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Confirmation: The Baby in Solomon's Court.

Books about sacraments frequently fit a mold. Informative, technical and fairly dull, they make good references for religious education and liturgy professionals.

Confirmation: The Baby in Solomon's Court is far more than that. Clear and sprightly, this masterful exploration of confirmation is a natural for lovers of puzzles or whodunits. It explains the matter and manner, the similarities and differences, the advantages and disadvantages of various forms of confirmation. The reader follows avidly, mixing and matching.

Forms of confirmation he author treats are, among others: the sacrament which, along with baptism and Eucharist, marks the Christian initiation of adults; chrismation, the Eastern rite's form of confirmation that always accompanies baptism; confirmation as a nonsacramental maturity rite practiced in some Protestant and Anglican traditions; adolescent confirmation and the full or abbreviated confirmation of persons in danger of death.

The subtitle derives from confusion about the pros and cons of various forms. "Confirmation deserves our grief," Fr. Paul Turner writes. "It is like the baby in King Solomon's court. Two women claimed the child. To determine who was its real mother, Solomon ordered the baby cut in two. Then he listened for which woman wailed and rescued the baby for her.

"Throughout the centuries," the author writes, "many different schools and traditions have claimed to be the true mother of confirmation, and the church, imitating Solomon, has let them all have their say. Tragically, the result is ... the mothers are tearing the baby apart," and the sacrament "is rendered confusing and meaningless by its overuse, overscrutiny and misapplication."

Turner guides readers through the maze of confirmation variations with the expertise of one who thoroughly understands his subject, yet can make it simple enough for the reader who knows little or nothing.

He explains, for instance, which forms emphasize the minister's stretching hands over those receiving the sacrament, which emphasize the use of chrism, which emphasize initiation and which stress commitment, requiring maturity. At least as important, he explains the significance of these practices.

He also raises concerns or questions. About Protestant and Anglican practice, for instance, he notes that Reformed churches recognize only two sacraments, baptism and Eucharist. "The inability of all Christian churches to resolve the matter (of the number of sacraments) remains an obstacle to the restoration of full communion. Confirmation is but one pawn in the game," Turner notes.

In treating adolescent confirmation, he elucidates the intriguing problem of whether its reception should be repeatable. "Some say confirmation should retain its tradition as a once-in-a-lifetime sacrament. Others say it now concerns an event (commitment) that happens over and over in life." He argues that if the commitment ritualized in adolescent confirmation "is a repeatable event, it is best to celebrate it with a repeatable ritual."

Turner, a priest of the Kansas City-St. Joseph, Mo., diocese, obviously cares greatly about confirmation - about its significance for the individual being confirmed and about implications for the church, whose credibility suffers from contradictory philosophies and practices.

His passion adds importance to what, without it, might be merely an interesting exercise in untangling confirmation's convoluted history and present status.

For the future, he suggests an irrepeatable rite at initiation, "the logical historical successor to what we've called |confirmation,'" along with a later, repeatable maturity rite. "It matters little which one wins the name," he says, "it matters a great deal that these rites be separated by title and intent."

To do nothing, he contends, is to risk that the rich meaning of confirmation will become even more obscure than it now is. To do nothing will make confirmation ridiculous because of fights among factions and will obscure the paschal mystery, in which the proximity of baptism and confirmation express "the link between the mission of the Son and the outpouring of the Spirit."

Moreover, says Turner, "to do nothing is to encumber the Holy Spirit; this sacrament is supposed to symbolize the Spirit's nature, mission and gift, but it rather symbolizes how poorly we comprehend and explain the Spirit's presence."

His book, if read as widely as it deserves and then acted upon, could be a giant step toward revitalizing confirmation.
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Author:Gibeau, Dawn
Publication:National Catholic Reporter
Article Type:Book Review
Date:Oct 1, 1993
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