sure way to change a group of peace-loving, God-fearing, church-loving
professional Catholics into brawling Jerry-Springerites is to ask innocently,
“At what age should we confirm?” Battles lines are quickly drawn: liturgists
vs. youth ministers, RCIA vs. first communion, pastors vs. bishops. Liturgists,
even those without terrorist tendencies, argue that the sacraments of initiation
(baptism, confirmation, Eucharist) are intrinsically tied together and
should be celebrated in that order. Youth ministers maintain that the sacrament
of confirmation is the backbone of their ministry programs and that teenagers
should have a rite of passage into Christian maturity. This Catholic family
feud then disintegrates into arguments about the number of sacraments,
the age of baptism, sacraments as rewards for good attendance, and maturity
levels of anyone under 40. A little history lesson might help.
the early days, the Spirit graced the church with such rapid growth that
the bishops were no longer able to be the ordinary minister of the sacraments.
When a bishop would finally ride into town, he would complete the post-baptismal
rites including anointing. Following Augustine’s battle with the Pelagians,
infant baptism became the norm and the two rites separated. Theologies
developed that said confirmation renders a gratia ad robu (grace
for strength), the armor for each soldier of Christ. However, the order
of reception remained “baptism, confirmation, Eucharist” until Pope Pius
X decreed that first confession should precede first communion and that
confirmation should be celebrated at a later age. The rite of confirmation
was revised in 1971 (removing the slap on the face) and episcopal conferences
(and individual bishops) were given the option to determine a more appropriate
later age for their individual dioceses. So travel around the country and
pick an age of reason between 7 and 70.
do we celebrate this sacrament for whatever age group in the parish? Thomas
Jefferson once wrote: “In matters of style, swim with the current. In matters
of principle, stand like a rock.” Here are some principles to keep in mind.
tied to baptism.
way to bind these together in the liturgy is helpful (but not every way,
lest we end up with an “MGM” liturgy: More Gimmicks at Mass). Perhaps the
baptismal godparents could be the confirmation sponsors or somehow related
to them. The confirmandi could carry their baptismal candles in procession
or light a baptismal candle from the paschal candle. Instead of the flaming
red pentecostal clothes, white baptismal robes could be worn (to cover
the vagaries of the fashionably hip). The sprinkling rite with liberal
amounts of water (or procession to the font) could be optioned during the
is not graduation,
but it is
with Edward Elgar’s “Pomp and Circumstance,” we always hear the obligatory
oration sending graduates (from kindergarten to doctoral programs) out
into the world to begin their “real work.” Those involved in youth ministry
know that the real work has already taken place along the journey to confirmation.
Yes, youth are the future and hope of our church, but, more important,
they are the young church of today. They are neither children nor adults
and should not be treated, catechized, or formed as either. Respect the
gifts of that age, yet challenge them (and ourselves) to continued conversion.
its own sacrament.
is, says Augustine, “a visible sign of invisible grace.” Someday baptism
and confirmation may be reunited as one sacrament. You could highlight
four signs of a sacrament in the confirmation liturgy: 1) sign of faith,
2) sign of worship, 3) sign of unity of the church, and 4) sign of Christ’s
confirmation liturgy does not occur in a vacuum. The faith of the young
people has grown throughout the formation process (catechetical misnomer,
“program”). The entire parish should know of the young people through pictures
in vestibules, witness at different liturgies, and prayers for them while
on retreat. Another misnomer is confirmation “class.” Not only does this
project a purely educational or catechetical process, but it lumps individuals
into stereotypical groups — and this is a sacrament bestowed on individuals.
One modest proposal would be a confirmation vigil the night before the
actual liturgy. This could be a night of true individual witnessing before
family and friends that could be tailor-made for the confirmandi. All those
extraneous additions that sometimes sneak into the liturgy might be better
served at this time.
candidates and sponsors should be actively involved in the preparation
of the liturgy. Is there a theme song, Scripture reference or focus for
this particular confirmation process? Is there a representative of the
group who could describe the confirmation process to the presider/homilist,
be it bishop or pastor? The music for the celebration does not have to
be only youth-oriented music, for example, the greatest hits of Tom Booth
and LifeTeen. Many young people acknowledge the transcendent nature of
God’s grace, which could be reflected in the use of incense and chant.
of the church
assembly that gathers for the confirmation liturgy should be aware that
it is the church welcoming the candidates into full initiation. The importance
of those gathered should be made clear from the invitations sent to family
and friends and throughout the entire liturgy. Assembly participation is
essential because it is the church: human and flawed yet grace-filled.
Yes, Uncle Steve may have come only to see his favorite nephew get “oiled,”
but maybe when he realizes that he is there as a sign for all the other
young people, he may rise to his responsibility. Another modest proposal:
Institute a new ministry of the liturgical photographer. Appoint one person
(with a flashless camera) to take pictures. The church should be a place
of prayer, not photo ops.
is a sign of Christ’s presence beyond the confirmation liturgy. A period
of mystagogy (reflection on the mysteries) should follow and be part of
the schedule. Ministry leaders should be poised to scoop up the confirmandi
and infuse their ministries with the fire and enthusiasm of these Spirit-filled
young people. The confirmandi who have been served by the church now become
its servers in a true missionary spirit.
ritual should be respected yet enfleshed. The presentation of candidates
should include a proclamation of each individual’s name (pronounced correctly).
The renewal of baptismal promises should be done boldly, but only if the
significance of these promises was part of the confirmation process. The
imposition of hands is a powerful symbol, and it is much more than raised
arms in blessing. We need to recover this significant and symbolic gesture
of imposition for each individual rather than allow the ubiquitous, generic
benediction to become the norm. The anointing should use liberal amounts
of chrism, brought forward in procession in a beautiful decanter and the
scent of which fills the entire church. This oil is rubbed in and never
rubbed off. After the liturgy, members of the assembly can be encouraged
to sign themselves with the fresh chrism still on the brows of the newly
the beginning of a new century, confirmation has many problems. It may
take an act of God or decree from Rome to determine how the church may
best serve its young people. Until then, we can pray for grace that is
amazing and for the Spirit that blows where’er it wills.
Karl is director of liturgy and music at St. Denis Church in Diamond Bar,
Calif. He was the director of youth ministry at the Shrine of Our Lady
of the Snows in Belleville, Ill.
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