Monday, December 2, 2013

Another Thought on Confirmation

Earlier the Rad Trad posted a quick reflection on the meaning of the Sacrament of Confirmation (or Chrismation in some rites). Beyond the meaning there is also a practical aspect of Confirmation to be considered, a very nugatory consideration at that.
Pius X, a canonized saint yet not wise in all his dealings, altered the age at which Roman Catholics may begin to receive Holy Communion from the time of Confirmation to age six or seven. In previous times one could only communicate from the time of Confirmation onward because Confirmation completes what Baptism begins: one is baptized into the new creation and anointed into the new priestly people at Confirmation. The two were once done together. In Apostolic times most people being received into the Church were adults, with infant Baptism usually only coming with an entire family's conversion. As Baptism became more regularly an infant's affair the Roman Church reserved Confirmation for the age of reason (usually the early teenage years) and the Eastern rite Churches kept the two together, even in the cases on infants. There is some wisdom to the Roman practice, as it ensures that every cradle Roman Catholic will receive a Sacrament from his bishop at some point in life. Despite the interim of several years without Confirmation, the order or the Sacraments was preserved. Enter Papa Sarto.
Papa Sarto had a strong devotion to the frequent reception of Communion and desired that even the youngest be able to participate in this practice. In the United States—I cannot speak for Europe and the other continents—this had no resonance in practice of the faith among Catholics. When the Catholic culture of the United States went into decline in the 1960s baptized Catholics, who had been receiving Communion for years, began to see Confirmation—given during the hormonal period when one begins high school—as the exit from the childish years of youth and an entrance into the world of drugs, sex, and rock 'n' roll. In all seriousness Confirmation has become a sort of "Congratulations, your childhood is over!" and that childhood includes religion. Another problem, aside from the social context, that engenders this lapsing after Confirmation is that Confirmation began one's reception of Communion, investing the Confirmed's future in the Church. The later date of Confirmation does the exact opposite. So what can be done about this?
I can see three potential solutions:
  1. Least likely: restore the pre-Pian practice and merge first Communion and Confirmation again. This would probably be very unpopular at the parish level, as a great multitude of people would go absolute bonkers at the thought of one less family party and gift giving opportunity.
  2. More likely, but improbable: make Confirmation part of the Baptismal rite again. This would be a restoration of the most ancient of practices, but it still unlikely given that most so many theologians equate Confirmation with the "age of reason."
  3. Most doable and socially acceptable: restore the old order of Baptism-Confirmation-Holy Communion, but leave the time of administration at the discretion of the pastor. I heard of one pastor so tired of the poor state of religious education he instituted a parish policy that "If you want a Sacrament, you need to meet with me and be able to explain to me what it is." Aside from keeping the order of the Sacraments proper, it would not upset families (even though their disturbance would be for material purposes) as much as the other two options and gives pastors some influence in investing their faithful in a personal knowledge of the Sacraments.

Do I expect Pope Francis to call me for a full paper on the matter? No, but I do think this is an important issue for the future of the Catholic Church in the Western world.


  1. When I was confirmed some 4 years ago we had a meeting with the bishop the day before. What a complete waste of time. It seemed that even the bishop didn't know what Confirmation was about. He went on about why the Holy Spirit descended as like tongues of flames - because flames are a universal symbol for love (???), and since God is love... *facepalm*

    I think a return to the primitive practice - as the non-Latin churches still do - would be the ideal. What I still don't understand is why the Church will allow non-Latin children to receive Holy Communion starting Baptism, but Latins must wait until reaching the age of reason. The explanation I've heard for the Latin practice sounds a bit sketchy to me (since children are in a state of grace roughly up to the time the reach the age of reason, they have no need for Holy Communion), and more like a justification for continuing the practice rather than the origin of it, not to mention it seems to reak of a legalistic understanding of the Sacraments.
    I may be wrong, so I please feel free to correct me.

  2. I think it is inaccurate to argue that Pius X intended to change the order of the Sacraments. The code of 1917 says that confirmation should be given at the age of reason. It wasn't until 1932 that permission was given for communion to be given before confirmation.

    1. Quam Singulari of 1910 equated the age of reason with the seventh year of age, and in turn equated the age of reason with the age of going to Confession. I am not arguing that Papa Sarto intentionally separated the two, but he de facto did. Perhaps the law lagged behind the reality a bit until 1932 or perhaps Confirmation was bumped down to age seven?

    2. WelI did a bit of searching and I found an interesting piece that discusses this issue in greater depth, and puts the shift in greater context. The 1932 decision is mentioned and quoted along with trends that pre-dated Pius X's ruling:

    3. I found this interesting:
      "The First Vatican Council was planning to take up the matter. Although a statement on this question was never promulgated, the words form the schema are noteworthy. It calls the sequence of confirmation before First Communion a "perpetual practice" and the reverse order "absurd." "Since in some places a custom contrary to the perpetual practice of the church has grown up, in which confirmation is administered by an absurd order only to those who have already been admitted to the most holy sacrament of the Eucharist, we wish this to be corrected completely; especially since one who has already begun to fight against the enemy should not be kept from armor. It should be clear, as St. Thomas Aquinas says, that many in the age of childhood have fought bravely for the sake of Christ because of the strength of the Holy Spirit they have received."
      even the wording of the 1932 statement clearly gives preference to the traditional order

    4. Fascinating! Thank you for the insight and your research!

    5. my mother was confirmed when she was 8, and received her first Holy Communion when she was 9. it was 1963 and 1964.

  3. I think that The Council of Trent was correct in concluding a person ought attain to reason before reception of the Sacrament of Confirmation.

    That a particular practice was primitive is not necessarily an argument in its favor but traditional norms are an argument for the continuation of those norms.

    I often hear or read appeals made to the practices of Eastern Catholics as a reason to change Latin practices and ecclesiastical traditions, but why?

    Is older better; are the practices of the East superior?

    Let the East be East and let the West be best.

    1. 1- People appeal to the East because they, by and large, preserved both the ancient and medieval outlook on the Sacraments and Liturgy whereas the wheels fell off in the West during the legalism, Scholasticism, and pietism that prevailed during the Counter-Reformation.
      2- I did not advocate a return to the ancient practice. I only noted that the current Latin practice has serious problems and that there are several possible solutions, one of which is the Eastern practice.
      3- Could not that argument about the age of reason be applied to Baptism then? Why force a child out of Original Sin, but withhold him from the "Living Bread?" Why not baptize only adults? Why not give all the Sacraments in infancy? It could end up being a circular question without some firm background, which is why I laid out the history of the matter first.

    2. Baptism is different because it is necessary for salvation.

      I forgot to add that I really like your Blog. I only recently discovered it when reading about it at another Blog.

      A lot of great info here. I try and come here daily.

    3. This is just my personal opinion, but I don't think it's correct to say that Confirmation isn't necessary for salvation.

      I know it's not what you mean, but to say that Baptism is necessary for salvation ends up sounding like it's a legal prerequisite. I often wonder how aware we are that Baptism is a liturgical action, and not just a simple "you're Catholic now" stamp.

    4. Baptism is the Laver of Salvation; if that be legalism in your mind, May the Saints preserve me in integral illegalism.

    5. if you die without confirmation - you go to heaven. if you die without baptism - well pack your hawaian shirts and's honna be hot down there...

  4. Another riveting Post, The Rad Trad.
    Thank You.
    Get your Passport ready. I'm sure His Holiness, Pope Francis, will be contacting you, soon, in order to give some Liturgical advice to his "Officials".
    in Domino