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.