The Liturgy

Every year on Pentecost Sunday, Archbishop Jerome Listecki celebrates the Sacrament of Confirmation with Roman Catholic adults. These adults are individuals who have been baptized in a Catholic Church, have received their First Holy Communion, and are now seeking to celebrate their Confirmation at an age that is later than the usual age for Confirmation in the Archdiocese of Milwaukee.

Individuals that fall into this category are different than those who have been baptized in another Christian denomination and now wish to become Catholic. These are people who, for whatever reason — and there are many — were not confirmed at the usual age and now find themselves in a place in life where they need or want to be.

The Sacrament of Confirmation is one of three Sacraments of Initiation — the others being Baptism and Eucharist. In the Archdiocese of Milwaukee, the Sacrament of Confirmation is normally conferred when the candidate has reached the age of 16. Other dioceses may have set a different age. The varying ages of Confirmation in dioceses of the United States is one of the many reasons why an adult may not yet be confirmed. Take, for example, an adolescent of 15 years old, living in a diocese where the confirmation age is 16. Suddenly, the family moves into another diocese where the confirmation age is 12 — or, in a few cases, even as young as the age of reason (7 years old). That 15-year-old may not feel comfortable participating in parish Confirmation preparation programs with younger students. Now, in their mid-20s, they’ve been asked to be a baptismal sponsor, a requirement of which is that they have received all three Sacraments of Initiation.

Another example is sometimes tied to the teenage years of independence-seeking. I must admit, I gave my parents a bit of a run for their money, and one of the ways I could assert my independence during those years was by doing exactly the opposite of what they wanted or expected of me. In nearly 20 years of working in liturgical and sacramental ministry, this is actually a fairly common story about why an adult is now seeking Confirmation.

Sometimes, the structure and dynamics of one’s family change during a child’s growing up years, causing a family to stop coming to church on a regular basis or fall away from the faith entirely for a period of time. There are individuals who find themselves in this situation. They were baptized as an infant, received their First Holy Communion at age 7, and then their families stopped practicing their faith. Now adults, these individuals make their way back to church either on their own, or through the loving support of others, and wish to complete their sacramental initiation.

Some of you may be wondering why hold a liturgy of Confirmation for Adults when Confirmation often takes place at the Easter Vigil.

With the restoration of the Catechumenate after the Second Vatican Council, the Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy, “Sacrosanctum Concilium,” called for a suitable period of instruction that would be sanctified by sacred rites at certain intervals. The Council’s Decree on the Church’s Missionary Activity, “Ad Gentes,” made a similar point in connecting Baptism to the liturgical year: “This is a great need for a reform of the Lenten and Easter liturgy so that it will be a spiritual preparation of the catechumens for the celebration of the paschal mystery, the rites of which will include their being reborn in Christ, through Baptism.”

As a result of these two Conciliar documents, the Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults was developed from the Early Church’s initiation practices. The stages of formation for someone preparing for Baptism were expanded and each stage became marked by specific rites, culminating with the annual celebration of Easter. Thus, the Easter Vigil became the time when the Church initiates new Christians, plunging them into the Paschal Mystery of Christ, and baptizing them in the newly blessed water.

While Confirmation is a Sacrament of Initiation, it doesn’t function in the same way it does when we celebrate it after First Communion. The purpose of Christian Initiation is so an individual can join with us at the table of the Eucharist. If individuals are already receiving Holy Communion, they are already initiated into the royal priesthood and are already able to share in the Eucharist.

The Catechism of the Catholic Church says, “Confirmation perfects Baptismal grace; it is the sacrament which gives the Holy Spirit in order to root us more deeply in the divine filiation, incorporate us more firmly into Christ, strengthen our bond with the Church, associate us more closely with her mission, and help us bear witness to the Christian faith in words accompanied by deeds.” (CCC 1316)

The ordinary minister of Confirmation for a baptized Catholic is a bishop. Only in certain well-defined circumstances can a priest administer the Sacrament of Confirmation to Catholics, and always with the faculty granted him by the bishop. This is because bishops are successors of the apostles. They have received the fullness of the sacrament of Holy Orders, and the conferral of Confirmation by a bishop thus demonstrates that the effect of Confirmation is to unite those who receive it more closely to the Church.

It is for these reasons, and many more, that Archbishop Listecki celebrates Confirmation of Adults on Pentecost Sunday at the Cathedral of St. John the Evangelist.

If you have been reading this article thinking about an adult who has not yet been confirmed, encourage that person to contact their local parish for more information. Maybe that person is you. Whatever the reason why someone has not yet been confirmed, the Church is here to help. Contact your local parish for more information.