Vocation I: Sacraments of Initiation


A.   Initiation

Initiation  means membership. Initiation into the Christian Church takes place in three stages. The first stage is baptism. The second is confirmation which completes baptism. The third is holy communion when the Christian receives the sacrament of Jesus’ Body and Blood for the first time.

In Britain it has been usual for first communion to be taken before confirmation, but in some dioceses the Church has tried going back to the original pattern.

When an adult becomes a Catholic, they normally receive all three sacraments (or just confirmation and communion if they are already baptised) at the same ceremony.

Each stage of initiation is a sacrament. A Sacrament is ceremony given to the Church by God in which God gives spiritual gifts. It is said to be ‘an outward sign of an inward grace’. The ceremony and the things used in it are the outward signs, the spiritual gift is the inward grace.


B. Baptism

B1. What is Baptism?

Baptism is a ceremony in which the baptised person is immersed in water. Christians remember how Christ 'drowned' in suffering and death and rose again to new life. In the ceremony Christians believe that their past sins are washed away and they are now pure in Gods eyes as Christ was risen from the dead.

In the Roman Catholic church people are usually baptised when they are infants - this is called infant baptism. When an infant is baptised they are welcomed in to the community of the church. Parents and the godparents make the promises of baptism on behalf of the child until they are old enough to profess their own belief.

Although they have not committed any actual sins, Catholics believe that baptism washes away original sin, the sin which everyone is born into.

B2. The Ceremony of Baptism

1. The reception or welcome - the parents and child come in to the back of church and the priest welcomes them and invites them to go to the font.

2. Celebration of the word - the scriptures are read (e.g. a reading from John 3 where Jesus tells Nicodemus he must be born again.)

3. The priest may say a short homily (sermon).

4. Prayers of the faithful or bidding prayers are also said.

5. The priest says a prayer of exorcism, asking that the baby may be rescued from the slavery of sin, and pass into the freedom of God. The baby is anointed with the oil of catechumens.

6. The parents and godparents profess their belief by reciting the creed on the baby's behalf.

7. The baptism - water is poured over the baby's head as the priest says: '(Name....) I baptise you in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.'

8. The baby is anointed for a second time, this time with Chrism - Chrism is used again in confirmation

8. The baby is dressed in a white garment as a sign of sharing the resurrection of Christ.

9. A candle is lit from the Easter candle which represents the risen Christ.

10. Conclusion - Lord's Prayer and blessing

B3. Signs and symbols of Baptism

Sign of the Cross – is given by priest, parents and godparents to claim the child for Christ. (NOT made with water).

Water - Purifying Symbol of life but also death - Baptism is a sign of New Life - the Christian is freed from the death of sin. (Poured three times, NOT with the sign of the cross).

Oil of  Catechumens – strength and protection

Oil of Chrism - consecration for the service of God. This oil contains perfume. The candidate is ‘crowned’ as a new Christian – the anointing is on the crown of the head.

White Garment - White the colour for the clothing of the Messiah

Candle - Jesus light of the world - lit from the Pascal candle which represents the resurrection of Jesus

Words - 'I baptise you in the name of the Father and of the Son  and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.' The key words in the  ceremony when the water is poured over the  baby's head.

B4. Adult baptism

In the Catholic Church infants are baptised and their parents and godparents take their baptismal vows on their behalf. In other churches, e.g. the Baptist church people are only baptised as Adults and this is called adult baptism when a new Christian makes a conscious choice to be baptised.

Catholics believe infants can be baptised because baptism washes away original sin. Others believe a personal profession of faith is essential to baptism.

C. Confirmation

C1. What is Confirmation?

Confirmation is the final ceremony of initiation into the Church when Christians receive the strength and courage to be a witness for Christ in the world. Confirmation is closely associated with the gifts of the Holy Spirit.

The Holy Spirit was sent to the Apostles at Pentecost (50 days after Easter) and it gave them strength for the mission that God intended.

