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In the early Church, Christian Initiation (that is, the rite of being made a member of the Church) took on many different forms – but it always included Baptism with water. However, the baptism in water was often – if not always – accompanied by other things, including laying on of hands and anointing with oil. There are many different examples and images of this sequence in the New Testament.

However, the usual format for Christian Initiation soon became Baptism with water, followed by Anointing and Laying on of Hands.

ConfirmationThe laying on of hands bit became the sole privilege of the Bishop, and as the church began to grow, the possibility of a bishop being around every time a Baptism happened was impossible! So the Laying on of Hands and Anointing became separated in time, until the bishop could get there to complete what had begun in Baptism!

It’s this model that has determined what happens today. Most people will have been Baptised as a baby or young child, and so Confirmation is delayed to give the individual an opportunity to make a mature expression of faith, and take on for themselves the promises made for them by their godparents. However, if the person hasn’t been baptised then it’s preferable that Baptism and Confirmation is celebrated at the same time.

Since the two belong together, both rites are the means by which they are filled with the Holy Spirit. At Confirmation, we ask that the Holy Spirit fill them with new strength so that they can carry on the life that has begun at their Baptism and continue to follow Jesus.

There are lots of changes happening with Christian Initiation at the moment, including various ‘experimental’ models such as lowering or raising the age at which young people are Confirmed, and lowering the age at which they receive Communion. Some parishes have been given permission to try out giving children communion at a younger age, say 8 or 9 years, and then confirming them when they are a bit older. This is what happens in the Roman Catholic Church.

Whatever happens in your parish, the whole activity of being Baptised, Confirmed and receiving Communion should all be seen as a whole - where people are initiated into the life of the Church and celebrate the saving death and resurrection of Christ, as a Church Community.