Should we change the age of Confirmation?

There is an interesting discussion on the latest 15th Station about the best age for Confirmation.

For those new to the faith, a brief outline – about 20 years ago the age for receiving the Sacrament of Confirmation was revised from 15/16 years old down to 7/8 years old.

I was Confirmed in the middle of the transition years at 12 years old. I have to say, despite going through the Confirmation lessons and being taught by nuns, I still didn't really understand the significance of the Sacrament. Everyone told me that it was my chance to "confirm" my belief and commitment to the Catholic Church. It is only since that time, when I have been responsible for the Sacramental programme in my own parish, that I realise it is actually about receiving the gifts of the Holy Spirit, to strengthen you in your faith. 

There are many people out there who are advocates of returning Confirmation to a 'young adult' Sacrament, but I think this idea is based  on some wrong and some unfounded beliefs.

Firstly, there is still a widely held belief amongst Catholics that Confirmation is only about choosing the Catholic Church for yourself (rather than your parents choosing it for you). Confirmation is the completion of initiation into the Church, or as the Catechism puts it, "by the sacrament of Confirmation, [the baptized] are more perfectly bound to the Church". The most important aspect of Confirmation, however, are the graces we receive from the Holy Spirit, that allow us to be be "enriched with a special strength" and then, consequently, the responsibilities that come with these graces, namely that we are "more strictly obliged to spread and defend the faith by word and deed." (CCC 1285)

I believe that it is the graces we receive that allow us to 'choose' and be "bound" to the Catholic Faith, not that we choose the Catholic Faith and that our reward are the gifts of the Holy Spirit. Confirmation is based largely on the Biblical story of Pentecost. The apostles were afraid, locked in a room, fearing for their lives and doubting what they had come to believe. It was at that moment that the Holy Spirit came upon them. This was what gave them the strength to "spread and defend the faith". It wasn't so much about them choosing the Church, as the Church choosing (and empowering) them.

The reason Confirmation was changed to 7 or 8 years is that a Catholic should really be fully initiated into the Church before they recieve the Eucharist – which is the source and summit of our faith. It is only the gifts and strength of the Holy Spirit that can prepare someone to receive the very Body and Blood of Christ into themselves. It makes sense (to me at least) that we are baptised at birth, that this process is completed with Confirmation and that we then get to receive the Body and Blood of our Lord, having fully been accepted into the Faith.

Another common argument is that Confirmation should be changed to High School age as it would give teenagers something to aim for during the difficult teenage years – that it would somehow bring them back to the Church and give them a focus. I think the proof is in the pudding with this one. It is my generation of Catholics that recieved Confirmation in their teens and it is my generation of Catholics who no longer attend. I don't think it makes any difference. If we want to make Confirmation all about 'choosing' the Church and commiting to it, 16 is far too young anyway. Personally, I didn't 'choose' the Catholic Church until I was in my 20s and had seen a bit of the world and lived more of life.

I don't think its a bad idea to have something, not a Sacrament, but something for Catholics, as adults, to commit their lives to the Church. I came "home" in my 20s but as I have not been married or ordained, I haven't been through any kind of ceremony through which I offer my life to God and His Church. My parish is currently looking into a course for adults who are lapsed, but thinking about returning to the fold – wouldn't it be great if there was some kind of ceremony or liturgy welcoming them back, where they got to share their new commitment? But I don't think Confimation is it.

So, that's what I think… what about you?

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    Comments: 7

    1. John Whyte April 23, 2014 at 1:27 pm

      M&M

      I have the opinion that we should follow the east and confirm infants straight after baptism.  It makes no sense to me to have a sacrament you can issue and not do it.  

      Benedicta can put this more elloquently, but I think that 'missing generation' is missing, not because of confirmation, or the lack of it, but because their parents did not pass the faith on.  

