The Ecclesiastical Province of Detroit, comprising the Archdiocese of Detroit and the six dioceses in the State of Michigan, is a microcosm of the U.S. when it comes to the Sacrament of Confirmation.
Two of the dioceses in the Province of Detroit – Saginaw and Gaylord – have restored the traditional order. The Archdiocese of Detroit and the three other dioceses have not. One diocese – Marquette – implemented the restored order from 2003 to 2009 but then reversed direction. So within the Province, all within the state of Michigan, there is disparity when it comes to receiving the Sacrament of Confirmation:
- Saginaw – First Eucharist and Confirmation in second grade;
- Gaylord — First Eucharist and Confirmation in second or third grade;
- Marquette – First Eucharist in second grade, Confirmation in the grade 11;
- Kalamazoo – First Eucharist in second grade, Confirmation in grades 7 to 10;
- Grand Rapids – First Eucharist in second grade, Confirmation in the grade eight;
- Lansing – First Eucharist in second grade, Confirmation in grade eight or older, preferably no later than tenth grade;
- Detroit – First Eucharist in second grade, Confirmation in the grades 7 through 10.
Diocese of Saginaw
The Diocese of Saginaw, Mich., was the very first diocese in the U.S to restore the traditional order. It did so in 1995. Peg McEvoy, Coordinator of Faith Formation for the diocese, did not work in the diocesan offices when the change to the restored order was made, so she unfortunately has “little historical perspective” on how or why the change was made.
Since the restored order was put in place, however, said McEvoy, Catholic children prepare for and usually receive Reconciliation, Confirmation and Eucharist in one program/school year. This is usually in the second grade. Prior to restoring the traditional order in Saginaw, young Catholics received the Sacrament of Confirmation in high school.
There has not been any kind of comprehensive study done regarding the impact of the change in the diocese, said McEvoy. She adds, however, that Bishop Cistone, who passed away last October, commented on how the restored order had fared in the diocese, in a pastoral letter in 2011, “A Future Full of Hope.”
In his letter, Bishop Cistone recalled that Bishop Untener announced his intention to restore the traditional order in Saginaw in 1991. A handful of parishes were authorized to make the change in 1992-93. This was so the diocese and other parishes in the diocese could learn from their experiences.
A Stipulation and a Caution
Bishop Cistone pointed out that Bishop Untener had “outlined a process of gradually establishing this practice within the parishes, a process which, he stated, would include a team (or teams) available to parishes to help design youth ministry tailor made to the particular parish (or cluster of parishes). The Bishop then added a stipulation that is readily acknowledged by parish leaders today: Once we have effective youth ministry in place throughout the Diocese, and have taken the time to prepare the people for yet another change, we can restore the order of the Sacraments.”
Bishop Cistone also noted, “Bishop Untener concluded his announcement with this caution: So let’s restore the traditional order. But let’s set the establishment of successful youth ministry as a stepping stone toward the achievement of that goal. Moving Confirmation out of high school only when there is a youth ministry program that can stand on its own seems to make more sense than moving it and creating a vacuum. Bishop Untener presented a clear program.”
Faith Formation Still a Concern
For various reasons, however, as Bishop Cistone acknowledged, the youth ministry program(s) that Bishop Untener envisioned “did not take root in most parishes.” As a result said Bishop Cistone, he revisited the “issue regarding the age of Confirmation with our Presbyteral Council with the suggestion that we might consider postponing the reception of the sacrament to an older age. It was a good discussion, which ended with the proposition that, rather than initiate an age change once again, we might first revisit the original plan, concentrating efforts to develop youth ministry, formation and education.”
Continued faith formation for the children in the diocese is still a concern, however. As Bishop Cistone noted, “There are obvious consequences to the current practice. Some teachers of religion find it difficult to teach three sacraments in one year to these young children: Penance, Confirmation and Eucharist. In some cases, children are not properly introduced to the Sacrament of Penance. Of greatest concern is that, for many of our children, the reception of the Sacraments of Confirmation and Holy Eucharist marks the end of their formal Catholic education.”
Diocese of Gaylord
The Diocese of Gaylord, Mich., restored the order in 2001. Policies upholding and defining the restoration were finalized by 2003.
According to Wayne Winter, Director of Faith Formation & Evangelization for Gaylord, “Our bishop at the time, Most Reverend Patrick Cooney, was a liturgist. He made it a focus to investigate and study the restored order. The conclusion of the study was to move the Diocese of Gaylord in that direction.
“Overall, the majority of the diocese was in favor, and still supports the change. Bishop Cooney was very good at organizing a massive catechesis throughout the diocese. All priests, deacons, and catechetical leaders had to attend mandated trainings.”
Once the training was completed, “parish Sacramental Preparation groups were formed. Their first task was to catechize the parishioners. After this stage was completed, the Sacramental Preparation groups began forming formation teams for the actual Sacramental Preparation process. Bishop Cooney even organized and distributed videos to all the parishes where popular theologians, liturgists, canon lawyers, and others specializing in the sacraments were interviewed.”
Since the restored order was put into effect, says Winter, “Children now receive both Sacraments at the third grade level, but there are a couple parishes whose model falls on second grade. The Sacraments are given during the same liturgy following the new Rite of Confirmation within the new Translation of the Roman Missal. So, Confirmation is first, right after the Homily. First Eucharist happens, of course, during the Eucharistic Liturgy.”
“As far as years of formation, our model does not end, but, rather is broken up in to age groups. So, Faith Formation is grades Pre-K through fifth grade. In sixth grade they began Middle School Youth Ministry which goes through their eighth grade year. Ninth grade through twelfth grade is High School Youth Ministry. At Age eighteen through thirty-eight, we consider them in Young Adult Ministry. After that, it’s Adult Ministry.”
