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BCP Confirmation Catechesis


In the rubrics of the 1549 Book of Common Prayer rite of confirmation it states:

The curate [rector, vicar] of every parish once in sixe wekes at the least upon warnyng by him geven, shal upon some Soonday or holy day, half an houre before evensong openly in the churche instructe and examine so many children of his parish sent unto him, as the time wil serve, and as he shal thinke conveniente, in some parte of this Cathechisme. And all fathers, mothers, maisters, and dames, shall cause theyr children, servountes, and prentises (whiche are not yet confirmed), to come to the churche at the daie appoynted, and obediently heare and be ordered by the curate, until suche time as they have learned all that is here appointed for them to learne.

In the 1552 BCP this was changed from once every six weeks to every week:

The Curate of every Parishe, or some other at his appoynctmente, shall diligently upon Sundaies, and holy doies halfe an hour before Evensong, openly in the Churche instruct and examine…

It stayed like this for the 1559 BCP. In the 1662 BCP the time of catechesis was moved to after the second reading:

The Curate of every Parish shall diligently upon Sundays and Holy-days, after the second Lesson at Evening Prayer, openly in the Church instruct and examine..

[That, of course, is a formulary (agreed practice) in the Anglican Church of Aotearoa, New Zealand and Polynesia (and I’m sure in many other parts of the Anglican Communion). It would be interesting to know how parishes are following this requirement of catechesis…]

This instruction was unchanged in the 1928 proposed BCP.

I am grateful to Fr Jared Cramer’s post
image source

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9 thoughts on “BCP Confirmation Catechesis”

  1. Peter Carrell

    I hope you yourself, Bosco, are not found to be in default on this one!

    One point I take from you post, or question I would like to open up, and perhaps you might feel inclined to post on it one day is this, Why are rubrics part of our formularies?

    I think most of us ‘get it’ that our prayers are formularies, for they express what we believe. But do our rubrics do that? (I can see that some do but do they all?)

    Another way of asking the question is to ask what in our rubrics deserve our twice round procedure and what do not.

    In this instance I wonder if this timetable for instruction expresses our belief or one mode of delivering instruction, which does not quite equate in mind to belief itself!

    1. Thanks, Peter, for raising the questions.

      I regard our formularies as our agreement to belief and practice – not just mental assent to stuff in my head.


  2. For those interested in seeing how the classical BCP catechism was (or could be) taught, I’d recommend perusing Roland F. Palmer’s “The Catechist’s Handbook” (Bracebridge, ON: SSJE, 1962). Fr. Palmer recommends the following method:

    1) Get the children (and grownups) to open their prayer books to a particular question in the catechism.

    2) Read out the question, and have them read out the answer.

    3) Focus on a particular phrase or concept in the answer and explain it in simple language by means of illustrations, analogies, comparisons with familiar things, all to drive home one important aspect of Christian faith and life.

    For example, there’s the second question in the catechism:

    Catechist. Who gave you this Name?

    Answer. My Godfathers and Godmothers in my Baptism; wherein I was made a member of Christ, the child of God, and an inheritor of the kingdom of heaven.

    Palmer will draw attention to just one phrase, for example, “a member of Christ”, and ask what it means to be a “member” of something. He points out (I’m summarizing from memory) that this word “member” is best understood in the sense of “branch” or “limb”, something that draws its life from a larger body, trunk, or stem. It’s not like a pair of glasses, which can sit on my nose or on the table. When a “member” is cut off, it dies, like a tree branch or my arm. We are “members of Christ” because we draw our life from him, and the most important way of being nourished by Christ is prayer and the sacraments.

    4) The question and answer are then read out, in full, again, hopefully with everyone understanding something of the answer a little better.

  3. Ah! Having spent way too much of my life in recent years studying this stuff, I just can’t resist!
    The weekly catechesis demand came from Bucer’s critique of the 1549 BCP (Censura) of course and there is little if any evidence to suggest it was ever carried out in most of England. Confirmation was the poor second cousin twelve times removed in the English Reformation, and received very little attention, Eucharist being Cranmer’s real interest.
    Of course if we’re going to play rubrical Simon says with confirmation we should start – it being an episcopal rite after all – with the instruction to the bishop to ensure all candidates are properly tested before any hand-laying ensues, and we should ensure that any chrism oil is kept safely locked away in the aumbry where it belongs, oh and of course let’s not forget we should probably figure out what we’re doing with confirmation and why!
    For more on this exciting topic, read my soon to be read by at least three people thesis 🙂

    1. Thanks, Brian. I wouldn’t dare put online what I heard recently that confirmation means… so: looking forward to your thesis being online – let me know so I can get the link out at least via the Liturgy facebook page and twitter. Blessings.

    2. Sounds like a great thesis! I too look forward to reading it. I can well imagine that catechism as not assiduously performed in the immediate wake of the Reformation. (I take it that your reference to chrism and aumbreys is sardonic!)

      For the record, however, we do find exceptionally conscientious clergy of later periods performing this duty. George Herbert describes it at length in The Country Parson. (And Stanley Fish argued, in his 1978 book The Living Temple: George Herbert and Catechizing, that a catechetical approach informs much of Herbert’s poetry — I confess I know this book only through reviews.)

      There survive several letters of the celebrated Vicar of Leeds, Walter Farquhar Hook, giving an account of his method of teaching the Catechism in a three-part 30-minute scheme. (I know I refer to him a lot in my comments on this blog, but he’s just such a fun and informative figure!) Hook himself reported that at Leeds he catechized “upwards of 1,000 children every Sunday afternoon”.

      But then, both of the figures I’ve cited are exceptional. (“If you meet George Herbert on the road, kill him!”) Though not himself of the Tractarian school, Hook was very much part of the Victorian High Church revival that began to take the Prayer Book more seriously than perhaps any generation previously had done.

      I am well aware of the debates around the meaning and relevance of confirmation. But I’m not sure that the arguments of the Colin Buchanan school, while historically and academically strong, are necessarily a good motive for changing the actual practice. F. D. Maurice’s take on Confirmation, as a ritual moment that meaningfully affirms how complete Baptism already was (he’s delightfully paradoxical!), has a lot to be said for it.

  4. Had the Anglican Communion followed Bucer’s plan in this the tenor of their life might be more like that of the Dutch Reformed Churches. There the sermon of every Sunday afternoon service was indeed (and in many cases still is) an exposition of one of the 52 sections of the Heidelberg Catechism — one for each “Lord’s Day” in annual rotation. Common life and spiritual life shaped by shared theological teaching has its advantages, as does basing these things in shared liturgical expression.

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