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There's some movement to a "restored" order for the reception of the Sacraments of Initiation, but with some sort of assumption that it should be received as early as age seven.

I was listening to the Catholic Man Show episode on teenagers one of the hosts said that he didn't know the answer to this question and didn't get back to answering it.

I teach a Confirmation class to high schoolers, the kind of material we go cover would go way over the heads of seven year olds (it barely resonates with teenagers), so I don't wholly understand how the same sort of formation would be possible for younger kids and as far as I can tell there is absolutely no formal preparation for confirmands in the Latin Rite as it currently stands.

When I watch a movie like, the Song of Bernadette or hear stories about St. Therese, where these saints received the sacraments of initiation as teenagers, I have to think that the old ways were best. However, the normal age for confirmation hasn't really changed has it - or was there a period when Confirmation was received at an earlier age?

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Has the age of Confirmation Catholics changed since Vatican I?

The short answer seems to be yes.

The real change to an earlier age for confirmation really began after 1910 when Pope St. Pius X decreed Eucharist should he permitted at the age of discretion (use of reason), typically about 7 years of age!

Recent Church Teaching and Practice

In recent history, there have been interesting developments as well. In 1983, the new Code of Canon of Law was promulgated. The sacraments of initiation are set up around the traditional order culminating in the Eucharist. Canons 889§ 2 and 891 call for the confirmation of children before the age of discretion who are in danger of death. Canon 891 calls for children to be confirmed at the age of reason, unless the Bishops' Conference has decided a different age.

In 1992, the Catechism of the Catholic Church was published. The restored ancient order is clearly stated in the presentation and order of the sacraments of initiation. The age of reason is given as the historical standard for the age of confirmation, and it is strongly stated that even the youngest in danger of death is to receive the sacrament of confirmation and not “depart this world without having been perfected by the Holy Spirit with the gift of Christ's fullness.” In 1997, the General Directory for Catechesis was published. It makes at least six references that the ancient order is the general operating assumption behind catechetical work in the Church. In the general instruction to the Rite of Confirmation, it gives the age of reason as the suggested age for reception.

Pope Benedict XVI has made comments about the sacrament of confirmation. In his Message for World Youth Day 2008, he affirms the ancient order and unity of the sacraments of initiation. His 2007 post-synodal Apostolic exhortation, Sacramentum Caritatis, noted earlier, is most significant in the call to recapture the primacy of the Eucharist in the sacraments of initiation. His concern is to maintain the centrality and importance of the Eucharist which in many parish catechetical programs is given less attention than confirmation.

Although the Council of Trent encouraged the reception of this sacrament to the age of reason (7), the idea truly never caught on. Even Archbishop Fulton Sheen delayed it to the senior year of high school!

The Catechism of the Council of Trent says that the sacrament can be administered to all persons after baptism, but that this is not expedient before the use of reason; and adds that it is most fitting that the sacrament be deferred until the child is seven years old, "for Confirmation has not been instituted as necessary for salvation, but that by virtue thereof we might be found well armed and prepared when called upon to fight for the faith of Christ, and for this kind of conflict no one will consider children, who are still without the use of reason, to be qualified." (Pt. II, ch. iii, 18.)

Such, in fact, is the general usage in the Western Church. Under certain circumstances, however, as, for instance, danger of death, or when the opportunity of receiving the sacrament is but rarely offered, even younger children may be confirmed. In the Greek Church and in Spain, infants are now, as in earlier times, confirmed immediately after baptism. Leo XIII, writing 22 June, 1897, to the Bishop of Marseilles, commends most heartily the practice of confirming children before their first communion as being more in accord with the ancient usage of the Church. - Confirmation

Until the end of the 12th century, a priest would frequently confer Confirmation upon the child whom he baptized before giving him Communion.

Sacramentum Caritatis asks the Bishops' Conferences to ascertain which of the current practices of initiation "better enables the faithful to put the Sacrament of the Eucharist at the centre, as the goal of the whole process of initiation" (n. 18). Propositio n. 13 of the Synod clearly asked whether "in the Latin Church the order of Baptism, Confirmation and First Holy Communion should be observed solely for adults or also for children".

Obviously this is going to be an ongoing development over the next few years as history has shown already.

Two synods held in England during the thirteenth century differed over whether confirmation had to be administered within one year after birth, or within three years. Confirmation became a much more important rite when concerns about understanding and faith grew, in particular following the Reformation.

After the Fourth Lateran Council, Communion, which continued to be given only after Confirmation, was to be administered only on reaching the age of reason. Some time after the 13th century, the age of Confirmation and Communion began to be delayed further, from seven, to twelve and to fifteen. The 1917 Code of Canon Law, while recommending that Confirmation be delayed until about seven years of age, allowed it be given at an earlier age. Only on 30 June 1932 was official permission given to change the traditional order of the three sacraments of Christian initiation: the Sacred Congregation for the Sacraments then allowed, where necessary, that Confirmation be administered after first Holy Communion. This novelty, originally seen as exceptional, became more and more the accepted practice. Thus, in the mid-20th century, Confirmation began to be seen as an occasion for professing personal commitment to the faith on the part of someone approaching adulthood. - Confirmation in the Catholic Church

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  • That last bit about "an occasion for professing personal commitment" is something we try hard to make the kids know is not the reason for confirmation. But it is a slightly better reason than "because my mother made me".
    – Peter Turner
    Nov 21, 2023 at 22:31

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