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The Sacraments of Initiation

Just recently, on Holy Thursday, we recalled the institution of the Eucharist as a sacrament, which the documents of Vatican II called the "source and summit of the Christian life" (CCC 1324). At the Easter Vigil, many adult catechumens received the Eucharist for the first time, along with the other two Sacraments of Initiation, Baptism and Confirmation. In the upcoming weeks, many young Catholics across the country will be receiving their First Communion and Confirmation as well. So, what are the Sacraments of Initiation?

The three Sacraments of Initiation allow a person to fully enter into the life of the Church. Originally, a catechumen received all three sacraments at the same time, and they were presided over by the local bishop. However, as the church grew, it became impossible for the bishop to be available for every baptism. Therefore, over time, priests were given the ability to preside over the three sacraments, although it is customary for the local bishop to still preside over the Sacrament of Confirmation. Adult catechumens who are converting to the faith do still receive all three sacraments at the same time, at the Easter Vigil Mass. However, infants in the Roman Catholic Church usually receive Baptism shortly after they are born, and then the other two sacraments years later. In the United States, it is customary for children to receive their First Communion in 2nd grade and Confirmation somewhere in their early teen years. Some eastern churches still celebrate all three at the same time for infants. 

The first sacrament is Baptism. Baptism is a person's entrance into the Church. Coming from the Greek word for 'immersed,' Baptism cleans the catechumen's soul of original sin through immersion in water - an outward sign that effects a cleansing inward grace, given by God. Now cleansed of original sin, the catechumen may enter the Church, reborn as a son or daughter of God and accepting Jesus Christ as Savior.

The second Sacrament of Initiation is often First Communion (though Confirmation may be given first). A catechumen's First Communion is their first reception of the Eucharist - the bread and wine that is consecrated and fully becomes the Body and Blood of Christ. As long as they are receiving the Eucharist in a state of grace, the recipient is bound more closely to the Lord. As He said in the Gospel of John, ‘Those who eat my flesh and drink my blood abide in me, and I in them' (John 6:56). He pours out His Grace exponentially, giving the recipient strength to live out the Christian life and resist the temptation to sin. Frequent reception of the Eucharist is encouraged, because, as Pope St. Pius X said, 'Holy Communion is the shortest and surest way to heaven.'

The third Sacrament of Initiation is Confirmation. In Confirmation, the catechumen is sealed with the gifts of the Holy Spirit while being anointed with chrism oil. Because a seal shows a sign of ownership, this seal on our souls confirms that we fully belong to Christ. We are called to use the gifts of the Holy Spirit (wisdom, understanding, counsel, fortitude, knowledge, piety, and fear of the Lord) to evangelize the faith and share in Christ's mission as priest, prophet, and king. The Sacrament of Confirmation recalls Pentecost, when the Holy Spirit came down upon the apostles and signified the birth of the Church. 

This is a special time of year in the United States Catholic Church; while infant baptisms happen throughout the year, spring is generally when young Catholics celebrate their First Communion and Confirmation, Likewise, adult catechumens have just recently entered the church as full members. Let us pray for all those who just received or are preparing to receive the Sacraments of Initiation, that they may take seriously their lives as Catholics, fully join in the life of the Church, and be  continually open to receiving God's Grace. 


By Anna Neal

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