Confirmation and Catechesis

There have been discussions recently—here on the site, at home, around the diocese—concerning Confirmation, especially as found within the ’79 BCP.

I’d summarize the standard Western view as “confirmation completes Baptism.”

M’s response, and that of others, is that in the ’79 BCP Baptism doesn’t need completing; it’s already a complete act in and of itself. If this is the case, then it completely changes many of the assumptions that we’ve held about the nature and timing of Confirmation.

  • Reception of the Eucharist is not dependent upon Confirmation: I note that this seems to me to be a bit of Eastern influence, especially as they commune after Baptism as well (I’m thinking particularly small children here). Is there an Eastern corollary to Confirmation? I’m ignorant…
  • Esp. if Reception is not an issues, what about age?: M and I emphatically agree that Confirmation is not a rite of passage based on age. Yes, bar/bat mitzvahs are and they did evolve out of catholic Confirmation practices—but that doesn’t mean that Confirmation is or should be a rite of passage. We also agree that Confirmation is about a “mature public affirmation” of faith. Mature is not 10. Or even 15. We’re thinking that 20’s and 30’s is when “mature” really starts to hit.
  • Catechesis: What’s appropriate and proper? This is where I see the ideal of a 3 year catechumenate making some connection with our context. Not three years, but a decent enough amount of time to give a person a suitable grounding in the faith
  • Sacramental Status: If Baptism is completed in Baptism—which appears to be a clear departure from the current Roman Catholic catechism (“the reception of the sacrament of Confirmation is necessary for the completion of baptismal grace”) does Confirmation remain a Sacrament or sacramental rite? Is there an indelible spiritual mark (section 1304) impressed at Confirmation? Despite the place and authority of the current Roman Catechism, it seems to me there’s quite a bit of waffling going on in this text itself due to both the issues raised by the Liturgical Renewal and the inclusion of non-Latin Rite Christians within the papal fold…

What do you think?

19 thoughts on “Confirmation and Catechesis

  1. bls

    I think Confirmation have a purpose, although perhaps not for much longer, given that Christendom is no more.

    I was baptized as an infant and was actually confirmed, too, when I was about 12, I think, but then immediately left the church and never went back for over 30 years. (Even before the confirmation, I had little interest in the church for itself; I was mainly there to sing in the choir.)

    But when I returned, I was a half-hearted, occasional, attender – until actual conversion of heart, at which point I decided to join the church. And my confirmation (since I was originally confirmed a Methodist) was an adult decision of commitment. I meant to stick at that point, and was no longer “free-riding” (as I saw it, or would have, if I’d thought about it) on my infant baptism.

    I hold with infant baptism, BTW – I didn’t even know this was an issue for some, in fact! – but also think confirmation has a place, as an adult commitment of mind and heart. So I guess in that way it could be said to “complete” Baptism. I think the rite itself should be rewritten, though; as it is, it doesn’t have enough stuff, for my taste.

    (But then, I think we should rewrite the whole ’79 BCP; it’s too cerebral and not excited enough about things, so don’t mind me….)

    So if people continue to baptize infants, I think Confirmation does have a purpose. If Christianity turns towards a mostly-adult-baptisms thing, then maybe not….

  2. Chris

    Brief comment for now … more later, perhaps.

    From my Lutheran vantage point, Baptism is complete in and of itself. Though Confirmation has its origins in the prayer of the Holy Spirit as the final part of the rite of baptism, Baptism and Confirmation have evolved enough to be two related yet distinct rites. In fact, because of this understanding, I wrote a paper in seminary describing how unnecessary Confirmation Ministry would be in a church that has a robust ministry of life-long learning to support baptismal living … The paper was for a course on Youth and Confirmation Ministry, and my professor wasn’t pleased. ;-)

    Confirmation in 20s or 30s? Sure, but those folks are largely absent from our churches! Seriously, I like the idea of a catechumenate-like formation process (that was the focus of my wife’s diss), but for practical reasons I wouldn’t want to lose a rite for adolescents. I believe our young people can and should have public rites of passage in our churches … whether such rites of passage are defined by the tradition of Confirmation or not is less important to me. But from first time serving as an acolyte or lector, to receiving first communion, to making a public profession of faith after a period of study (in a protestant context “Confirmation” need not be a once-and-done thing, but can be repeated!), we need rites – large and small – of passage and initiation for our young people.

