The Confirmation Question

Today I overheard a very interesting conversation regarding the Sacrament of Confirmation. Two women, both involved in religious education, were discussing whether teenagers should be made to make their confirmation. They both agreed that they should. They felt that it was part of the responsibility of the parents to make sure this happens. They promised to raise their children in the faith at Baptism. This is the culmination of that process. I admit, this is not how I ever looked at this particular sacrament. I understand their position, but I have always been staunchly of the opinion that Confirmation needs to be freely chosen by the candidate. It needs to be that person’s commitment to the faith.

In our current culture, children are brought forth for Baptism at an early age. My own children were both less than two months old. Yes, I made that commitment for them. I promised to raise them as a Catholics and to teach them the faith. My older son now receives Communion and goes to Reconciliation regularly. He was excited to have the opportunity to do so. My younger son will be receiving those sacraments this year and is also very excited. I hold out hope that when the time comes for them to make their Confirmation, they will be ready to make that personal commitment to the faith.

I truly believe that part of the issue surrounding Confirmation is the age at which it is conferred. In the United States, the Bishops have the discretion to administer the sacrament anywhere between the age of seven and seventeen (obviously, adults can also receive the sacrament). In my own Diocese, the tradition has long been to confer Confirmation during the Junior year of High School when a young person is sixteen or seventeen. The thinking is that a young person is nearly grown and capable of making an adult commitment. A person can also receive a driver’s license at that age, thereby allowing them to take personal responsibility for mass attendance. A young person should have been in Catholic School or attended religious education for a number of years by this time and understand the faith.

The logic is good. The reality, however, is that the majority of young people of that age are in an all out authority rebellion. It is part of the natural process of things. Young people are attempting to spread their wings and figure out what they stand for. It is a time of questioning and searching. These same young people, however, might have been very ready and willing to make that commitment to the faith at a younger age. Such a commitment would have allowed them to receive the added help of the Holy Spirit, help that could be quite beneficial as a young person navigates the challenging teen years.

The Catechism of the Catholic Church states that “every baptized person not yet confirmed can and should receive the sacrament of Confirmation. . . .Although Confirmation is sometimes called the ‘sacrament of Christian maturity,’ we must not confuse adult faith with the adult age of natural growth, nor forget that the baptismal grace is a grace of free, unmerited election and does not need ‘ratification’ to become effective. St. Thomas reminds us of this: ‘Age of body does not determine age of soul’” (CCC 1306,1308).

The Catechism goes on to state that “catechesis for Confirmation should strive to awaken a sense of belonging to the Church of Jesus Christ, the universal Church as well as the parish community” (CCC 1309). Children who have reached the age of reason and have been brought up in the faith can certainly understand that sense of belonging. Why is our Church denying this opportunity for grace to children who want it and are ready for it? Perhaps if the Church extended the opportunity for Confirmation to these younger children, with the understanding that it would need to be the child that wanted it, the issue of whether or not parents needed to make teenagers receive the sacrament would cease to exist.

Patrice Fagnant-MacArthur

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Patrice Fagnant-MacArthur writes from western Massachusetts where she lives with her husband and two sons. A Senior Editor with Catholic Lane.com, she blogs at http://spiritualwomanthoughts.blogspot.com

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  • c-kingsley

    In the eastern rites (for example, the Byzantine Rite, which is in union with the pope), they baptize, confirm, and give communion to infants. Three of my kids were confirmed in the second grade, prior to first communion (same mass). (The parish does it in a program they call “restored order”, that is, the early church confirmed before giving communion.) My (Roman Rite) bishop has authorized confirmation for our baby who may not survive long after birth.

    There’s no theological reason to treat confirmation like it’s the Catholic version of responding to an altar call.

  • scwelter

    I’ve been a catechist for many years and have taught kids from 5th grade up to 12th and our parish has confirmation in 11th grade. Most of the students have been confirmed but there have been a few that have dropped out in latter years. These students most likley would have been confirmed had they been givin the choice before teenage rebellion took it’s toll. I myself was confirmed in 2nd grade following 1st eucharist and 1st confession in 1st grade. I too agree there is no reason to postpone this sacrament.

