30 March 2015

What Age for the Sacrament of Confirmation

 In 2002 Bishop Aquila of Fargo, now the Archbishop of Denver, changed the age for receiving the Sacrament of Confirmation from students usually in high school to second graders, prior to their reception of the Sacrament of the Eucharist. This follows the historical tradition for administering the Sacrament at a younger age in the Latin Rite as well as being closer to the Eastern rite Churches which administer Baptism and Confirmation in the same ceremony. Below is an excerpt from an article from 2011 in which he explains his rationale for making the change, the full article which should be read in its entirety. http://www.catholicnewsagency.com/news/bishop-aquila-urges-sacrament-of-confirmation-before-first-eucharist/
“Turning to the present administration of the sacrament, Bishop Aquila questioned whether the common placement of confirmation in late adolescence treats it as “a reward, or worse, as something earned or deserved for attendance and work in a parish catechetical program.”
“Should the fear of not receiving a sacrament ever be used as a means to keep a young person involved in the life of the Church? Should the gift and strengthening of the Holy Spirit be denied young persons in their most formative years?” he asked.

Bishop Aquila also wondered whether the special attention and length of preparation given to confirmation makes many perceive it to be more important than Baptism and the Eucharist.
The view that confirmation is a way for young people to make a personal commitment to their faith “distorts” the sacrament, he said.
“Confirmation is not marked by a choice to believe or not believe in the Catholic faith.
Rather as disciples we are chosen by God to receive the fullness of the Holy Spirit, to be sealed with the gift of the Holy Spirit generously bestowed by God, and we are called to cooperate with that grace,” he explained.
Pope Benedict endorsed the move in comments he made to Bishop Aquila during his visit to Rome,
“I was very surprised in what the Pope said to me, in terms of how happy he was that the sacraments of initiation have been restored to their proper order of baptism, confirmation then first Eucharist,” said Bishop Aquila, after meeting Pope Benedict on March 8. 
It is precisely the attitude of the Sacrament as a ‘personal commitment of the Faith’ that is so prevalent in many of the Confirmation prep/Faith Formation programs today and one which needs to be corrected. Notice how crucial this Sacrament is to one’s salvation as stated by St. Thomas and then consider the number of students today who refuse this Sacrament as they have fallen victim to the secular age around them. Retooling the current programs is nothing short of rearranging the proverbial chairs on the deck of the Titanic. What is needed is full restoration of the traditional ordering of the Sacrament to adolescent children. The Sacrament is not merely for students to make an affirmation of their Faith, or lack thereof, but the necessary grace to engage in spiritual combat. “whereas in Confirmation he receives power to do those things which pertain to the spiritual combat with the enemies of the Faith.” From the Summa Theologica, Article 5 on Confirmation.

This decision will ultimately have to come from the Bishops as they are the ones who set the overall policy in their Dioceses for the faith formation coordinators to follow. But it is the pastors and coordinators who can encourage this change as they are the ones with firsthand knowledge of the crisis.

Here is more teaching from St. Thomas Aquinas on the Sacrament of Confirmation

     Article 1: Whether Confirmation is a Sacrament

            Reply to Objection 3. As stated above (Question 65, Article 4), all the sacraments are in some way necessary for salvation: but some, so that there is no salvation without them; some as conducing to the perfection of salvation; and thus it is that Confirmation is necessary for salvation: although salvation is possible without it, provided it be not omitted out of contempt.       

Article 8. Whether this sacrament should be given to all?

Reply to Objection 2. As stated above, the age of the body does not affect the soul. Consequently even in childhood man can attain to the perfection of spiritual age, of which it is written (Wisdom 4:8): "Venerable old age is not that of long time, nor counted by the number of years." And hence it is that many children, by reason of the strength of the Holy Ghost which they had received, fought bravely for Christ even to the shedding of their blood.

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