  3. Christopher


    M and others are correct about the overall approach in the BCP. Confirmation tends to be the rite searching for a theology, and all of the West is confused on the matter. We’ve tended to lump it as a sacramental rite. Of course, with Newman and the East, I think this numbering game from the Scholastics is not helpful really.

    In short, in the East, an infant is baptized, chrismated (confirmed), and receives Eucharist in one fail swoop, holding to ancient practice both East and West. A baptized infant is a full member of the Body of Christ, and it’s amazing to watch little ones in these traditions learn what to do, like cross themselves and kiss icons, from early on. Formation is by doing at that age.

    Chris is right to note that Confirmation was placed together with the sealing/sending prayer of the Spirit in the earliest rites and is still so today in the East.

    In the West, in N. African and Roman practice, there were two oilings, one before baptism that went with exorcism and usually performed by the presbyter. A second oiling following was performed by the bishop–i.e., what we have come to call Confirmation.

    In E. Syria, the oiling happened first and was a full on oiling, considered the ultimate point of the experience, rather than the water rite, given the emphasis on the Holy Spirit in that tradition.

    Confirmation, the second oiling, got separated from Baptism in the West as dioceses moved away from metropolitical realities to huge rural dioceses in which bishops might make it to a parish once in a lifetime. Hence, the tales of bishops riding through and confirming while on horseback…

    I agree it’s about mature public affirmation and commitment–making baptism one’s own, so to speak. And that a rich catechesis is in order, but it should be happening all along, not just in a scramble for Confirmation. We don’t tend to do that scramble very well or the “all along” either in my observation.

  4. bls

    I’m good with the “Chrismation” idea – in fact, I like it better – but since some people (from other traditions, for instance) will not have been chrismated, wouldn’t then “Chrismation” have to replace “Confirmation” in any case, Christopher?

  5. Vicki McGrath

    My own experience of initiation and formation was classic: baptized as an infant; full spectrum of Sunday School, choir, parish activities with my family, etc. (but not much in the way of prayer at home once I was past the age of five); confirmed in 8th grade; youth group and parish volunteer in high school (assistant Sunday School teacher). I remember next to nothing about my confirmation prep – in part because that was the spring my grandmother died and we were away many weekends to take care of her affairs; but also I think the supply priest who prepared us may not have been comfortable with a group of 8th graders. However, when it came to the actual event, I knew it was a Big Deal – a real commitment to Christ, and some of that came from my wrestling with my grandmother’s death. The fact that a little more than three years later I had my first experience of call to ordained ministry tells me that teenagers are absolutely able to make spiritual commitments, given the right kind of adult wisdom and support. As teens are trying to make sense of themselves and the world and life and God, the Church has an important role to play, even if it just being a companion on the journey.

    I agree that Baptism is complete in and of itself and that confirmation is about maturity and affirmation and owning the baptismal promises. So we need to treat our older teens (ideally at least 10th graders) like this reaaly is their decision. I tell kids and parents right up front that while the parents may insist the kids come to confirmation class, it is the teen’s choice in the end. And I havea private conversation with each kid about 2 weeks before the scheduled service asking them if they want to be confirmed and why. Obviously, not every one can articulate their faith as clearly as others, but it puts the responsibility on them, where it belongs. In 15 years, I only ever had one boy decline, and he was not confirmed (though his parents weren’t happy). But he didn’t drop out of Church, and we left the door open for him to be confirmed later.

    I think the problem with a lot of confirmation curricula is that they assume a lot of knowledge and formation going into confirmation (is they are experiential programs) OR they are very factual and dry and don’t get into what being in a relationship with the Living Christ is all about. In my experience, you have to do some of both, and being willing to take kids where they are, assuming that God is already well at work in their lives – even if they are not always aware of it.


