Restoration and/or Reversal

As I mentioned below in a comment of PrayTell’s report on the diocese of Liverpool’s decision regarding the order of the sacraments of initiation, I find it interesting that on his blog Fr. Zuhlsdorf, in reporting this story, speaks of “reversing” the order of the sacraments, while on this blog it says “restoring” the order of the sacraments.

Both, of course, can be true statements, without contradicting one another. But I wonder if the difference in wording betrays different attitudes toward tradition, liturgy, theology etc.

I should note that most of the comments posted on Fr. Z’s blog support the change, and indeed some have questioned his use of the term “reversing,” so perhaps we ought not read too much into this. Maybe this is one of those issues that cannot be parsed in a traditional/conservative vs. progressive/liberal way. That would certainly be nice.



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26 responses to “Restoration and/or Reversal”

  1. John Drake Avatar
    John Drake

    Actually, the first paragraph of the Herald’s story uses the word “reversing”, so I imagine that is where Fr. Z picked it up. He, in fact, uses the word “restored” in his intro to the post.

    1. Fritz Bauerschmidt Avatar

      Fair enough. But I still have the question of whether the Catholic Herald‘s use of “reversal” indicates anything (e.g. “here we go again with more liturgical fidgeting”).

      1. John Drake Avatar
        John Drake

        Seems unlikely to me. If the familiar order had been first communion then confirmation, and now it will be confirmation then first communion, it is a reversal. If they wanted to imply something negative, perhaps a word like regression would have been used.

        My Webster’s defines the verb “reverse” – “to turn completely about in position or direction”.

        And the first definition for “reversal” is “an act or the process of reversing. “

  2. Nick Baty Avatar
    Nick Baty

    It’s good to see Britain’s first city mentioned on a US-based blog. But, while not wishing to split hairs, we are the Archdiocese of Liverpool. The Diocese of Liverpool is our coterminous Anglican counterpart!

    1. Jim McKay Avatar
      Jim McKay

      Do you know what sequence the Diocese of Liverpool uses for these sacraments? Setting aside the questions about the comparability of the sacraments, I am wondering if the Anglicans still require confirmation before communion, and if they administer both in the teen years.

      As I understand it this was the universal tradition until Pius X pushed for communion for younger children. I am curious how this played out across the Anglican/Catholic divide, and if this might be some of the context for this change by the Archdiocese of Liverpool.

      1. Nick Baty Avatar
        Nick Baty

        I expect this will be more to do with Archbishop Kelly’s experiences in his previous diocese than with working across denominations.

  3. Jeffrey Pinyan Avatar


    The article in the Herald also uses the word “restore”.

  4. Jeffrey Herbert Avatar

    And also, it would have been necessary for the Herald writer to know that there was an older practice that is being “restored”. That’s assuming a lot for a news columnist. I think “reversal” is a good neutral term. It just makes an observation about the order they were in versus the order they will be in. It is reversed.

    You are right however about the different word usage depending upon viewpoint. For some, the EF has been “restored”… for others it is being “revived” or worse, “gone back to”. Each one says something different about the user.

  5. Margaret O'Connor Avatar
    Margaret O’Connor

    I can remember being told that, whilst Bishop of Salford, Archbishop Patrick Kelly reintroduced confirmation before Holy Communion, so it’s not unheard of.

  6. Fr. Allan J. McDonald Avatar

    In a sense this post illustrates the tension that exists in the Church today between two theological groupings since Vatican II. One group wants a reform of the Church and her practices whether or not that reform is within the context of rupture or continuity with the Church prior to the Second Vatican Council. Another group wants to turn the clock back and deny all of the documents of the Second Vatican Council. In the middle of this group is what Pope Benedict has endorsed, reform within continuity. As it regards the order of the Sacraments of Initiation of Children, the ancient tradition still maintained by Eastern Catholics in union with Rome is Baptism, Confirmation (Chrismation) and Holy Eucharist in infancy. To recover this order in the Latin Rite is a restoration, not a reversal of anything and certainly could be viewed as “reform within continuity.” Not that anyone except some extreme groups are suggesting this, is to delay all of the Sacraments of Initiation until a child is considered an adult. That would be a reversal of our current practice and a reform within the context of rupture with the Church prior to the Second Vatican Council. Then there are those who want the Church to be as it was in the 1950’s; they want the hermeneutic of no reform, period.

  7. Adam Wood Avatar

    It’s interesting that, while this certainly is a move “back to” an earlier usage, in my experience, the (mostly liberal/progressive) lay people who run RCIA programs and have been to “lay pastoral training” and that sort of thing in the US would welcome this restoration.

    only people who wouldn’t welcome it:
    -Youth ministers, who think that “Confirmation Prep” belongs to the Youth Group, rather than to the the Religious Education team

  8. Philip Sandstrom Avatar
    Philip Sandstrom

    When President Eisenhower spoke in warning of the ‘military-industrial complex’, he missed a much more harmful group for our religion/faith — ‘the catechetical complex’ . With the best will in the world, the publishers of catechetical materials and music for use in Church, along with the good people in parishes that use their materials, have practically ‘dumbed-down’ the Church over several generations. And the harm is becoming more and more evident both the ‘liberal wing’ and also ‘the tradi’ wing. The gettting back to the Patristic sources and ‘what did our faith mean to our early ancestors in the faith’ in order to have access to the Tradtion, the traditions, and the spirituality in the liturgy, which was the intent of the Fathers of Vatican II has in general been watered down — because seriously misunderstood (or worse rejected) by the ‘catechetical complex’ both by its producers and users. The question of the ‘correct order of the Sacraments of Initiation’ should be a ‘no-brainer’ — but we all know it is not, exactly because of the ‘catechetical complex’ with all its ‘parish programs’. May the Holy Trinity help the Church to properly find the Way of the Lord!

