Yesterday I wrote about the unusual request I made of my pastor — asking that my son be confirmed before receiving First Communion — and one of the reasons why. That reason — that we do teens today a disservice in denying them the gifts of the sacrament — may be considered the “practical” reason for my request.
Today I want to talk about the “negative” reason. As I indicated in the comments to yesterday’s post, I am against using Confirmation as a “carrot” to keep youth in our PSR and youth ministry programs. For one thing, I’m not convinced that it works. I don’t see any evidence that parishes that push back Confirmation — and some are pushing it back well into the high school years — are doing a better job of holding on to youth than those that confirm earlier.
And second, I believe it is a gross injustice to youth and to our understanding of the sacraments to hold Confirmation hostage in such a way. I know of no other sacrament in which we deliberately prolong the time of preparation. What are we waiting for? Surely not some precise moment of spiritual or emotional development. Valid reception of Confirmation is not predicated on the recipient’s maturity level; Confirmation is not the Catholic version of a bar mitzvah. As the Catechism explains
Although 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.
This is only underscored by the Eastern Church’s practice of infant confirmation and the fact that the our Church makes similar provisions for infants near death. Indeed, a priest friend of mine was confirmed shortly after birth since his survival was uncertain. Certainly no one would question the validity of his confirmation?
I sympathize with catechists and youth ministers seeking to engage youth in today’s culture. But if we are having a hard time keeping youths in our programs — and I don’t think there is any question that we are — then that is a separate issue from when to administer the Sacrament of Confirmation. Using Confirmation to artificially boost youth participation may make us feel better in the short term, but I don’t think we will see any long-term benefits.
Tomorrow: the theological reason and the heart of the matter!