“Confirmation isn’t a coming of age ritual”

Director of Parish Faith Formation for Diocese of Orange: "The rites of initiation are Baptism, Confirmation and Eucharist, in that order"

Confirmation students at St. John the Baptist Church line up to be anointed with oil. (image: St. John the Baptist Church)

The first step in our initiation into Christian life is the sacrament Baptism. In fact, because of your Baptism you are Christian. But in Catholic teaching, Baptism is just the beginning of a full life in Christ. For most children it is a gift to them from their parents while they are still infants. 

The sacramental grace of Baptism works within the child’s soul to encourage maturity in faith and learning. It is followed by two other very important rites of initiation that are uniquely Catholic in their sacramental nature and theology. 

Some people look on Confirmation as something like the Jewish Bar Mitzvah or Bat Mitzvah, however, according to Katie Dawson, director of Parish Faith Formation for the Diocese of Orange, “Confirmation isn’t a coming of age ritual. The rites of initiation are Baptism, Confirmation and Eucharist, in that order. After the Bishop is given testimony as to our living out the life of Christ in faith, he then ‘confirms’ us in the faith.” 

Confirmation brings gifts – seven Gifts of the Holy Spirit to be exact. Wisdom helps us to see things as God sees them. Knowledge calls us to contemplation and prayer. Understanding is to know ourselves in light of God’s divine purpose. Fortitude or courage to trust that when we are strong in the face of evil we have faith that God is with us. The gift of Counsel or right judgment gives us the peace that, as St. Paul states, surpasses all understanding. Reverence or piety is to respect the things of God and the creation he has given us. And fear of the Lord, is not fear as we know it today, but wonder at the magnificence of God and the love He has for each of us. 

Today, most confirmations take place in the teen years. Although confirmed in the faith, it doesn’t necessarily mean that confirmed teens will be stalwarts of the faith forevermore. In fact, they are confirmed just before they go off in the secular world that will lure them with all kinds of distractions, and distortions regarding faith and morals. 

The rite of Confirmation draws many images and scriptural readings from Pentecost, and several passages in the Acts of the Apostles. Acts 19:6 contains one of many passages: “…And when Paul laid (his) hands on them, the Holy Spirit came upon them, and they spoke in tongues and prophesied.” Sometimes, the Holy Spirit can grab hold of a young soul and if the grace is accepted they go forth and never stray far from the faith. In others, the grace may lay dormant until, years later, when life becomes more complex the adult is drawn back through grace to God and the Church. It is still all a question of free will. 

According to Dawson, “As the newly confirmed grow and mature they can become more open to the grace from their Confirmation. For example, in college they may be able to pass a test on a great and complex work of literature, but they probably won’t fully understand it until they have had more life experience.” That is why Confirmation is so important, it is like an energy overlay on our Baptism, calling us to live our life in Christ – no matter how long it takes or how many challenges come before us. 

Full story at OC Catholic.

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  1. Chardin says:

    Just a point of order…the gifts of the Holy Spirit are “given” at baptism, not Confirmation. They are enlivened supernaturally at Confirmation which is why many credible Catholic leaders believe that Confirmation should be given at the time of baptism along with first Communion.

  2. Confirmation is mostly a “goodbye” ritual for teens. Few of them will ever participate in a parish program nor go to Mass regularly, after they and their parents “get the sacrament over with”. I wish more bishops and priests and catechists had the courage and honesty to admit that teen Confirmation catechesis has mostly been a joke and failure. The dioceses that are restoring Confirmation prior to 1st Communion have a good idea. Makes Confirmation seem less like a graduation, and the grace of Confirmation can be at work within a child from earlier on. But some families also stop going to Mass and faith formation after 1st Communion. Such a problem.

