Can we delay confirmation of child catechumens in the RCIA?

RCIA (Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults) image posted by TeamRCIA

We have to wonder why this is even a question. The teaching of the church is crystal clear:

In order to signify clearly the interrelation or coalescence of the three sacraments, which are required for full Christian initiation (canon 842.2), adult candidates, including children of catechetical age, are to receive baptism, confirmation and eucharist in a single eucharistic celebration. (USCCB, National Statutes for the Catechumenate, 14)

So why is it a question?

In the second half of the 20th century, a number of religious educators and textbook publishers influenced a great many parishes and dioceses to begin thinking of confirmation as a sacrament of Christian maturity. Confirmation, they argued, was a time for children to “confirm” the promises their parents made for them at their baptism as infants.

This meme has become so ingrained in the Catholic psyche that parents who have been otherwise so disconnected from the church that they were unable to baptize their children as infants think they know the theology of confirmation. They are horrified to discover that the church requires their seven- and ten-year-olds be confirmed at the time of their baptism.

And many pastoral leaders—including a few bishops who, at least in name, are the authors of the statute quoted above—are horrified as well. In some parishes and even a couple of dioceses, it is “policy” that child catechumens may not be confirmed until they have reached the diocesan-approved age—usually fourteen or older.

Of course, we know that the universal church occasionally gets things wrong (remember Galileo?). So perhaps there are good pastoral reasons for local leaders to make this adjustment. Let’s consider what those might be.

Confirmation is mature commitment to adult faith

That makes sense on the face of it. Until we read the Catechism of the Catholic Church:

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. St. Thomas reminds us of this:

Age of body does not determine age of soul. Even in childhood man can attain spiritual maturity: as the book of Wisdom says: "For old age is not honored for length of time, or measured by number of years." Many children, through the strength of the Holy Spirit they have received, have bravely fought for Christ even to the shedding of their blood. (1308)

 

Actual pastoral good

The actual pastoral good is to immerse the candidates in the full grace of the sacraments of initiation to strengthen them as early as possible to live out their baptismal promises.

There isn’t time to prepare children for all three initiation sacraments

Okay, this totally make sense. Until we think about what we are preparing the children for. We are preparing them for initiation. Confirmation is a sacrament of initiation, closely bound to the other sacraments of initiation. There is nothing we prepare for in confirmation that we are not also preparing for in baptism and eucharist. In other words, if we are sure a child is prepared to be baptized, the child is de facto prepared to be confirmed.

Actual pastoral good

By preparing for and celebrating the three sacraments of initiation together, the candidates are formed in the faith of the church that “the three sacraments of Christian initiation closely combine to bring us, the faithful of Christ, to his full stature and to enable us to carry out the mission of the entire people of God in the church and in the world” (Christian Initiation, General Introduction, 2).

Confirmation can be delayed for “serious reason.” Being confirmed with one’s peers is serious

Okay, this has legs. The RCIA actually does say this:

In certain cases when there is serious reason, confirmation may be postponed… 

Until we read the rest:

…until near the end of the period of postbaptismal catechesis, for example, Pentecost Sunday (RCIA 24)

If there is serious reason for delay, all that is allowed is a delay of a few weeks, not months or years. In his book, The Catechumenate and the Law, canon lawyer John Huels writes:

It must be stressed that it is not sufficiently serious reason to delay confirmation merely to allow children to have more catechesis for confirmation or to enable them to be confirmed with older classmates.

Actual pastoral good

By celebrating confirmation with baptism, candidates discover a deeper comradeship with all who have gone before them “in accord with the ancient practice followed in the Roman liturgy.” Through the conjunction of baptism and confirmation, candidates experience the signification of “the unity of the paschal mystery, the close link between the mission of the Son and the outpouring of the Holy Spirit, and the connection between the two sacraments through which the Son and the Holy Spirit come with the Father to those who are baptized” (RCIA 215)

Bottom line

Confirmation cannot be delayed. When baptizing a person of catechetical age, the integrity of the initiation sacraments must not be violated. There may be well-meaning pastoral motivations for thinking it is a pastoral good to deviate from the rite, but the actual pastoral goods far outweigh any possible reason for tampering with the liturgical and canonical norms of the church.

What happens where you live?

Do you have an insight or a story to share? What are your thoughts on maintaining the integrity of the initiation sacraments?


See also these related articles:
  1. Choosing a confirmation name
  2. Do you need to have a saint’s name for baptism or confirmation?
  3. Episode 19: Why RCIA is the key to understanding confirmation
  4. Episode 20: How RCIA teams explain real presence
  5. Altoona-Johnstown doing serious work on baptismal catechumenate as model for Confirmation

“Now Or Later Keys” by Stuart Miles | FreeDigitalPhotos.net

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Comments

  1. I understand what is being said above. What about Confirmation for children who were baptized as infants? I am DRE and I struggle with the best age to prepare the kids. Right now, we confirm in the 8th grade-of course the program is open to those who are ready before then. We conduct 8 classroom sessions which the content follows our Archdiocesan standards. There is rarely a class that I don’t leave very frustrated by the immaturity and lack of sincerity demonstrated in several of the kids(they appear not to be taking it seriously) I have been thinking about raising the age to high school. Thoughts?

  2. Hi Kara. I know I’m flying in the face of a deeply ingrained practice in most parishes, but I don’t believe confirmation preparation can be classroom-based, no matter what age it is celebrated at. I think it has to be conversion-based and it has to be training for discipleship as much as knowledge. I don’t have a lot of experience with eighth graders or high school students, but I think either age group is capable of conversion and intentional discipleship. If the kids are not taking it seriously, then they perhaps have not experienced true conversion or a deep enough conversion. If that’s the case, then what they need more than eight classroom sessions is evangelization. There are lots of articles on this website that deal with evangelization techniques. Most are oriented toward adults, but the principles can be adapted for eighth graders. Blessings on all your work.

    Nick

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