Monday, July 10, 2006

Abp Dolan: No Change in Confirmation Age

Abp Dolan sent an email to parish priests and administrative staffers to announce "No Change" in the policy to administer the Sacrament of Confirmation to youth at about the age of 16.

Of course, this IS a Big Change in itself--the typical age for Confirmation, until Rembert Weakland, OSB, got to town, was 6th/7th grade.

About a year ago several hundred Catholics in the area sent a letter to Abp Dolan requesting a change back to the 'middle-school' Confirmation policy. The Archbishop dispatched the request to a Committee (the Archdiocesan Pastoral Council), who inter alia held a couple of "listening sessions" before telling the Archbishop what to decide.

The Archbishop's letter did NOT reference Canon 891 of the Church:

"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, or there is danger of death, or in the judgment of the minister a grave cause suggests otherwise."

Nor did the letter reference the "ordinary policy" of the Church, which was outlined thus by another sitting American Bishop:

It is the ordinary policy of the Church to initiate all persons over the age of discretion with the
original order of the sacraments: first Baptism, then Confirmation, and finally Eucharist.

...In this order, Eucharist is seen as the sacrament which completes our initiation, and it is the only one of the three that is celebrated more than once.

Nor did Abp Dolan cite the history (curious, as Abp Dolan's academic background is in Church History):

For the first five centuries of the Church's history, the three Sacraments of Initiation, Baptism,
Confirmation, and Eucharist, were celebrated together as part of one initiation rite. This was
true for adults and children. During the 5th through the 13th centuries infant baptism became
the norm. At that time Church leaders separated Confirmation and Eucharist from Baptism.
For the most part, Confirmation was celebrated at the age of discretion (7 years of age), and
First Communion took place in pre-adolescence. Although separated from Baptism, the order
of the Sacraments remained the same. It was not until the twentieth century, in 1910, that the
age for Eucharist was lowered to the age of discretion. At that point, the norm became to
celebrate Eucharist around the age of 7 or 8, and Confirmation sometime between 8 and 18.

The change moving First Communion to the age of 7 or 8 was made at the request of Pope St. Pius X. Note that Confirmation preceded First Communion until the early 1900's. The Canon Law cited above clearly does not disturb this ordering.

Well, that's that. Parents who made the argument that Confirmation's graces may be very useful during the early teenage years have been out-argued by "theologians, catechists, and [other] children" according to Abp Dolan's letter.

That settles that, eh?


Anonymous said...

I think infants should receive all 3 sacrements as it was in the early Church. I don't see a reason to deny a child the graces of the Eucharist for any length of time. The Council of Trent even said that it was helpful for children to receive the Eucharist at a young age.

I am Eastern-Rite, so I'm happy that the Eastern Rites baptize, confirm, and give Eucharist to children.

Anonymous said...

I'd also add that if a Roman Catholic asks an Eastern-Rite priest to baptize and confirm his infant child, the Eastern-rite Priest is generally allowed to do so. Thus, there is a loop-hole, if you wish your own child/children to be confirmed at a younger age.

Shana said...

We never really decided on a specific age to allow our children to recieve Eucharist, but when our then three year old son started crying when he was told he couldn't receive it, we knew it was time. While he may not understand the mysteries yet, one of the verses that has always stuck out in my mind concerning this has been "But Jesus called them to Him and said, “Let the little children come to Me, and do not forbid them; for of such is the kingdom of God. Assuredly, I say to you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God as a little child will by no means enter it.” Luke 18:16-17
We have allowed our children to take Eucharist when they start to show interest, thankfully they are also at least capable of handling things without dropping or goofing off. As they get older we explain more to them, and starting at age 3 they are going through Catechesis. I'm not sure what the age of confirmation is for our church (I don't know that an official age has been decided yet, though it's probably left up to individual churches yet at this point). Personally, I think that while age is something of a factor, desire to be closer to God often comes long before that, and to supress it until the child is the 'right' age seems like a recipe for supressing later interest.

Dad29 said...

Shana, I'll assume that you are not Catholic--otherwise, you and your priest are on VERY thin ice.

Shana said...

No, we are not Catholic (capital C), but we are catholic in the sense that we follow the traditions of the early Church and our priests do follow the Apostolic Succession (sp?).

Brother James said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Dad29 said...

Jimbob, your take is, ah,...apocalyptic.

Unfortunately, it's likely that the number of people who will deal themselves OUT of salvation is going to be relatively constant, regardless of this decision.

However, your comment DOES bring to mind the virtue of Prudence. In that way, I agree: it is prudent to confirm earlier, rather than later.

By the way, moving Confirmation to a late date also appears to give the chilluns "the option" as to whether or not they will be Confirmed. Grade-schoolers are much more docile...

Brother James said...

Alright, lemme try it again, this time with more Faith, Hope, and Charity...

I'm all for earlier Confirmation, as someone indicated earlier, for the graces available to the confirmandi as they negotiate adolescence. Moving it later make's the issue more of a personal choice, but teens are rarely gifted with enough perspective to take the long view of their salvation, and most catechesis in the last 30 years has made them even handicapped in that regard.
I hope the archbishop knows what he's doing, because it's baffling to the rest of us.
One would hope that earlier confirmation, and better catechesis would result in a well-formed catholic, or even inspire openness to a ... (gasp) VOCATION. Alright, I'm not holding my breath, but you gotta hope for something.
I'll leave Frances Kissling and John Kerry out of it.