  • asquared

    I prepare 70+ youth for Confirmation each year at the diocesan mandated age of 16. I prepare 25+ adults each year who did not get confirmed in HS usually because they were rebelling, or so caught up with school and sports and jobs they did not “have the time” to complete their Christian Initiation. I also prepare 20+ school age children for RCIA who are hence confirmed age ages 7-15. There is no canonical or theological justification for delaying confirmation. It should IMO be conferred with baptism as it is in the Eastern rites. If the bishops insist on clinging to age 7 as the minimum there is no justification for not completing initiation at that age, with 1st communion, preceded be sacramental confession. Every year beyond initiation sacraments are delayed beyond that means they are being denied without any good reason. It also means that for each year Confirmation is delayed, we lose half the group or age cohort that should be confirmed. This is a grave scandal.

  • gburns

    The idea that teenage rebellion is the natural progression of things is only true in our modern western culture.

    When we were a more agrarian society having a child come of age was a boon to the family farm. Teens took on great responsibilities because that was the natural progression of things. The parents would not have stood for anything else.

    It has only been in the last 100 years that parents have “allowed” teenage rebellion to arise. We have swallowed that ridiculous idea that this is supposed to happen. I do not for one minute reject the idea that teens are rebelling in this age. Our culture teaches that this is “normal”. Film, TV shows and advertisements promote rebellion. Pop psychologists tell us we should let our children question and freely express themselves to find out who they are. This is lunacy. Teenagers are not questioning(quest for truth). They mostly are voicing disdain for parental authority. They can’t know who they are by looking at their navel. They must be filled with the truth that comes from faith and knowledge. Sorry to say but this take tremdendous time and effort on the teens and the parents.

    Regretably, I don’t have a solution for everyone. I suggest that we all disconnect from the secular culture alittle bit more than we are currently doing. Parents should not be afraid to love their children enough to give them the truth and teach them the ways of God.

  • elkabrikir

    What a timely article for me, for I had this discussion with a dear friend of mine who’s faithful 12th grade daughter has not received Confirmation. I was shocked and saddened by that fact.

    I urged her, with the strongest argument I could, to find a parish that would confirm her daughter ASAP, before she goes to college. These kids need the sanctifying grace of the sacrament especially during the teen aged years.

    “Why isn’t your young friend confirmed?”, you might ask. My response, “The process is extremebly burdensome and reflects and ‘alter call’ mentality.”

    These kids MUST participate actively in the youth group for one year. Then they MUST attend a year of classe, without missing ANY of them! (these new rules have been newly instituted, also) I think it is wrong to fill the ranks of the youth group via confirmation blackmail.

    My home parish meets for a total of 10 consecutive Sunday sessions. You can miss one class which may be made up. I think that even this ten, 2-3 hour class requirement can be burdensome as well for kids who have been in Faith Formation for years. It is feasible, however.

    As an 8th grade catechist myself, I firmly believe that our purpose in life is to know, love, and serve God, so we can be happy with him in heaven. However, I think Confirmation should be more generously given as the gift that it is in order to know God better. It is not a reward for passing a test or putting in your time.

    As an aside, anecdotally, a neighbor kid of mine, who went through the two year confirmation process, smugly pronounced to a non Catholic–after telling us what an expert on faith the “stupid” program had made her– that the Immaculate Conception was Jesus’ conception. Despite not wanting to emabarrass the 15 year old, I had to correct her by saying, “Well, actually, the Immaculate Conception is Mary’s Conception free from Original Sin.” Her response, “Oh yeah, that’s what I meant, whatever…..”

    In this world, where the enemy constantly prowls and patiently waits to devour young souls, we must heed the Catechism: “we must not confuse adult faith with the adult age of natural growth, nor forget that the baptismal grace is a grace of free, unmerited election and does not need ‘ratification’ to become effective”.

    Thanks for this discussion.

