The other night we had Confirmations here in our parish. It had me thinking about the so-called "sacrament in search of a theology."
What is it, honestly? Is it the sealing with or giving of the Holy Spirit, as if someone had only been previously baptized into some of the Trinity, as if the Trinity of God had parts? Is it a rite of passage in the anthropological sense? What of those Churches that Confirm (or Chrismate) at infancy? Is it a graduation from religious education, as it sometimes looks like when everyone is wearing a gown in the academic style?
The discipline of the Roman Church puts Confirmation at the "age of discretion." In most places here in the States we have moved first Communion up to that milestone, and left Confirmation for an adolescent rite of passage. It has never made sense to me, but after the other night, I've thought of another approach.
I used to say that Confirmation should be given either at infancy, as is the practice of most of the Eastern Churches, or should be offered to genuine young adults, say college age, that it might really be the "adult decision" that it is so often advertised to be. After working as a parish priest, I'm not so sure. I never realized how important one's status as confirmed or not was to Catholic life; it is required for one to be a sponsor for baptism (i.e. godparent) and is preferred for the celebration of matrimony. These are times when a parish has a chance to hook a lapsed Christian back into his or her faith; if even fewer Catholics were confirmed perhaps there would be fewer of these opportunities. On the other hand, if full initiation was completed at infancy, there would be no sacramental means, in the external forum, of telling a catechized adult Catholic from an uncatechized one.
But maybe there's a different approach to the whole question. The other night, as I stood there holding the Sacred Chrism for the bishop, watching the kids get confirmed one after another, I was thinking about how difficult and dangerous it must be to grow up in this world. And I thought it was crazy when I was growing up. Maybe the critical time of middle adolescence is a time when young people need a sacrament to strengthen them in grace.