Fr Patrick Bridgman
The Sacrament of Confirmation – but how can an eight-year old understand what they are doing?
This question is common when people hear some dioceses have transferred the age for the reception of the Sacrament of Confirmation from the teens to a time before Holy Communion. Surely children are unable to make a decision to confirm their Baptism at such a young age!
These same thoughts were posed by many when, in 1910, Pope Pius X lowered the age for receiving Holy Communion from around 12 to the ‘age of reason’ at seven. Yet now, very few people question the young can understand, to their age-appropriate level, what it means that Jesus gave his life for us and left us the Eucharist as his living memorial.
As mentioned in the first article of this series on the Sacraments, in the life of the early Church, following a Baptism the newly initiated
re-entered the church proper and the Bishop, who was presiding over the Easter Liturgy, would confirm with the Oil of Chrism the Baptism, which had occurred out of sight in the baptistery. At that time the Sacraments of Initiation, Baptism, Confirmation, and Eucharist, shared a unity – for they were celebrated in the one celebration.
However, with the growth of the Church from urban centres into the rural settings, it was no longer possible to have one celebration for Initiation into the Church.
A solution for this situation, which continued the pastoral care for the newly baptised by the Bishop, was to hold back the post-baptismal anointing by the Bishop until he came to a parish on visitation. Overtime, this pastoral response gave rise to Confirmation being considered a separate – yet integrally linked – Sacrament to Baptism.
Throughout the world there are now different practices in regard to the ‘age’ for Confirmation. In the Diocese of Palmerston North the recommended age is 16 – generally inYears 12 or 13 – while in the Archdiocese of Wellington the recommended age is a child in Year four of primary school – around age 8 or 9. The age difference will necessarily change some of the focus in the preparation for the Sacrament yet the ‘what happens to the person who receives the Sacrament?’ remains the same. As Pope Francis mentioned at his Wednesday General Audience on 1 October 2014, while reflecting on the Gifts of the Holy Spirit:
‘First received at one’s Baptism, the seven gifts of the Holy Spirit are traditionally referred to as wisdom, understanding, counsel, fortitude, knowledge, piety and fear of the Lord. They are brought to fruition through the Sacrament of Confirmation, during which the already-baptised individual receives a particular outpouring of the Holy Spirit.’
Whether we receive the Sacrament of Confirmation at the Easter Vigil following our Baptism as an adult, or as a 16-year old who has participated in a process of faith affirmation, or as an eight-year old prior to receiving Holy Communion, or as a baptised unconfirmed adult who is preparing for Marriage – when we receive the Sacrament of Confirmation the grace of our Baptism is strengthened and we receive a special outpouring of the Holy Spirit like that of Pentecost. And each year, when the 50 days of Easter come to a close, and we gather with Mary and the Disciples in the upper room, we again pray: ‘Veni Sancte Spiritus, Come Holy Spirit!’
Fr Patrick Bridgman works in sacramental ministry at St Anne’s Parish Newtown. He is the Wellington Hospital Chaplain and the Archdiocese’s Liturgy adviser. He also teaches Sacrament and liturgy courses at The Catholic Institute.