QUAERITUR: Big groups for Confirmation. Wherein Fr. Z rants.

From a reader:

56 girls were recently confirmed. Isn’t that too big a group? I would rather have smaller groups, and the Archdiocese of ___ has no shortage of auxiliary bishops and vicars.

There is no requirement in canon law that the number of confirmands be small.

I commend diocesan bishops who do confirmations themselves rather than delegate them to others – even to his auxiliaries!

For the vast majority of Catholics, the moment of their confirmation is the only time in their lives when they are face to face with their bishop.

A diocesan bishop who opts to do confirmations himself highlights both the importance of the sacrament and also his concern for the lives of those entrusted to his care.

In my own case, at my reception into the Catholic Church as a convert, the pastor chose not to confirm me.  Instead, he wanted me to be confirmed by a bishop.  Thus, I was confirmed by a former pastor of the parish who was by then the retired bishop of New Ulm in Minnesota, Bishop Alphonse Schladweiler.  May he rest in peace.  We should pray for the priests and bishops who baptized us and confirmed us.  As a matter of fact, I suggest that when there are baptisms, you tie a label to the candle – indicating also the name of the priest who presided, and save it against the day when another priest may have to bring viaticum!  But I digress.   Being confirmed by a bishop made a big impact on me.

Let the minister of confirmation be at least a bishop!

Yes, I know that diocesan bishops have a lot to do.  If the diocese is large, the confirmations could be quite demanding.  Yes, I know that there are “good reasons” why the diocesan bishop can’t do all the confirmations.  Yes, I know that some dioceses are waiting for a new bishops.  Yes, I know that a person confirmed by a priest is not any less “confirmed” as far as the res et sacramentum are concerned.

But…what are is the local bishop for if not – first and foremost – to impart those sacraments for which – in the Latin Church at least – he is the primary ministers?  Isn’t this really his role?

About Fr. John Zuhlsdorf

Fr. Z is the guy who runs this blog. o{]:¬)
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  1. wmeyer says:

    Our parish confirmation was accomplished in two Masses. I believe the total was between 250 and 300. The Auxiliary Bishop was the minister of confirmation.

    A friend and I were completely aghast at the music. Perhaps because most of the confirmands were teens, the music was quite foreign to us old folks. There was a praise-style vocal group, possibly professional, and Heaven help us, a drum kit behind a plexiglas shield. And our liturgist/musical director strutting around pleased as punch.

  2. skypilot777 says:

    My daughter was just Confirmed. The “liturgy” – like my son’s last year – was a wild exercise in the expression of un-Catholicity, all presided over by an auxiliary bishop who has completely forgotten the True Gospel in exchange for the social gospel. To me, the question really isn’t whether there are large numbers of Confirmands or not. We are on the third generation of people who have grown up in what they think is the Catholic Church, but really is not. Every year, when Confirmations are done, I’m reminded just how devastated is the Church. I try to look at the young faces and tell myself that things will get better. The flame of hope in me has dwindled to a dying spark. Please, Fr. Z, pray for me that I not lose heart.

  3. Supertradmum says:

    Father Z, you are absolutely correct in your rant…I remember my sedate and holy moment of Confirmation in 1961, and when the Bishop slapped my face with his gloved hand. I was very impressed and moved, of course, at the age of twelve. Catholics need the personal touch, no pun intended, and also, meetings, (as least one), with their bishops. God bless the bishops and may the Holy Spirit help them to realize how important are their apostolic offices.

  4. Titus says:

    As a matter of fact, I suggest that when there are baptisms, you tie a label to the candle – indicating also the name of the priest who presided, and save it against the day when another priest may have to bring viaticum!

    Why do you need or want the name of the baptizing priest in that situation? [You might re-read.]

  5. Bill: “a drum kit behind a plexiglas shield.

    Thankfully, I’ve never been subjected to this particular spectacle at Mass. I wonder whether the plexiglas shield was there to protect the drummer from any rotten vegetables the congregation might throw.

    Seriously, I am well aware that the annual OF confirmation Mass is typically the year’s most embarrassing parish liturgy, while the EF confirmation and pontifical Mass is the most magnificent and memorable liturgy of the year (or perhaps of one’s lifetime).

    For my pre-Vatican II confirmation as a convert, my course of one-on-one instructions by a stern and demanding monsignor had provided me with theological knowledge perhaps comparable to that of an STD today. But nevertheless I recall being almost as nervous in anticipation of the bishop’s scrutiny as I was for my Ph.D. orals a bit later.

  6. wmeyer says:

    Henry: I’m sad to report that I have now encountered the drum kits in two local parishes. Only my home parish had the shield in place, however. Sadder still, both parishes do have organs, albeit of the electronic sort, but neither gives them much use. Instead, we get piano, guitar, flute, and sometimes drums. More in keeping, I suppose, with the endless stream of Haugen and Haas.

  7. Bill: I must admit now recalling that a few years ago I found myself at a Christmas Eve Mass in your fair city, at which there was an instrumental group with a snare drummer (though sans plexiglass) who punctuated the elevations of Host and Chalice with soul-stirring rim shots.

  8. St. Epaphras says:

    Please, will someone tell me why adult converts are confirmed immediately after reception into the Church on Easter Vigil and by the parish priest? Can a convert request ahead of time that he/she be confirmed later on with the young people — by the (gasp!) bishop? No one even suggested to me that this possibility existed. I will not say more about that evening and the way sacraments were done, but let us say that waiting for the bishop would have had to be a huge improvement.

