"Let books be your dining table, / And you shall be full of delights. / Let them be your
And you shall sleep restful nights" (St. Ephraim the Syrian).

Friday, April 11, 2014

Be Sealed!

This semester, in separate classes with both undergraduates and graduates, I have been able to use an old trick: few things ignite vigorous and lengthy discussion in a classroom with a healthy number of Catholics (several of whom work for parishes in several capacities, chiefly those having to do with catechesis) than to raise the topic of Confirmation. So I innocently ask about that sacrament in particular, and the sacraments of initiation in general, especially the order of their administration, and bam!: a good half-hour and more of very vigorous discussion ensues. I must confess that prior to such regular exchanges with people in the "front lines" (catechists, parochial school teachers, directors of religious education, RCIA co-ordinators), I was a hardcore and unapologetic defender of the ancient and undivided tradition whereby Baptism-Chrismation-Eucharist are all given in that order, immediately, on the same day, to everyone from infancy onward. I still think that's the most theologically defensible practice, but given the dynamics in the Latin Church today, and the many pastoral challenges of a serious nature which would attend an abrupt return to the original practice, I am no longer quite so confidently willing to insist everyone must follow that practice.

My good friend Nicholas Denysenko, Orthodox deacon, professor of theology at Loyola Marymount, and director of the Huffington Ecumenical Institute, has a book coming out in May that very sensibly and intelligently looks at all these issues:  Chrismation: A Primer for Catholics (Liturgical Press, 2014), 248pp.

The book is available both as a paperback and as an e-Book so you've no excuse for not ordering it. I interviewed Nick about his last book on Theophany water blessings here. And I hope to interview him again about this book in the coming weeks. About this book, the publisher tells us:
What is chrismation? Nicholas Denysenko breaks open chrismation as sacrament of belonging by exploring its history and liturgical theology. This study offers a sacramental theology of chrismation by examining its relationship with baptism and the Eucharist and its function as the ritual for receiving converts into the Orthodox Church. Drawing from a rich array of liturgical and theological sources, Denysenko explains how chrismation initiates the participant into the life of the triune God, beginning a process of theosis, becoming like God. The book includes a chapter comparing and contrasting chrismation and confirmation, along with pastoral suggestions for renewing the potential of this sacrament to transform the lives of participants.
Reflecting the dual audiences of this book, two of the reviewers, one Orthodox and the other Catholic (who is steeped in Orthodox liturgical theology) note:
In this book on chrismation, Denysenko exemplifies the best in ecumenical liturgical scholarship. Drawing on both Eastern and Western sources, ancient and modern, he uncovers for the reader the richness and diversity of both traditions. Catholics and Orthodox alike will benefit from reading this work (Paul Meyendorff, The Alexander Schmemann Professor of Liturgical Theology, St. Vladimir's Orthodox Theological Seminary).
Denysenko offers Catholics a primer on Byzantine chrismation, in order to set up a conversation between East and West. First, he gleans a liturgical theology from the rite's lex orandi, including its use for the reception of converts. Then he presents the perspective of numerous Orthodox theologians. And all this he can then bring to the table for an honest dialogue, since he is also well-versed in contemporary Catholic discussion about confirmation. The result is what he calls "a gift exchange," pointing out riches the East and West can share with each other. Being happily grounded in his own Orthodox tradition, yet ecumenically hospitable, he gives us a work that will cross-fertilize the Catholic understanding of confirmation and Orthodox understanding of chrismation. The superb result is a study that bridges the academic and the pastoral so as to regenerate our appreciation of this venerable liturgical celebration (David W. Fagerberg, University of Notre Dame)

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