  6. Marshall Scott

    As Christopher has written, so I remember Marion Hatchett describing the thought of the Standing Liturgical Commission in preparing the 1979 Prayer Book. It was a desire to reflect, if not exactly return to, more ancient practice, thought to be better preserved in the Orthodox East than the Roman West. So, my children were baptised and chrismated by bishops (who seemed to think it odd that I didn’t want to do it myself, when I thought it odd that my “pastor” would expect me to be my sons’ priest instead of their father), and so sacramentally “confirmed.”

    We were at the time concerned that the Christian community did need a rite of passage. In those days we thought about not permitting confirmation until age 16. Perhaps it’s not maturity, but it’s the point where the rest of us put our lives in their hands, due to that other great rite of passage: receiving a driver’s license. (Coincidentally – or perhaps not – in many states it’s also the age of legal consent for sexual activity, if not for marriage without parental consent.) In Canons (I.17.1(b)) states, “Members sixteen years of age and over are to be considered adult members;” and (from (c)), “It is expected that all adult members of this Church, after appropriate instruction, will have made a mature public affirmation of their faith and commitment to the responsibilities of their Baptism and will have been confirmed or received by the laying one of hands by a Bishop….” It’s an expectation and not a requirement, and it’s largely not observed until someone is invited to serve on the Vestry or feels called to ordained ministry; but there it is.

    So, although my sons are “confirmed,” were they (D.V.) to seek to participate more fully in the life of the Church they would still need to be received.

  7. Derek the Ænglican

    But that’s the issue, Vicki–even in 10th grade is it really their choice? Neither my brother nor I had a choice. I would have gone even if I hadn’t had to, but at the smae time I would have gotten a whole lot more out of it if it had happened at a later point.

    Why not keep doing engaging Christian formation through high school and allow confirmation whenever folks decide, whether that be 17 or 70?

    Chris, yes, there do need to be rites of passage, but I do think that they should be something other than Confirmation.

  8. Caelius Spinator

    “Perhaps it’s not maturity, but it’s the point where the rest of us put our lives in their hands, due to that other great rite of passage: receiving a driver’s license.”

    I was confirmed when I was 7 after taking the adult Inquirers’ classes at church. They pretty much had run out of Sunday School in my small urban parish and didn’t have many kids my age to encourage them to do much more. The bishop was highly skeptical about confirming me until he met me. I still don’t know what convinced him. They still suggested I take a somewhat more traditional confirmation class a year or two, which I did.

    Then I went to a new parish, where they insisted I take another confirmation class and Re-affirm. Thus, I was baptized, confirmed, and re-affirmed, all before the age of 16. Ten years later, I still don’t have a driver’s licence and know a very small number of cradle Episcopalians my age who are regular communicants.

    The lesson I have taken from all of this is that baptism is sufficient for membership in the Body of Christ. That anyone chrismated in the Episcopal Church or received by the laying of hands of a bishop should be entitled to membership in the Episcopal Church sensu strictu (that’s how I read Hatchett). And that anyone who pledges some extremely nominal sum and regularly communicates should be eligible to vote and/or serve on the vestry when they are of an age permitted by the religious corporation law of the civil power.

    In the end, what kept me engaged in the life of the community and in autocatechesis was being treated like a full member of the community with responsibility for using and developing my gifts in its service. Not the classes, which were mildly interesting to me and rather boring to most of my contemporaries, because they didn’t answer two key questions: (1) why should the Christian Church and the God it proclaims shape my life?; (2) How can I get people in this particular situation not to treat me like a child? A teenager wants to answer these questions in a variety of other contexts, including those that involve the operation of automobiles. (I’m still not quite over the hump with letting the automobile shape my life.)

  9. Erika

    Some of these questions are addressed in the Journey to Adulthood formation program used by many Episcopal parishes. While failing the orthodox theology test in many ways, “J2A” (as it’s called) provides a Rite-13 ceremony around age 13 to acknowledge the bodily changes youth are experiencing (and mirrors the bar mitzva/ bat mitzva), builds in the pilgrimage as a rite of passage in the anthropological sense (youth leave home/parents to take risks and learn the “mysteries” from wise elders who aren’t their parents), and places confirmation later (at least 16) with the expectation that it is the beginning of adult ministry in the church, not an “exit rite.”

