Why bother confirming?
John H has picked up a fantastic post by All the Fullness on how confirmation snuck into our churches by the backdoor and ended up confusing the whole “who’s in and out” issue on communion.
In the early Church, baptism, confirmation, and first communion were always done together, in a single rite of Christian initiation. The unified rite of baptism/confirmation was understood to effect regeneration and to bestow the gift of the Holy Spirit. They were not thought of as two “different” sacraments (if for no other reason than that the term “sacrament,” and the whole taxonomy of sacraments and sacramentals had not been invented yet); but since the Son and the Holy Spirit have distinct, but complementary, roles in the economy of salvation, the two actions of being united to the Son and receiving the Holy Spirit may properly be distinguished, even though they happened in the same rite.
The connection between confirmation and first communion was, I think, originally due to the notion that baptism without confirmation was somehow incomplete. If a person has not been fully initiated into the Church (by having received the gift of the Holy Spirit), how can that person receive Holy Communion? But if baptism is rightly understood as full initiation, both in the Christological and pneumatological dimensions, then what more needs to happen to enable a person to receive communion? You’re either in Christ or you are not. If you aren’t, you daren’t approach the altar; but if you are, the priest ought not to turn you away.
Why, then, do our pastors not commune infants and young children? The usual explanation, I think, is that children do not have the understanding necessary for the faith to “discern the body” in the sacrament of the altar. As John H said in a comment on the thread that started this, 1 Corinthians 11:27ff … strongly implies that some degree of understanding and belief is *ordinarily* necessary … “faith in these words” … implies some understanding of those words.
But I do not think we want to identify faith with understanding, or worse, to make faith dependent on understanding — Credo ut intelligam and all that. As soon as we do that, we cut the ground out from under infant baptism. Faith is, of course, a gift of grace, through Word and Sacrament – not the product of our intellect and thus dependent on our understanding. He has faith in those words who has received that faith through Word and Sacrament, not just he who understands the words (shall we turn the mentally retarded away from the altar?).
Preach it brother!!! Baptism by water (not confirmation) is a signifier (but no guarantee) of entry into the visible church, Baptism in the Holy Spirit (not confirmation) is the only sure and certain way to enter into the invisible church. Since we cannot ultimately rule on the second we should happily accept the first as the doorway to the Eucharistic Table.