Recent Posts

Thursday, 29 March 2012

Children Need Confirmation, a Sacrament of Initiation

I wonder how the Catholic Church's teaching on Confirmation got so convoluted? Why are so many parents unaware that Confirmation is a Sacrament of Initiation and not a Bar Mitzvah? Confirmation is not a "coming of age" in the sense that one holds off the sacrament until the young people are in their middle to late teens. Why the confusion and how can some of us who have been involved in Confirmation prep help teach the adults what is appropriate?

Confirmation is one of the three Sacraments of Initiation. Pope Benedict XVI's Apostolic Exhortation,  Sacramentum caritatis notes that the traditional order of the Sacraments of Initiation need to be re-examined according to the pastoral needs of our times. Here is part of this document I would like to emphasize again, as I have done this before.

17. If the Eucharist is truly the source and summit of the Church's life and mission, it follows that the process of Christian initiation must constantly be directed to the reception of this sacrament. As the Synod Fathers said, we need to ask ourselves whether in our Christian communities the close link between Baptism, Confirmation and Eucharist is sufficiently recognized. (46) It must never be forgotten that our reception of Baptism and Confirmation is ordered to the Eucharist. Accordingly, our pastoral practice should reflect a more unitary understanding of the process of Christian initiation. The sacrament of Baptism, by which we were conformed to Christ,(47) incorporated in the Church and made children of God, is the portal to all the sacraments. It makes us part of the one Body of Christ (cf. 1 Cor 12:13), a priestly people. Still, it is our participation in the Eucharistic sacrifice which perfects within us the gifts given to us at Baptism. The gifts of the Spirit are given for the building up of Christ's Body (1 Cor 12) and for ever greater witness to the Gospel in the world. (48) The Holy Eucharist, then, brings Christian initiation to completion and represents the centre and goal of all sacramental life. (49)
The order of the sacraments of initiation
18. In this regard, attention needs to be paid to the order of the sacraments of initiation. Different traditions exist within the Church. There is a clear variation between, on the one hand, the ecclesial customs of the East (50) and the practice of the West regarding the initiation of adults, (51) and, on the other hand, the procedure adopted for children. (52) Yet these variations are not properly of the dogmatic order, but are pastoral in character. Concretely, it needs to be seen which practice better enables the faithful to put the sacrament of the Eucharist at the centre, as the goal of the whole process of initiation. In close collaboration with the competent offices of the Roman Curia, Bishops' Conferences should examine the effectiveness of current approaches to Christian initiation, so that the faithful can be helped both to mature through the formation received in our communities and to give their lives an authentically eucharistic direction, so that they can offer a reason for the hope within them in a way suited to our times (cf. 1 Pet 3:15).
Initiation, the ecclesial community and the family
19. It should be kept in mind that the whole of Christian initiation is a process of conversion undertaken with God's help and with constant reference to the ecclesial community, both when an adult is seeking entry into the Church, as happens in places of first evangelization and in many secularized regions, and when parents request the sacraments for their children. In this regard, I would like to call particular attention to the relationship between Christian initiation and the family. In pastoral work it is always important to make Christian families part of the process of initiation. Receiving Baptism, Confirmation and First Holy Communion are key moments not only for the individual receiving them but also for the entire family, which should be supported in its educational role by the various elements of the ecclesial community. (53) Here I would emphasize the importance of First Holy Communion. For many of the faithful, this day continues to be memorable as the moment when, even if in a rudimentary way, they first came to understand the importance of a personal encounter with Jesus. Parish pastoral programmes should make the most of this highly significant moment.

Firstly, in this day of tremendous temptations to sin, the young person needs the special graces of this important sacrament. Our time is similar to that of the Roman Empire, when Christians found themselves living in a culture and governmental structure of paganism. No longer are the cultures Christian and those who go out into the world daily need grace to withstand the assaults of the Evil One. the world, the flesh and the devil are huge pulls on the souls of youth. The gifts of the Holy Spirit should not be denied to the younger ones, at early adolescence or even younger, as these gifts are necessary for  the fight, and fight it is, against the media, the peer groups, and even misguided parents.

I have been using Garrigou-Lagrange on my mini-series on perfection. This is what he writes on the gifts from the Holy Spirit.

Here is reminder of of those gifts:

And the Spirit of the Lord shall rest upon Him: the spirit of wisdom, and of understanding, the spirit of counsel, and of fortitude, the spirit of knowledge, and of godliness, and He shall be filled with the spirit of the fear of the Lord."

 "The just man, that is to say, he who lives the life of divine grace and acts by the fitting virtues as by means of faculties, has need of those seven gifts, which are properly attributed to the Holy Ghost. By means of them the soul is furnished and strengthened so as to be able to obey more easily and promptly His voice and impulse. Wherefore these gifts are of such efficacy that they lead the just man to the highest degree of sanctity; and of such excellence that they continue to exist even in heaven, though in a more perfect way. By means of these gifts the soul is excited and encouraged to seek after and attain the evangelical beatitudes which, like the flowers that come forth in the springtime, are the signs and harbingers of eternal beatitude. . . .

Secondly, the problem with parents is that they somehow forget that children have need for sanctity. I wrote below that children can be saints. The gifts of the Holy Spirit are an absolute necessity for growing in holiness. Why deny younger children these gifts? 

When I hear parents blaming the Church or priests or bishops for the fact that their youth leave the Church after Confirmation, I am shocked. The parents are the primary persons responsible for the development of their children's spiritual life. No one can take the place of the parents in the home, as a young person's spiritual life is a daily experience of prayer and formation. 

Formation is practically missing in the homes of many Catholic parents, who seem not to have enough time for their own spiritual lives. To leave learning the Faith and prayer to the last minute or not at all. Parents have only themselves to blame if the children at any age leave the Church. Religion must be part of the daily rhythm of life in the family. To think that someone other than the parents or the peer group can influence a child is a misunderstanding of the needs of the child. The media and whatever computer games the young one play are also huge influences spiritually, which should be painfully obvious. Confirmation gives all of us the strength and the boost to the virtuous life necessary to be holy. This sacrament should never be delayed for social or liberal Catholic reasons.