I have been to dozens of confirmation ceremonies over the years and expected this morning’s celebration of the sacrament at St. Bede’s College in Christchurch to be much like the others.
But it was different.
It’s been a big couple of days for the College with 15 students baptised, 55 confirmed and a number receiving Holy Communion for the first time.
Bishop Paul Martin, ordained as bishop of Christchurch four months ago, is already well-experienced with these sacraments and last night celebrated these Sacraments of Initiation for students of neighbouring Catholic Cathedral College.
In recent years these Catholic high schools have worked to deepen the Catholic faith of students, staff and families. Their passion for faith is producing a visible rich harvest.
At St. Bede’s this morning the witness of faith at the school began with remarkable stillness and silence in the moments before Mass when 1000 members of the school community sat in prayerful preparation for the Mass. Then the entrance-song was sung with enthusiasm and the liturgy began.
Following the homily those to be confirmed were led to the bishop one by one by their sponsors. This was the moment I found most moving. Normally the sponsor walks alongside the candidate to the bishop and only places their hand on the confirmand’s shoulder at the moment of confirmation.
Today something different happened.
The sponsors led the candidates from their seats with their hand around the confirmand’s shoulder from the moment they left their seats. I noticed the first then the second do this, and then every young man was led to the bishop embraced by the supportive arm of their sponsor.
Some of the sponsors were grandparents, aunts, uncles and other family members.
But the most moving for me today was seeing teachers and fellow students who had been asked by the confirmands to be their sponsors. They too led these young men forward with a supportive embrace.
This physical accompaniment is a powerful gesture expressing the personal love and support that is at the heart of a life of faith.
I noticed too that Bishop Paul did something a bit different after confirming each young man. The traditional rite had the bishop tap each newly confirmed on the cheek as he greeted them “Peace be with You.” This gesture, the cheek tap, is not mentioned in the revised rite, but today Bishop Paul gave each young man a couple of strong taps on the arm of each as he greeted them. The bishop’s gesture was robust and appropriate, a strong encouragement to the newly confirmed indicating that he expected them to go now strengthened to live their Catholic faith as adults.
I hope that each of these encouraging gestures become ritual in future celebrations of the Sacrament of Confirmation.
Take a moment to pray for each of these young people in the prayer below prayed by the bishop in every confirmation ceremony.