Passages from Vatican II that Every Catholic Should Know – Crisis Magazine

Passages from Vatican II that Every Catholic Should Know – Crisis Magazine.

Passages from Vatican II that Every Catholic Should Know


This year marks the fiftieth anniversary of the close of the Second Vatican Council (1962-1965). While all agree that the council was a milestone in the history of the Church, the meaning and application of Vatican II and its sixteen official documents has been a source of contention right down to the present day. Numerous acts of dissent from the Church’s official doctrine and discipline have been undertaken in the name of the “spirit of Vatican II.” Because of this, it is good for Catholics to familiarize themselves with what the council actually said in its official promulgations. While not everyone has the leisure to read through the hundreds of pages of conciliar material, there are certain passages which should be highlighted, in part because they counter attempts by those who try to ground their dissent in the council and its supposed “spirit.” The following are seven such passages that every Catholic should know.

1)  “Regulation of the sacred liturgy depends solely on the authority of the Church, that is, on the Apostolic See and, as laws may determine, on the bishop…. Therefore no other person, even if he be a priest, may add, remove, or change anything in the liturgy on his own authority” (Sacrosanctum Concilium, #22).

After the council, “uniformity” became the chief vice and “creativity” became the chief virtue. The large scale liturgical changes proposed by the council fueled the thirst for further experimentation on the part of priests and liturgists, leading to everything from minor changes in the prescribed liturgical texts to liturgical dancing and puppet masses. However, these individuals have missed the main criterion for judging the right kind and proper extent of liturgical change clearly enunciated in the passage above. They are condemned by the very council they invoke to legitimize their acts.

2) “The use of the Latin language is to be preserved in the Latin rites” (Sacrosanctum Concilium, #36).

A friend of mine once had an encounter with an elderly Church-goer who expressed her gratitude that Vatican II had abolished Latin from the liturgy. My friend asked her if she had read the council’s document on the liturgy, and the answer, not surprisingly, was “no.” While Vatican II’s Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy does make provision for a much wider use of the vernacular, it also mandates a retention of Latin, even going so far as to say that “steps should be taken so that the faithful may also be able to say or to sing together in Latin those parts of the Ordinary of the Mass which pertain to them” (#54).

3) “The Church acknowledges Gregorian chant as specially suited to the Roman liturgy: therefore, other things being equal, it should be given pride of place in liturgical services” (Sacrosanctum Concilium, #116).

There are few examples of how directly contrary to the explicit desire of Vatican II many in the post-conciliar Church went than this. The last fifty or so years have seen liturgists act as if Vatican II considered Gregorian chant and sacred polyphony (also endorsed by the council) as the least suitable music for the mass. Their solution has been to replace it with a wave of what Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger called “utility music,” undermining the council’s attempt to make the liturgy a true encounter between man and the radical beauty of God.

4) “But the college or body of bishops has no authority unless it is understood together with the Roman Pontiff, the successor of Peter as its head. The pope’s power of primacy over all, both pastors and faithful, remains whole and intact. In virtue of his office, that is as Vicar of Christ and pastor of the whole Church, the Roman Pontiff has full, supreme and universal power over the Church. And he is always free to exercise this power. The order of bishops, which succeeds to the college of apostles and gives this apostolic body continued existence, is also the subject of supreme and full power over the universal Church, provided we understand this body together with its head the Roman Pontiff and never without this head. This power can be exercised only with the consent of the Roman Pontiff” (Lumen Gentium, #22).

Collegiality was one of the hot topics at Vatican II. Many in the Church wanted to move away from what they considered an excessive focus on, and concentration of power in, the person of the pope. Vatican II did indeed do much to deepen our understanding of the importance and role of both individual bishops as well as the college of bishops considered as a whole. Some, however, took this collegial emphasis to the point of undermining the power and prerogatives of the supreme pontiff as defined by the First Vatican Council in the late nineteenth century. For example, in his book The Changing Church: Reflections on the progress of the Second Vatican Council, dissident theologian Hans Küng states that the Second Vatican Council’s teaching on the importance and power of the college of bishops was “a decisive counterpoint to the First Vatican Council’s one-sided definition of papal supremacy” (‘complementarity’ would have been a better word than ‘counterpoint’). The council, in fact, sets clear boundaries to the power of the episcopal college and emphatically reaffirms the ultimate primacy of the Vicar of Christ over the entire Church.

