The archdiocese is reviewing its pastoral guidelines for the sacrament of confirmation. What is the purpose of that review and where does it stand at this point? We are doing this in a very orderly way. We’ve already established new pastoral guidelines throughout the archdiocese for the sacraments of baptism and matrimony, and the sacrament of confirmation is next. The reason for doing this review is to ensure that our requirements for those preparing to be confirmed are consistent throughout the archdiocese. We want to develop some consistent norms in all the sacraments. We’ve had discussions with the Council of Deans, the Presbyteral Council and all of our priests. I asked Father Daniel Green to head up a committee to review the confirmation practices. I am very much aware that we are all over board when it comes to the instructional requirements for the sacrament of confirmation – how long or how short the classes are, how many service hours are required, and the basic participation in classes as well as in youth ministry. It seems as though some parishes have very minimal requirements and others have extensive requirements. We are learning what’s out there and learning from best practices, and then we will come up with a proposal that will be submitted to the Presbyteral Council, the Council of Deans, youth ministers and catechetical leaders and then to all the clergy, and then that will become what is called “particular law” for the archdiocese.
How is the committee doing on the review?
The committee members are doing a great job, and they are still working on the final proposals. One of the things that came up in the committee’s discussions was a re-examination of the age for confirmation. Right now in the archdiocese, we confirm students in the 11th grade. In the United States, there is no consensus on that. When the bishops were asked to look at this several years ago, they said confirmation could be conferred from the age of reason through high school. Well, to be quite frank, that does not really help us to develop a standard. There were three positions discussed by the committee: No. 1, to restore the initial order of the sacraments – baptism, confirmation and Communion – so that by the time a person receives his or her first Communion he or she will have celebrated the three sacraments of initiation. No. 2, to return to the practice of confirming students in the eighth grade, with the reason being in part that students in high school have so much going on that they are pulled in so many different directions. No. 3, to keep it as it is in the 11th grade. Father Green came to me, and I asked the committee to prepare three position papers with the strengths and weaknesses of each position. They did so, and they did so in a very, very helpful way. I read those position papers, gave it a great deal of thought and prayer and did some consultation. After prayer and consultation, I made the decision that confirmation will remain where it is in the 11th grade. We’ve had a couple of cases where someone has requested confirmation earlier, but it’s within high school, and I have studied those very carefully and dealt with each request. The bottom line is that confirmation will remain in high school in the junior year. I told the committee after reading the papers that there are very positive reasons to support each position, but in weighing the strengths and weaknesses, I’ve decided to keep it where it is. Some people argue that they should be able to receive confirmation earlier because they would receive the grace of the sacrament. Well, that is true, but grace also works with the cooperation of the person and the cooperation of their desire to grow in the faith. I think it’s more helpful for a person to request confirmation – to ask to be confirmed – instead of just expecting to have confirmation or to have it as a child when they are not really conscious of the spiritual benefits.
What can you say about the young people you confirm each year?
I’m very much impressed by the young adults that I meet through confirmation. In most cases, they seem to be very faith-filled and eagerly participate in the celebration. I believe they are well prepared, and they also do service hours in order to live a life of charity. Many of them continue teaching in the confirmation program or are involved in other ministries in the parish, which is very gratifying to me. Some people have told me they are worried about the young church – that we are losing them. There’s no doubt we are losing some, but I can testify to the fact that the young church in this archdiocese is very much alive and very much full of the Spirit. We’re very blessed with them and also those with those who are involved as mentors in youth ministry and confirmation programs. I’m indebted to all teachers and directors of confirmation programs because they really do enable the young church to be alive and to flourish. I’m asking everyone to pray for those who are preparing for confirmation. Many confirmations will be celebrated in the spring. If you are asked to be a confirmation sponsor, I would hope that you would consider it seriously, because this is a great privilege.