PBS I: Baptism & Confirmation

I’d hoped to glance quickly over the text of PBS I, which I’ve already finished, and to jot out a quick post pointing out a few highlights. Instead, I started reading through the text and got bogged down into a few google searches leading inevitably to the agreement between two bishops of the 1750’s that they’d be happy to give away the body of St. Anselm to the superstitious King of Sardinia on the principle that if they could give away some dusty bones to the benefit of a single Protestant they’d be ahead in the bargain! (And, of course, that any old Anselm would do to be sent off anyway…). [Both plans A & B were thwarted.]

However, I did find myself making a number of footnote additions to the text. The authors assume that the readers either know the text of the 1928 BCP intimately or that they have a copy of it at hand while they read the Studies.  While that’s probably not a bad idea, I’ve elected to include footnotes containing the various prayers and other things they make reference to in case there isn’t a ’28 BCP around.

In any case… The study does open with the question of the relationship between Baptism and Confirmation which will continue to be a major topic in Anglican liturgics to the present. While the question is identified, it is not solved or even fully engaged here. Rather, the proposed changes to Baptism: “may be subsumed under three headings: the length of the service, the clarification of rubrics to meet modern needs and demands, and the simplification of the ritual text.” (PBS I, 12). What this line doesn’t mention but explains later is one of the central planks of the revision of Baptism, namely that the baptismal service should be shortened so that it is not overly burdensome when inserted into a regular Sunday Service, preferably a Eucharist.  Private baptism are not forbidden but certainly discouraged.

The discussion of the Blessing of the Font under the third heading brings up again the Confirmation question which concludes in this way:

All that the present revision claims for itself is that it has sought to avoid any phraseology which would foster an interpretation of Baptism with Water in such a way that it usurps or makes superfluous the normative and necessary place of Confirmation in the perfecting of the Christian, or would reduce the meaning of Confirmation to a mere strengthening of what has been received in Baptism. (PBS I, 19)

After this, they do hasten to add that Confirmation should follow directly after if at all possible.

The changes to Confirmation include making it a full stand-alone service, but also a move back towards a second giving of the Spirit:

The most significant alteration in the prayers which follow are designed to restore the primitive view of Confirmation as the gift of the indwelling Spirit in all His fulness to the baptized, and not merely as an added, strengthening grace. Thus, “Send into their hearts thy Holy Spirit” is substituted for “Strengthen them with the Holy Ghost” as in the present form. This brings the prayer closer not only to the 1549 form, but also to the original Gelasian wording: immitte in eos Spiritum sanctum. Similarly, “Confirm” has replaced “Defend” in the prayer said by the Bishop at the imposition of his hand. This change makes it clear that Confirmation means primarily the action of God in confirming His children. In our present rite the word “confirming” is confusingly used only of the action of the candidate in renewing his vows. Moreover the word “confirm” includes all that is implied in “defend” and more! (PBS I, 21)

Needless to say, this direction will be significantly reversed in later volumes…

The second big topic here is the question of bringing  Chrismation back into the service. The Sarum materials mention the bishop “signing and sealing” but don’t mention oil.  While Cranmer had kept the language of “signing and sealing” in the 1549 book, this was all excised in the 1552 BCP. This revision notes that many bishops are signing and sealing with oil, and as much as you get the sense that they’d like to go there, the authors stop short of actually proposing it. It’s floated as a trial balloon in the text, but not included within the proposed service itself.

In summary, then, this study offers some initial steps towards baptismal revision. Private baptisms are discouraged, but there is no sense here of the Baptismal Covenant. The Confirmation revision doubles down on the rite as an invocation of the Spirit upon the confirmand, emphasizing thereby that the “confirming” is something done just as a much by God as it is by the individual.

4 thoughts on “PBS I: Baptism & Confirmation

  1. Fr. John-Julian, OJN

    As I may have told you, Derek , I was a “parish consultant” to the Liturgical Commission that implied BCP 79, and I sat in on a lot of the committee meetings. I remember one notable one (notable for me, anyway) when Henry Bruehl (then head of Associated Parishes) had made a presentation proposing that Communion be made available to ALL the baptized (including infants and children). The room had emptied and Henry was erasing the blackboard and I said, “Henry, I think that’s a wonderful idea, but it would mean that children would be receiving Communion without understanding what they were receiving.” He turned and smiled and said, “Do you?” and I was totally sold!
    I was thinking about it the other day and realized that there must now be only a small handful of us left who were deeply involved in that multi-year project—and we know more about the INTENTIONS of the compilers than anyone else. I am SO grateful that you are making the PB Studies booklets available. That will help.


  2. Derek A. Olsen Post author

    That’s a piece of this I really wish I had access to!
    I’m reduced to reading between the lines and catching throw-away thoughts as to how to piece things together. It would be really cool to talk to some of the people who were involved in this work, but fewer and fewer of them are around these days.
    Now—I do know that Massey Shepherd, Jr’s, papers have been catalogued and sent to the Episcopal Archives in Austin, and I would *love* to spend a month or two sorting through and digitizing those as well, but I have no idea how to make that happen…

  3. Joseph Zheng

    In the Anglican tradition, is it always necessary for a bishop to administer confirmation, or can the chrism be pre-blessed and applied by parish priests?

  4. Derek A. Olsen Post author

    Joseph, a lot of American dioceses have restored a Holy Week “Chrism Mass” connected with clergy “Renewal of Vows” where the bishop will bless the three major oils (healing, exorcism, and chrismation) . This oil of chrismation is then used at Baptism. The (’79 American) BCP specifies in the pre-service directions for Baptism: “In the absence of a bishop, a priest is the celebrant and presides at the service. If a priest uses Chrism in signing the newly baptized, it must have been previously consecrated by a bishop” (BCP, 298). After the baptism with water and the invocation of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, there is a sealing done by either “the Bishop or Priest” where the Chrism may (not must) be used. It’s this restoration and the insistence that Baptism is full initiation into the Church that raises the question whether Confirmation still has a function. I say yes; others disagree. That change and the rationale for it does not appear in this work but will be showing in a later volume.

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