5) “But the task of authentically interpreting the word of God, whether written or handed on, has been entrusted exclusively to the living teaching office of the Church, whose authority is exercised in the name of Jesus Christ” (Dei Verbum, #10).

Vatican II gave a great impetus to Scripture studies, especially among the laity. So as to not give free reign to individualistic hermeneutics, the ecclesiological and especially magisterial context for Scriptural interpretation is again stated.

6) “Though they differ from one another in essence and not only in degree, the common priesthood of the faithful and the ministerial or hierarchical priesthood are nonetheless interrelated: each of them in its own special way is a participation in the one priesthood of Christ” (Lumen Gentium, #10).

The post-conciliar Church has suffered from a major crisis of identity within her different states of life. Laymen and women now stampede into the sanctuary to perform those rituals once prescribed to the priest alone. Clergy have adopted a lay persona by casting off the collar, cassock, and habit in favor of the T-shirt and shorts, and – in the case of some religious—of abandoning secluded monasteries and instead populating city apartments.

This is, in part, a response to Vatican II’s new focus on the common priesthood shared by all the faithful. This focus seems to many to call into question the former radical distinction between priest and layman. In fact, many see Vatican II as helping to break down all of the walls formerly dividing the two (e.g. this blog post from the National Catholic Reporter).

Far less attention is paid to the first sentence of the passage quoted above, which states that the difference between the ministerial priesthood and the priesthood of all the faithful is not merely one of “degree,” but of “essence.” In other words, the two priesthoods are not on different levels of the same priestly spectrum, but, in fact, each is a very different way of sharing in Christ’s one priesthood. Whereas all of the Church’s faithful share in Christ’s priesthood by offering spiritual sacrifices, participating in the sacraments, virtuous living, and by proclaiming the Gospel to the world (LG, 11), the ministerial priesthood entails a mysterious identification with the Person of Christ Himself (acting “in persona Christi”), and so enables the ordained minister to effect the miracle of transubstantiation and the forgiveness of sins via the sacramental grace received at ordination. So, while Vatican II was indeed strongly opposed to excessive clericalism, it at the same time re-emphasized the radical distinction between the ministerial priesthood and the priesthood of the faithful.

7) “Basing itself upon Sacred Scripture and Tradition, [this Council] teaches that the Church, now sojourning on earth as an exile, is necessary for salvation. Christ, present to us in His Body, which is the Church, is the one Mediator and the unique way of salvation. In explicit terms He Himself affirmed the necessity of faith and baptism and thereby affirmed also the necessity of the Church, for through baptism, as through a door, men enter the Church. Whosoever, therefore, knowing that the Catholic Church was made necessary by Christ, would refuse to enter or to remain in it, could not be saved” (Lumen Gentium, #14).

Vatican II admitted to the possibility of salvation for non-Catholics (Lumen Gentium, #14-16). This created a firestorm both within and without the Church, as it seemed to reverse the Church’s perennial teaching of “outside the Church there is no salvation.” The result was that many questioned the necessity of the missionary endeavors of the Church, because if non-Catholics could be saved, why bother trying to convert them? And one hardly need to mention the fact that now practically every funeral is a mini-canonization ceremony.

There are two important things to note about this passage. One is that it clearly states that those who know of the necessity of the Church for salvation cannot remain outside of it and hope to be saved. The other is that, notwithstanding an acknowledgement of the possibility of salvation for non-Catholics, it also clearly states that the Church is necessary for salvation and that Christ is “the unique way of salvation.” This is important to mention because some interpret Vatican II’s acknowledgment of the possibility of salvation for non-Catholics as saying that there are other paths of salvation outside the Church. But this, in fact, is not what either the council or the Church teaches. As a 2000 document from the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith makes clear, God’s “salvific grace … is always given by means of Christ in the Spirit and has a mysterious relationship to the Church.” The point is that those who may happen to be saved outside the visible confines of the Church are not saved in spite of the Church or Christ, but arrive at salvation some way through the Church and Christ. The council is, in fact, reaffirming the exclusive claim of Christ and His Church as the one path to salvation.

Many other passages from the council could be quoted, but this selection reveals just how far from the conciliar documents many in the Church have strayed. As we prepare to celebrate the fiftieth anniversary of council’s closing, we would do well as a Church to reflect critically on the past fifty years to see just how well Vatican II has been so far implemented, and to consider how we can be truer to the council’s teaching as we move forward into the future.

