was to change the age and sequence of the administration of the sacrament of Confirmation.

Way back in the 1950’s and 60’s when the Confraternity of Christian Doctrine began to be relegated to the dust heap of history and religious educators, filled with all the latest nonsense of the pop psychology that had become the rage of educators, the sacrament of Confirmation began to be treated as the Catholic equivalent of the Bar Mitzvah 0f the Jews and the quinceanera of Hispanics.  The meaning of the sacrament was no longer stressed as the renewal of the gift of the Holy Spirit, it was now the ‘coming of age’ celebration of the 15-17 year old Catholic boy or girl.

Canon Law stipulates in Canon 891


The sacrament of confirmation is to be conferred on the faithful at about the age of discretion unless the conference of bishops determines another age or there is danger of death or in the judgment of the minister a grave cause urges otherwise.


At the very first meeting of the National Conference of Catholic Bishops I attended in 1972 Bishop Zalesky, as chairman of an ad hoc committee to recommend a uniform age of confirmation for the United States, presented a report that recommended moving the age of confirmation to the age of reason as Canon Law provides.   In the ensuing debate it became obvious that the bishops of the United States were divided about 50/50 on the question and so action was postponed.  It was postponed again and again in succeeding years and finally a policy statement was issued which left the decision regarding the age of reception of the sacrament of confirmation to the individual bishop.  Es var immer so!

In the Eastern Church the sacraments of baptism, confirmation and Holy Eucharist have traditionally administered together, but in the Latin Church the tradition was for baptism to be administered to infants and confirmation and Holy Eucharist were delayed until the age of reason which was normally age seven.

If there is one thing that is obvious in American society it is that our children, beginning after the Second World War, have become more ‘mature’ at an earlier and earlier age.  Problems of sex and drugs were not widespread when I was in high school, but with each passing decade the pressure on our children to make the right choices spread to lower and lower grade levels.  By the 1980’s it was obvious that children in middle school were using drugs and were becoming sexually promiscuous.

Delaying the gift of the Holy Spirit until age 15-17 simply no longer made sense.  A right understanding of the effect of the sacrament of confirmation is that the gift of the Holy Spirit helps the recipient make the correct choices in life and choosing has become more and more difficult.

Sad to say, within a year after my retirement my successor, under pressure from some pastors and religious educators, abandoned the policy that I had introduced and the sacrament of confirmation again became another Bar Mitzvah or quinceanera celebration for high school students.

You can understand my pleasure then in learning today that the Archbishop of Liverpool had decreed that in 2012 in his Archdiocese the sacrament of confirmation will be administered at the age of reason.


Weekly Record 55 (23 January 2011)

21 Jan, 2011

Weekly Record 55 (23 January 2011)


Following a number of enquiries in the last few weeks regarding the proposed changes to the Order of Sacraments I have copied some of the current information that we have received regarding this and proposed a way forward for Cathedral Confirmations during the two interim years.

In recent years in the Archdiocese of Liverpool, most Catholics have been baptised as babies, made their First Communion around age seven, and been confirmed when teenagers.

These three sacraments make up the process of belonging to the Church (called Christian Initiation).   The sacraments weren’t always in that order, and adults preparing for initiation have always received them in the original order:  Baptism, Confirmation, Eucharist (Communion).

From September 2012 in this Archdiocese, children who have been baptised will follow that same order.   Those aged eight by the first of September 2012 will be invited to receive Confirmation and First Communion in the days between Ascension Sunday and the Feast of the Body and Blood of Christ (Corpus Christi) in 2013, and the same pattern will be followed each year after that.

The families of these children will be invited to explore and celebrate Reconciliation with them during Advent each year, while teenagers and their families will be invited to explore and celebrate Reconciliation during Lent each year.

The bishops will preside at some of the celebrations of Confirmation and Communion (with priests delegated to confirm at the other celebrations).

At the same time the way children are prepared for these sacraments will change.   Instead of teachers, catechists and priests teaching children and parents about the sacraments, they will help the parents to hand on their own faith to their children, fulfilling the privileges and responsibilities expressed in the Rite of Baptism.   New resources will help parents to prepare their own children for these sacraments with the support of the local church community.

These changes are meant to help us understand that sacraments are gifts of God’s grace, that parents are the first teachers of their children in the ways of faith, and that we are all called to get to know Jesus better throughout our life’s journey.

2011 and 2012 will be years of transition from the old regime to the new.   During these two years all children born before 2004 (who will be 9+ in 2013) will need to have the opportunity to be confirmed.   What I propose should happen for our children (namely those living in the Cathedral parish and members of our choirs , servers and siblings) is that for this year any children from Year 6 or older should be confirmed and then for 2012 children in the then Years 4, 5 and 6.   From 2013 onwards the norm will be that children in Year 4 would receive confirmation and Holy Communion during the same celebration.   When we have fixed a date for our Confirmation celebration this year we will be inviting those who wish to be confirmed to put their names forward.

Canon Anthony O’Brien   Cathedral Dean

About abyssum

I am a retired Roman Catholic Bishop, Bishop Emeritus of Corpus Christi, Texas
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