Two blogs of priests that I regularly read have blogged recently on the topic of confirming at an earlier age. Many Catholics are unaware that delaying the Sacrament of Confirmation is a particularly recent phenomenon (recent as in Confirmation was typically at a really young age for the first millennium). This is problematic, because the Sacraments of Initiation are no longer in order for Latin Rite Catholics. Eastern Rite Catholics still receive Confirmation as infants. Two priest bloggers recently talked about this issue, perhaps we are in Confirmation season, and both take a view with favor to lowering the Confirmation age to Seven. Many bishops here and abroad of instituted this.
Fr. Ryan Erlenbush, of the New Theological Movement, makes an argument around keeping the age of reception of First Communion at Seven. In it, he also makes a brief argument in favor of not delaying Confirmation. He also links to an earlier article that he wrote on the topic. His main points, without dismissing the current mainstream practice, are for restoring the order of the Sacraments of Initiation, as well as not delaying the special grace of Confirmation.
Monsignor Charles Pope, of the Archdiocese of Washington expounds on the nature of the Sacrament of Confirmation. Although not a lengthy argument, as much as an opportunity to clear up mistakes, as well as to describe what it is. He clarifies that it is not: (1) a Sacrament of maturity, (2) becoming an adult in the church, (3) confirms their faith for themselves (4) complete Christian Initiation or make one a full Catholic. It is indeed, a personal Pentacost, and grace for our Mission as Catholics.
Unfortunately, I hear a lot of those things that Monsignor Pope mentions confirmation is not, in several confirmation settings that I have been in. It seems to make sense as people reflect on the experience, but they are reflecting on a disordered Christian Initiation. It does not, however, in any way take away from the grace and power of the Sacrament that people have not received Christian Initiation in the appropriate order.
I am in favor of a younger Confirmation for many of the reasons listed above: Restoring the proper order of Christian Initiation, and not delaying the grace of the Sacrament. Although I do find myself often wondering about Latin Rite Catholics giving the Sacraments of Confirmation and First Communion to Infants, I am not really sure how practical this is.
I think another main reason that 7, the age of discretion, should be the normative age in the Latin Rite for Catholics to receive Confirmation and Eucharist, is that they can become Catechumens. They can take part in the ancient practice of the Catechumenate. Since the Vatican II reforms, we have developed a Rite of Christian Initiation for Children, which would be wholly appropriate for our current set up. I believe it would solve the
problem that sacramental preparation has taken on too much of a classroom setting in CCD, and therefore the sacraments are seen more in terms as rewards and graduation, than a continuing transformative grace throughout their lives.
So, this practice has already begun in some places in the Church. It will be a continuing issue, and I believe that many more bishops will follow suit over the years.
Some people would prefer that we keep the current practice so that they can continue in some sort of catechetical program as teenagers. I think that grace is more important than sitting in a room and learning facts about the faith. Sometimes I wonder if more parishes ought to have continuing catechesis available for free for adults on a regular basis. That those who intend to marry, who do not regularly take part in these sorts of things, would be required to complete a few hours. Some of it could revolve around studying the United States Catholic Catechism for Adults, or Fr. Robert Barron’s Catholicism series in Book or DVD. I think these also present an opportunity for people who are interested in becoming Catholic might need before coming to RCIA classes. Some parishes have already formed open groups of this sort, but I do not see it as the norm. To me, this is more of a pastoral suggestion to fill the catechesis gap, which is somewhat impractical, in the sense that you no longer force people to memorize the whole catechism. I do believe that it might be one of the best opportunities, because it is more important that people know where to find the resources to learn about the faith, rather than that they memorize everything.