More Ways to End the Vocations Crisis

More Ways to End the Vocations Crisis

Vocations Crisis

My recent article on the self-inflicted crisis of vocations to the Catholic priesthood engendered a lot of discussion, from which I conclude that my suspicion is correct. Many Catholics are content with strategies of suicide, because they do not really want the Church to prevail in her war against a world deranged. Since in our day the derangement is most obviously about things having to do with marriage, sex, children, the family, and those differences between men and women that are attested and variously respected by every culture that has ever existed, in every geographical area and at every stage of technological development, that means that they want the sexual revolution to change the Church rather than the Church to defeat the revolution. They are anti-missionaries, come to preach the gospel of chic hedonism. In our time, when someone says, “I don’t agree with all of the teachings of the institutional Church,” you can bet your house that the disagreement has nothing to do with three Persons in one God, but rather two persons in one bed.

You can flush the people out by observing their reactions to good news. Mention that the sisters of Our Lady Queen of Ephesus, in Kansas City, are devoted to the magisterial teachings of the Church, that they are joyful messengers of the Lord, that they celebrate the complementary virtues of manhood and womanhood, and that if their average age were too much lower they’d have to face a truant officer. Note the reply.

“Well, that’s good for them.”

“They’re just one convent.”

“If that’s their choice, I respect it. But their day is past.” I translate: Old-fashioned prigs!

“Correlation doesn’t imply causation.” No, certainly not. The rooster doesn’t make the sun rise. But the slogan is mainly used to duck the obvious. As I’ve seen it used, it means, in socio-speak, that if you take your kid fishing a lot, and your kid grows up with a hobby called fishing, we can’t conclude that there’s any connection between them. Young women filled with love for the Church and for Jesus do not naturally gravitate towards women who are filled with love for the Church and for Jesus.

Or say that priestly orders that maintain devotion to the mysteries of the faith are doing very well. Mention the Priestly Fraternity of Saint Peter. Tell about what a couple of priests of Opus Dei did to save a jewel of a church from destruction—Saint Mary of the Angels in Chicago. Suggest that something similar could be done in your neighborhood.

“That order attracts reactionaries.”

“Opus Dei is evil.”

“We have to become a new Church for a new time.”

A former student of mine worked for a year at a live-in women’s center run by bitter old nuns—by the Feminist Nunsuch. It was down the street from Saint Mary of the Angels. The sisters refused to allow the priests to come over to celebrate Mass there for the people. “We don’t need them,” they said.

Now, if that’s your attitude, I am not speaking to you, not in this article. Wellington doesn’t ask Napoleon how he should arrange his battle-lines.

If you do not believe what the Church teaches regarding the neuralgias of our time, I am not speaking to you. If you believe that women should be ordained, or that a man can marry a man, or that the government should permit people to snuff out their children before they reach a certain state of cuteness, or that the Pill is good for what ails us, or that divorcing men and women can call Solomon’s bluff, saw their children in two, marry their new squeezes, and be patted on the head by the Church for doing so, while the abandoned spouse is played for a chump all around—I am not speaking to you.

If it’s your worst nightmare that men might be kindled with ardor for the Church—the real one, not the mythical Futurechurch, known only to the illuminati, those who have taken a night school course in ecclesiology and who wear special glasses—then obviously we have nothing to talk about. You want the Church to conform to the world; you want the Church to suffer a shameful defeat. You want to deform the Church to infect it. I want the Church to cure the world by transforming it.

If you do accept the teachings of the Church but you are content with the status quo when it comes to vocations, I am not speaking to you. You’ve had things your way for forty years. Enough already. I want results. I want victory. So in that spirit I make these recommendations, to those who also want victory:

Do the obvious things that will attract men. You want men? Go get them. Tell them that you need them to do the job, which is true. Set up a men’s reading group, and read real works of theology and Catholic philosophy, works that are daunting in their significance for a deadening secular world. Read Romano Guardini, The Lord. Read Josef Pieper, Leisure: The Basis of Culture. Read C. S. Lewis, The Abolition of Man. Those, for starters. Invite teenage boys to join in, and treat them as absolute equals. Set up a weekly morning prayer in the rectory for the men of the parish, early enough to catch most of them before work. Let them pray on their knees, on the floor, as I’ve seen done at one extraordinarily vibrant parish in Connecticut. Let them hear a sermon that takes the truth to them and gives them their marching orders of the day. Notice how quickly and completely all the differences of class and education are forgotten.

