I’ve been thinking about Baptism and about bishops for two entirely different purposes. What’s common between them, however, is that both touch on the subject of Confirmation.
Confirmation has become something of an issue recently in the Episcopal Church. The more recent material on Baptism comes down hard on the prayer-book understanding of Baptism as “full initiation…into Christ’s Body the Church” and I would agree (BCP, 298). But then, these folks tell me that Confirmation no longer has an important place—or perhaps not any place at all—in Christian initiation. The phrase most commonly used is that it is a “rite in search of a theology.” After all, if Baptism is full initiation, what is there left for Confirmation to do?
I don’t buy it.
Principally, I think we’re coming at the question from the wrong direction. The bishop is the focus of unity and the sacramental center of the diocese. The bishop’s blessing is literally present in Baptism through the Chrism that, if used, must be blessed by the bishop (BCP, 298). Confirmation, though, is the rite that reifies the sacramental relationship between the bishop and the laity of the diocese. We are baptized into Christ’s Body the Church—the invisible Church—but we are Confirmed into our diocese and the obligations of local incarnate church life. It’s our connection into the basic administrative and sacramental unit of the Church’s life—the visible Church.