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Another welcome return to the earlier age for Confirmation

February 14, 2019

Bishop James Wall of Gallup NM just announced that Catholic children in his diocese can receive the sacraments of Confirmation and holy Communion in a single Eucharistic liturgy celebrated for them around their attaining age seven or eight. This makes a dozen arch/dioceses that have jettisoned the once-trendy-but-pastorally-flawed practice of delaying Confirmation until well into a young person’s teenage years. I will not rehearse the numerous spiritual and practical problems associated with this delay. My focus is, as usual, canonical.

While Eastern Catholic Churches usually confer Confirmation (Chrismation) at the time of Baptism (1990 CCEO 686 § 1, 694695) and thus generally in infancy, the Roman Church had long delayed Confirmation until about the age of reason (roughly age seven). See 1917 CIC 788, 1983 CIC 891. As there are good reasons for going with infancy or the age of discretion, and noting that both Roman codes allowed for accelerating the time of Confirmation in cases of need, I think this East-West disciplinary difference re timing is one the Church can live with. 

But the 1983 Code’s stipulation of a early-ish and unified age for Confirmation became, after some periods of ‘experimentation’, a fixed hodgepodge of delayed and scattered dates when the USCCB, taking advantage of language in Canon 891 that allowed the conference of bishops to determine “another age” (note: age not ages), once-and-for-all abandoned a common age for Confirmation, whereupon Rome signed off on the to-each-his-own approach whereby every bishop decided for himself what age this sacrament of initiation would be conferred in his arch/diocese. That’s still the law in the United States and it’s effectively the law in several other countries. Gallup, therefore, has simply joined the small but growing list of arch/dioceses that have said, ‘Fine, we get to decide? then we’re going with an earlier age, the age of reason.’ May other local Churches follow them, and soon.

Meanwhile, children and parents in arch/dioceses that still maintain a delaying approach to this sacrament should bear in mind that Rome has, in regard to suitably instructed and disposed candidates for Confirmation, ruled that the rights of (at least) an 11-yo child to the sacraments (e.g. 1983 CIC 843) prevail over policies setting a later date for Confirmation. See Cong. for Divine Worship and Discipline of the Sacraments (Medina Estévez), doc. [de Confirmationis receptionis aetate] (no date), Communicationes 32 (2000) 12-14 (English text).

And, by the way, Catholic children in danger of death should receive Confirmation without delay.

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