Let them forge friendships in the vicinity of the sacraments. Announce a monthly meeting for men, for confession, discussion, and fellowship. Make sure there is food and beer.

The hymnals have been neutered. Get rid of the neutered hymnals. If you do not have the funds to replace Worship III, Gather, Glory and Praise, and others of that ilk with real hymnals, then incorporate into your worship some of the old manly hymns of the Church militant. We have copier machines; this can be done. At least once a month, sing one of those hymns. That is not much to ask! Sing Soldiers of Christ, Arise, or Fight the Good Fight, or Rise Up, O Men of God. The women will be happy to sing these too, if truth be known.

Return all attention at Mass to the action of Christ. What good and true man wants to give his life to a coffee klatsch? And Mass is not a coffee klatsch. It is not a comfy gathering of nice people with a taste for spirituality. It is the sacrifice of Christ, reenacted by the priest in persona Christi; it is the single holiest thing in the world. When J. R. R. Tolkien was writing to his son Michael, during the dark days of the German bombing of Britain, he told him to bind his heart to the Eucharist: “Out of the darkness of my life, so much frustrated, I put before you the one great thing to love on earth: the Blessed Sacrament … There you will find romance, glory, honour, fidelity, and the true way of all your loves on earth, and more than that: Death.” Yes, Death, which on earth ends all, but whose foretaste in the Eucharist, says Tolkien, gives the dimension of depth and reality to all that we seek and love on this side of the grave.

So put the tabernacle where it belongs, in the central place of honor. Get every layman out of the sanctuary after the prayer of the faithful. Put the chair of the priest on the side. Get the singers out of the view of the aud –, I mean, the congregation. If you don’t have baritones, find one.

Do not reduce the Catholic faith to a political appendix. Preach Christ and Him crucified. Remember that human beings are unified only from above.

Semper fidelis. If you are teaching in RCIA, and you do not warmly embrace the doctrines of the Church, moral and theological, then you need to do plenty of praying on account of your confusion, and you should recuse yourself immediately. If you are teaching CCD, same thing. If you are teaching in a Catholic school, the moral burden upon you is heavy. Pray every day for your students and for the light to see what has been revealed to the Church and why. Your job is not to play Satan in the garden. Do not deceive yourself on that score. You must decrease, and Christ must increase.

If you have the wherewithal, separate boys and girls for certain units or courses in your Catholic schools; certainly for physical education, for the touchier elements of health, and perhaps also for literature and religion. Unless it’s an all male school, the boys will have mostly women for teachers. Then there should be some time during the day when they can be themselves, without social complications; reading Moby Dick instead of or in addition to Pride and Prejudice; arguing with one another in the company of a male teacher of theology, rather than holding their peace in mixed company. The girls will doubtless also enjoy the change of pace. They too will feel more at home during those times when they can be themselves too; and it will make the re-union all the happier.

You have to remember what boys are. If your worldly business depended for its survival upon attracting them, you would not be so foolish as to dismiss what your eyes tell you, not to mention the entire human race. You would say, “Since this is the job to be done, these are some clear measures to take.” Take them. The Lord who chose twelve men to be His apostles, and knew how to do it, will bless you.

Back from a vacation

Well, I spent the last week enjoying nature in Hawaii.  I found it to be a great experience.  We arrived Sunday afternoon, and returned last night.  (I do not advertise that I’m going somewhere prior to me going, I hope you understand why…)

We went to the Big Island for our second time, the last being about 10 years ago, and boy, has that place, especially the dry side (Kona) changed!  Grown up a lot.  We did a day-long around-the-island tour on Monday, Tuesday went whale and dolphin swimming/watching. Wednesday I did a dive trip, Thursday, diving with the manta rays (wow!).  Kudos to Big Island Divers! Friday and Saturday I had some unhurried timelessness with my wife, taking her around to all the shopping places.  We experienced a few days of eating at a little place called Broke da Mouth dining and catering.  Anyway, I returned very well refreshed.

Diaconate status update

A few days ago, a friend of mine contacted me, a deacon I respect very well.  He told me that he thought I should pursue my calling even though I’m a bit outside the requirements they set up, and so I will.  I attended a “Come and see” meeting the other night, and was encouraged.  (I will leave it at that, for now)  Our first discernment meeting is in a few weeks.  I’ll be there.

It is true that I feel called, still, and if I am, as Samuel in the bed chamber of Eli, I will respond.

