Christian initiation is accomplished through the three sacraments of baptism, confirmation and the Eucharist. Together, these "lay the foundations of every Christian life."
According to the Catechism of the Catholic Church, "the faithful are born anew by baptism, strengthened by the sacrament of confirmation, and receive in the Eucharist the food of eternal life." (no. 1212)
Although cradle Catholics are accustomed to seeing these sacraments being administered over a period of years -- being baptized in infancy, receiving the Eucharist in second grade and receiving confirmation during adolescence -- this was not the way it was done in the early Church.
The first Catholics were baptized with water, anointed with oil (confirmed), and given the Eucharist at the same time. As the Church grew, and bishops were not available to anoint new catechumens at every Mass, the three sacraments began to be administered separately.
"We really introduced the concept of the sacraments of initiation again after Vatican II," Sister Mary Glynn, director of religious education for the Diocese of Little Rock, said. "With introduction of RCIA (Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults) we once again received adults who were coming into the Church and conferred upon them the sacraments of initiation -- baptism, confirmation and Eucharist -- at the Easter Vigil."
The Eastern-rite churches never stopped administering the sacraments of initiation all at once. In these churches people are baptized, confirmed and receive the Eucharist as babies.
Each of these sacraments, whether administered separately or together at the Easter Vigil, represents a deepening of our life in Christ and an important step in the faith journey.
In baptism we are "cleansed from sin and rise to a new birth of innocence by water and the Holy Spirit." During confirmation Catholics are anointed and hear the words, "Be sealed with the Holy Spirit." When one receives the Eucharist, he or she is sustained and strengthened in the faith journey by receiving the Body and Blood of Christ. (Christian Initiation of Adults, no. 222A)
Whether the sacraments are received together, or as part of a process beginning at birth, each confers its own special grace upon the person receiving it. Through regular reception of the Eucharist, Catholics continue to be strengthened spiritually and empowered to discover and practice the gifts which the Holy Spirit has bestowed upon them.
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