Sacraments of Initiation

Why do you think the Catechism of the Catholic Church describe Baptism, Confirmation, and Eucharist as the “Sacraments of Initiation”? (CCC 1212).

How is this reflected in the new Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults?

Do you think this is a renewal of earlier practice, or much a new development?

The concept was introduced in 1971. by Paul VI Divinae Consortium Naturae. encyclival. RCIA is required if adults want to receive first these sacraments

Probably, because traditionally this three sacraments required instruction before receiving it (for baptism adults only)

Also the baptism and conformation leaves permanent sign on the soul, and the Eucharist is required as frequent sacrament.

In the early church these sacraments were all performed at the same time when someone first entered the church. In the Eastern Church they are still celebrated at the same time. In the RC Church over time the sacraments have been separated for various reasons.

See CCC 1290-1292 and 1318 for information which ties Baptism and Confirmation together.

At one point in the history of the Church (more earlier than later). The neophytes were baptized when they desired to join the Church. Later on they were confirmed and then finally they were brought into the community (received Communion). I also understand there was a vetting process to make sure they were not a “plant” from the government.

I cannot recall which Church History class I learned this.

In the ancient Church, the Sacraments of Baptism, Eucharist and Confirmation were always provided at the same time for teens and adults. For infants, only Baptism was provided, with the other two later.

Catechumens were excluded from what we would call the “Proper of the Mass”. They were allowed to be there for the scriptural readings and the homily, but were then required to leave the service. Only those who had been fully initiated into the church would stay for the Consecration, receive the Eucharist, etc.

They are called “Sacraments of Initiation”, because that is exactly what they are. They are the sacraments that bring a person completely into the church.

And this is not a new terminology at all. I received the Sacraments of Initiation back in 1956, when I was 13 years old. It was called that by both the Priest who baptized me, and by the Bishop who confirmed me.

They are sacraments of initiation because they are how one is initiated into the Church. In the Early Church, these sacraments were normally administered together, whether for infants or adults.

This is still the practice in the Eastern Catholic and Orthodox Churches.

From what I recall, in the ancient Church they still administered all 3 at the same time, but the “RCIA” process they had back then was about 3 years.

The Latin name ‘confirmatio’ = corroboration, strengthen and also the distinct rite in the Western rituals suggest that the confirmation happened at later time. One confirms already existing things.

The fact that the Eastern tradition is different in itself does not proves that this was tradition in the West too. After Diocletian the East lived in peaceful environment till the Seljuk Turks claimed their territories; the West until about that time lived in warlike environment. due to the clashes of different cultures and traditions.

The Western practice at least from the Medieval eves was infant Baptism, early confirmation and receiving the Eucharist later. St Pius X changed it bringing the first communion to before the confirmation.

The CCC says that Bapstism and Confirmation came together in the beginning and this was the same East and West:

1290 In the first centuries Confirmation generally comprised one single celebration with Baptism, forming with it a “double sacrament,” according to the expression of St. Cyprian. Among other reasons, the multiplication of infant baptisms all through the year, the increase of rural parishes, and the growth of dioceses often prevented the bishop from being present at all baptismal celebrations. In the West the desire to reserve the completion of Baptism to the bishop caused the temporal separation of the two sacraments. The East has kept them united, so that Confirmation is conferred by the priest who baptizes. But he can do so only with the “myron” consecrated by a bishop.

Where can I read more about why the Latin Church began to seperate the three Sacraments? Also, some one mentioned that infants only received Baptism, Communion and Confirmation coming later. If the Eastern Churches have preserved the ancient practice and give all three Sacraments to infants, how can it be that such was not the case before?

Christian Initiation
The tradition is for the bishop to confirm (originally the imposition of hands) rather than for the priest to chrismate with the Holy Myron from the eparch.

Hippolytus’ Apostolic Tradition (earliest Verona edition 215 A.D.) describes this original initiation practice in this order:


  1. bishop makes oil of thanksgiving and oil of exorcism
  2. anointing with oil of exorcism
  3. nude baptism (by triple immersion)
  4. anointing with oil of thanksgiving (then dry and get dressed)
  5. then in the church, bishop says dismissal rite over the neophytes: “Lord God, you have made them worthy to receive remission of sins through the laver of regeneration of the Holy Spirit, etc.”
  6. laying on of hands together with oil
  7. sealing with oil on the forehead
  8. the kiss of peace prayer
  9. deacons bring oblation (bread and wine, water, milk, and honey)
  10. the oblation is blessed
  11. the milk and honey are mixed together
  12. the bread is distributed
  13. each tastes of the water, milk, and wine, three times.