    At the parish where I worked, we had a year-long mentoring program (as opposed to a couple Sunday afternoon information cramming sessions) to prepare young adults for confirmation, and our clergy emphasized to the youth that this was their choice and the clergy would back them in any conflicts with parents.(The youth and mentors loved this program. The parents complained mightily because it “took too much time.” I think it’s since been done away with.)

    Baptism was seen as full membership in the Church with confirmation expressing communion with one’s bishop (that is, being an Episcopalian) and an adult assumption of responsibility for promises made on one’s behalf in Baptism.

    It seems that for much of human history, 16 was a reasonable age for marriage, parenthood, work life, running one’s household, etc. Increased standard of living in recent centuries has led us to create the “teenager” and extend this period of responsibility-free adolescence into the 20s and 30s. I’m not in favor of 16 year olds marrying and having kids! (Modern life confers benefits…) But I do think that people this age are facing and wrestling with the real questions and one reason this demographic, and 20s/30s, might be walking away from the church is that they are marginalized and condescended to. (As one who’s been active in church for my 20s and early 30s, I can say from experience that there’s a constant reminder from the baby boomer set that I don’t have enough experience, insight etc. to do “real” work, forgetting that Jesus died at 33…) I think we need to take their insight and struggles seriously and give them, and expect from them, real responsibility (and expect that their parents acknowledge this, too).

    I find my 2 cents became at least $1.47!

  10. Christopher

    As I noted of small children in the Eastern Churches, this from our own Caelius needs to be the heart of the matter:

    “what kept me engaged in the life of the community and in autocatechesis was being treated like a full member of the community with responsibility for using and developing my gifts in its service.”

    We in the West have acted as if classes only are the heart of the matter. But doing coupled with teaching is at the heart. Teaching a small child to dip her hands in the font and make the Sign of the Cross is a way of teaching appropriate to her age. Teaching the Lord’s Prayer…etc.

  11. Vicki McGrath


    I agree with you that a lot of parishes don’t know what to do with people in their 20’s. I spent my first year out of college at a parish where I was nearly invisible because of my age – that was from the people, not the priest. For a number of reasons I moved parishes (and neighborhoods). My new parish had a wonderful fellowship group that ranged in aged from just-post-college to about 40, and a great deal of social and ethnic diversity within that group. But the experience of having had my contributions as a high school student and as a college student honored and valued (in 2 different parishes)and then going to a city parish that didn’t know what to do with a 22 year old was both confusing and disheartening.

    I guess getting back to Derek’s original question – how do we continue to do real Christian formation for middle and high school students that honors their gifts and abilities? It needs to include their desire to have their world be meaningful and connected to God, and to respect their contributions to the life of the community.

    So where confirmation ends up in all of this, I do not know.

  12. Bill Carroll

    I think that Ruth Meyers’ Continuing the Reformation is required reading on this point.

    We should have a service of Reaffirmation, but should not require it for any office or order in the Church. Baptism is full Christian Initiation by water and the Holy Spirit. No other rite is required. Everything that is useful about confirmation is captured in reaffirmation.

  13. rick allen

    I suppose I would caution that, if confirmation is truly a sacrament (and I’m not sure if Anglicans uniformly consider it one), then it should not be transformed into something that it is not.

    So, whatever the difference between Eastern and Western practice, there is agreement that confirmation is the sealing of the Holy Spirit, and not an adult re-affirmation of infant baptism.

    This notion of looking to it as a rite of passage to adulthood, or as a liturgical counterpart to the evangelical “decision for Christ” so important to our Baptist friends, is certainly understandable. But it is not the catholic tradition, if that is an important consideration.

  14. Derek the Ænglican


    That’s one of my issues with the current discussion in the Episcopal Church. Since Confirmation *was* separated from Baptism in the West it took on a form that, I believed, morphed into a rite of passage.

    The best way to understand the current Episcopal Baptismal rite is that, “Confirmation generally comprise[s] one single celebration with Baptism, forming with it a ‘double sacrament,’ according to the expression of St. Cyprian” in the words of the Roman Catechism. As I see it, then, a proper baptism according to the 79 BCP falls within the requirements of the catholic tradition.

    If this is the case, then the sacramental act has already been completed as part of the baptismal act and the rite entitled “Confirmation” is no longer a sacramental rite and is therefore mislabeled.

