Rorate Caeli

“The Sacrament of Confirmation: What Should Be Done After the Responsa?” - a canonical response, by Father Pierre Laliberté, Doctor of Canon Law

Sacramentum Confirmationis: Quid Sit Faciendum Post Responsa?

“The Sacrament of Confirmation: What Should Be Done after the Responsa?”

by Fr. Pierre Laliberté, J.C.L.

Upon hearing the most distressing news of His Eminence, Vincent Cardinal Nichols, attempting to ban confirmations according to the traditional rites in England and Wales, a few remarks are necessary from a canonical viewpoint. 

The sacrament of confirmation is, and always will, reflect the bond of the soul with the universal Church, particularly with the bishops as successors of the Apostles, upon whom the Holy Ghost descended at Pentecost. To be clear, this author and this article unequivocally affirm the teaching and anathemas of the 7th session of the Council of Trent, that the ordinary minister of Confirmation is a bishop and not a simple priest. And yet, the prior council of Basel-Ferrara-Florence-Rome, in Session 8 and within the Decretum pro Armenis, affirms that a priest may confirm in urgent cases. In times when the inimici manifesti of the Catholic Faith are not so much external but internal (and, regrettably, even hierarchical), recourse to these extraordinary means of jurisdiction is not only permissible but necessary. Ensuring ecclesiastical communion through the Sacraments must be realized also diachronically with the historical Church and, most especially, with divine revelation.

Thus restated in the 1983 Code of Canon Law, the principle of jurisdiction for canon law as regards the sacrament of confirmation is canon 882: The ordinary minister of confirmation is a bishop; a presbyter provided with this faculty in virtue of universal law or the special grant of the competent authority also confers this sacrament validly.

It is also expressly stated in the Code that the faculty to confirm is to be used for the sake of those in whose favor the faculty was granted (canon 885, §2). Canon 887 also acknowledges that even priests who confirm those who are not resident in the priest’s territory do so licitly, unless there is an express prohibition against these faithful doing so - which, as a restriction, ought to be interpreted in the strictest sense possible.

It goes without saying that the traditional Rite of Confirmation, as part of the Apostolic Tradition (cf. Ratzinger, Spirit of the Liturgy, San Francisco: Ignatius, 2000, p. 163), is an aspect of the Catholic Faith to which all the Christifideles have a right – no matter what high-level authority of the Church might state otherwise. One has as much of a right to the traditional rites of the Church as one does to hear the Word of God proclaimed, to pray the Rosary, to approach the Sacraments in general. This is a theological consideration which transcends the boundaries of juridicism and the exercise of sheer power by ecclesiastics influenced by radical liturgists.

No authority, not even from the highest echelons of the Church, can remove the rights that the priests and faithful of the Roman Rite have to the Apostolic Tradition, of which the traditional rites form both a monument and integral part.

Ergo, those with the faculty to confirm should continue to do so, making full usage of the traditional rites – a text found not only in the Pontificale Romanum and the Rituale Romanum, but also in the Missale Romanum. While the new formula of the sacrament in the Roman Rite promulgated in September 1971 by Paul VI in Divinae Consortium Naturae is certainly valid, being merely an active form of the passive Byzantine formula, the alternative rite of Paul VI (and the concomitant differing sacramental form) does not (and could never!) impinge upon the traditional validity of the classical formula. In a similar way, the traditional Dominican Rite formula of sacramental absolution differs from the classical Roman Rite formula. This legitimate variation even in sacramental forms should not cause any scruple of conscience whatsoever, even for the most ardent liturgicist proponent of the Pauline reforms.

The 1983 Code of Canon Law concedes to all priests the faculty:

• in danger of death (canon 833, 3)

Chaplains (hospital, military, etc.) are granted by canon 566, §1 the faculty to confer the sacrament of confirmation by the law itself to those in danger of death.

• In the current health care crisis, it would be wise to take abroad of an interpretation of this permission as possible; to include not only the natural dangers of the COVID-19 virus but also the spiritual danger of death involved with cutting oneself off from the depositum fidei.


Admonitiones pro sacerdotibus:

• Examine your diocesan pagella. Your (arch)diocesan particular law may grant its priests special faculties for confirmation. For instance, one diocese has granted faculties to confirm:
◦ to parish priests (pastors) and parochial vicars
▪ to baptize adults (even those not dwelling within the territorial confines of the parish) and immediately confirm without referring this matter to the Bishop (canon 863). 
▪ To confirm those non-Catholic adults upon their reception into the Church (canon 883, §2)
▪ To confirm adult Catholics within the parish at the Easter Vigil or once during the Easter Season without the written permission of the Bishop.
• In this particular diocese, the Bishop also grants the faculty to pastors to subdelegate this faculty to any priest.
• In those dioceses where delegation is not stably conceded to suchpriests to confirm, do not hesitate to place requests to the diocesan bishop for faculties and delegation to confirm. 
◦ In this way, the usage of the traditional rite may be accomplished, even if quietly.


Admonitiones pro laicis:

• Do not hesitate:
◦ To have recourse to the chapels of the Society of St. Pius X (SSPX) for the sacraments, particularly in this case for confirmation.
▪ By virtue of canon 883, their bishops legally are ordinary ministers of the sacrament. This has never been disputed, even to this author’s knowledge.
◦ To approach your parish priests whom you know to be amenable to the Traditional Mass with your requests for confirmation for anybody in need of the sacrament.
◦ To approach hospital chaplains for the sacrament of confirmation, particularly in this time of pestilence. Granted, the sacrament may be conferred sine pompo in such situations in hospital chapels, but the traditional rites will undoubtedly be available to be used upon request.