  9. Bill deHaas Avatar

    Here, here, Phillip!!! You hit the nail on the head.

  10. Todd Flowerday Avatar

    “One group wants a reform of the Church and her practices whether or not that reform is within the context of rupture or continuity with the Church prior to the Second Vatican Council.”

    At times, continuity is indistinguishable from the hermeneutic of obstruction–little more than an excuse not to change, not to reform, not to repent and embrace the Gospel.

    That doesn’t mean that upheaval should be the common experience of faith, but we should strive to order important virtues, give good example, and provide a solid foundation.

  11. Jeffrey Herbert Avatar

    It’s interesting that, while this certainly is a move “back to” an earlier usage, in my experience, the (mostly liberal/progressive) lay people who run RCIA programs and have been to “lay pastoral training” and that sort of thing in the US would welcome this restoration.


    You might think so, but it certainly isn’t the case. The “Restored Order” movement, beginning in the late 90’s, met with widespread opposition from the “Catechetical Community” (see above comment about ‘the catechetical complex’ ). If the children receive all Sacraments in 2nd grade, it renders pointless the whole idea of grade 3-12 Religious Education, at least from the parents perspective. It upset the whole apple cart of the Religious Education status quo. Except in a few scattered Diocese(s), the movement quickly died.

  12. Todd Flowerday Avatar

    No, I think Adam is right. Most RCIA folks, including people who work with children of catechetical age, favor the restored order.

    I do know some DRE’s who favor it as well. I knew one who had all of his kids baptized, confirmed, and give First Eucharist as infants. He’s now a permanent deacon.

    Much of the resistance comes from schools, and from some, but not all youth ministers.

    Restoration of the order of the initiation sacraments is squarely under the progressive banner.

  13. Adam Wood Avatar

    I think Todd, in his agreement with me, and JH in his disagreement are both right- we’re just talking about different groups of people. Todd and I are talking about the progressive RCIA types (my mom). JH is talking about the status quo Youth Minister, Catholic School religion teachers, and the publishers of HS confirmation text books. Middle-of-the-roaders who are neither particularly Traditional or Progressive.

    This is one of those cases where the 10% on both sides (progressive and traditional) would be in agreement and happily move forward together if it weren’t for the sedentary (and powerful) 80% who simply want things to stay as they happen to be this particular moment.

    1. Jeffrey Herbert Avatar

      Yes…Todd is right in his point, but wrong in his objection to my point (I think he just automatically disagrees with whatever I say, but I can’t really hold that against him).

      We ARE talking about two different groups. There are certainly many PARENTS and active RCIA advocates who favor the Restored Order. But that’s a TOTALLY different group from the “catechetical complex”… Religious Education Directors, K-12 catechists, Rel Ed textbook publishers and even, yes, clergy.

      Paul’s observations are quite accurate. Many Diocese(s) in the US tried this and then after the immense train wreck it caused re-restored non-restored order.

      Another related issue is the grade for confirmation, which is not even stable throughout some Diocese(s) let alone across the US. In the time I have been in this Diocese (21 years) it has gone from 5th grade to 7th grade to “restored order”, back to 7th grade and now as of this year, back to 9th grade. That in 20 years. The disruption this causes for parent and parish CCD programs is a real problem.

      1. Todd Flowerday Avatar

        My responses are likely skewed in that I’m not a cheerleader. If a person posts something I agree with 100%, I usually skip commenting on it, unless I have something extra to add.

        It’s more a matter of education level in sacramental theology. Liturgists and catechumenate directors tend to have the background, and some DRE’s, too. I’ve found parents generally don’t. And clergy are usually strongly in favor of restored order (a slim minority) or just prefer to avoid the pastoral headaches.

        Personally, I think sacramental catechesis should be about more than holding a carrot on the end of a stick.

      2. Jack Wayne Avatar
        Jack Wayne

        Not only is confirmation used like a carrot on a stick, but doing so encourages misunderstanding of what confirmation is and how it is a sacrament. I knew people who chose not to be confirmed because it was presented to them as being, primarily, an adult declaration that you want to be Catholic and believe in all the Church teaches (certainly not a choice I would want an 8th grader making!). My family moved about a year before I was to be confirmed, so I didn’t get confirmed and didn’t feel too bad about it because I saw it as being sort of like a churchy graduation ceremony – little different from choosing not to walk across stage to receive your diploma in high school. It wasn’t until I was in my 20s and had read more about the actual sacramental nature of confirmation (all that stuff about the Holy Spirit) that I really felt like I had missed out on something important.Other folks I know who were confirmed in their 20s did so because (again, like a carrot on a stick) they needed it to get married in the Church.

