Catholic Meaning of Baptismal Promises for Confirmation

Baptismal promises are renewed by youth receiving the sacrament of Confirmation.
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When the Catholic sacrament of Confirmation is received by youth who were baptized as infants, the renewal of baptismal promises (or vows) is included in the ceremony. In contrast, when an adult is initiated into the Catholic Church, the sacraments of Baptism and Confirmation are celebrated during the same ceremony -- so there is no need for a renewal of baptismal promises during Confirmation. A review of the history of Confirmation clarifies the reason for the variation.

1 Sacraments of Initiation

In the early Church, persons were initiated into the Christian Church with three sacraments -- Baptism, Confirmation and Eucharist (First Communion). These three are therefore described as the "sacraments of initiation." At that time, these sacraments of initiation were normally received by adults. Then, as now, the Baptism portion of the ceremony included a series of promises, where the person being baptized answered "I do" to questions such as "Do you believe in God, the Father almighty, creator of heaven and earth?"

2 Separation of Confirmation

During the Middle Ages, the sacraments of initiation were gradually separated and ultimately were celebrated at different stages in the child's development. Baptism was bestowed on infants; Eucharist (First Communion) was celebrated when the child reached the "age of reason" (normally around seven); and Confirmation was delayed until early puberty (twelve to fourteen). Confirmation was then understood as reflecting maturity and bestowing the full spiritual gifts. Through the separation of the three sacraments, some of the understanding of the linkages between them was lost.

3 Post-Vatican II Changes

As part of the liturgical review and renewal that followed the Second Vatican Council ("Vatican II"), revisions were made to the Sacrament of Confirmation in 1971. One of these revisions -- as part of an effort to re-establish the linkages among the sacraments of initiation -- was the insertion of a renewal of the baptismal promises. Of course, a major difference between the initial recitation and the renewal is that, while the sponsors speak for the infant at Baptism, at Confirmation the young person receiving the sacrament utters the "I do" responses.

4 Today

The sacrament of Confirmation now received by youth who were previously baptized as infants includes a renewal of the baptismal promises. This addition (made in 1971) is intended to both restore a key linkage between two of the sacraments of initiation and give the person being confirmed an opportunity to utter the promises that were made on his or her behalf by an adult at Baptism. This change is part of the Catholic Church's broad liturgical renewal that followed Vatican II.

John P. Moore has been writing about the intersection between faith and culture since 1997. His articles have appeared in both religious and mainstream publications, including the "Ottawa Citizen" and the "Montreal Gazette". He received a Bachelor of Arts in English and a Masters of Theology from the University of Toronto.