Vacation morals

It seems like, based on what I see in vacation getaway commercials, that people tend to leave their morality at home when they go away.  This can be true of singles as well as married.  And let’s not forget that Spring Break is coming up, for the college crowd.  And also don’t forget the motto of Las Vegas (“What happens in Vegas…”) and even one of the hotels there (“Just the right amount of wrong”).

Going on vacation soon, I was thinking about all the ways people forget their faith when they go on vacation.  People tend to not go to Mass while having fun at Disneyland or on a cruise.  They also sometimes look for new forms of sexual encounters while away from home.  Some people do things on vacation that they would never consider doing at home-drugs, drinking and eating to excess, and so on.

I do the same thing, though I never forget my faith and the moral values it gives me.  I’m a vacation scuba diver when we can get to a place with coral reefs to explore.  Some do things like hang gliding or some other extreme sport.  These are ok for a thrill, I know.  I have one wish that I hope to attain some day.  I want to take the helicopter tour of the island of Kauai.  Why? Because I think it’s the lushest, greenest place in North America (maybe the exception of Alaska in the summer), and much of the island is unvisitable by land.  What’s stopping me? I weigh too much, by about 10 lbs, to go without having a penalty to pay for weight.  It’s one of my motivations for working out-to get down to a weight where I can do that.

The above are healthy activities.  And it’s not bad to reconnect with your spouse, to have a good meal or two, to buy lasting souvenirs of your trip.  Just keep in mind-God doesn’t vacation, and your parish still needs to operate while you’re not there.  So one thing when planning your itinerary-find out where you can go to Mass.  There’s very few places where you cannot find a Catholic Church.  There’s one a mile from Disney World, there’s one a block from the Strip in Las Vegas, there’s Catholic Churches on all the Hawaiian Islands (Blessed Fr. Damien, remember, was a Catholic Priest).

Just try to keep the material pleasures to the less-than-sinful level.  In fact, you may want to go to Reconciliation after vacation, especially if you miss Mass.

Also, be careful where you do your death-defying winged-suit jump…

Celebrating your baptismal day

Do you know the date you were baptized?  You should.  Just as your birth into the world is commemorated in some way every year, your rebirth as a new man should be, as well.

Our Lord demonstrated this, didn’t he? The Nativity accounts were written well after the fact (as was the Baptism of Jesus, but there’s a difference), and there’s question about the details.  But the Gospels all show us when Jesus began his Public Ministry-at the time he was Baptized, and the theophany of Jesus, the Father’s exhortation, and the manifestation of the Holy Spirit-and this was his (re)birth to the world.  Before that, while he was also God, he was not apparently God to those around him (except for his mother and foster father, of course-but they forgot in their own day to day lives and had to be reminded), but merely human.  After God spoke at the site on the Jordan, Jesus became manifest as  God in human form.

Thus, we should remember when we came into the world, and also when we were reborn.  If we remember these dates in our child’s lives and celebrate them as important, we can have a constant reminder of our faith.  Make it a special day.  Make First Holy Communion a special day as well.  Point out the milestones in your children’s lives, and you have a better chance of moving them into adulthood as Christians and Catholics.

Rethinking the Age for Confirmation – Crisis Magazine

Rethinking the Age for Confirmation – Crisis Magazine.

Rethinking the Age for Confirmation


“Let us think, each one of us: do we truly care that our children and our young ones receive Confirmation? This is important, it is important!”   ~ Pope Francis

It’s a new year, and that means a new MASTER CALENDAR in the kitchen—a familiar sight in most homes with children. There’s always plenty of room for reminders and appointments, and it’s the authoritative source for birthdays, anniversaries (especially ours—mustn’t forget!), and baptismal days.

Do you mark baptismal days in your family? We’ve been doing if from the beginning of our marriage—it just makes sense. If birthdays are how we annually celebrate the life of those we love, then baptismal days are opportunities to celebrate the beginning of their eternal life—that spiritual rebirth into the family of God that Christ won for us through the cross.

My own baptismal day is highlighted in red like everyone else’s, but I also get to spotlight my confirmation—and not just because I’m in charge of preparing the calendar. I was raised Presbyterian and baptized accordingly, but my spiritual rebirth wasn’t fully accomplished until I made a profession of faith and was confirmed as a Catholic a quarter century later.