  14. Paul Inwood Avatar
    Paul Inwood

    Data point 1: In Archbishop Patrick Kelly’s former diocese of Salford, where he introduced the “restored sequence”, that was discarded (after his departure to Liverpool) in favour of the previous way of doing things. It is rumoured that the change back resulted from pressure from the clergy of the diocese.

    Data point 2: Although the latest issue of the Tablet states that many US dioceses use the restored sequence, in fact less than 20 actually do so. An informal survey several years ago on the Notre Dame liturgy listserv indicated that it could be as low as 12 or 15. And several who tried it subsequently reverted, we are told, to Confirmation after First Eucharist.

    I remember hearing Kevin Seasoltz say many years ago that the problem is that people are trying to restore the sequence of the sacraments but not the chronology. Food for thought there.

    If we were doing as the Orthodox do, and baptising/confirming/administering First Eucharist to babes in arms in a single celebration, it would be a rather different situation. But for us, that only happens to adults at the Easter Vigil.

    1. Jeffrey Herbert Avatar


      Thanks for the stats. I would be surprised if that number is even a dozen Diocese(s) across the US today. My own Diocese tried the restored order and abandoned it before it was even able to be implemented in all of the parishes. The clergy do not buy the idea it seems.

      There is also the issue of what happens when a child moves from a “non-restored order” Diocese in, say, 8th grade not having yet recieved confirmation, into a Diocese where the children are confirmed in 2nd grade. They would most likely be “added in” to the RCIA program as “candidates”…. not really an appropriate place for them, but a place where they fit into the sacramental hole.

  15. Philip Sandstrom Avatar
    Philip Sandstrom

    Why can not the Roman/Latin Church look seriously at what the Eastern Churches do, whether Catholic or Orthodox, and see how they treat the Initiation Sacraments (Baptism, Confirmation, Eucharist) as the true basis of the Christian life and as something to ‘grow up into’ — wherein the emphsis is not on ‘quantity’ of information about the sacramental life but rather ‘mystogogy’ — or ‘qualitative growth’ in living the Christian life. That way the catechetics courses would be an opportuntiy for growth in depth — a situation which would be a ‘running start’ for a profoundly Christian life — so a lifetime project for holiness — with no ‘graduation day’ as is practically the situation today. [With the reform/reorganization of the Initiation Rites for adults, children of school age, and infants after Vatican II a number of ‘steps’ in this direction were provided for in the rubrics. But, alas these steps are most often ‘obeyed in the breach’.]

    1. Lynn Thomas Avatar
      Lynn Thomas


      Thank you for this post – it clarifies several things for me, and I like the organization of this thinking. Had I understood this earlier, and been able to act on it, some things would have been much easier for me in recent years.

      My pastor recently referred to Confirmation as a “sacrament in search of a theology”, immediately after disagreeing with the notion of it being an adult choice. Unfortunately, he didn’t have anything better to offer.

      He _was_ in favor, I think, of the actions of those parents who compelled their teens to complete Confirmation prep and receive the sacrament, but couldn’t offer a coherent reason. Given that the teens who are so compelled, and who attend Catholic high schools, use the same book for confirmation prep in 10th grade that they used for 9th grade religion, and object strenuously to the whole thing, we [locally, anyway] really need a much better way to define and view this entire process.

  16. Jim McKay Avatar
    Jim McKay

    How can one “reverse” something that is going in many different directions at once? That is the problem with confirmation — it is ill defined, so it is hard to answer the question of when it should be given.

    For example, Aquinas describes Confirmation as analogous to “growth” as baptism is about “birth”. He is clear that these are spiritual birth and growth, but it is ever so easy to couple them with physical birth and growth, especially if baptism happens near birth. This is the tradition we have, coupling spiritual and physical growth, and changing that tradition calls for something else.

    OTOH we have a tradition of identifying Confirmation with the Eastern Chrismation that is given along with baptism. But the West has a history of two anointings at baptism, and histories usually connect the anointing at RC baptisms with the first, and the later (less than an hour) anointing with confirmation, which came to be given later (ten years).

    So almost any reform is a reversal of something in our tradition. Personally I favor reversing the Western tradition of two anointings, and giving a child one anointing either in infancy, or at the age of discretion when he leaves infancy. This allows the use of the baptismal anointing’s imagery, of becoming the Anointed Prophet Priest and King, to explain why a person can act regally, as when taking responsibility for personal sins, or prophetically as when declaring the presence of God’s love to a spouse, or priestly as when offering the Eucharist with the ordained. The sequence of Reconciliation, Confirmation and Eucharist together would echo the adult sequence of Baptism, Confirmation and Eucharist.

    But we have traditions that go every which way, and I certainly am not in a position to change them into something I find coherent.

  17. Richard Plavo Avatar

    I bet the main reason we continue to have this “disorder” in the sacraments of initiation is that it provides the Bishop with an opportunity to be “seen and heard” ie pontificate

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