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Thursday, March 23, 2006

Confirmation Age

The Most Reverend Alvaro Corrada, SJ, Bishop of Tyler, TX, released a pastoral letter last October asking that the Confirmation be adminstered before the first reception of the Holy Eucharist. So now, in that diocese, all baptized children of age 8, just after the age of reason, are confirmed and then receive Communion.

The appropriate age for Confirmation is a strange issue. "F0r centuries, Latin custon has indicated "the age of discretion" as the reference point for receiving Confirmation" (CCC 1307). However, many Catholic parishes have moved the age back, confirming Catholics at ages 12, 16, even 17 (as it was in my case). It seems, however, that this has no historical or theological value, but instead is a social custom that does not recognize the point of the Sacrament itself.

Confirmation is on of the three Sacraments of Initiation (along with Baptism and Eucharist) and is "necessary for the completion of baptismal grace" (CCC 1285). During the Secong Vatican Council, the Church said that the baptized "are more perfectly bound to the Church by the sacrament of Confirmation, and the Holy Spirit endows them with special strength so that they are more strictly obliged to spread and defend the faith, both by word and by deed, as true witnesses of Christ" (Lumen Gentium 11). So the Sacraments of Initiation work in a particular order: the new Catholic is joined to the body of Christ and washed of his sin (Baptism), strengthened to live out the call to holiness and bound more closely to Christ's pilgrim Church (Confirmation), and joined to Christ himself (Eucharist). Together, the three Sacraments present a great combination for the Catholic to experience, a sacramental grand slam if you will. Thus, theologically speaking, it makes most sense to administer Confirmation at the age of reason/discretion and before reception of the Eucharist, allowing the person to be fully bound to the Church when practicing the Sacramental life in the Eucharist and Reconciliation.

It appears that the early Church both baptized and confirmed infants at the same time. When the bishop could no longer baptize all Christians, the priest was delegated to distribute the sacrament more regularly. In the East, the two Sacraments remained a "double Sacrament," while in the West, the priest baptized, and Confirmation was delayed to the age of reason so the bishop could complete the "double Sacrament" (CCC 1290-1). It was only after the reception of the Sacrament of Confirmation that the catechumen received the Eucharist. There is a historical precedent within the traditions of the Church to celebrate these Sacraments in that order.

It seems that the reason for pushing the age of Confirmation to the mid-teen years is merely a social cause. My Confirmation at age 17 provided a convenient "now-you-are-a-man" moment. It is a mark on the path to social maturity. If not that, Confirmation becomes the young Catholic's chance to "decide for himself" and, in some way, validate his infant baptism. This practice, however, demonstrates a misunderstanding of the Sacrament. The Catechism tells us that "[a]lthough 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" (CCC 1308). Confirmation is not a milemarker for adulthood, but is the reception of a grace needed to become a mature adult. It is not a ratification of Baptism, but a completion of it.

It appears that the sacrament of Confirmation should be placed at the age of reason/discretion, both for the spiritual fruits we witness theologically and for the maintenance of the tradition of the Church. For these reasons, I applaud the decision of Bishop Corrada and hope other bishops will follow in suit.

1 Comments:

Blogger Emma said...

Well, Josh, what I said the other day still makes the most sense to me - not that I'm going to contradict the tradition of the Church, but I still maintain that when I was confirmed at 14, I hardly even knew what the Church was about that I was being confirmed in, even though I had been raised Catholic, and if I had been confirmed younger I would have understood it even less. I didn't really have a choice in the matter - not that I would have chosen not to be confirmed, but that at the age I was confirmed, it was pretty much done for me without my really needing to want it at all. I completely agree that baptismal grace doesn't need ratification to become effective, and that it's free and unmerited, but I always thought that Confirmation was the completion of Baptism in the sense that you join yourself to the Church of your own free will that you were Baptized into when you were a child. Perhaps at a time when people were considered to be adults at 15 and 16, a younger Confirmation age made more sense, but now most parents make their children's decisions until they're at least 18, and that doesn't leave a whole lot of room on the part of the child to freely and knowingly join himself to the Church.
~MC

4:19 PM  

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