And what a monumental occasion that was—truly a moment of conversion, including a new Church, a new way of life, even a new name! While it was also the occasion of my first Holy Communion, I especially associate my conversion with confirmation because it constituted a permanent change of character and a once-in-a-lifetime event—just like my Protestant infant baptism.

And there’s an additional connection between these two sacraments because confirmation is fundamentally a “strengthening” (con-firmare) for the baptized who are henceforth commissioned to live out their baptism with gusto. The Catechism puts it thus:

Confirmation … gives us a special strength of the Holy Spirit to spread and defend the faith by word and action as true witnesses of Christ, to confess the name of Christ boldly, and never to be ashamed of the Cross.

I might’ve been in a suit and tie at that Easter Vigil so long ago, but I remember well envisioning myself on my knees before my liege lord, imploring him to send me on a quest or into battle. In short, my confirmation was a launch—the beginning of an adventure!

Is that how you remember your confirmation? Unless you’re an adult convert, probably not.

For so many cradle Catholics, confirmation is merely a bump-in-the-road on the way to adult independence—a teenage rite of passage more than anything else, and, for those not enrolled in Catholic schools, the end of any kind of structured religious formation. Instead of commencing an adventure, confirmation is too often experienced as a graduation commencement—a capstone and a conclusion, and the last time the recipients will be compelled to do anything overtly “religious” outside of showing up for Mass … maybe.

Too harsh? Consider these words from evangelist Matthew Kelly: “We discovered … that 85 percent of young people stop practicing their faith within seven years of being confirmed.” That’s almost nine out of every ten Catholics bolting for the door within a decade of being fully initiated. That’s an incredible statistic, and it’s borne out in our rapidly aging Church—no wonder we’re consolidating parishes and shuttering church buildings!

Obviously, something is seriously amiss, and it seems like confirmation is an important key for correcting Catholic youth flight. We can be grateful that people like Matthew Kelly and other publishers have made an effort to spruce up confirmation preparation, but, so far, those efforts haven’t really paid off.

Why not?

I’m convinced the problem isn’t the way we prepare our children for confirmation, but rather when we do it. I’ll even go as far as to say that, despite the practice of a majority of U.S. dioceses, we couldn’t pick a worse time than the teen years for confirmation.

I make that assertion based on my limited track record as a religious educator, but also as a parent of confirmation candidates—four confirmed, three to go. Cecilia, our seventh-grader, is next up. Preparation begins at our parish school this term, and then our bishop will come next December to administer the sacrament to Cece and her friends.

But what if she doesn’t want to be confirmed—what then? Would she be brave enough to tell us? What’s more, would we be brave enough to give her the freedom to hold off? And if we push her to receive the sacrament with her class—whether out of pious concern or social conformity—what would upshot be? Resentment most likely, and maybe even a reinforced cynicism with an added layer of complicit hypocrisy. In any case, certainly not the enthusiasm for living the faith that the sacrament signifies.

Not to worry, though: Our Cecilia is actually excited about getting confirmed. For many families, however, the challenges I described above are not theoretical—we actually hear about them pretty regularly in our own parish catechetical ministry. Yet, it really shouldn’t be a surprise, especially if we remember that we ourselves starting wrestling with big ideas (including our faith) around the same age. The teen years are often a rocky, rebellious period, and there’s no doubt that strong parental guidance will be required throughout. Nonetheless, it’s vitally important for teenagers to start thinking for themselves and making their own decisions. “If at every stage of his life man desires to be his own person,” St. John Paul II observed, “during his youth he desires it even more strongly.”

Yes, it’s a tricky business, raising teenagers—a balancing act of oversight and latitude—but then confirmation rolls around, and what do we do? We compel teens to undergo intense religious instruction—even if they’ve been away from CCD since second grade—and in effect force them to receive a sacrament they themselves might otherwise forego. Plus, many parents of confirmation candidates aren’t exactly living a sacramental life themselves, and so their teens might assimilate the message that faith primarily involves going through the motions. Besides, as the Catechism teaches, “one must be in a state of grace” to receive Confirmation—which includes conscientiously honoring the obligation to attend Mass on Sundays. If confirmation candidates and their families haven’t been getting to Mass on a regular basis, and they have no intention of doing so once the sacrament is administered, then what’s the point?

I’m hoping that some of this rings true for you, and that it accords with observations you yourself have made. If so, then what I’d like to propose won’t sound so crazy.