    • Tom Byrne says:

      Sasha:
      As a Catholic I have no problems with restoring the traditional order. As a Catholic school teacher, I can see two challenges:
      1. Catechetical materials have to be radically rewritten to properly explain Confirmation to very young children, and if they are to receive it at the age of reason, they need a good understanding.
      2. There should be enough separation in time from Eucharist and First Confession so the character of each sacrament is clearly distinguished in the child’s mind. In my day, the nuns had First Confession and First Communion the same weekend. My current school now has the first duing Lent and the second during the Easter season. This lets each stand out a bit and makes for better understanding.

  3. Good to see this, and yes, let us reconsider when we administer Confirmation. It may well be that the Eastern Churches have had it correct; that Confirmation is given along with baptism and communion at infancy. Why not the “whole armor” of God at an early age?

  4. Linda Maria says:

    The Cofirmation sacrament is not the same– it is drastically altered, since Vatican I!! A great shock! Also, kids are not beig brought up any longer, snce Vatican II, within a solid Church, with solid Catholic teaching and religious practice! There is far too much experimentation, and too much secularization! We do not have a strong Catholic culture any longer, to help parishioners and their children, lifelong– it all has been destroyed! In the Orthodox churches, there is a very strong religious and cultural life, for parishioners and their families. It makes a big difference! Our modern, Godless world, desperately needs to be re-Christianized, and brought back to God!

  5. Yes it is a coming of age sacrament: but coming of age in a spiritual sense, not a physical/natural/chronological sense.

    Confirmation is a strengthening or a maturity in the Holy Spirit through grace and an indelible character on the soul: that’s coming of spiritual age. It can be given at any chronological age and should precede First Eucharist.

    The problem is that Confirmation is largely seen as a social religious rite instead of a sacrament. As someone said above, it’s viewed as a religious graduation, as something earned after completing a program of studies, as an accomplishment, as a social religious rite of passage instead of as a spiritual reality/sacrament that signifies and effects what God is doing for the person being…

  6. Anonymous says:

    Too little known:
    If a Christian is in danger of death, any priest can give him Confirmation. Indeed the Church desires that none of her children, even the youngest, should depart this world without having been perfected by the Holy Spirit with the gift of Christ’s fullness.

  7. drewelow says:

    it was not uncommon for some parish religious ed coordinators to have a teenager ‘reconfirmed’ if they deemed that had received the sacrament ‘too early’ to be aware of its meaning. this approach occured in the 70’s and 80’s,probably onward, in the days of teaching that sacraments were not ‘magic wands’, etc. they who recommended ‘reconfirmation’ and put students in the line-up did so without informing the bishop. Pastors need to scrutinize the baptismal records or certificates to make sure this does not happen.

    • Never heard of that.

      But I did hear about a kid who was “confirmed” without prior baptism because the religious ed coordinator didn’t verify baptism. Of course, in that case the kid wasn’t confirmed at all since without baptism none of the other sacraments can be validly received. Apparently this unbaptized kid had been receiving Communion and going through parish programs but had never been baptized. Makes you wonder about the parents.

      • drewelow says:

        i heard of it directly from a religious ed coordinator who proudly told me of her approach, almost defiantly, believing that the vatican ii church now saw things more clearly than the unenlightened days. i just bet she was cued to this from the literature for dre’s at the time, 1980, or from workshops run by those who had evolved ‘beyond father’. american catechical training, as with liturgy workshops, loved to set the new red guard in opposition to ‘the pastors’, who were considered to be in a state of theological dementia

  8. Anonymous says:

    Can. 889 §1. Every baptized person not yet confirmed and only such a person is capable of receiving confirmation.
    §2. To receive confirmation licitly outside the danger of death requires that a person who has the use of reason be suitably instructed, properly disposed, and able to renew the baptismal promises.
    Can. 890 The faithful are obliged to receive this sacrament at the proper time. Parents and pastors of souls, especially pastors of parishes, are to take care that the faithful are properly instructed to receive the sacrament and come to it at the appropriate time.
    Can. 891 The sacrament of confirmation is to be conferred on the faithful at about the age of discretion unless the conference of bishops has determined another age,…

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