POPE JOHN PAUL has said on more than one occasion that pastoral activity is illusory unless it is based on sound doctrine, and for that reason the suggestion made by the Head of Religious Education of the London Oratory School, March 22, merits careful consideration. Mr Cooke's suggestion harmonises orthodox belief with sound pastoral and liturgical practice.
Pope John Paul put the teaching of the Church in a nutshell at a confirmation service in Rome on 27th May 1979, when he said:
"The descent of the Holy Spirit in Confirmation, with his characteristic gifts and fruits, has as its specific aim the formation of mature and responsible Christians. It is here that, in the last analysis, the necessary apostolate of the Laity in the Church is founded. For this reason sound preparation is indispensable, made up of prayer, reflection and the deepening of faith. Christian life cannot, in fact be improvised, but requires real and proper conscientisation. On its side, the Sacrament received tends by its very nature to be expressed in the life of each one; it will have to lead to greater faithfulness in catechesisl to deeper participation in religious practice, to more consistent behaviour in everyday existence. Therefore, I call upon you to pray intensely for all those boys and girls who will receive the Sacrament of Confirmation, in order that it may really confirm their baptismal commitments in depth, with strength and with joy."
The new Code of Canon Law does nothing to modify this perception of the sacrament; rather does it enhance understanding by putting it in the setting of other sections of the Code which bring out the primary role of parents in relation to every aspect of their children's lives; the importance of Catholic schools, and the close relationship which should exist between parents, school and parish; people's rights in relation to the spiritual goods of the Church; their right to have their voices heard about matters of concern to them; and the duties of bishops and priests concerning the administration of the sacraments. If, then, the gifts of the Holy Spirit, which are first given at baptism and then strengthened at confirmation, are seen as the characteristics of Christ (Isaiah 11.2), these can be grouped under two heads: the gifts which help the human mind to deepen its knowledge of the things of God, and the gifts which strengthen the human will to do the will of God.
Some children can receive confirmation fruitfully at a comparatively early age; as St. Thomas Aquinas says, "The age of the body is no prejudice to the development of the soul, and even children can attain this perfection of spiritual maturity." Other children might be recommended to wait, though it needs lo be kept in mind that the sacraments are not a reward for good conduct or intellectual attainment, and the relationship in the Code between the age of reason and the age of discretion allows for proper preparation without undue delay in receiving the sacrament.
Catechesis before confirmation is, of course, essential for proper preparation; but no less important is continuing catechesis after that sacrament has been received which "has as its specific aim the formation of mature and responsible Christians" (Pope John Paul). This is where Mr Cooke's idea is valuable. After their confirmation, and so aided by the Holy Spirit, children should continue their catechesis and develop their participation in the life and mission of their parish. As Mr Cooke suggests, the Easter Vigil and Ehster Sunday Masses provide a readymade opportunity for the renewal of baptismal promises (other occasions could be easily provided), and this could be given a special significance each year for those young people about to leave school to go out into the world and continue their work in Christ.
Fr Robert Gates Holy Cross Presbytery,
22 Cortayne Road, London SW6 3QA