Confirmands provide great hope for Church

Bishop Barry C. Knestout confirms a young man into the Catholic Church at Blessed Sacrament, Harrisonburg, on Feb. 23, 2024. (Photo/Office of Communications)

There is a tongue-in-cheek maxim among bishops that the three things on which they can’t agree are which holy days should be days of obligation to attend Mass, whether the pectoral cross should be worn inside vestments or outside, and the age for reception of the sacrament of confirmation.

Every bishop can make a case for why he designates youth be confirmed at a certain age in his diocese. I recall having a conversation with a bishop in another diocese which some years ago decided to go with the “restored order” for receiving the sacraments of initiation. In the restored order, confirmation is received closer to baptism and before, or soon after, first Communion. This is what we witness at the Easter Vigil when we welcome new Catholics into the Church — baptism, confirmation and Eucharist.

However, the Church has valid reasons for baptizing infants, having 7-year-old children receive first Communion, and confirming adolescents. The primary one is that it allows more comprehensive formation of those born and baptized into Catholic families.

After several years of using the restored order for sacraments, that same bishop indicated a strong desire to return the age for confirmation to the teen years. He saw in a practical way that there was less opportunity to keep young people connected with the Church when they were confirmed at an earlier age. What he saw as a benefit to the later age was that it provided more time for thorough catechetical instruction and preparation, and participation in youth ministry programs and catechesis.

Initially, when I came to the Diocese of Richmond, I was uncertain about our practice of confirming youth in the 10th grade, around the age of 16. I appreciated having confirmation in the eighth grade, as we did in the Washington area. This is not unusual in dioceses with large Catholic school systems where the catechetical formation is part of the curriculum.

However, I came to understand that the later age for confirmation has a benefit in our diocese. Every year, we have a significant gathering of young people at our Diocesan Youth Conference (DYC). Many of these young people are active in their parish youth ministry programs. An important reason for that is many of them are preparing for confirmation.

Some of those who favor the earlier age for confirmation contend that by the time youth get to high school, they are immersed in activities, sports and jobs. Their schedules are so full that they don’t have time for the catechetical formation and preparation needed for confirmation. That might be a valid concern, but I’ve seen the later date as having a positive impact in our diocese.

We have a whole cohort of people in their teenage years – a time when they are vulnerable to the popular culture that de-emphasizes faith in God. Catholic adolescents need to be able to withstand pressure from the entertainment industry and social media, each of which promotes secularism and materialism. In seeking and receiving confirmation and the gift of the Holy Spirit it provides, our young people remain connected to the Church as they grow in their knowledge of and love for God.

One might argue that by waiting until confirmation candidates are in their teens, we lose them through attrition. They might stop attending Mass and show no interest in participating in the youth ministry program provided by their parish. But it is also possible that when the sacraments of initiation are received in the restored order at a younger age, there is risk of people seeing their formation as complete and they drift away from the Church.

Even with confirmation in 10th grade, there are confirmands who will see their formation as finished. They might commit the time they used for their formation to other activities. I am grateful that our diocese promotes a youth connection to the Church through events like DYC, which inspires them to live their faith and to grow in their relationship with Jesus.

But it doesn’t end there! Thanks to our extensive Catholic Campus Ministry, we provide college students with an environment in which they are supported in their faith journeys as they discern what God is calling them to do with their lives. This ministry is fertile ground for nurturing vocations to the priesthood and religious life.

On Pentecost Sunday at the Cathedral of the Sacred Heart, I will administer the sacrament of confirmation for the last time this year. Over the last three months, I have celebrated the sacrament nearly 30 times in parishes and in regional celebrations throughout our diocese. As challenging as this part of my schedule can be, I find immense joy in witnessing the confirmands completing their initiation into the Church.

Making the Sign of the Cross with chrism on the forehead of the person standing before me and saying, “be sealed with the gift of the Holy Spirit” gives me great hope for them and for our Church. Let us all pray that these young people who have received that gift will use it in their daily lives, and that they will continue to be a blessing for our Church.


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