A ZENIT DAILY DISPATCH
When Youngsters Request Confirmation
ROME, 29 AUG. 2006 (ZENIT)
Answered by Father Edward McNamara, professor of liturgy at the Regina Apostolorum university.
Q: Several girls around 10 years of age, on their own initiative, have asked parents to take them to receive the sacrament of confirmation. They know their catechism and when asked why they wished to be confirmed, responded that they wanted the graces of Confirmation and the seven gifts of the Holy Spirit so that they might use them to be holier. The parents made two unsuccessful attempts, through different avenues, to get their daughters into a confirmation ceremony of the local ordinary. A pastor denied confirmation through a parish ceremony, saying that the girls are too young (despite the parents' informing the pastor of the canons which grant the right to the sacrament at the age of reason). And a school official denied confirmation through a school ceremony, saying that the girls are not enrolled nor the relative of an enrolled student. What should the parents do? — V.F., New England
A: This difficulty of well-catechized children spontaneously asking for confirmation even though diocesan policy requires a higher age is increasing in many places.
I suggest that you request an appointment with the local bishop, or another diocesan official with the necessary authority, who can assess the children's free desire and adequate formation and thus arrange for the confirmation to take place.
If met with resistance, the parents, or a canonist who assists them, could point out a December 1999 protocol letter from the Congregation of Divine Worship to an English-speaking (and probably American) bishop on this theme. The letter (protocol No. 2607/98/L) was published in the congregation's official organ, Notitiae, in 1999, pages 537-540.
The case is almost exactly parallel, in that the bishop denied an 11-year-old girl confirmation because diocesan policy held confirmation in sophomore year.
We shall now quote a major portion of this letter:
"In light of Your Excellency's considered response, this Dicastery considers it necessary to respond in some detail to the considerations you raise, and so the case was submitted to a renewed and attentive examination. The Congregation was anxious to communicate the results of this study as soon as possible asking you to note the authoritative nature of the conclusions contained therein ...."
After clarifying that the Vatican congregation does have authority to examine the bishop's decision not to allow the confirmation, the letter proceeds:
"In reply to this Congregation's decision that appropriate steps be taken to provide for the girl's confirmation in the near future, Your Excellency had proposed essentially two arguments:
"1. Though willingly admitting that the girl is well instructed and that her parents are very good Catholics, you point out that 'instruction is not the sole criterion for recognizing the opportune time for confirmation ... this evaluation is a pastoral one which involves much more than being instructed.'
"2. Your Excellency indicates that the Diocesan Policy establishing that conferral of the Sacrament is to be no earlier than the sophomore year of high school is within the right inherent in the law in light of the legislation complementary to can. 891 for the Conference of Bishops to which you belong.
"With respect to Your Excellency's first point, it is no doubt true that there is a pastoral judgment to be made in such cases, provided that by 'pastoral judgment' one is speaking of the obligation of the Sacred Pastors to determine whether those elements required by the revised Code of Canon Law are indeed present, namely, that the person be baptized, have the use of reason, be suitably instructed and be properly disposed and able to renew the baptismal promises (cf. cann 843,1; 889,2) ... it is clear this young girl has satisfied each of the canonical requisites for reception of the sacrament."
In regard to the second point, while the selection of an older age for confirmation is within the bishop's right, the congregation goes on to say:
"[I]t is also clear that any such complementary legislation must always be interpreted in accord with the general norm of law. As has been stated before, the Code of Canon Law legislates that Sacred Ministers may not deny the Sacraments to those who are not prohibited by law from receiving them (cf. can 843,1). Since it has been demonstrated that the girl possesses these requisite qualities, any other considerations, even those contained in the Diocesan Policy, need to be understood in subordination to the general norms governing the reception of the Sacraments."
After pointing out that it is the role of parents as the primary educators, and then of the sacred pastors to see that children are properly instructed, the letter adds:
"Consequently, when a member of the faithful wishes to receive this Sacrament, even though not satisfying one or more elements of the local legislation (for example, being younger than the designated age ...), these elements must give way to the fundamental right of the faithful to receive the Sacraments. Indeed, the longer the conferral of the Sacrament is delayed after the age of reason, the greater the number of candidates who are prepared for its reception but are deprived of its grace for a considerable period of time."
The letter concludes with the Vatican congregation insisting to the bishop that the girl be given the opportunity for confirmation as soon as possible.
Since the mind of the Holy See has been made manifestly clear, most bishops or diocesan officials would be happy to arrange for the confirmation provided the necessary conditions are met.
It is important to point out that the congregation made no evaluation as to the wisdom of this, or any other, bishop's decision to designate an older age for confirmation. Such a decision may be pastorally advisable taking into account the general situation of religious formation and catechesis within the dioceses.
Such a designation, however, should not be a straitjacket, that would deprive a sufficiently well-formed young member of the faithful, who freely requests it, the right to receive the sacrament. ZE06082927
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