Wednesday, February 21, 2007

Catholic Q & A: Confirmation at what age?

One catechist has asked me:
My 7 yr old granddaughter is preparing to make her confirmation soon followed by 1st Communion. My daugter feels that this is too young an age to be confirmed but this is the policy of the Diocese so there is not much she can do. Any thoughts?


Well, this is the policy of some bishops (bishops get to choose at what age confirmation will be administered in their diocese). The Church has traditionally identified age 7 as the general age of reason (the time at which young people begin to know right from wrong and can make moral decisions). In the recent history of the Latin rite Church this has been the age that First Communion is given (to be preceded by First Confession). The question, then, is why do some bishops want children to be confirmed before receiving first Communion?

Ideally, the order in which you receive the sacraments of initiation should be:
BAPTISM, --> CONFIRMATION (completes baptism)--> and then EUCHARIST (and you should receive first confession before holy communion).

That is the ideal order. That is why Eastern rite Catholics and the Eastern Orthodox Christians baptize and confirm infants... and then give infants a small piece of the Eucharist. These 3 sacraments are what initiate us, and make us full members of the Church. Once again, ideally, we receive Holy Communion as the culmination of our full entrance into the community of believers--the body of Christ. This, of course, is the order that adult converts in the Latin rite receive the sacraments during the Easter Vigil.

The reason why we have delayed confirmation in the west was so that the Bishop could confirm more easily (larger groups, fewer times, etc as compared with individual baptisms) (CCC 1290). The west has always emphasized the fact that bishop should be the preferred administer of Confirmation because this expresses a Christian's tie to the apostolic unity of the Church (the bishop--a successor to the apostles--being the head of each local church, i.e. diocese) (CCC 1312). This practice of delayed confirmation has assumed a theological significance of preparing young Catholics through catechesis so that they can make an adult decision for their faith.

In the East, priests generally confirm infants immediately after baptism (they use the term "chrismation" for this annointing).

What are the benefits of confirmation at an earlier age: your granddaughter will already receive the graces from Confirmation. She will receive a greater outpouring of the gifts of the Holy Spirit and be fully initiated into the Church. These are real graces that will help her live her Christian life.

The drawback: she will not be able to make an "adult" choice to be Confirmed. (Also, without this "goal" of completing their sacraments, some families fail to continue to see that their children are catechized. This, of course, is a wrong way to view catechesis.)

However, that being said,...from my experience, many teens who approach Confirmation are not really in a good mind set to make an adult decision about Confirmation anyways. Many times, at the age of 15, they can be rebellious against their parents and religion in general. They can be so preocupied with their friends, social life, and sports that religion is not important to them anyways. They can be so influenced by the world that they are not able to see clearly the beauty and need for God's grace through this special sacrament.

So, all in all,... it might not be bad to receive Confirmation at an earlier age. The trick is that your daughter will have to work hard to keep teaching her child and forming her in the faith as she grows up. Prayer and a regular practice of the faith has to start in the home... and continue.

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