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HOW SHALL I CALL YOU?
Parents and sponsors often raise the matter of choosing a confirmation name when children are being prepared for the sacraments. Some complain that their parish priest has ‘banned’ the practice which was an important aspect of their own confirmation.
It surprises people to discover that the choosing of a special name for confirmation is not mentioned in either the current or former rite, although it has been a popular custom in many places in the past.
It is interesting to look at why the practice began. In the early church, people preparing to be initiated into the Christian community who had given names with a strong association with paganism took on a new name to symbolise the new stage of life they were entering. There was precident for this in the biblical history of individuals who had a change of name along with a change of heart and mind. Abram became Abraham, Simon was called Peter and Saul took the name Paul.
In the sixteenth century a diocesan council in Milan recommended that someone whose name was unsuitable for a Christian should be given another name at confirmation. The church however has never required a person to take on the name of a saint at confirmation.
It is hard to imagine any name that these days would be considered incompatible with Christian faith as may have been the case in earlier times. Our given names are a very important part of our identity. Parents usually put a lot of thought into choosing a child’s name, so it seems a little strange to call a young person by a different name as the bishop anoints him or her with chrism at confirmation. If a confirmation name is chosen, it should be used in addition to the baptismal name, not in place of it.
To use a different name at confirmation from that used at baptism also goes against the call of the second Vatican Council for confirmation to be linked clearly with the whole of Christian initiation. The close connection between confirmation and baptism is emphasised in the current rite by the renewal of baptismal promises and the recommendation that the sponsor for confirmation be one of the baptismal godparents.
Confirmation is not so much a new stage of Christian life as the sacrament which deepens the graces of baptism. For most of the church’s history, it has been the rite through which we ‘confirm’ for ourselves the baptismal vows made on our behalf by others before we take the ultimate step of full initiation into the Catholic church - sharing in communion.
Additional rituals such as the signing of the pledge (promising not to drink alcohol until the age of 21 or 25, or even for life!) and the taking of a confirmation name were added when confirmation came to be celebrated after first communion. Now that confirmation has resumed its proper place, these rituals are out of place.
Of course it is still appropriate for young people preparing for confirmation to research a saint who will serve as a model for Christian living. However, putting too much emphasis on a confirmation name, or on dress, photos, certificates, and so on can detract from the focus of the celebration – the laying on of hands and anointing with chrism before sharing in the body and blood of the Lord for the first time.