Q. Why is the age for Confirmation so different from one diocese to another?
A. The Code of Canon Law says, “The Sacrament of Confirmation is to be conferred on the faithful at about the age of discretion, unless the Conference of Bishops has determined another age, or there is danger of death or in the judgment of the minister a grave cause suggests otherwise” (Canon 891). The age of discretion is usually considered to be around 7 years old.
Canon Law says that to receive the sacrament licitly, outside of the danger of death, a baptized Catholic must have the use of reason, to be suitably instructed, be properly disposed, and be able to renew the baptismal promises.
The U.S. Bishops have been unable to agree on a uniform age for Confirmation for our country. Thus, the U.S. Bishops petitioned the Holy See to allow in the Latin rite dioceses of the United States the bishop himself in each diocese to decide the appropriate age anywhere between the ages of 8 and 18. The permission was granted.
In the Diocese of Lincoln, the synodal legislation sets the ages at fifth grade for parishes where confirmation is celebrated each year; fifth and sixth grade where it is celebrated every two years; fifth, sixth and seventh grade where every three years.
Liturgists usually desire to keep the ancient sequence of the sacraments of initiation, (which was interrupted in the early 20th Century when Pope Saint Pius X moved first Communion to a younger age): Baptism, Confirmation, First Communion. Catechists often desire more time for instruction and hence later Confirmation.
Some bishops have recently gone back to the ancient sequence of the sacraments of initiation. This practice requires children to prepare for Confirmation at the same time as First Communion. Dioceses that have gone to this restored order includes the Dioceses of Fargo, Phoenix, Honolulu, and the Archdiocese of Denver.
Other bishops prefer to see confirmations as a kind of “coming of age” sacrament (12-13 years of age), while others want it as an “entering adulthood” sacrament (16 years old or junior or senior in high school). In the Diocese of Lincoln, there is a middle ground between all of these viewpoints, so that young people will have the time for pre-confirmation catechesis and yet will receive the grace of the sacrament early enough to prepare them for the challenges that they will face in adolescence and early adulthood.
There are many thoughtful opinions and good arguments to be made about the best age to confer the Sacrament of Confirmation. However, what is truly important is to recognize the great blessing that Our Lord has given us in this sacrament. This sacrament leaves an indelible mark on the soul, and gives strength to the person who is open to a deeper relationship with God, through the power of the Holy Spirit.
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