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Debate: Are we leaving Confirmation too late?

Should the Church revert to confirming children before they receive First Holy Communion? Or would that lead to a diminished understanding of the faith?

By on Friday, 28 January 2011

A girl aged nine is confirmed in Central Islip, New York (Photo: CNS)

A girl aged nine is confirmed in Central Islip, New York (Photo: CNS)

Next year children in the Archdiocese of Liverpool will be confirmed before they receive First Holy Communion – reversing the traditional order of sacraments.

In its statement, the archdiocese said it was reverting back to the “original order” of sacraments. Children will be confirmed when they are eight, rather than when they are teenagers, and receive Communion shortly after.

In a video, Archbishop Kelly explained that the change would make First Holy Communion, or “participation in the Lord’s Supper”, the “climax” of the journey into the Catholic Church. He said Pope Paul VI, Pope John Paul II and Pope Benedict XVI all recommended the sacraments in that order.

It is also the order in the Eastern Rite and Orthodox Churches: babies are baptised, confirmed and then given Communion all in the same ceremony.

On the other hand, eight is young to be initiated into the Church: surely if Confirmation takes place later, aged 13 or 14, it will provide an extra opportunity for young people to deepen their understanding of the faith.

So, should confirmation be conferred before Communion? Or would that lead to a diminished understanding of the faith?

  • Macdonogh

    All this tinkering with tradition is regrettable and puts a wedge between one generation and the next. So no, let’s have the familiar order back, and with it a high mass with music, Latin, catechism, benediction and vespers.

  • Anil Wang

    Yes and No.

    Yes if Confirmation is treated as “graduating from Catholicism” since eight is too young to understand anything more than the basics.

    No if the Church adopts more adult faith formation. Catholicism is deeper than can be learned in one lifetime. You never graduate from Catholicism until you graduate from life where you will see face to face what you currently see only dimly.

    The “Graduating” attitude might have something to do with the late age of Confirmation and Communion since it’s linked with passing a test of intellectual knowledge of the faith. In the Eastern Rite, Baptism, Confirmation, and Communion happen at the same time. It’s clear that a baby doesn’t understand the gift that it has been given to him/her, so that child needs to be brought into the faith over a lifetime.

  • Christina

    I am not surprised that Archbishop Kelly has led this movement, and I am sure that others will follow.

    I was taught that a child should receive Holy Communion as soon as he could distinguish the Body of Christ from ordinary bread, and, as I recall it, we were all so well catechised throughout our ‘junior’ school years, that we were usually ready by the age of 7 years. That does not seem to hold good in this age when our archbishops and bishops talk like Protestants about ‘participation in the Lord’s supper’ and I have consequently heard children of all ages refer to receiving, not the Body, Blood, Soul and Divinity of Christ, but ‘the holy bread’.

    Later, we were taught that in the Sacrament of Confirmation we received the Holy Ghost in order that we might become ‘strong and perfect Christians and soldiers of Jesus Christ. We understood that this gave us the responsibility of ‘fighting’ for Christ, by trying to perfect our own lives and spreading and defending the faith. To me this clearly requires more chronological and spiritual maturity than that possessed by a 7 year old, and the age of abouot 14 years (at the end of the Catholic education of the majority of children) seems to be wholly appropriate.

  • Peter

    I tend to think that we should revert to the older tradition, as used in the Eastern Rite and Orthodoxy, to use the full rite of Christian Initiation at baptism. I don’t know when the rite became separated in the West but it has created a rather wish-washy understanding of Confirmation. This is a step in the right direction. For those who worry about infants, we tend to worry too much about understanding and ignore Grace.

  • Jack Regan

    This is an interesting debate, and one which we often have on (sorry for the blatant plug – it seemed relevant!).

    There are a lot of factors in the debate. Some more sensible than others. Here is a brief run through as I see it.

    In term of the New Testament ‘correct order’ it is tempting to see Confirmation as coming first, but then the Last Supper came before Pentecost, didn’t it, so it can be argued the other way round too.

    From what I have experienced, a lot of the arguments for having Confirmation later revolve around the fact that it keeps young people in Church a little longer. This is a poor (defeatest, even) way of looking at it. If those being confirmed are only being kept in the Church by the carrot of the sacrament, then they’re clearly not in a fit state to receive it anyway.

