Sixth Sunday in Ordinary Time, Cycle C

The Gift of the Father

Pastoral Letter from the Most Reverend James Sean Wall

On the Restoration of the Order of the Sacraments of Initiation

(First in the Series)

To the Faithful of the Diocese of Gallup:

 “I will ask the Father, and He will give you another Advocate to be with you always, the Spirit of truth…” John 14: 16-17

Through the grace of Christ each baptized person is called to share in God’s divine nature.  The Sacrament of Baptism itself immerses us into the Divine Trinity, Whose light eliminates all darkness of sin and allows us to begin a life in which we are capable of understanding through faith the eternal life to which we are called. “…What has not entered the human heart, what God has prepared for those who love Him, this God has revealed to us through the Spirit.”[1]  In Baptism, each of us has become in a unique way a child of God called to give witness to His love in the world.

The Sacrament of Confirmation is important because its grace confirms and strengthens the supernatural life we have received in Baptism and it also enables us with its grace to live in a more mature way our lives as Christians giving witness to Christ in all that we do.  Through this Sacrament, the Holy Spirit, Who gives witness to Christ, enables us to give Him witness. [2]  The Sacrament of Confirmation is sometimes called the Sacrament of the Holy Spirit because it “marks” the soul with His indelible seal and confers on those who receive it the grace-filled power of carrying on His mission in the world. At the same time, the Sacrament of Confirmation is ordered toward a deeper communion with the Lord and to His Church through this witness to Him, a communion which receives its greatest expression and grace in this life in the sacrament of Holy Communion.

After consultation with the Presbyteral Council and having prayerfully considered it, I have decided to restore the Sacraments of Initiation to their original order, that is, Baptism, Confirmation and Holy Eucharist.  Together with this Pastoral Letter of presentation, I am sending you the new Policy for the Restored Order of the Sacraments of Initiation for the Diocese of Gallup.

Historical Background

During the first five hundred years of the Church the three Sacraments of Initiation were celebrated together, whether those who received them were adults or children.  From the fifth century until the 13th century, the Sacrament of Baptism was separated from the sacraments of Confirmation and Communion, Baptism being celebrated during infancy and Confirmation at about the age of 7.  Holy Communion was administered later, usually around the beginning of adolescence.  In this way, the order of the sacraments was conserved but they were administered in separate celebrations throughout childhood.  In 1910, Pope Saint Pius X decided that it was important for children at a younger age to receive Holy Communion and it was granted to them when they reached the age of reason, that is, about 7 years old.  This positive change had the unintended consequence of moving the Sacrament of Confirmation to an older age, thus inverting the original order of the Sacraments of Initiation.  Canon Law and the United States Episcopal Conference do not specify an age for the reception of Confirmation saying that “it shall be conferred between the age of discretion and about sixteen years of age.” Today, it is normal that any person baptized after reaching the age of reason receives in the same celebration the three Sacraments of Initiation (this often takes place at the Easter Vigil).  However, up until now, a child who was baptized as an infant would receive Holy Communion at around the age of 8 and receive the sacrament of Confirmation at a later date, sometimes waiting until they are 15 or 16.


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