Confirmation has been given to students around the ages of thirteen or fourteen for a long time, and there does not seem to be a problem. However, all teens, even myself, will go through a time of questioning and rebellion at age fifteen or sixteen, and may even regret having been confirmed. Confirmation requires an understanding of the Catholic faith and a desire to live one’s faith to its full potential. Until a more mature age, most students are not ready to make this commitment. Although the sacrament of Confirmation is offered to young teenagers, it would be more effective if given to young adults, to ensure more time for preparation and proper decision making.
One of the hardest things about early teenage years is the many hardships and changes that this age group faces. During these years, friends come and go, families fall apart, school becomes much harder and more responsibilities seem to be piled onto the students. It is hard to go through all of this alone. Many parents and students may believe that it is in this time of life especially that one needs to receive guidance from the Church and God’s grace through Confirmation.
Some people believe that it is best for young children or teens to receive Confirmation because by the age of seven, children have already developed the ability to reason and make judgments. By seventh or eighth grade, students are well past the point of being able to make decisions of their own. Some may also believe that students who are going through the process to receive Confirmation have been properly educated in the faith. Many students attend Catholic schools for at least a year or two, and if not, attend parish schools of religion weekly. In addition, most of the students have grown up in a Catholic family, and are more than ready to confirm their faith and receive the grace to live it out to their fullest potential.
Because many students are more than ready to receive the wonderful sacrament at an earlier age, most parishes suggest that Confirmation be received by a very particular age group. More often than not, Confirmation is only offered to young teenagers, in seventh or eighth grade. However, these students may not be ready to take this step of faith on their own. Even with a sponsor, the student may not be capable of understanding on a personal level how sacred Confirmation is and what it truly means, let alone how it will affect one’s life in the future. The sponsor can teach the confirmand why God created humans: to know, to love, and to serve him. (Catechism of the Catholic Church, 2304) The sponsor can share his or her Confirmation memories with the confirmand. The sponsor can inspire the confirmand to take the sacrament seriously. The sponsor cannot, however, ensure that the confirmand understands the sacrament and plans on living out one’s faith. Because middle school students may not be ready to take the leap in faith that Confirmation calls for, it would be best for the distribution of the sacrament to be postponed a few more years.
The guidance and support that students need so desperately during their teenage years can be given in more effective ways than through a metaphysical sacrament. For example, support groups in parish communities or schools can be formed and offered to students who are struggling with certain issues. Youth groups are now available to middle school students, and are great opportunities to grow deeper in faith and form positive friendships. It is unnecessary to use Confirmation as the “go to” for grace and love in times of need. Confirmation is so much more, and should only be received when one feels truly ready.
Confirmation is a deeply spiritual experience that requires thought and meditation beyond the capabilities or desires of young teenagers. A study done by psychologist Lawrence Kohlberg in 1969 showed that almost seventy-five percent of all people will remain in a conventional level of thinking, based on conformity to society, throughout their entire lives. Only twenty-five percent will move on to a level in which they apply their own morals and principles to their reasoning, and will not reach this level until the age of sixteen! This proves that most adolescents going into Confirmation have no idea what they really believe for themselves. They are not psychologically capable of making the commitment to the Lord that Confirmation is asking them to make! They need three or four more years to mature and explore what they are interested in. If they already know they are interested in the Catholic faith, then they need the extra three or four years to learn and grow deeper in their relationship with God before they make the full commitment to him. The Sacrament of Confirmation brings a heavy responsibility, yet a wonderful reward to whomever wishes to receive it. This concept is hard to understand; therefore, the commitment is hard to make, especially at a young age.
Confirmation is conventionally given to thirteen or fourteen year old students who may not understand their faith and the lasting grace they are receiving. Faith is a gift from God, given to everyone, yet many people have not willingly received the gift or have yet to discover it. Consequently, the meaning of Confirmation is taken away. Some students only take it because their parents are strong in faith and have felt the duty to raise their children Catholic. Some students go through the sacrament because they see all of their classmates going through with it, and would it not be so much easier to conform than to go through the trouble of making an exception? Although many of the students have a deep longing for a relationship with God and feel ready for the commitment, many students do not. As Joseph Martos, a sacramental historian at Bellarmine University in Louisville, KY, said, “Unless people, when they’re confirmed, are actually making a passage in their life… then there isn’t any meaning in the sacrament of confirmation, because the meaning comes from what’s going on in the person’s life at the time.” A person’s knowledge and desire, or lack thereof, in receiving Confirmation has a very strong affect on the meaning the sacrament holds, in the same way that a person who had never heard music and had no desire to would experience hearing a symphony differently than a person who had a great knowledge and appreciation of music. Because that person lacks understanding or desire, the symphony sounds like noise that needs to end soon. To the person receiving Confirmation with a lack of understanding and desire, the sacrament looks like a single event or a process to go through. Because the music lover has a knowledge and appreciation for it, the symphony sounds like a beautiful melody that will play over and over inside one’s head for days. To the person receiving Confirmation with a deep knowledge and love of the faith, the sacrament is a journey and a gift that will last until death. Faith is a gift, and unless it is sought and developed before receiving the sacrament of Confirmation, the sacrament will hold no meaning.
Finally, once the age of conformity and conventional thinking passes, there comes an age of rebellious nature. At this age, teens will want to believe anything other than what their parents are asking them to believe. Many stop going to Mass and praying. They consider themselves atheists or Buddhists or whatever else they can think of that is not the common “Catholic” or “Christian.” This is why Confirmation should not be offered at the ages of fifteen or sixteen either. Students need time to pass this stage, and figure out what they want in life. They need time to mature so that they can form clear values and morals for themselves. As stated in the Catechism, “Confirmation is sometimes called the sacrament of Christian maturity.” (CCC 1308) The sacrament of Confirmation is supposed to be given to those who are spiritually mature. Once students reach this point of maturity, they will be capable of making a clear decision in faith, and will convert out of rebellion and back to the church. In this conversion, they will seek the Lord in a more special way than they would have if forced into the sacrament at a young age. Going into the sacrament with confidence and excitement sets one up to come out of the sacrament filled with grace and ready to commit to one’s mission for the Lord. This seems like a much better alternative than going into the sacrament blind and unwilling, and coming out of it having been given a special gift of grace, yet not feeling ready or willing to give back to the Lord.
It would be best for students to wait until a more mature age to receive the sacrament of Confirmation, giving them more time to prepare and to decide if it is what they truly want. Although they face many hardships during early adolescent years, and can easily make decisions for themselves at an early age, Confirmation is more than just a gift of grace or a simple decision between two different cereals. Confirmation is a commitment to live a life of faith in God and to live out the faith in love, service, prayer, and in every aspect of life. This concept may not be easy to grasp in adolescence, especially because of certain patterns of psychological development. To ensure that the sacrament is received willingly and knowledgeably, it is necessary that time is allowed for maturity before the sacrament is given.