    To our shame, we tend to think Confirmation should be used as a sort of coming of age ritual or as a scheme to engage young people in the life of the Church. Both of those may well be valid aims, but neither is what Confirmation is for.

    I guess my concern is that we look at the lack of provision and engagement that there is for young people in the Church and we take the very Catholic (and altogether stupid) approach of taking something which has an element of obligation attached to it, or something which has certain advnatages attached to it and we tell ourselves that this thing will solve the problems.

    It won’t.

    To solve these problems, we need something new and radical. Or something old, some would say, pushed with a renewed vigour.

    Confirmation is about one thing and one thing only, and that is Confirmation. I guess with that in mind we should administer it as soon as the young people are old enough to understand it properly, which is probably 12 or 13.

  • Terry Wilson

    We lay people should be followers and not leaders. However, it appears this was the order of things in former years, according to what i have read in this weeks Herald.I must say that making your confirmation before your first communion seems to be the right way round to me.I am sure it will lead to a greater awareness of that wonderful Sacrament, and great privilege of receiving the Eucharist in holy mass.
    May we come to the Lord with humble and contrite hearts. God Bless to all Terry Wilson. Worce’s

  • Anonymous

    “So, should confirmation be conferred before Communion?”

    Yes. However, BOTH should be performed later, at around 13/14. 7 or 8, or even 11 is too young for a proper understanding, in my view.

  • Mike

    How can a 8 year older or even a 13 year old understand the deeper aspects of the faith? They should be at least 15.

  • CM

    First, may I commend you for all the good work done with the Catholic youth and suggest that the timing of Confirmation will make no difference to the involvement of young people in the Church. I would also like to suggest, that during Confirmation, as with all the sacraments, candidates receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. However, whether they unpack that gift and use it is entirely different. Therefore, it seems that the age at which Confirmation is received makes little difference. Children receive the Eucharist at 7 or 8, yet many adults have little idea of what it means to receive the Body and Blood of Jesus Christ at Communion.

    The greatest problem in our Church today is that once a young person leaves Catholic education (if they receive it in the first place), they will never receive any further instruction or teaching, except for a homily (if they attend Mass) unless they look for it themselves.

    My personal faith journey (I received First Holy Communion and Confirmation by the age of 10 and attended Mass right through my teenage years and beyond) meant that I didn’t truly my relationship with Jesus Christ until the age of 47, and that came about through Charismatic Renewal where I first learned about ‘Baptism in the Holy Spirit’.

    The Church needs a vehicle to provide young people and adults with a means to deepen their faith, deepen their understanding of the faith and deepen their personal relation through Jesus Christ, who is the Way, the Truth and the Light. There is some provided in Charismatic circles but sometimes the vibrant forms of worship put people off. The Church, possibly through enlightened lay leaders, must respond to this need, so that when young Catolic leave the fold, be it education or the Church, they still have some means of communication or contact that may eventally draw them back to a spiritual life.

  • Rachel

    i was in Salford Diocese where the then Bishop Kelly brought in the changes of Confirmation before Holy Communion,which i have to say I do not agree with,Confirmation should stay the age it is now because it says something about the childs faith when the say at that age,by themselves’I wish to be Confirmed’

  • Margiemrgn

    Agreed i have 3 children who will be taking these sacraments next year i think it is unacceptible  that Archbishop Kelly as changed this Do we the parish people not get asked an opinion about this but they want us to go and participate with our children .Its like saying DO AS YOUR TOLD YOU HAVE NO SAY IN THE MATTER..Well we want a say my priest told us it was a community decision ?????????? excuse me father we are the community so were av you been,and these so called lessons with children and parents let me tell you from experiance they are a farce if you dont know what there asking you well you should not be a Catholic at all you would have to be illiterate or there abouts .Here in Liverpool in my parish we are not at all happy about the whole thing but no one wants to listen were as good as being told with a stupid grin on his face “Well this is how it is and its the way its going to be and there is nothing you can do about it.Ive only just found this webpage so sorry about only replying now iam just hoping you or someone reads this because we would be gratefull for some addvice on what we could do to achieve some results on this