Initiation sacraments

Question: As a catechist I have been reading up on the Sacrament of Confirmation, but I am confused. In Church documents, confirmation is spoken of as a sacrament of initiation. How can there be a further sacrament of initiation after first Communion? How can I teach about confirmation in eighth grade?

Name and address withheld

Answer: There is a great deal of confusion surrounding the celebration of confirmation after first Communion. You are correct in your assessment that confirmation is a sacrament of initiation; but it can only be this if it is celebrated before first Communion. 

In Catholic tradition, baptism is the beginning of initiation, confirmation is the continuation of initiation and (first) Communion is the completion of the process. This order is the norm for the baptism of children in danger of death, for children of catechetical age, for all those who go through the Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults, for those baptized but never catechized or given confirmation and first Communion, and for those in danger of death. This order is the norm for the Eastern Catholic and Orthodox Churches, and was the norm for the first 20 centuries of the Latin-rite Church. 

It is difficult to catechize for confirmation people in eighth grade who have already received first Communion. Certainly one cannot use initiation language. To do so goes against 20 centuries of Catholic theology and practice. 

I am among those who hope that the dis-order in the sacraments of initiation will be redressed eventually. This, I hope, may occur in the pontificate of Pope Benedict XVI. This would lead to the complete restoration of the order of baptism-confirmation-Eucharist. 

In the meantime, I encourage catechists preparing eighth-graders for confirmation to avoid initiation language and to treat the Sacrament of Confirmation as an opportunity for candidates to renew their faith in a general way. Confirmation programs could be adapted to help review theological and moral tenets of the faith. 

Incense and the liturgy

Question: Why is incense used in the liturgy? Particularly at the end of funerals? 

Tracy, Trenton, N.J. 

Answer: Generally, incense is used in the liturgy as a means of blessing God and expressing adoration of him. As incense rises up to heaven, so the Church expresses its desire that its prayer rise up and give glory to God. Reference to incense is found in Psalm 141: “Let my prayer be incense before you.” In the Book of Revelation we are told, “The smoke of the incense along with the prayers of the holy ones went up before God” (8:4). 

In the final commendation in the liturgy of funerals, the use of incense is especially recommended. Incensation is accompanied by a song of farewell, which says, “Receive his/her soul and present him/her to God the Most High.” 

The Order of Christian Funerals explains: “Incense is used during the funeral rites as a sign of honor to the body of the deceased, which through baptism became the temple of the Holy Spirit. Incense is also used as a sign of the community’s prayers for the deceased rising to the throne of God and as a sign of farewell” (No. 37). 

In short, incense shows honor to the body of the deceased, signifies our hope that his or her soul (and body) will rise to heaven, and signifies the heavenward prayer of the Church. 

Msgr. M. Francis Mannion is a priest and theologian of the Diocese of Salt Lake City. Send your questions to Pastoral Answers, Our Sunday Visitor, 200 Noll Plaza, Huntington, IN 46750 or to Letters must be signed, but anonymity may be requested.