    What, then, should happen to it and what is its connection with catechesis?

  15. rick allen

    “What, then, should happen to it and what is its connection with catechesis?”

    I don’t know how it works with Episcopalians, but my impression is that the Catholic Church’s strategy these late years has been to use the sacraments to, so to speak, coerce catechesis.

    So, if you’re going to get married, you must go to Pre-Cana classes. If you are going to baptize your child, you must go to baptism classes.

    This is good and bad. Those wanting to enter into marriage should certainly give it a little more thought than young people in love are accustomed to do. Those baptizing children should realize that it isn’t “water magic,” but a promise to raise their children in a faith that they should at least have the rudiments of.

    In the same way, Confirmation, for teenagers, at least, is usually conditioned on a year’s participation in the “youth group,” helping with a particular Sunday liturgy, weekly discussions of religious and moral issues, doing a few community projects together, etc. My son was happy to do it–not too thrilled, but he wanted to be confirmed. My daugher, though she considers herself Catholic, audibly groans at the thought of attending mass (I reiterate, she is a teenager), and though she’d like to be confirmed, she’s not much of a joiner, and doesn’t want to get involved in any youth group. And so though I am happy to gently compel her to come to mass (assuring her that in a few years she will be totally free to act as she pleases), I don’t feel I should push confirmation, which at her age I think should be her choice, and a part of me wishes that the catechetical part weren’t a condition, even knowing that it would be good for her, and that, if she desires it, later, she could be confirmed at any time as an adult.

  16. John-Julian, OJN

    I sat in as a consultant on the BCP’79 commission discussions concerning Confirmation. The vast majority of liturgical scholars were pretty much in favor of doing away with “sacramental” Confirmation altogether, but the on-the-ground parish practitioners felt that was too drastic a step to take. I think the general hope was that Confirmation would gradually fade away (i.e., as it was re-united with the improved Baptismal rite and its Chrismation made clear).

    And I sincerely hope that will happen. Confirmation floats around now as a theological oddity, and it will be a good day IMHO when a separate and clear rite of Reaffirmation is used (without so-called Confirmation “contaminating” that liturgy). I don’t see the point of keep trying to keep Confirmation tied to Reaffirmation.

  17. Kristen

    I feel deeply that confirmation as a sacrament is very important to the Christian life on a number of levels. If we take seriously the idea of the apostolic succession, it is in the laying on of hands by the bishop that this is passed on to the laity in a chain going back to Christ’s commission of the twelve. Thus the time of making a mature oath of fealty to God is also the time of receiving His commission to serve Him, taking up the “priesthood of all believers.” This constitutes a separate movement from baptism and has a different nature. In baptism, especially infant baptism, we receive God’s grace utterly passively. We bring nothing to God in it but our sin and are killed and raised in Christ a new person. God does everything. In confirmation, on the other hand, insofar as we are capable of offering God anything of ourselves, we actively pledge to Him the faith and loyalty that, before His restoration of our fallen nature in baptism, we were totally incapable of giving. Far from making it unnecessary, baptism makes confirmation possible. Although the same vows are repeated in both rites, it is with different intents, and these are clear in the BCP in the prayers that follow the covenant: in the one we seek cleansing and acceptance into the Body of Christ; in the other we present ourselves for work. So that’s my sacramental theology!

    I think it is a great disservice to children to allow them to be confirmed before they are ready. 17 or 18 at the youngest is not unreasonable. I was confirmed as an apostate Methodist teenager, not because my parents required it of me, but because my younger brother and sister were to be confirmed, and if I wasn’t, I thought it would be obvious that I no longer believed and that disappointing my parents with the truth would be far worse than perjuring myself before God. When I did return to the faith, this was a great grief to me, and I would have been glad of someone standing in my way at the time and impressing on me just how serious the sacrament is. When I was confirmed later as an Episcopalian, I needed something more than a reaffirmation; I felt a strong call to serve God, and I knew I could not do it without that assurance of His special grace.

  18. Derek the Ænglican

    Kristen, the public mature acceptance is not something that want to lose either. But it seems that’s different from the sacramental rite.

    I do this a complicated topic…

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