During the Fourth Diocesan Synod in 2017, lay Catholics representing every parish in the Diocese of Springfield in Illinois voted overwhelmingly in support of the restored order the sacraments, meaning Confirmation would come before First Holy Communion, and they would both occur in third grade. Despite this change being implemented in parishes and schools several years ago, the same concerns and questions debated in the synod are being raised by Catholics in our diocese today. This site is intended to address these and other concerns and to provide context for this important change.
Confirmation is where a Catholic is sealed with the Seven Gifts of the Holy Spirit by the authority of the diocesan bishop, a successor of the Apostles. Those gifts are wisdom, understanding, counsel, fortitude, knowledge, piety, and fear of the Lord.
When someone receives the outpouring of the Holy Spirit in the Sacrament of Confirmation, he or she is “more strictly obliged to spread and defend the faith by word and deed” (Lumen gentium, 11). While this is not a new mission for the baptized, those who are anointed with the sacred Chrism “share more completely in the mission of Jesus Christ” (Catechism of the Catholic Church, 1294). So, it became customary for those preparing for Confirmation to choose what we commonly call a Confirmation name. While not required by the Church, choosing such a name is a laudable practice and is commonly done in the dioceses of the United States of America.
Some time ago, it became somewhat usual to choose a Confirmation name because it was the name that a grandparent had, but this was never the idea behind the choosing of a name. Rather, because the one to be Confirmed will be sent out “to confess the name of Christ boldly, and never to be ashamed of the Cross,” the idea is to choose the name of a saint who can help fulfill this mission (Catechism of the Catholic Church, 1303). Sometimes, we choose the saint because of his or her patronage, because of the name itself, because of a common personality, or because of his or her story. Sometimes, though, it also seems a saint, as it were, chooses us. Whatever the case, choosing the name of saint is a way of placing oneself under the patronage of this particular friend of God, of seeking to imitate this person who imitated Christ, and of seeking the prayers and guidance of this saint (cf. I Corinthians 11:1).
Confirmandi may choose the name of a canonized saint, a blessed, or a servant of God (venerable).
Confirming children in third grade and having First Holy Communion come after Confirmation is what’s called the “restored order” of the sacraments, which was implemented several years ago in our diocese. It’s important to note that we are not starting something new. Aside from fairly recent history, it has always been the Church’s practice to first confirm new members and then welcome them to receive Communion. This practice held for adults and children, alike, and it has continued to the practice of RCIA. In fact, the Catechism of the Catholic Church clearly affirms the proper sequence in paragraph 1322: “The holy Eucharist completes Christian initiation.”
The approach of inverting the sequence of first Eucharist and Confirmation first appeared in France in the middle of the 19th century, as the bishops sought a longer formation period for confirmandi. In 1879, Pope Leo XIII rebuked the French practice and ordered the original sequence to be restored, but the bishops failed to make the change. The practice spread subsequently to the Church in America as well.
So, the real question is not why we would lower the age of Confirmation, but rather what have we gained by deferring it to a later age? The facts in this regard are eye-opening. Consider that nearly 80 percent of all fallen away Catholics were never confirmed, and the average age of Catholics falling away from the faith is 13 years old. By deferring the age of Confirmation, we have deprived these children of the gifts of the Holy Spirit, which are strengthened by the sacrament of Confirmation. We will never know what might have otherwise happened for them.
Bishop Paprocki summed it up best, saying: “Given what our children are confronting in society, why would we delay the grace of Confirmation — a grace that can protect them from those dangers.”
Our children are facing an unprecedented barrage of threats to their emotional well-being and moral clarity.
Deferring Confirmation deprives our children of special graces that can help them withstand the spiritual challenges of this new reality. Further, deferring Confirmation until they are already swimming in these waters also increases the likelihood that they will experience barriers to the sacramental grace. After all, as St. Thomas Aquinas teaches us, there are three obstacles to grace: lack of faith/insincerity; lack of repentance; and presence of demons (STL III 66-68).
Therefore, delaying Confirmation is a double-edged sword: It deprives our children of grace they badly need at a younger age; and it likely decreases the effectiveness of the sacrament in their lives.
If an 8-year-old is able to understand enough about the Eucharist — that the bread and wine are changed with the words of consecration and become the very Body, Blood, Soul, and Divinity of Christ — and be properly disposed to receive the Eucharist reverently, then it seems reasonable that he or she is also able to understand what it means when we teach that the Holy Spirit gives seven gifts to be used in faith. In fact, this is why the Church established the “age of reason” as the appropriate normal age for reception of the sacraments of initiation.
Quoting St. Thomas Aquinas, the Catechism of the Catholic Church wisely reminds us that “age of body does not determine age of soul. Even in childhood, man can attain spiritual maturity: as the book of Wisdom says: ‘For old age is not honored for length of time or measured by number of years’ (4:8). Many children, through the strength of the Holy Spirit they have received, have bravely fought for Christ even to the shedding of their blood” (CCC, 1308).
This question points to a couple common points of misunderstanding regarding the sacrament of Confirmation. The first over-emphasizes the action of the confirmandi in the sacrament, and the second mistakenly views Confirmation as a sort of graduation from faith formation. Paragraph 1308 of the Catechism of the Catholic Church states: “Although Confirmation is sometimes called the ‘sacrament of Christian maturity,’ we must not confuse adult faith with the age of natural growth, nor forget that the baptismal grace is grace of free, unmerited election and does not need ‘ratification’ to become effective.”
It is certainly important that recipients of the sacraments be properly disposed and prepared to receive the sacraments. As noted above, however, there is a very high probability that a third-grader is more open, receptive, and properly disposed to this sacramental grace than an eighth-grader. Conversely, it is more likely that an eighth-grader faces greater obstacles to grace. The Church has deemed the age of reason to be the age of 7.
This change has been encouraged by both Pope Benedict XVI and by Pope Francis, and many bishops are implementing or planning for the restored order. In the United States, about 15 dioceses have implemented the restored order, including Phoenix, Denver, and Spokane.
It is certainly a significant change for our teachers and catechists, but our schools and parish formation programs are blessed with gifted and talented teachers who are eager to do what is best for their students. Each parish has the flexibility to choose the curriculum they feel is best for their teachers and students (curriculum suggestions can be found at dio.org/catechesis/restored-order.html). Let's remember that we should treat this as an opportunity to form lifelong disciples of Christ.