By Emily Shull
Did you know that the age of Confirmation is set by the bishop in each diocese? It can be set any time from the “age of reason” (seven) though high school. You may have been confirmed at a different age than your kids or have had a family member from another diocese who was confirmed in middle school. All those variations of age are because of this discretion given to each bishop.
Our diocese will begin a transition over the next four years to move the Confirmation age from 11th grade to seventh grade. Bishop McKnight was quoted in the Catholic Missourian last month about this change, “I believe this new policy and program will provide our young people with the assistance of sacramental graces at a more appropriate time in their life, and it will assist families and parishes with greater supports needed to imbue our children with a vibrant, deep faith in Jesus and a deeper commitment to the Church.”
What does that mean for our parish? For the 2019-2020 school year, we will prepare 10th and 11th grade students and in the 2020-2021 school year, we will prepare ninth and 10th grade students. Our tentative plan is to continue to prepare two classes of students each year until we’re caught up. Then, the program will be for seventh grade only.
We are waiting for more information from the diocese about their wishes for the new middle school program. We feel that we can create a quality experience for two classes of students (60-75 kids), but any more would make it difficult for us to give each group the time and attention needed to make the most of their time preparing for the sacrament. We also plan to continue preparing with students from Sacred Heart. For the next two years while Confirmation is in high school, Renee Molner, our current youth minister, will continue to lead the program.
What makes Confirmation in middle school a great fit? First, this is a more logical time for parents to be an active part of the Confirmation journey. Having Confirmation in junior year meant a greater focus on the students’ choices. Starting earlier means Confirmation will be an opportunity for parents to accompany their kids through a process of spiritual growth that will continue to unfold in high school.
Second, our 16-year-old students bring us maturity and challenging questions, but they are busy! Junior year is a critical year for college admission/academics, athletics, jobs and clubs, and our Confirmation students are stretched thin. Some who are very involved with our youth ministry in ninth and 10th grade have to step back to participate in Confirmation and keep up other commitments. In the past, a weekend retreat was part of the program but this year it was not required even though students gave positive feedback. Missing Newman’s retreat meant finding another retreat, which was one more daunting challenge to a packed schedule. We want students to experience the richness of their faith, but when life gets too tight even the best opportunities feel like onerous requirements.
We are also excited for an earlier connection with sponsors. We know it takes the influence of many for any one child to grow into a mature Catholic adult. Connecting with a sponsor in middle school provides an opportunity for a deeper and more lasting relationship. Lastly, we feel a younger Confirmation age will be a boost to Newman. Confirmation students are asked to serve the parish during preparation and many find an enjoyable ministry, but then they are only able to participate for a year or two before moving on. We are looking forward to our older students having more freedom about how they are involved in our parish and encouraging their leadership. We already have begun to involve younger students in more liturgical ministries through opportunities like the youth music ensemble and altar serving. We have also just trained five middle school lectors who will begin serving at the 5 p.m. Sunday Mass!
Like Bishop McKnight we are very excited about the younger age for Confirmation. Please pray for us and our Confirmation families in this time of transition!