Age of Confirmation
Poor Hercules. Chop off one of the hydra's nine heads and it grows two more. Then when you think you've got all the heads under control you discover something hideous: One of them is immortal.
You tried in 1972. You tried in 1984. But the hydra of confirmation will not die. It returns to your agenda as unwelcome and inevitable as telemarketing.
I don't envy you guys at all. You became bishops to do good. But to ask you to decide on the age of confirmation just isn't fair. You'll get hate mail no matter what you do.
Breathless confirmation co-coordinators from Portland to Honolulu await the results of your decision. But the smart money says that this vote will unleash no more drama than Geraldo Rivera at Al Capone's vault. Having wrung our hands in worry for two more years, we'll find there was more drama in the preparation for the meeting than in its results. (Oh well, what are the media for?)
And maybe that's fine. After all, there must be weightier matters to discuss than the age of confirmation.
But remember, this is a hydra you're fighting. It doesn't go away until you strike its immortal head. So if you'll let me play Lou Holtz to your Irish Hercules, permit me to design a play that will tame the creature once and for all.
What age should confirmation be? Late teens? Canonical seven? A range of ages permitting neighboring dioceses to choose their own? Every solution creates two more problems.
Here's my suggestion: make the age of confirmation the same age as baptism. Period.
Why? Here's what you get:
1) A uniform theology of confirmation: You'll make history. This hasn't happened in the western church since Faustus of Reiz preached his much maligned Pentecost homily in fifth century Gaul, a homily that re-interpreted delayed-confirmation as the making of soldiers for Christ. (I hope your chambers no longer resound with the echoes of 1984, when one of your confreres argued against voting on age because "it would give the appearance of taking a theological position.")
2) A universally restored rite of initiation: We'd have one single initiation rite instead of several. What we do for adults we could basically keep for children. Even the folks arguing for "restored sequence" over a period of seven years have to admit they're still making confirmation a kind of developmental or maturity rite like first communion, requiring preparation, instead of an initiation rite like baptism, able to be shared with those born into the household of God.
3) The restoration of infant communion: Once priests can confirm the infants they baptize, why not offer communion as well, just as the orthodox do? Communion is part of the rites of initiation. And when we baptize babies we have no business excommunicating them for seven years. My heart breaks when a pre-first communion kid stretches out his hand in the communion line, only to be jerked away by a parent more intent on correction than devotion to the communion just received. We're more heartless to baptized kids in our own communities than we are to the world's starving nations. Why not let children grow in their devotion to Eucharist throughout their lives?
4) The end of the controversy over which should come first: first penance or first communion: Any parent, any parent, can tell you their kids are ready for communion before penance. But we'll never convince the non-parenting, sacred congregations in Rome. Putting first communion with initiation will free up penance to be the real maturity sacrament. Catechesis will be strengthened because we won't have to rush through it to get to the first communion book.
5) The impetus to create repeatable rites of commitment: We really don't have these now, in spite of the way we Scotch tape the confirmation rite onto the needs of teens. As Abraham Maslow says, when what you have is a hammer, everything looks like a nail. We've got staples, magnets, and Velcro out there, but no tools to use. Confirmation is getting stressed from so many applications. Initiation into a group differs from rites of passage within the group.
6) The challenge for life-time catechesis: We asked my eighth-grade niece Julie last year what confirmation would mean for her. Her reply: "Graduation from CCD." Yup. The Italian secular paper Il Messagero carried an article some years back about the same phenomenon. The headline read: La cresima: Il sacramento del 'ciao'. ("Confirmation: the 'Goodbye' Sacrament.") If catechesis terminates when the sacrament is over we've missed the point of catechesis and sacrament both. If our catechesis is so wimpy that kids endure it only so they can "get confirmed," let's get serious about catechesis and knock off the charade about the age of confirmation.
7) The better focusing of the bishop's role: Your role includes parish visitation. Frequently you just roll that n with confirmation. But confirmations represent a small part of parish life. We also have parish staffs, councils, schools, and schools of religion you could meet with. And you could preside at Sunday Mass for other occasions, like scrutinies, anointing of the sick, or just to warm up the parish before the annual social. Many auxiliary bishops have been ordained primarily to ease the confirmation schedule. This does not help focus the role of the bishop or the purpose of confirmation.
Behold, the many heads conquered in one fell swoop.
I realize Hercules still had other labors after the hydra fell. But, hey, that's the stuff of heroes.
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