With the advent of the New Evangelization, there is a renewed interest in not only communicating the gospel message to all nations but introducing others to the life of Christian discipleship. As Vatican II noted, the laity have a sacred duty to participate in this role by virtue of the sacrament of Confirmation, through which they are called to “extend the divine plan of salvation to all men” (LG 33).
By Brandon Harvey
24 October 2018
There has been a renewed understanding of the Church’s mission to go out to all nations and make disciples of Christ (Cf. Matthew 28:19-20, Mark 16:15). This has often been through initiatives to proclaim the Good News of Jesus’ death and resurrection, CLICK HERE for my article on Gospel Kerygma 101, through parish or diocesan programs. In these programs and events seeking the renewal of the missionary nature of the Church, the laity are not only encouraged to get involved but are expected to play a key role.
In most places the laity are given several training opportunities to know how to facilitate the Proclamation of the Gospel through the upcoming initiative. These training events often focus on three things: (1) The doctrinal and pastoral understanding of the Church as Mission Driven; (2) the content and concept of the Gospel Kerygma; (3) and practical tips for carrying out their role. This is all good but is incomplete. All of these things should, and I would argue must, be presented within the context of the Sacraments of Initiation.
The Sacrament of Baptism
Baptism inserts us into the Death and Resurrection of Jesus Christ (Romans 6). This sacrament initiates us into life in Christ and into His Church. By the waters of Baptism sins are forgiven and we become adopted sons and daughters of God. Matthew 28:19-20 is often quoted when discussing Baptism or discussing evangelization and the Gospel Kerygma. The mission to make disciples is a sacramental mission. Baptism and the other sacraments play a key role. There is no way around this reality. This truth was established by our Lord.
Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, to the close of the age. -Matthew 28:19-20
The Catechism of the Catholic Church has several sections that connect the participation of the Baptized in the mission of the Church.
Holy Baptism is the basis of the whole Christian life, the gateway to life in the Spirit (vitae spiritualis ianua), and the door which gives access to the other sacraments. Through Baptism we are freed from sin and reborn as sons of God; we become members of Christ, are incorporated into the Church and made sharers in her mission: “Baptism is the sacrament of regeneration through water in the word.” (CCC 1213)
“Reborn as sons of God, [the baptized] must profess before men the faith they have received from God through the Church” and participate in the apostolic and missionary activity of the People of God. (CCC 1270)
The Catechism has limited details on the relationship between Baptism and the Mission of the Church. Yet, it is clear that participation in the mission of the Church begins in Baptism. Any training, therefore, for evangelizing work should begin with a spiritual renewal of Baptism and a renewed understanding of Baptism. This could be a renewal of Baptismal Promises and a quick review of the gift given in Baptism and the truth that participation in and furthering of the Mission of the Church began in Baptism.
The Sacrament of Confirmation has more theological connections to the missionary nature of the Church than any of the other Sacraments of Initiation. In the Catechism, this missionary focus is the common effect as it is repeated throughout the Catechism’s treatment of Confirmation.
The Sacrament of Confirmation “is the special outpouring of the Holy Spirit as once granted to the apostles on the day of Pentecost” (CCC 1302). Pentecost marks the definitive movement of the Church going out, being sent, on a mission for the salvation of souls. Confirmation forms the Baptized “as true witnesses of Christ, more strictly obliged to spread and defend the faith by word and deed” (CCC 1285). Through the anointing of the Holy Spirit through the anointing with Sacred Chrism, we “share more completely in the mission of Jesus Christ” (CCC 1294). This theme continues in several other places in the Catechism:
From this fact, Confirmation brings an increase and deepening of baptismal grace:
– it roots us more deeply in the divine filiation which makes us cry, “Abba! Father!”;
– it unites us more firmly to Christ;
– it increases the gifts of the Holy Spirit in us;
– it renders our bond with the Church more perfect;118
– it gives us a special strength of the Holy Spirit to spread and defend the faith by word and action as true witnesses of Christ, to confess the name of Christ boldly, and never to be ashamed of the Cross… (CCC 1303)
Like Baptism which it completes, Confirmation is given only once, for it too imprints on the soul an indelible spiritual mark, the “character,” which is the sign that Jesus Christ has marked a Christian with the seal of his Spirit by clothing him with power from on high so that he may be his witness. (CCC 1304)
This “character” perfects the common priesthood of the faithful, received in Baptism, and “the confirmed person receives the power to profess faith in Christ publicly and as it were officially (quasi Ex officio).” (CCC 1305)
With such a major connection between Confirmation and Mission, it is surprising that more training meetings do not spend time reexamining the Doctrine of Confirmation and the fact that Confirmation empowers us to be witness to share the Good News through words and deeds.
The primary means of renewing our Baptism and Confirmation, that is, of unlocking the power given in these two sacraments, is through reception of the Sacraments of Reconciliation and Holy Communion (CCC 1392, 1426, 1446). This means that to equip people to share the Good News, the Gospel Kerygma, requires Confession and Holy Communion to renew what occurred in Baptism and Confirmation. Bishop R. Walker Nickless, in his Pastoral Letter The Church is Always in Need of Renewal, states this perfectly:
The Eucharist is the “source and summit”of the Christian life because it contains our entire spiritual good, namely, Jesus Christ himself. His “once and for all” sacrifice is made present on our altars, offered to the Father on our behalf and received as food for our pilgrim journey. All that we are and do should flow from our participation in the Eucharist and lead back to it. It is absolutely central to our identity and faith as Catholics. It enables us to engage in our mission. Without a proper reverence, love, adoration and devotion to the Eucharist and the liturgy, we are lost.
There are some additional remarks from the Catechism that give us guidance in equipping the laity to further the mission of Christ and His Catholic Church: Mass, as expressed in the Dismissal, is the great “sending forth (missio) of the faithful” (CCC 1332). This is because within the Mass the Good News has been Proclaimed by the Deacon and explained by the Priest in the Homily (CCC 1349), and this Good News is made sacramentally present in the Eucharist (Cf. CCC 1344, 1364-1366). The reception of Holy Communion brings us into “intimate union with Christ Jesus” (CCC 1391), whom we seek to proclaim, and are more deeply united with the Church in whose mission we seek to participate (CCC 1396).
It is right and true for the laity to be informed of their call to participate in the mission of the Church. It is good for the training to explain this call and provide practical tips. My hope is that the teachings of the Church have been articulated here in a manner that is simple, clear, and faithful, to inspire all of us to see that any such training would be empty or “lost” without the Sacraments of Initiation. Initial training should, by applying the heart of the Church’s teachings explained above, include opportunities for Confession and possibly Mass, a renewal of Baptismal Promises, and a presentation of any length on the Sacraments of Initiation. I would imagine that a natural progression of this thought would be the integration of Eucharistic Adoration by the leaders throughout their work as a means of keeping them focused on the “source and summit” of all Christian Life, the Blessed Sacrament.
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Photo Credit: Statue of Jesus Christ by sculptor Lorenzo Ghiglieri (Semfield Memorial Study Garden, Main Campus of St. Thomas University, Houston, TX). Photo by Claudia Aracama. Used with permission.
Brandon Harvey is married and blessed with four children. He studied undergraduate theology and philosophy at Briar Cliff University and received an MA in Theology from Franciscan University. He works as a Catholic speaker, theological consultant, and writer. He has developed the Home Catechesis Podcast and Vlog resource: www.homecatechesis.com