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Confirmation is a Sacrament of Initiation

We are winding down our 7th grade CCD year. I have done my best to prepare these students for the Sacrament of Confirmation. More importantly, I have done my best to instill in them a sense that learning about the faith is a lifelong process. However, considering our preparation program, it is difficult. We use the Faith and Life series by Ignatius Press that is absolutely wonderful. I could not ask for a better textbook. But our program does not deem a school year covering the nuts and bolts of our faith as enough preparation. This coming Tuesday I will be administering a four page mostly fill-in-the-blank final exam. Our parish policy is the students have to pass in order to be confirmed. Passing is a mere 65%. The students have had a copy of the actual test to study. We have covered all the questions in class. This shouldn’t be difficult to pass, but this test is causing all kinds of unnecessary angst and anxiety in my students. I have taken it upon myself to relieve some of this anxiety by allowing my students to write whatever information they want on a 3x5 index card and bring it into the test. It must be hand written—no typing. The collective sigh of relief when I announced this was amazing. Of course, the process of preparing the index card is in itself an educational process so I am not worried about this eclipsing their learning.

The students also have to do a report on the saint whose name they have chosen for Confirmation. They are required to fulfill a set number of community service hours. They must attend a confirmation retreat that means giving up an entire Saturday. While none of this sounds extreme, taken together, Confirmation becomes the reward given after a whole series of hurdles have been cleared. By the time they get to the actual reception of Confirmation, they are so relieved they don’t ever want to face religious education again.

This is so sad. Confirmation is not a graduation. It is not a milestone of adulthood in the Church. Confirmation is the second of the Sacraments of Initiation. It is a beginning. I encourage you to read the information on Confirmation from the Diocese of Phoenix website.

1. What is Confirmation?
Confirmation is the second of the three sacraments of Christian initiation. Confirmation is the completion of Baptism and the sacrament by which the baptized faithful are anointed with chrism by the laying on of hands. The grace received is the fullness of the Holy Spirit and his gifts. We also describe this fullness as the completion, strengthening, or perfection of the Holy Spirit received in Baptism.

2. What are the Sacraments of Initiation?
The sacraments of Baptism, Confirmation, and Eucharist are interrelated and all three are required for full Christian initiation. The Christian is born anew by Baptism, strengthened by Confirmation, and receives in the Eucharist the food of eternal life.

Bishop Olmstead of Phoenix has moved the age of reception of Confirmation from high school to third grade:

On May 15, 2005 Bishop Thomas J. Olmsted promulgated the new Policy and Guidelines concerning the restoration the order of the Sacraments of Initiation in the Diocese of Phoenix. The chief concluding reason for Bishop Olmsted’s initiative for this change was the full sense of the theological term “mystagogy”. Mystagogy, in the full sense - of aiding our young people’s understanding of what they have received through the Sacraments of Initiation, throughout every stage of life which includes the stages from infancy and continues throughout grade school, high school, young adulthood to mature adulthood to live as a disciple of Christ, a life dedicated to the missionary and apostolic service of Christ. As the General Directory for Catechesis notes, initiatory catechesis encompasses more than mere instruction in the faith, “it is an apprenticeship of the entire Christian life” (GDC #67).

This new policy has effectively changed the age for Confirmation preparation and reception from 16 years of age (sophomore or junior in high school), to the ages of students in the third grade. As a result, the preparation and reception of the Sacraments of Initiation throughout the Diocese of Phoenix will be: Baptism: in Infancy, Reconciliation: Second Grade, Confirmation and First Eucharist: Third Grade.

I love this idea of treating Confirmation as the sacrament of initiation that it is. I know that my CCD students loved learning about their saints, learning about our faith, and talking about the consequences of their faith. They loved applying the tenets of their faith to real life scenarios. I think if we could have left it at that we would see more of them in high school. By turning it into another school class with homework, tests, and projects, we have soured them on religious education. This is why we end up with so many adults in the pew who have never progressed beyond their eighth grade catechesis.

I really can’t formulate the perfect answer. In the ideal world, most of the catechesis would be done by parents at home in the context of living as a Catholic family. The religious education program would just reinforce and expand on the foundation at home. In the real world, that doesn’t happen very often. (See Barb’s post on outsourcing) Too many of our parents are functionally un-catechized after experiencing all those “Spirit of Vatican II” touchy-feely CCD classes. Understandably, today’s religious education circles loathe trusting parents to provide the basics. If I could make any changes, I would put a real emphasis on family catechesis with the hope that by educating parents and children together, we would recover from the post-Vatican II failed religious education experiments.


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