Are some kids more in need of the graces of Confirmation at an earlier age than others? Or is it that some children are ready to be sealed with the Holy Spirit at age 7 while others are not ready until they are 13, 14 or even older?
The answer to the first question is most likely ‘no.’ We all need as much grace as God gives us. The answer to the second question, however, is not so cut and dried.
There is an obvious and laudable desire on the part of those responsible in the dioceses for developing meaningful and impactful Religious Education / Faith Formation programs. Their goal is to make sure young Catholics receive a good grounding in the Catholic Faith before they are Confirmed. And the task is complicated. They have to devise curriculums for parochial school religious education programs as well as programs for parishes without parochial schools. In parishes without parochial schools, religious education programs have to be held in the late afternoon, in the evening, or on weekends.
And whether Confirmation takes place in second grade, eighth grade or high school, the idea that Confirmation is ‘Catholic graduation’ for many parents whose children are not in a parochial school is still very real.
Religious Education is Necessary
A number of Popes have affirmed that parents are responsible for teaching the faith to their children. Too often, however, parents avoid that responsibility, for any number of reasons. For instance, parents sometimes feel they do not know enough to adequately teach their children about the faith. In such instances they are more than happy to have the parish and volunteer Catechists do the job. So diocesan and parochial school religious education and parish Faith Formation programs are needed.
Many of these programs, however, are behind the times. They are denying children the full impact of God’s graces and the gifts of the Holy Spirit. What if a good and devout child is ready to be Confirmed at 7 or 8 years of age, receive the Holy Spirit, and become a full-fledged member of the Church Militant? If the child lives in a diocese or archdiocese in the U.S. that has not yet restored the order of the Sacraments of Initiation, the child is essentially being told, “sorry, you are not yet ready; you don’t know enough about your faith to be Confirmed.” But the child was already Baptized into the Catholic Faith as an infant – the child already is a Catholic. So why deprive him or her of the “the reception of the sacrament of Confirmation [which is] necessary for the completion of baptismal grace” until he or she is a teenager?
Religious Education in the U.S.
A couple years ago I wrote a two-part article on the state of Catholic Religious Education in the U.S. (part one HERE, part two HERE). In parishes without parochial schools, religious education was then referred to as Continuing Catholic Development (CCD). Not a lot has changed. Instead of calling it CCD it is now called Faith Formation. And every diocese is still free to develop its own religious education curriculum, set its own goals and decide what “the right age” is for Confirmation.
I have a great deal of respect for Directors of Religious Education (DREs) at both diocesan and the parish levels. They have a difficult, demanding, and time consuming job in trying to devise a curriculum that will provide a sound religious education to Catholic children.
The DREs’ task is made even more difficult when parents are unable to, or for some reasons, do not want to enroll their children in a parochial grade school. Devising a religious education program for Catholic children who are attending public schools five days a week is no small feat. The Parish DRE has to line up competent volunteer instructors, come up with a schedule of classes, meet the goals of the diocesan program, and pretty much come up with a program that ‘works for everybody.’ Not an easy task, especially in large parishes.
The task is made even more complicated today since there are two or three generations of Catholic parents that really know very little about Catholic teaching. They are simply unable to provide adequate instruction to their children when it comes to Catholic Doctrine.
Educate the Parents
In the world of corporate training, there is a very effective method for dealing with situations like this. It’s called “train the trainer.” In this instance that means educating Catholic parents on what it means to be Catholic, how to set a good example for their children, and how to instruct their children in how to live as Catholics. This is what the Diocese of Gaylord did. As Winter said, they “catechize[d’ the parishioners.”
“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.”
So first and foremost this means getting the 80 percent of Catholics who don’t attend Mass on Saturday or Sunday, or go to Confession with any regularity, back to doing both. It’s pretty much impossible to expect Catechists to teach young Catholics to live their Faith when those children are not seeing their own parents living their faith.
Some Brainstorming is Needed
I offered some suggestions on how parishes, vicariates, and dioceses might pool resources to address the lack of knowledge about Catholic doctrine and create more vibrant Catholic communities in my article of two years ago, but those suggestions were just the tip of the iceberg. Some creative brainstorming on the part of our Catholic leaders on how to reach the two or three generations of Catholics not living their Faith is called for. Ideally it should take place at a Synodal level. We really need to get our lapsed Catholic brothers and sisters living their Faith, going to Mass, and receiving the Sacraments again.
And let’s restore the order of the Sacraments of Initiation. Let’s make sure our children have all the graces they need before our public schools and secular society starts indoctrinating them with moral relativism and we lose them to moral therapeutic deism. As a recent study points out, many of our young people today stop identifying as Catholic at a median age of 13 and leave the Church. We need to reverse this trend.