are you being invited to learn – unlearn – relearn? To what change are you/we being invited, for both adults and children?
This rich appreciation of the Ministry of Christian Initiation then informs our reflection on Confirmation, the second step in this longer process that begins with Baptism and finds its fulfilment in the celebration of the First Eucharist. Again, we begin, not with policies and procedures, but by reflecting on our understanding and appreciation of the Sacrament of Confirmation. The Church’s vision for this Sacrament is found in the Apostolic Constitution on the Sacrament of Confirmation, and the Introduction to the Order of Confirmation, both found in the Order of Confirmation.
Such deep reflection is essential, given the importance of the Ministry of Christian Initiation in the life and mission of the Church. We need to take our time with this and bring our best wisdom to it. The Review Document leads those who choose to participate into this deep reflection. The link to the ‘Questionnaire’ is at the end of the ‘Review Document’.
We are inviting the participation of all the faithful in this review. That includes you. The Questionnaire has been structured so that parish ministers, parents, parishioners, sponsors and others can take part.
This review is about more than looking back over what we have done. It also opens up the opportunity for parishes to look forward and reimagine how they prepare for and celebrate, not only Confirmation but the whole journey of Christian Initiation with children and their families.
Some time ago – Liturgy Matters Christian Initiation Update April 4, 2023 – we provided a resource that invited all parishes to engage in such a reimagining when they felt called and ready. Such reimagining is a complex and challenging journey. It invites us into a deep process of learning, unlearning and relearning, and so into the heart of conversion.
This invitation to reimagine is called ‘Come and See.’ The primary document and accompanying resources are on the diocesan website (Click the + beside ‘Reimagining the Ministry of Christian Initiation’). Within the context of our Confirmation review, I invite you to take the opportunity to read and reflect on ‘Come and See,’ particularly p 15 – 22 and, more specifically, p 20 – 21.
As Henry Ford famously said, ‘If we do what we’ve always done, we’ll get what we’ve always got.’ I think all of us hope that the Ministry of Christian Initiation will be more fruitful and life-giving for all.
Let us take up the opportunity of this review to reflect deeply and engage in the journey of learning, unlearning and relearning. There is no other option for the baptised. Fr Richard Lennan captures this imperative in his recent book ‘Tilling the Church: Theology for an Unfinished Project.’ We must remain open to God’s Spirit inviting us into a stance that embraces self-criticism and creative faithfulness. Imagine the possibilities if we do!
So please, share your wisdom and have your say. The closing date is 17 March.
One final note: Our review will take time and involve many steps, including a conversation with parish communities about any revised documents and procedures. In the meantime, as parishes begin to prepare for the ‘Confirmation season,’ it is important to note that the current Guidance document and procedures remain in place until they are replaced by Bishop Michael. All our current documents are on the diocesan website. Click on + beside ‘Pastoral Guidance for Confirmation.’
Diocesan Liturgy Council Update
Image: © Diocese of Maitland-Newcastle. All rights reserved.
Scripture quotation: The Jerusalem Bible © 1966 by Darton, Longman & Todd Ltd and Doubleday and Company Ltd. All rights reserved.
Richard Lennan Tilling the Church Liturgical Press Academic. 2022. Collegeville, Minnesota
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