It’s pretty common practice that you’re baptized when you’re born, you receive first communion when you’re about eight, along with confession, then confirmation sometimes during the high school years, making clear it’s role as a sacrament of maturity. A time to break away from your parents, and make the faith your own.
Now that’s all fine and dandy, but guess what: it’s dead wrong.
Confirmation is not a sacrament of maturity, and has nothing to do with making the faith your own. If that were the case, those eastern rite babies would seriously miss out, since they are chrismated (confirmed) directly following baptism.
I would contend that the sacrament of confirmation is one of the least understood sacraments. Everyone knows baptism washes away our original sin, and brings us into the church. Holy orders changes a man to be an alter christus, to offer sacrifice on our behalf. Through confession, our sins are washed away, and we can begin again. And marriage… well, it’s marriage. Have a bunch of kids and try to get them all into heaven. Everyone already knows all this.
But with confirmation, there are so many false meanings floating around out there. Some think it’s some sort of “sacrament of maturity,” a Catholic bar mitzvah, of sorts. Some think it’s a moment to take the faith as your own. And sadly, some even think of it as not much more than a graduation from the RE program, and [gasp!] from the ranks of altar servers.
But really, it’s tied to baptism. It is a fulfillment of the graces of baptism. Some have said it “perfects the seal of baptism.” It is our sending fourth to be soldiers for Christ, which is the reason some bishops, including my own, offer a slight slap on the cheek for the young men after they are anointed.
Many of the misperceptions surrounding this sacrament seem to flow from it’s timing in late high school. This all leads into my next point, the ordering of the sacraments. Stay tuned for Part II…