  • gerimom

    In my experience, teens who are homeschooled are far less apt to be rebellious, and more than willing to be confirmed. I believe this to be because the parents are significantly more attuned to and involved with their children. I have also found that those teens who are allowed to fulfill every whim (TV, cars, IPOds, cell phones, etc…) as if they were already adults are almost always more rebellious. (I have nieces and nephews who fit the bill)
    My own children are more respectful, less consumeristic, and more obedient. Both of my older two readily received and embraced confirmation. My youngest would also readily be confirmed if she was allowed to.
    I believe the parents should emphasize the graces of confirmation rather than going along with it because everybody in their grade is. Although parents are responsible for getting their child the sacraments, it goes far beyond making sure they get to class. It involves exposing the child to the wonderfulness of their Catholic identity.
    So age should not be not the deciding factor; understanding the sacrament should be.

  • ea

    My children who have ipods and cell phones are not rebellious. I am quite involved with them. They attend Catholic high schools. They want to be confirmed in their Catholic faith. They have difficulty managing the timing for the Confirmation preparation because it is set up around the schedule of the local public schools. They are also uncomfortable with the “sharing”, social aspects of Confirmation preparation because they are quiet, reserved children. I wish they had received their Confirmation before they left our parish school after eighth grade. I think they were mature enough to understand the meaning of the sacrament at that age.

    b-kingsley, I am sorry about your baby and will keep your family in my prayers.

  • bluestorm

    I was confirmed at the age of 10. In the country where I grew up, the standard age to receive the sacrament was 14 at that time. I asked to receive the sacrament of confirmation earlier and was allowed. The preparation was not burdensome at all, we had several meetings with the parish priest who prepared us for the sacrament and a kind of “examination”, which consisted of a personal chat with the priest who wanted to make sure we are ready. I am very thankful I was allowed to receive the Holy Spirit at that time of my life, it was a great gift. I believe that part of the reason for this exception was that the Church was persecuted in my country at that time, I think it would be much harder to be confirmed at 10 in my home-country today. They have also raised the age at which young people receive this sacrament to 16.

  • HomeschoolNfpDad

    The age of seven for First Communion and First Penance is derived from the decree of Pope St. Pius X in Quam Singulari: http://www.papalencyclicals.net/Pius10/p10quam.htm . If you read the whole document, you quickly realize that Pope Pius was attempting to correct the error of postponing First Eucharist well beyond that age. Thus, seven is essentially a ceiling beyond which fathers and pastors ought not to wait without very good reason, when considering the appropriate age of First Eucharist. It is, of course, perfectly acceptable to prepare children at “about the seventh year, more or less” (to use Pope Pius’s words), but it is also acceptable to begin earlier, if father and pastor have determined that the child has reached the age of reason.

    In the history of the Latin Church, the age of First Communion is important because, historically, the ages of Confirmation and First Communion have rather danced around one another. Friends of mine from Mexico often tell of having received Confirmation before First Communion — with First Communion postponed until the age of twelve or so (Quam Singulari notwithstanding). Some went through RCIA with Baptism, Confirmation, and even Matrimony — but no First Communion.

    I get the impression that parishes often wish to dangle the carrot of Confirmation before an unwilling group of parents (moreso than their children) in order to convince them to send their children to Catechism classes, particularly in preparation for Confirmation. I even tend to agree with the pedagogical reasoning behind this. When so many are so poorly educated in the faith, I think most would simply affirm their readiness for Confirmation even if there has been no religious instruction in the home. Thus requiring a year or two of religious education, even the somewhat superficial offerings in many parishes, is a good idea. This leads back to the notion of Community — in the ancient sense that no one really loves God in Christ alone. Even though faithful families already provide Community in the loving embrace of the home, it is the older children of faithful families who may be most capable of teaching the uncatechized. Thus, I can even sympathize with parish and diocesan requirements that well-catechized children also be required to attend Confirmation classes at the parish. The Church (and not just the Latin Church) has a long-standing tradition whereby primacy in the matter of religious education is shared by both the family and the pastor, particularly with respect to older children. The family is always the starting point, but the pastor is still granted the right of determining whether one is ready, so to speak. Thus, the will of the pastor ought not to be taken lightly.

  • ea

    HomeschoolNfpDad,

    Thank you for your response. It puts the requirements of my parish in a different light for me. I HAVE been telling my children that this what our parish requires for Confirmation and so they must do it that way no matter how difficult. And even though the youth ministry program can be very challenging for our family, we need to remember that this work is the “will of the pastor”.

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