John Hunwicke

Who can confirm is a question that may become a problem as communion becomes more and more ‘impaired’ in the probably chaotic years which may lie before us. Suppose you cannot find an orthodox bishop who is prepared to come along and do your candidates? Facts are as follows. In principle presbyters can confirm. In the Orthodox churches, where consignation (our confirmation) happens directly after baptism, the priest is the normal, everyday minister of the sacrament. In the Roman Catholic Church, confirmation is restricted to bishops and priests who have been given faculties to confirm, who commonly include deans and vicars general. The Anglican tradition seems to be the only one which rigidly restricts confirmation to bishops.

But here is something you should know. The new edition of the Roman Missal contains a highly significant change in the rubrics of the Easter Vigil. After describing baptism the older edition said, ‘Adult catechumens are confirmed immediately after baptism, if a bishop or a priest with the faculty to confirm is present.’ But the new edition, not yet available in an English translation, says ‘If adults are baptized, the bishop or, in his absence, the priest who has conferred the baptism should administer (ministret) confirmation to them in the chancel (in presbyterio)’ [my translations]. It is thus now part of the common law of the Western Church (of which we claim to be an unhappily severed part) that a priest, even if he has not had faculties conferred upon him, may administer confirmation at the Easter Vigil (but not otherwise).

Of course, given the Anglican tradition, lay people would need to have this situation carefully explained to them. But they should be able to be convinced that for such a special occasion as the Easter Vigil, the Church has given special permission.

There is also in Roman praxis a doctrine called ‘Necessity’ which can be invoked in some emergency situations; that some such doctrine is available to Anglicans is officially suggested by the Porvoo documents, which justify the validity of Norwegian episcopal ‘consecrations’ by presbyters in the Reformation period on the ground that there wasn’t a bishop available to do it. What’s sauce for the goose…