Parental Involvement was Key
The 2007 economic recession had a big impact on the auto industry and so too, on manufacturing and industry in the Gaylord Diocese. But prior to this, said Winter, “across our twenty-one counties within our territory, there was an increase in formation programs. Studying our statistics through the years, our conclusion is that one of our Diocesan Policies led to this result.
“Bishop Cooney, and the Faith Formation Council at the time, mandated that three years of Sacramental Formation should take place outside of regular Faith Formation and Catholic Schools. Each of the three years is required to have at least fifteen hours of Sacramental Formation. Five of those fifteen hours must incorporate formation with parents. The formation with the parents is what led to the success. Parents were and are formed while their children are young on the importance of the Sacraments and their continued participation and formation with their children.”
Winter noted that the diocese also saw an increase in weekend Mass attendance prior to the recession. But most surprising perhaps was that “The average youth ministry participation tripled after the order was restored. The concrete example is the National Catholic Youth Conference (NCYC). Prior to restoring the order, the diocese was lucky if we could fill a 55 passenger bus. After the order was restored, the diocese was bringing two buses within the first two years. By year five, the Diocese of Gaylord was bringing three buses. If not for the increase in cost, we would have had four buses go to the NCYC in 2017.”
Diocese of Marquette
The Diocese of Marquette restored the order in 2003 but then struggled to implement the restored order. In 2009 the diocese reversed the implementation. In all likelihood, according to Denise Foye, Director of Catechesis and Adult Faith Formation for Marquette, restoring the order did not work out due to the sudden and untimely death of the director who was overseeing the implementation.
According to Foye, the traditional order “was originally restored during the Most Reverend James H. Garland’s episcopacy [1992 – 2005] after a committee was formed to consider returning to the ancient order. It was to be done concurrently with the introduction of intergenerational catechesis and efforts to engage in a more comprehensive form of youth ministry. Unfortunately, the director of the department charged with these efforts died very suddenly and had not yet revealed her full plan for implementation. Needless to say the introduction and implantation of the restored order did not go as envisioned.”
Consequently the next Bishop of Marquette, “the Most Reverend Alexander K. Sample (now Archbishop of Portland in Oregon) after much prayer and consultation stopped the reception of Confirmation at the Mass of First Holy Eucharist.
“The majority of Marquette parishes did implement the restored order but they also struggled with it, most likely due to the lack of a comprehensive plan. Parents in Marquette, as in most other parishes in the U.S., still viewed Confirmation as ‘a graduation’,” said Foye, “and therefore, it negatively impacted our parish programs.”
Dioceses of Kalamazoo & Grand Rapids
According to George Dragan, Associate Director of Catechetics and Youth Ministry in the Diocese of Kalamazoo, “Our diocese has an age range for Confirmation and not one set age. That age range is between 12 and 16 (7th-10th grade).” Dragan said there has not been any discussion within the diocese about restoring the traditional order and the diocese is “not currently planning on making any changes to current order of the Sacraments of Initiation.”
Similarly, in Grand Rapids, “The bishop prefers to have children Confirmed when they are in 8th grade, so at ages 12 to 13,” said Sr. Barbara Cline, FSE, Director of Faith Formation for the diocese.
Sr. Barbara said as far as she knows there is no discussion taking place within the diocese to change the age for Confirmation. “But of course the person in charge is always the last to know!” she joked.
Diocese of Lansing
In the Diocese of Lansing, according to Timothy Carpenter, Director of Religious Education, “The policy for the age of Confirmation in the Diocese of Lansing is that ‘Candidates are to be in grade eight or older, preferably no later than tenth grade.’ This has been in place for some time, and Bishop Boyea, our current ordinary, has continued this policy.
“Of course,” adds Carpenter, “there is much talk among folks in ministry about ‘what is the proper age?’ for Confirmation. The Diocese of Lansing is no different. But rather than focusing on age as a determining factor, we are attempting to form people to think about Confirmation like it is described in Canon Law and the Catechism of the Catholic Church. This places the emphasis on desire, disposition, and the effects of the sacrament. This should get us thinking more about how the person should be formed properly so that the graces of the sacrament are effective, rather than focusing on age, which generally leads to treating Confirmation like a ‘rite of passage’ for all, regardless of their disposition.
“We haven’t worked it all out and we continue to discuss the issue. The Bishop has, however, indicated that he has no plans to change the policy about age other than to loosen up the clause, ‘. . . preferably no later than tenth grade.’ He has agreed to allow us to open it up to any time after 8th grade.”
Archdiocese of Detroit
Currently in the Archdiocese of Detroit, Confirmation is administered to young Catholics between the ages of 11 and 15. However, three parishes in the Archdiocese ‘experimented’ with the Restored Order back in the 1990’s. But, according to Sr. Kathleen Matz CDP, Associate Director Office of Catechesis, “All three parishes discontinued the pilot program because the young children had a tendency not to return to Religious Formation after receiving the Sacrament of the Eucharist.”
Nonetheless the Archdiocese is making plans to take a look at what is the best age for the Sacrament of Confirmation.
“There is an action step in [Archbishop Vigneron’s] pastoral letter, Unleash the Gospel, Action Step 1.1.2, that calls for a re-examination of the Sacrament of Confirmation,” said Sr. Kathleen.
The plan calls for not only looking the what is the best age for Confirmation but also what forums are best suited the celebration of the sacrament and what forms of youth and young adult formation should follow Confirmation.