    2. Teresina April 23, 2014 at 4:33 pm

      I was confirmed around the age of 13 (which was after the Second Vatican Council) but a friend of mine before Vatican II says she was confirmed at the time she received First Holy Communion.  I remember it being an important occasion and I had my aunt as sponsor.  We had instruction leading up to confirmation.  We also have to choose a confirmation name.  I was confirmed by Cardinal McKeefry and the tap on the cheek was given (which was changed in the 1971 revision of the sacrament).  It seems that because the sacrament is conferred ordinarily by a bishop it would be difficult to confirm at the time of baptism – although apparently there can be exceptions as there are for adult converts where a priest confers the sacrament.

      I am of two minds.  I think it is important that a young person understand what is happening and has adequate instruction.  I wonder if a child of seven could be confused by three sacraments conferred in quick succession, but as the sacrament is so important it seems to me that it is better conferred at the time of First Holy Communion to ensure that young Catholics are confirmed and don't miss out all together as may be happening. 

    3. Benedicta April 23, 2014 at 7:55 pm

      M&M

      I appreciate your renewal and realisation of conversion…its marvellous isn't it?

      You appropriated the sacraments which had been given prior to you.

      I am not so keen on celebrating the reconversion….even as you say, not a sacrament but some sort of welcome back celebration. A few years ago I would have agreed with this. The Gospels endorse celebration re the prodigal son….but in light of that I would rather leave the celebrating up to the Father this time in the consolations he will and does no doubt give you in having returned.

      But in fact the reality is I and others left the faith – even though returning was wonderful it does and still does have a penitentiary overtone. It was not God's plan that I left but my refusal (even if passive) not to appropriate the faith as I should. Others no doubt played their part but the buck stops with me. At the same time programmes like 'Catholics Returning Home' can mitigate against what can and have been serious lapses, personal oversights and negative influences which might have brought about someone leaving the Church (though they always and forever remain Catholic in their soul).

      What the Church needs is fidelity throughout Christian's lives. In that respect I was absent…so in one sense a celebration and ultimately so but also a failing and we can't celebrate that because even returning can't undo the time we lost wandering elsewhere….time counts I think for this one.

      I hope this doesn't sound a bit miserable….it just that the time away is something I regret not something I want to celebrate as a returning….it should never have happened.

      Rather to celebrate those who have always stayed?

    4. Benedicta April 23, 2014 at 8:05 pm

      John

      I can't see any reason why a  newly baptised baby/child can't be confirmed by the priest? Actually I can't see any reason why the baby/child newly baptised and confirmed can't receive the Eucharist.

      But perhaps I am leaning too far east?

      What I don't like it shoveling unprepared children through Confirmation rites with the Bishop, he assuming they are prepared, and then receiving the Eucharist….then never coming to darken the door of the Church again till when or never?

      It seems to me the Church is not taking this seriously enough somehow.

      At least if the Sacraments of Initiation were all conferred at once…the child would receive in a state of Grace. The sacraments are given and can be appropriated by that individual child even at a young age. Also the onus would be on the parents to bring their child up as a Catholic. The child receiving later would not be participating in its own state of confusion by receiving basically unprepared and then no longer coming to Mass (that really really bothers me). That the Church knows this happens most of the time really really bothers me.

      In the end though like Teresina I am of two minds and actually have no idea how to rectify what are sacramentally really serious problems….the state we put souls into and then they never come back!

       

    5. Benedicta April 23, 2014 at 8:12 pm

      Unpick my confusing statement….should have said 'the child receiving confirmation and eucharist later seems today to be participating in its own state of confusion….' etc 

      If all three sacraments given together they are ordered to the Eucharist in action and given to a very young child, that child being in a state of Grace because of the close connection in time to Baptism.

      I hope that was clearer!!

    6. Rubyshine April 23, 2014 at 9:11 pm

      I was confirmed at 13. I was umming and ahhing over whether to do it that year or the following and my mother's exact words, "you should do it now and get it over and done with." Not the most inspiring spiritual guidance. On reflection I was raised with a sense of, "you do what you have to tick the box, and follow the rules." 

