On being confirmed, received, and reaffirmed
What do the different terms mean? Who are these rites for?
Baptism is the ancient entry rite into the Church, which is also called “the Body of Christ.” In baptism, we affirm that we belong to the God who is made known to us in Jesus, and we promise (or, if we are infants or very young children, promises are made on our behalf) to live our lives in accordance with this deepest truth about who we are and whose we are. Confirmation in the Episcopal Church is a sacramental rite in which a baptized person makes a mature and public affirmation of the promises that are usually made at baptism by parents and godparents. After making these affirmations, a bishop in apostolic succession lays hands on the candidate and prays a prayer of confirmation. (See the Book of Common Prayer for the promises made at Holy Baptism, pp. 299-308, and for the proceedings at the service of Confirmation, pp. 413-419.)
In some dioceses, reception is reserved for those who have already been confirmed in another denomination by a bishop in apostolic succession (such as Roman Catholics or Orthodox). A more widely accepted understanding of reception is that it is a way of honoring anyone who has made a mature confession of faith in any other denomination by saying, in effect, we recognize and honor your spiritual journey in another fellowship, and we welcome you into the fellowship of the Episcopal Church, as you continue that journey. The bishop lays hands on the person being received and says, “We recognize you as a member of the one holy catholic and apostolic Church, and we receive you into the fellowship of this Communion” (Book of Common Prayer, p. 418). So, if you have not been confirmed or received by a bishop in apostolic succession, you may choose either confirmation or reception, although tradition might nudge you toward confirmation.
Reaffirmation is for people who have already been confirmed in the Episcopal Church. Some people presented to the bishop during the service of Confirmation are there to “reaffirm” their Christian vows. These might be people who have been away from the church for a period of time and want to make a new beginning. Others might be people who sense that they are at a new stage in their spiritual life and want to affirm this in ritual. Periodically, a spouse, fiancé or parent who is already a confirmed Episcopalian will go through reaffirmation as a way of honoring his or her family member's decision to become a confirmed Episcopalian, saying in effect, “We are in this together.” We all go through many changes in our life’s journey, and reaffirmation provides a rite for those who want to take stock of their religious and spiritual life anew.
Apostolic succession is the teaching that those who have been consecrated (ordained) as bishops represent a direct, uninterrupted line of continuity from the Apostles of Jesus Christ. This teaching confers upon such bishops the authority to confirm church members, ordain clergy (including those newly elected as bishops), and exercise authority in their dioceses. So, those who have already been confirmed in a tradition that consecrates bishops in apostolic succession, do not need to be confirmed again in the Episcopal Church; they are said to be "received."
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