South Tyrol: Vatican expresses reservations about confirming at age 18

Rome, 5.17.11 (Kipa) The Vatican has temporarily delayed plans of the diocese of Bozen-Brixen in south Tyrol to raise the age of confirmation from 12 to 18. The Vatican Congregation for Divine Worship has written a letter to Bishop Karl Golser asking for further information about the pilot project planned for this fall, as the diocese has confirmed to Kipa.

The letter states that the sacrament should be administered “at the age of discretion,” with reference to the prescriptions of the Italian bishops’ conference which foresee confirmation “around the age of twelve.”

Responding to the wish of several parishes, two years ago the diocese began to develop a plan for raising the age of confirmation, explained Markus Felder, leader of the Office for Catechesis and Religious Instruction. Starting this fall, some 20 interested communities were to have taken part in the pilot project.

Not stopped, only delayed

According to Felder, a prompt response of the bishop to the Vatican and a quick clarification of the question is to be expected. The project has not been stopped, only temporarily delayed.

In Switzerland, the model of confirmation around 17 or 18 is practiced in numerous parishes in several dioceses.

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20 comments

  1. We can only hope that the order of the Sacraments of Initiation will be restored: Baptism, Confirmation, Eucharist. If Confirmation is delayed until 18 then Holy Communion should be delayed until then too. If a child is ready for Holy Communion at 7, then he/she is ready for Confirmation (and Confession) too.

  2. Maybe we should wait until people are really mature and ready to be confirmed.

    Like after they have raised children and had a productive life.

    Maybe “confirmation” could become the sacrament of entry into “retirement.”

    We have tried a lot of other “end of life” sacraments, baptism, confession, extreme unction.

    Maybe we should let confirmation have its day.

    The bishop could give the “retirees” a nice “stewardship” pitch.

  3. Joe Champlain made an interesting case for Confirmation being a repeatable sacrament, not really having an essential “once and for all” character as baptism does. After all, there is a vestigal “confirmation” (chrismation, sealing with chrism) at infant baptism.

      1. There is no “Orthodox Church” and from some quick research, the practice does not seem to be universal. Some Orthodox Churches also rebaptize converts from Catholicism and even from other Orthodox jurisdictions.

  4. It’s a common joke among priests that confirmation should be regarded as one of the “last rites” since right after getting confirmed a great many young people stop going to church.

    Good theological arguments can be made for confirming infants, or for confirming young children prior to first communion. I’m afraid the arguments for confirming older youth are mostly practical. The biggest one of which I’m aware is that if kids don’t get confirmed to around 16 years of age, they can be obligated to attend RE classes for a longer period of time.

  5. About a decade ago, I happened upon EWTN as it was broadcasting the Bishop’s annual meeting with Pilla reporting that Rome was asking the American Bishops to come up with a uniform policy for confirmation even though two Roman congregations disagreed about what the policy should be.

    It seems in a lot of this that parents and kids are getting caught in the shifting agenda of Roman congregations, bishops and diocesan staff, pastors and local pastoral staff. One sometimes gets the impression at the parish level that the sacraments exist in order to provide the staff with a mission to “prepare” people for the sacraments. No wonder young people seek to escape from their clutches as soon as they have received the sacraments.

    When I was a child I hated going to Mass and Sunday school. First Communion and Confirmation were social ordeals with little personal meaning. I did not go to a Catholic school until College.

    However, my parents and extended family were virtuous (hard working, caring, etc.) but not particularly pious. A seminarian who taught summer school when I was in the fifth grade introduced us to Gregorian chant (optional); that got me interested in being an altar boy. By high school I was using the nearby Catholic college library to explore things liturgical and the social teaching of the Church. A public high school math teacher who was interested in theology introduced me to Thomas Merton, and become a role model for my life long interest in things theological.

    The bottom line is that spiritual development in today’s world is going to be very personal. The required programmatic stuff is more likely to alienate people. We should introduce people (young and old) to the great diversity of spirituality within Catholicism, and help them to be supportive of one another in becoming the particular saints that God wants them to be. The parish needs to be a community of saints rather than a nonprofit religious formation business.

  6. I remember in a large wealthy where I served on the music staff, the rite of confirmation was referred to as “graduation from church.” For others it was a social event. A few of the kids (middle school age) took the program seriously, but for the vast majority it was just another early adolescent trial to be put up with, and it showed. One of my cantors asked both her children as they approaced that magic age if they wanted to be confrimed. The answer in both cases was “no” and the matter was dropped. I think this diocese is on to something, and the Vatican should leave them alone.

    1. Right…and we should also wait until the turbulent teens to ask if youths want baptism as they digest Snooky in Florence via MTV?

    1. I agree with Fritz: both historically and theologically, not so much. One reason the initiatory sacraments were done at the same time . They were distinct ritual gestures, not necessarily distinct theologically. By way of introduction to their inter-relationship (i.e., not apples and oranges) you might want to review the studies of Gabriele Winkler, Gerry Austin, Max Johnson, and Edward Yarnold on the relationship between Baptism, Confirmation and Crismation.

  7. There is no doubt, the Confirmation age discussion has been going on everywhere. I am comforted by the fact that it has been going on since the third century. However, it seems to me that a more recent push toward delaying Confirmation to adolescence pulls it further away from Baptism, when the purpose of the revised rite was to better connect it with initiation. After all, originally Confirmation was the public affirmation of Baptism.
    Many models for celebrating Confirmation have sprung up through the centuries. Adolescent Confirmation is one. It seems, changing the model changes the meaning.
    Practical issues are vast. And maybe changing times warrant changing practice. But are we loosing a deeper sense of meaning? We have learned well from the RCIA – Eucharist is the culmination of initiation. However, in practice, it looks like Confirmation is.
    If we were to put our energy into adult/parent catechesis and instill a sense of a lifelong and life wide process, perhaps, in time, we could restore the order of the sacraments of initiation without forfeiting a connection with the parish community.

  8. National Catholic Reporter (I am managing editor) just did a story about this:

    Views conflict on what age to confirm

    Earlier this year, the Liverpool archdiocese in England announced that beginning next year, it will be confirming at age 8. In the mid-1990s, a few U.S. Roman Catholic dioceses made the same move, confirming in the second or third grade, directly before children receive first Communion. Most U.S. dioceses confirm in late middle school or high school.

    Is 7 too young? Or is 16 too old? Is there a universal age when one is ready to be confirmed?

    Dioceses that have confirmation in the second or third grade along with first Communion say that moving confirmation to the younger age is the restored order — the order the sacraments of Christian initiation were in the early years of Christianity: baptism, confirmation and then first Communion.

    READ MORE

  9. I would have no problem with children being confirmed at seven or eight. I have a serious problem based on parish level practical experience as respects thirteen through fifteen year olds.

    We need to focus on the parents too. If the parents of a fourteen year go to Mass on Easter, maybe Christmas, not a good role model(s) is it? I think a parallel program for parents might be a good thing.

    1. The Church of Ireland (Anglican) has confirmation around the age of 14, by opting in. They don’t make a fuss of first communion, which happens at the same eucharist. Some members are expressing an interest in opening participation in holy communion to people before they have made their confirmation.

      In Ireland, over 90% of primary schools (4-12 years) are under R.C. patronage, so confirmation is automatic. It’s very rare for someone to opt out. That means that many are confirmed who have no interest in religious faith. It’s a cultural event.

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