January 31, 2012
The pastoral dilemma of Confirmation
By Father Rocky Hoffman *

By Father Rocky Hoffman *

I have a question regarding confirmation. Is it the parent’s duty to see that their child is confirmed in the Catholic Church or is it the child’s “choice” to be confirmed? I have found that many young people get confirmed solely because their parents make them and that doesn’t seem to be in the spirit of confirmation at all. I also have trouble with the notion that confirmation is like graduation – that it’s some kind of end point. Any comments you have would be helpful.

Thank you for this very important question. The short answer to your question is “yes” and “yes.”  “Yes,” it is the parent’s duty to see that their child is confirmed in the Catholic Church, and “yes” it is the child’s choice, especially if he is already an adolescent.   Let’s take a look at what the Code of Canon Law has to say on the subject:

Can.  890 The faithful are obliged to receive this sacrament at the proper time. Parents and pastors of souls, especially pastors of parishes, are to take care that the faithful are properly instructed to receive the sacrament and come to it at the appropriate time.

Can.  891 The sacrament of confirmation is to be conferred on the faithful at about the age of discretion unless the conference of bishops has determined another age, or there is danger of death, or in the judgment of the minister a grave cause suggests otherwise.

On the one hand, the parents have the responsibility to see that their children receive Confirmation, as it is one of the three Sacraments of Initiation, the others being Baptism and Holy Communion.  Just as parents have the responsibility to have their children baptized “within the first weeks after their birth” (traditionally understood as 30 days), they also have the responsibility to have their children properly catechized, and receive their first confession before their first communion, and to complete the sacramental catechesis with Confirmation.
In fact, when a child is baptized, the minister asks the parents if they understand what it means to raise their child as a Catholic: “You have asked to have your child baptized. In doing so you are accepting the responsibility of training him (her) in the practice of the faith. It will be your duty to bring him (her) up to keep God's commandments as Christ taught us, by loving God and our neighbor. Do you clearly understand what you are undertaking?”  Later in the ceremony the minister references the sacrament of Confirmation in these words: “Dearly beloved, this child has been reborn in baptism. He (she) is now called the child of God, for so indeed he (she) is. In confirmation he (she) will receive the fullness of God's Spirit. In Holy Communion he (she) will share the banquet of Christ's sacrifice, calling God his (her) Father in the midst of the Church.”
Responsible parents do not give their little children a choice about eating, sleeping, hygiene, school, or healthcare.  Parents must make those decisions for their children.  They are children, after all.  As the child grows in maturity, parents should give their children a bit more freedom.  In my opinion, it is better to confirm the children when they are younger, before they enter the rebellious adolescent years.
However, it a youngster over 14 years of age does not want to be confirmed, it is no use forcing him.  That would be counter-productive. Still, it has to be admitted that his refusal to be confirmed -- rather than that being a good use of his freedom -- is an indication that he has not been properly catechized or trained in the faith, usually due to the fault of one or both of the parents.  More than likely, his training in personal piety, attendance at weekly Mass, and reception of the Sacrament of Reconciliation on a regular basis, has been neglected.  Since such neglect is rather common place among Catholics, there is a growing consensus that it is better to confirm youngsters earlier, so that they don't grow up without the benefit of this sacrament.

Rev. Francis J. Hoffman, JCD (Fr. Rocky) is Executive Director of Relevant Radio.  Ordained as a priest for Opus Dei in 1992 by Blessed John Paul II, he holds a doctorate in Canon Law from the Pontifical University of the Holy Cross, an MBA from the University of Notre Dame, and a BA in History from Northwestern University.  His Question and Answer column appears in several Catholic newspapers and magazines across the country.

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