As everyone is aware, we are about to begin our religious education and sacramental preparation for children throughout Walla Walla. This letter can be considered another reminder for those who have not yet registered.
However, a good question was asked of me during one of the parent sessions that I want to address. I was asked why we do Confirmation at such a young age. Most dioceses in the United Stated have Catholics receive Confirmation in either middle school or high school. For us in the Diocese of Spokane, children generally receive around 3rd grade.
What are the reasons, one way or the other? The separation of Confirmation and Communion is an historical anomaly. Over 100 years ago, Pope Pius X wrote a decree which moved the age for the reception of Holy Communion down toward the age of reason (more or less 7 years old). Prior to this, Confirmation nearly always proceeded (or occurred simultaneously with) the reception of First Holy Communion.
Since Pope Pius X did not explicitly address Confirmation, a practice developed of giving Holy Communion at a younger age while leaving Confirmation at an older age. This presented a practical value in the mind of some. It allowed the grace of the Eucharist to be active in the life of children while maintaining a sacramental “carrot” to keep families and children involved in faith formation longer as they waited to complete the Sacraments of Initiation with Confirmation. Though perhaps, having some practical value, there is neither an historical nor a theological basis for this practice. Even our modern Catechism acknowledges that “The holy Eucharist completes our Christian initiation” –not Confirmation.
The theological reason for this is two-fold. First, all the Sacraments are gifts, especially those of basic Christian Initiation. They are not things to be earned. When Confirmation is set at a later age, it is often treated as a type of graduation after someone has demonstrated a certain degree of knowledge and familiarity with the faith. By moving Confirmation to a younger age, it manifests more clearly that this is not something earned, but a gift given by God’s goodness.
Second, in providing Communion to those who are young, we acknowledge the possibility that even children can choose to cooperate with God’s grace, becoming saints and mystics. However, as we acknowledge this, we must also acknowledge another possibility—the possibility that their faith and souls can be undermined and attacked.
Confirmation strengthens the Christian in bearing witness to Jesus. In a world which can be hostile to Christians, we do not want to deprive a child of the gift of God to “stand firm in the faith, be courageous, be strong.” – 1 Cor 16:13.
Praised be Jesus Christ, now and forever!