It’s actually a bifurcated proposal that involves a radical shift of the sacrament either backwards or forwards. The preferable direction, at least according to tradition, is to move confirmation back to the age of reason, and to administer it prior to first communion. This would restore the ancient and proper order of the sacraments of initiation (baptism, confirmation, then communion), and would accentuate the Eucharist as the most important of the three. As Pope Benedict pointed out, there are sound historical reasons for how the order (at least in the West) got mixed up, but “it needs to be seen which practice better enables the faithful to put the sacrament of the Eucharist at the centre, as the goal of the whole process of initiation.”

Current practice puts the accent on confirmation as a sacramental goal line, and so it is incorrectly perceived as the “source and summit of the Christian life” instead of the Eucharist. And not only does confirmation come last in line, but it also generally involves a great deal of preparation—a full year or more of instruction and formation, for example, along with any number of obligatory service projects. All those mandates can give the misleading impression that confirmation is not only the most important sacrament, but also one that must be earned.

First Holy Communion prep was, by comparison, so simple: A few crafts and some worksheets, maybe a banner, and that was it. There was never any question that the Eucharist could or should be earned, and the only real requirement was that the communicant be able to recognize the difference between ordinary elements on the one hand, and the Eucharist on the other. It was all so elementary because, well, the recipients were in elementary school.

According to the Church, kids reach the age of reason around their seventh year, and at that point they have adequate intellectual and, presumably, spiritual resources to prepare for not only confirmation, but penance and Eucharist as well. Our actions, however, indicate that confirmation is so serious that it requires greater spiritual maturity and intelligence, and so we push it off until the teen years.

But the truth is that confirmation around the age of seven is actually the universal normsurprise! Bishops do have the discretion to confirm at other times, but if we adopted an early confirmation age as the standard, we could finally put to rest the idea that it’s a Catholic bar mitzvah. “Although Confirmation is sometimes called the ‘sacrament of Christian maturity,’” the Catechism insists, “we must not confuse adult faith with the adult age of natural growth.”

Along those lines, we also have to reject the neo-gnostic idea that confirmation candidates have to fully comprehend what the sacrament is about before they can receive it. Instead, what’s really required? And is it beyond the ken of grade-schoolers? Again, here’s the Catechism:

Preparation for Confirmation should aim at leading the Christian toward a more intimate union with Christ and a more lively familiarity with the Holy Spirit—in order to be more capable of assuming the apostolic responsibilities of Christian life.

All that seems well within the grasp of children who are already expected to form a rudimentary understanding of transubstantiation. And to underscore the point that age shouldn’t be a barrier to receiving confirmation’s special graces and responsibilities, the Catechism quotes Thomas Aquinas: “Even in childhood man can attain spiritual maturity…. Many children, through the strength of the Holy Spirit they have received, have bravely fought for Christ even to the shedding of their blood.”

While there are undoubtedly logistical problems with switching to a younger confirmation age, several dioceses have adopted it to great success—most notably Fargo. It’s my hope that more dioceses will at least consider the idea—maybe experiment with it in a couple parishes to see how it goes.

However, anticipated pushback from parents, catechists, and schools—entrenched in the tried and true—makes it highly unlikely that a younger confirmation would be adopted on a large scale, so that leads me to my second suggestion: Discontinue compulsory preparation and administration of confirmation altogether. This alternative doesn’t restore the proper order of the initiation sacraments, but it has a couple other benefits to commend it.

To begin with, the language and culture of confirmation as a rite of passage isn’t going away any time soon, and so we might as well use it to our catechetical advantage. By dispensing with required confirmation preparation and reception, the sacrament can truly become a moment of conversion for Catholics, regardless of when it occurs. In this way, confirmation will take on particular importance for Catholics returning to the Church after being away for a time, especially when such a return coincides with significant life changes—like marriage for instance, or having that first baby. And young people who never drift away from the Church? They’ll likely seek confirmation in their teen years anyway. Thus, for all recipients, the sacrament will cohere with their actual lived experience of faith.

There’s an additional catechetical value to this approach: Confirmation classes will start to mix together maturing teens, young adults, and the retired—and everyone in between! Younger candidates will get to hear older Catholics share about their struggles and joys; in turn, those older Catholics will get to hear the younger candidates express their aspirations and enthusiasms.

I can’t think of a better way to foster the idea that confirmation (and Christianity) is really for grown-ups—grown-ups, that is, that humble themselves and come to Jesus.

You know, like children.