Baptism and Latin confirmation were separated due to insistence that the bishop must administer it. Pope Innocent I (d. 417) instituted the change to oil administered only by the bishop suggesting the Paraclete Spirit is given and only through the bishop.

Infants were excluded from Latin communion when bread only began to be used (1215 A.D., Fourth Lateran Council, transubstantiation defined). The people were afraid of spilling the blood of Christ and infants could not receive (eat) the body of Christ (bread).

West: emphasis on Christology.
East: emphasis on Spirit.

Exodus 30:22‑25 has the formula for the Holy Myron.

[FONT=Arial]According to Maxwell Johnson, just the Ethiopian retains the milk and honey for first communion. Coptic and Ethiopian also have imposition of hands at first communion.[/FONT]

[FONT=Arial]Johnson also relates, regarding the Eastern Catholic Churches (of seven categories – Armenian, Byzantine, Coptic, Ethiopian, East Syrian, West Syrian, and Maronite) :[/FONT]
[FONT=Arial]At baptism, the Armenian, Coptic, Ethiopian, East Syrian, and West Syrian, and Maronite use oil in some way.

Coptic, Ethiopian, and East Syrian still employ imposition of the hands at Chrismation.[/FONT]

  1. Aidan Kavanagh, Confirmation: Origins and Reform (New York: Pueblo, 1988).
  2. Gerard Austin, Anointing with the Spirit: The Rite of Confirmation (New York: Pueblo, 1985).
  3. The rites of Christian initiation: their evolution and interpretation by Maxwell E. Johnson, PhD [minister of Evangelical Lutheran Church in America] (1999, revised in 2007) Note: Kilian McDonnell, O.S.B., called it “the best overall treatment of Christian initiation available”.


Thank you! Do you have any references to canons/ councils where I could research this a little further? I have access to a full copy of Tanner’s Decrees of the Ecumenical Councils so can research any leads you can give!

Many thanks!

I can understand the exclusion if the mechanics were the only reason. But today, in the Latin Rite, even though they could easily receive the Blood of Christ, Canon Law forbids it, even in danger of death – although in that circumstance confirmation is allowed, even recommended.

I believe you mean CIC Can. 913:
§1. The administration of the Most Holy Eucharist to children requires that they have sufficient knowledge and careful preparation so that they understand the mystery of Christ according to their capacity and are able to receive the body of Christ with faith and devotion.
§2. The Most Holy Eucharist, however, can be administered to children in danger of death if they can distinguish the body of Christ from ordinary food and receive communion reverently.

An interesting book is: Ages of initiation: the first two Christian millennia, by Paul Turner, pp. 28-33 (chapter 8 is on the age of discretion 1215-1519).

Something significant happened in the Latin Church that changed their sacramental discipline: confession and communion was less frequent. So as a result annual confession and communion was legislated at the Fourth Lateran Council (1215 A.D.). The age of discretion was the time at which annual communion was first required, but infant communion was not prohibited by the Council. In practice, first communion was delayed till ages 10-12 with confession preceeding it. Confirmation was promoted before communion, as early as at baptism, when the bishop was present, otherwise the bishops would tour the diocese and confirm those that were baptised, so some received it as adults. The Synod of Cologne (1280 A.D.) first urged confirmation at or after age 7. It *gradually *became expected to receive catechesis before first communion. Three of the earliest reasons (given in the book above, shown below) show that the change was gradual. Meanwhile, the eastern churches continued to follow the original tradition of infant communion.

The reasons given in the book for disappearence of infant communion:

  1. Since infants do not need communion for salvation, and the annual communion was only required by the Church (Lateran IV 1215) at or after the age of discretion, people began to wait.

  2. St. Thomas Aquinas (lived 1225-1274) expressed concern that the precious blood would be spilled.

  3. Pope Leo X (Pope: 1513-1521) prohibited infants from receiving, to resolve an issue in Bohemia.

Also, chapter 7 of the book states that during the period of 965 and 1215 were a time of relative prosperity and cultural revival in the west along with Pope Gregory VII’s (Pope: 1073-1085) declarations of central papal authority, allowed practical adjustment of the sacramental rites. In contrast, the Crusades during 1095 to 1270 were very hard on the east.

It is very well known that baptism, chrismation (confirmation), and Eucharist were all administered at the same time (yes, even to infants) in both the East and the West in the ancient Church. In the West, where bishops reserved to themselves the authority to confirm, they would become separated as the Church grew and it became impractical, if not impossible, for bishops to attend every baptism. In the East, bishops delegated to priests the authority to chrismate (confirm), so the practice of administering all three sacraments of initiation at the same time was retained.

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