Sacrament confirms baptism - Catholic Courier

Sacrament confirms baptism

The sacrament of confirmation is exactly what it sounds like — the confirmation of an individual’s baptism and initiation into the Catholic Church, noted Father Richard Farrell, pastor at St. Mary Southside Parish in Elmira.

Similarly, the 1983 Revised Code of Canon Law refers to the sacrament as a renewal and deepening of the baptismal commitment, through which people receive the Holy Spirit, deepen their faith, become full members of the church and are called to witness to their faith.

“The sacrament of confirmation impresses a character, and by it the baptized, continuing on the path of Christian initiation, are enriched by the gift of the Holy Spirit and bound more perfectly to the Church; it strengthens them and obliges them more firmly to be witnesses to Christ by word and deed and to spread and defend the faith,” the code states.

Parishes usually help their teens and children prepare to receive the Holy Spirit by teaching them about reverence, courage, understanding, wonder and awe, knowledge, right judgment and wisdom — the gifts of the Holy Spirit. Those preparing for confirmation also learn about love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control — the fruits of the Holy Spirit. Preparation also includes instruction about the signs and symbols of the ritual, including light, oil and water, said Sister of St. Joseph Karen Dietz, coordinator of sacramental catechesis for the Diocese of Rochester.

“We want them just to understand the Holy Spirit and (what happens) when you let the Holy Spirit into your heart and your life,” said Mary Haas, faith-formation administrator at Holy Trinity Parish in Webster.

Although the core material of parish confirmation-preparation programs is the same throughout the diocese, program particulars vary slightly from parish to parish. For example, each child preparing to be confirmed at St. James Parish in Trumansburg is expected to prepare a report about the saint whose name he or she has chosen to take as a confirmation name, said Barbara Willers, religious-education director at the parish.

The newly confirmed aren’t simply initiated into their own parishes alone, however. They become full members of the larger Catholic Church, Haas noted. To emphasize that point, last spring the Diocese of Rochester began requiring all parishes within a 45-minute driving distance to hold their confirmation celebrations at the newly renovated Sacred Heart Cathedral, and that practice will continue again this year, Sister Dietz said.

Although some families at Holy Trinity at first grumbled when they heard the sacrament would be celebrated at the cathedral instead of at their own parish, most people eventually warmed up to the idea, Haas said. Several people were afraid there wouldn’t be adequate parking or seating at the cathedral, but that didn’t turn out to be a problem. In fact, there have been seats left during most of the confirmations held at the cathedral so far, Sister Dietz said.

And the quality of the liturgy won many Holy Trinity parishioners over, Haas added. “It was absolutely beautiful,” she said. “I heard a lot of them saying … they were so glad they came.”

The liturgy’s beauty aside, the trip to the cathedral also helped the confirmands realize that they are part of a much larger community of Catholics. Many of the children had never seen the cathedral before, and some had never even heard of it, Haas said.

Celebrating the sacrament at a central location isn’t the only change that has been made to the confirmation-preparation process in recent years, Sister Dietz said. Children are often being confirmed at a younger age, as more parishes begin to follow the “restored order” of administering the sacraments (see related story on page B3) and to restructure their confirmation, youth-ministry and religious-education programs in an effort to keep the newly confirmed involved in their parishes.

Readiness, not age

Until the 1990s, most people in this diocese were in their early teens when they were confirmed. Now, however, there is no longer an average age for those preparing to make their confirmation, Sister Dietz said. Confirmation — like the other sacraments — is administered based on the readiness of the recipient, meaning that it is open to anyone who is at least 7, which is known as the age of discretion, and who has expressed a desire and readiness to be confirmed.

Although the sacrament is open to younger children, most of the candidates at Our Lady of the Snow Parish — formerly the Northern Cayuga Cluster — tend to be about 15, said Walter Sheehan, religious-education coordinator. Most confirmation candidates at Webster’s Holy Trinity are between 10 and 12 years old and have already made their first Communion. But each year, a handful of younger children are confirmed and make their first Communion at the same time, Haas said.

“I believe that the Holy Spirit doesn’t care how old you are; that the Holy Spirit can come to you in whatever shape, way or form is appropriate to you at that time,” Haas said. “Obviously a 7-year-old is not going to understand confirmation (in) the same way as an 18-year-old, but they’ll get it.”

Most confirmation candidates from St. Mary Southside are about 7 and are confirmed the same day they make their first Communion, Father Farrell said. When the parish began following the restored order several years ago, a few parents initially thought their children were too young to fully understand the sacrament. Father Farrell disagreed, however, noting that if children can understand the concepts behind the Eucharist, they can understand confirmation.

“At that age they’re excited about their faith and they’re interested in it. It’s a wonderful age to capture that and to teach them about the Holy Spirit and the Eucharist. They grasp more than we think,” Father Farrell said.

Not a ‘graduation’

Confirming children at a younger age also sends a powerful message to both the children and their parents, Father Farrell said. In the past, confirmation has sometimes been thought of as a “graduation” from religious education, but he said it’s ridiculous to think a confirmed second-grader would be done learning about his or her faith.

“This is a beginning. There is no end,” he said. “This is going to be a lifelong learning process, because obviously a 7-year-old doesn’t know everything about the church.”

Sheehan also tries to correct the misconception that children and adults alike ever really stop learning about their faith.

“Many people think (confirmation) makes us an adult in the church. I try to dispel that,” Sheehan said. “Yes, it gives you full membership, but it is also the beginning step to a lifelong journey of faith formation.”

Newly confirmed children and teens at Our Lady of the Snow and St. James parishes are encouraged to continue attending Mass regularly and to find ways to become actively involved in the life of the parish. Sheehan also encourages them to help with faith-formation classes and, especially, with the next crops of confirmation candidates.

“There’s nothing better for a young kid than being able to see another kid that’s been through it and is helping them,” he said.

Confirmation candidates used to have to complete a certain number of community-service hours, but the diocese removed that requirement in 1997, Sister Dietz said, preferring parishes to build service components into their regular youth-ministry and faith-formation programs.

Just as Catholics should never stop learning, they should also never stop serving each other the way Jesus did. By removing the requirement, diocesan officials hope kids will get the message that service isn’t something you do for a short time just because you have to, but something you do all the time because you want to.

“You’re being confirmed into a way of life,” Sister Dietz said.

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