Thought for the Day - Catherine Pepinster
Amid all the endless speculation these past few weeks about the forthcoming Royal Wedding, one news item a few days ago was a little different. Kate Middleton, we learnt, has been confirmed. The future bride of Prince William apparently made the decision to be confirmed after the couple attended marriage preparation sessions with the Bishop of London, Richard Chartres. This was not a constitutional nicety, we were told, but part of a journey into faith.
Christian confirmation, like baptism, is an initiation ceremony. It follows baptism and is usually undertaken by adolescents, who are literally confirming their beliefs. The Church of England has also recently reported an increase in adult confirmation candidates.
Large numbers of Christians, particularly Anglicans and Catholics, are baptized at birth, but in the Catholic Church in particular there is a tradition for adults joining the Church to be baptized on Easter Saturday at a night vigil. When I go along to my parish church next weekend for the vigil, I expect I will feel the same emotions as I always do: moved by people making their commitment to their faith in such a public way with all the ensuing ritual.
And ritual is crucial to human beings: anthropologists have found countless examples of rites of passage among tribal peoples.The secular world has also adapted rites of passage rituals, from marriage, to naming ceremonies and funerals. But it does not have a formal event that mirrors confirmation or the Jewish Bar Mitzvah, that suggests a move into adulthood. And now that many people put off marriage - once a sign of starting adult life and responsibility - until much later, a ritual like confirmation has even more resonance.
Confirmation also signifies that a person is moving to a deeper faith. Kate Middleton, like other confirmed people would have been anointed with oil, which is traditionally a sign of abundance and joy, cleansing, healing and comfort. It is a mark that you are blessed with the gifts of the Holy Spirit – wisdom, understanding, right judgement and courage. In other words it is a moment that signals maturity, when, as St Paul says, you once talked like a child or thought like a child or reasoned like a child, but now you are putting away childish things.
Yet adults are not entirely unlike children: they too need structure, and support, and love. And if you are confident the Church is embracing you with those through confirmation, it makes setting out on the long road of adulthood – or off on a voyage into the Royal Family - that much easier to navigate.