Also, because Confirmation is this week, I wanted to take this opportunity to talk about a common misconception surrounding this sacrament and to clarify some of the changes we’ve made to Confirmation preparation in light of that.
Over the past couple of years I was on an advisory committee at the diocese that focused on making changes to how we prepare students for Confirmation in order to address the growing reality of more and more Catholics leaving the faith after they received Confirmation as teenagers. Being a part of that group encouraged me to focus on what the Church teaches about Confirmation and let that be my starting place for what preparation for this sacrament should look like. Ultimately, going back to the Catechism forced me to see that I had some false assumptions about Confirmation and that we needed a dramatic shift in how we prepare students for this sacrament.
The Catechism says that Confirmation is the "sacrament of Christian maturity.” I was raised to believe that this meant Confirmation is a kind of “rite of passage,” a sacred ritual where someone accepts the faith for themselves and commits to the responsibilities of being an adult Catholic. In this way the student is “confirming” their own faith. That understanding of Confirmation is, and has been, very widespread and has led to most preparation programs becoming sacrament conveyor belts. What that has looked like here at MHT is that when a student reached a particular grade they started Confirmation preparation and were, for the most part, expected to receive the sacrament along with everyone in that grade.
However, that is not at all what the Church believes about Confirmation. When the Catechism calls this the sacrament of Christian maturity it means that God is maturing the person receiving Confirmation by giving them more of what they already received at Baptism. An authentic understanding of Confirmation is that it’s the completion of a person’s baptism and a continuation of Pentecost.
The Catechism says “the sacrament of Confirmation is the special outpouring of the Holy Spirit as once granted to the apostles on the day of Pentecost.” And then goes on to list the effects of this sacrament on the recipient:
- brings an increase and deepening of baptismal grace
- it roots us more deeply in the divine filiation which makes us cry, "Abba! Father!”
- it unites us more firmly to Christ;
- it increases the gifts of the Holy Spirit in us;
- it renders our bond with the Church more perfect;
- it gives us a special strength of the Holy Spirit to spread and defend the faith by word and action as true witnesses of Christ, to confess the name of Christ boldly, and never to be ashamed of the Cross
Notice the “more than” language here. The person being confirmed already has baptismal grace, is already a child of God, is already united to Christ, etc. All these things happened at their Baptism. However, what God planted at Baptism He brings to maturity in Confirmation. God is the one “confirming” the candidate in their identity as His beloved son or daughter.
It is from this perspective that we have made the recent changes to Confirmation preparation. This sacrament is something that is personally discerned depending on the desire and disposition of the individual wanting to receive it. It is not a rite of passage. Neither is it the decision of a candidate’s parents or family. There are only two people that discern the readiness of a candidate to receive Confirmation: the person themselves and the Church.
What that looks like here then is that anytime after a student finishes 8th grade, if they desire to be Confirmed, they will meet with Corey or me for an initial interview. At that interview we will discern that student’s desire and disposition for this sacrament based on the Church’s guidelines that include a candidate’s prayer life, sacramental life, parish life, moral life, and their ongoing catechesis. Based on that interview we will give each student a preparation program tailored to them that could include recommendations for daily prayer, retreats, catechesis, Mass, Confession, etc. These recommendations are their Confirmation requirements and each student’s recommendations will look different. We will follow up with each student throughout the year and when they are ready for Confirmation they will attend a two-day Confirmation retreat and will be able to be Confirmed at the next Confirmation Mass with the bishop.
It has only been a few months since we have implemented this new process and we are already seeing the fruit. The personal interviews focused on helping students articulate their relationship with God now and where they want it to grow have been invaluable. These meetings have already caused Corey and I to adjust our other events in order to meet the needs that we hear being expressed in the interviews. This new program also empowers students to see their faith life as their own rather than just their family's, allowing them to invest personally in their relationship with the Lord. It puts the decision of whether or not to be confirmed and when to be confirmed more into their hands rather than the sacrament being an automatic thing because they reached a certain age.
Because we are in a transition year where the high school sophomores are going through the old preparation program while the freshman are going through the new process I want to address some potential confusion. This Wednesday it is only sophomores being Confirmed. In future years we will begin to see students across grades being Confirmed, and the only reason freshman are not being Confirmed this week is because we haven’t been able to meet with them more than once for their interviews. If you have any questions at all about Confirmation preparation please don’t hesitate to reach out to me.
Finally, I would like to encourage you to pray for these Confirmation candidates in a way perhaps you haven’t before. As I said above, the Church teaches that someone receiving Confirmation is receiving the same outpouring of the Holy Spirit that the Apostles did at Pentecost. With that in mind, please pray for these candidates specifically that they will be filled with the Holy Spirit as the Apostles were. Pray that the Spirit will reveal Himself personally to them. Pray that they will be empowered to perform signs and wonders. Pray that they will have a renewed relationship with the Holy Spirit and, like Mary, hear His voice and respond to His promptings throughout their entire life.