The Holy Spirit is initially given at baptism. When a Christian is old enough they can renew the baptismal promises that were made on their behalf: rejecting evil; believing in God the Father, Son and Holy Spirit; the forgiveness of sins; resurrection of the body and life everlasting. The age for confirmation varies, but is normally somewhere between 10 years and 14 years of age.

C2. Preparation for Confirmation

All or some of these are done:

1. Instruction in the basic Christian faith

2. When children are being confirmed the parents are included in the process

3. Catechists (helpers in the parish) help instruct those preparing for the sacrament

4. Service of reconciliation (confession)

5. Day of preparation

6. Confirmation card with baptismal details on as well as the confirmation name and other information

C3. Chrism

This was and is used to anoint kings and queens, it a sign of being set apart for a special purpose. Oil also has healing qualities and was used by athletes to make them more supple. Chrism is olive oil mixed with balsam, a sweet smelling perfume signifying the loving relationship between a Christian and God.

Chrism is used at baptism and confirmation. It is also used at ordinations.

C4. Outline of the ceremony

The sacrament normally takes place during a Mass and a bishop (or a priest given special permission by him) confirms the candidates.

1. Presentation of the candidate

2. Renewal of baptismal promises - this is a restatement of the profession of faith made at baptism.

3. Laying on of hands - symbolically calling down the power of God (the Holy Spirit) on a person. From the earliest times in the church bishops have done this to confirm people.

4. Anointing with Chrism - the candidate kneels before the bishop, their confirmation name is read out. The sponsor places their hand on the shoulder of the candidate and the bishop then anoints with the oil of chrism on the forehead with the words:'(Name) be sealed with the gift of the Holy Spirit.' The response is 'Amen'. The bishop then says 'Peace be with you' and the candidate replies 'And also with you'.

The Mass then continues with the offertory procession.

C5. Naming

In the Bible God always called people by their name before giving them a special task. A name in given in confirmation as a sign that they are being given a special task. Candidates for confirmation choose a name to be confirmed by. It is the name of a saint who is some way is special to them.


D. First Holy Communion

For Catholics, receiving holy communion together is a sign of the unity of Christians. For this reason First Holy Communion is the final stage of initiation into the Church. It is also the reason why those who are not Catholics are not normally allowed to receive communion in the Catholic Church.

In Britain children often make their first communion at about the age of eight, and usually make their first confession just before. This is because it is considered to be the ‘age of reason’ when children are able to understand that the bread and wine at Mass become the body and blood of Christ.

Note: it is not the Mass which is a sacrament of initiation, but the receiving of holy communion.



1. Write short definitions of these words:

Baptism, Confirmation, Holy Communion, Chrism, Initiation, Chrism, Oil of Catechumens, Immersion, Original Sin, Exorcism, Anointed, Original Sin, Sacrament.


2. Devise acronyms or acrostics  to help remember the ceremonies of (a) baptism and (b) confirmation.


3. Note down the key words said by the priest/bishop in the sacraments of baptism and confirmation.


4. Put these sacraments in the correct order in which they are normally celebrated in Britian, with a possible age at which they could take place:

confirmation, first communion, baptism, first confession.


5. Give reasons which a Catholic would give for allowing the baptism of infants.



(Out of 30)


1.         What is a sacrament? (2)


2     i)   There are symbols and symbolic actions in the ceremony of  Baptism.

            State two of them. (2)

       ii)   What is the meaning of each one? (4)


3.    There are symbols and symbolic actions in the ceremony of Confirmation. State two of them. (2)


4.    “Confirmation is the fulfilment of Baptism” Explain what this means. (3)


5.    “There is little point in Baptising babies because they do not understand what is going on.” Do you agree? Give reasons for your opinion. (4)


6.    Baptism         Eucharist          ___________?

       Which sacrament of initiation is missing form the list above? (1)


7.    Explain what is meant by the phrase ‘sacrament of initiation’. (2)


8.    Explain the relationship between Baptism and confirmation. (3)


9.    “It is a waste of time having children baptised if their parents are not going to take them to church.”

       Do you agree? Give reasons for your answer showing that you have considered more than one point of view. (4)