      As a result, I am uncomfortable with a "tick the box" type approach to sacraments. I feel there should be an appreciation and belief in the sacraments being conferred. I think that belief and appreciation can be gained at a young age, but it does come down to the quality of the instruction.

      I'm not familiar with how young ones are currently guided through the confirmation programme, but if it is as Benedicta suggests then it seems like the church are treating it as a tick the box exercise.

      I wouldn't personally want a celebration of my return either. I've had positive conversations with people who know bits and pieces and that was affirming but honestly I'd rather we all politely ignore the absence and allow me to slink in and out of church as unobtrusively as possible. Having said that I am particularly grateful that I didn't marry in the church 10 years ago. If I had, it would have been to do the "right thing", and it would have meant nothing. It was really important to me to have that opportunity to have our marriage blessed after my return and it be a really spiritually significant day. So I do understand that idea of adults wanting to celebrate and recommit to the church. 

      I do agree with John Whyte that the missing generation is more about parents not passing on the faith than it is about when confirmation is received.

    7. Don the Kiwi April 23, 2014 at 9:33 pm

      I have strong views on this.

      I believe the way that we do Confirmation in most of our dioceses is flawed. I believe that Confirmation should be administered when the youth is around 12 – 16 years of age. That is how I was confirmed in 1954. It is how my 2 sons were confirmed when we lived in Australia in the 1980's, and it was how my daughter was confirmed in 1990 after our return to NZ.

      Let's look at the institution of the Sacraments of Initiation. The apostles were baptised at the washing of the feet prior to the Last Supper. They had had three years of preparation by Jesus for this. At the same meal, they were present at the Institution of the Eucharist, and recieved Holy Communion, and were ordained as priests. At Pentecost, 7 weeks later, they were confirmed, and the Holy Spirit overshadowed them, and gave them the grace , strength and power to go and proclaim Christ crucified, and gained huge numbers of conversions.

      In the Catholic Church, our chidren are generally Baptised as infants – as a gift from God, the gift of Faith, who would refuse? We do not need to be cognisant to recieve the gift from God – our parents accept it on our behalf. In the case of adult Baptism, it is only after a couse of instruction, and being cognisant of what is happening and are agreeable that they are Baptised.

      First Holy Communion is given when the child reaches the age of reason. Children who are taken to Mass by their parents see Holy Communion, and even as little children gradually get to know what it is, because they become familiar with it. When it is their turn to recieve Holy Communion, they have seen it, and then at the age of reason have been instructed what it is, and so, long to recieve their First Holy Communion, and that is all that fills their minds and hearts at that stage, and they understand it.

      I have been present at the modern version of giving of the Sacraments of Initiation to kids 8 – 10 years old. First Holy Communion is fine, but when it comes to Confirmation, most of the kids can't even remember the two simple responses – "…and with your spirit", and "Amen". Now this may be partly due to inadequate preparation – but it is, IMO, in large part due to the fact that they simply do not understand what Confirmation is, and  because the principal focus has been Holy Communion. I know this, because I have assisted the bishop in the administration of the sacrament.

      At this stage of spiritual development, anyone recieving these sacraments needs to be cognisant of what is happening. When I take Holy Communion to the elderly and the sick, if the people are not at least partly cognisant, I do not offer Holy Communion. If they are "gaga", I bless them, but do not give them the sacrament, because they are not aware of what they are recieving. So an 8 – 10 Y/O is aware of Holy Communion, but not Confirmation, and accordingly, should not receive the sacrament. Confirmation is much more nuanced and the person receiving it should be fully aware of what is happening. The matter that 2, 5 or 20 years later they give their Faith away has nothing to do with it – the important thing is that they are Aware of what is happening.

      The Christchurch diocese is the only one in NZ, with the good Bp. Barry Jones, who provides the sacraments in the manner in which I have described. The other diocese need to change, and if I can have any infuence in the Hamilton diocese, that is the way I hope it will be.