    Is having all the sacraments of initiation done back to back by the parish priest a sort of attempt to “get back to the ‘early Church'”? Anyway, they ought to at least have asked us if we had a preference!

    Henry, I am fighting envy. Sigh…

  9. jenne says:

    11 years ago my husband was confirmed by a retired priest who is this year celebrating 100 years of age. He was a former marine chaplain. One of the best homilists and I was told they were mostly memorized over the years because his eyesight was failing. God bless him. I hope to see him before he is called to his reward. We live far from our new birth place (from where Christ called us out of darkness)

  10. Prof. Basto says:

    Last year I went to the confirmation of a relative and he was confirmed by the parish Priest.

    An Auxiliary Bishop was scheduled to come, but he was prevented due to some undisclosed reason.

    Authorization was given to the priest over the telephone to perform the Sacrament.

    To this day I have doubts about wether the delegation that was granted over the telephone was granted by The Archbishop (our diocesan ordinary) or by the Auxiliary Bishop who could not arrive.

    Can the Auxiliary Bishop delegate? When the Mass began, the parish priest explained that he would administer the Sacrament, that he telephoned to receive the authorization, and that he was greatly honoured, because it would be his first time granting the Sacrament. He was keen to stress to all those present that priests like him could only administer Confirmation extraordinarily, with due authorization.

    Is authorization over the phone valid? Can it be granted by the Auxiliary Bishop?

  11. Jayna says:

    I was confirmed on my own at a Sunday Mass by my pastor. It was a bit of a weird situation because they made me do the inquiry class, but I didn’t have to do anything after that, so I was confirmed in February just before the start of Lent rather than at the Easter Vigil like everyone else. I suspect it was because they didn’t want me contaminating their RCIA classes. (Bill knows what I’m talking about, we were both members of that parish.)

  12. Dr. Edward Peters says:

    “For the vast majority of Catholics, the moment of their confirmation is the only time in their lives when they are face to face with their bishop.”

    Excellent point.

  13. I did not post this so that people could gripe about things they have seen.

    Comments will now pass through the moderation queue.

  14. wmeyer says:

    I am curious about the calendar with respect to confirmation. In my parish, the confirmation Masses were before Lent, but then at the Easter vigil, there are the baptisms and confirmations, as well. It’s not clear to me, as I think of it, that I understand why the different times. And at the Easter vigil, confirmations were by the pastor, not the bishop.

  15. virmagnussum says:

    Fr. Z,
    Normally I agree with most of your rants, and while I certainly understand the points you are making here, I just can’t find a time where it’s in fact “better” to have someone be confirmed by a bishop, as opposed to the local pastor.

    Yes, the bishop is in the 1983 code of canon law is the “ordinary” minister of confirmation, [Not only in Canon Law…] but for the purposes of the RCIA, [That’s not an argument that will win much with me…] the emphasis has been on the connection of confirmation to Baptism. Confirmation finds its identity in baptism – it is a completing sacrament of baptism and must be celebrated immediately after baptism.

    Only in the Roman Catholic church is confirmation delayed until the canonical age of reason. [So?] For all others it’s done immediately after baptism. [So?] Also the canonical age for confirmation (still) is 7 years old, after Pius X returned it to that age, as was specified by Trent. And even at Trent, those who were to receive communion had to be confirmed first! Thomas Aquinas thinks that it is fine to receive Eucharist before confirmation, but only because he cites Pope Melchiades who says that confirmation is a sacrament of strengthening. The problem with this is that there never was a Pope Melchiades and that this is probably a 10th century document that reflects a particular use in a particular non-Roman region. Should someone wait to receive communion (the fullest sign of initiation) until the bishop comes around but after they desire it? I don’t think it makes sense. Let them be confirmed, and let them receive the body and of Christ when they are of age. [Fine! But I stand by what I wrote.]

    Finally, if someone is simply being received and confirmed in the Catholic Church, why not encourage them to be confirmed by their local pastor in their local church and then received on Pentecost (vs. Easter vigil, so as to avoid any sign of triumphalism [?!?] (cf. various pastoral letters on the rites and ecumenical concerns)). The pastor’s chrism is the “bishop in the bottle,” [?!?] which symbolizes the presence of the ordinary – not merely any wandering auxiliary. This was practice throughout the third and fourth centuries, especially in Spain and Gaul (Look at the regional councils of Toledo, Arles, Orange, etc.). Pentecost is, after all, the day of the gift of the Spirit, which confirmation also symbolizes. In addition, JP2’s ecclesiology in “ut unum sint” implies that each individual church holds the fullness of the Catholic church. When you are confirmed and enter the church, why not be present at your home community? Unless someone’s home parish is the cathedral, why should they undergo a sacrament of initiation at the cathedral?

    Confirmation is not strengthening [?!?] and does not need to be done by a bishop, but if someone has been looking for an excuse to go visit the Cathedral, then by all means, let them be confirmed by a bishop. It just makes more sense for them to be confirmed in their local parish community.


  16. Salvatore_Giuseppe says:

    Another good reason for bishops to confirm is that, in my case, and I assume most others’, it was my first interaction with my bishop. As a young person, I don’t think I had ever seen him before. And it made a huge difference, as did the confirmation preparation in general. That was an integral event in my eventually discerning the priesthood and briefly attending seminary.

    I do think that this experience would be lessened if it were simply another mass with Fr. Pastor…

  17. digdigby says:

    St. Epaphras-
    I hear you bro’! I am a Jewish convert. Everything done at once and I didn’t know any Catholics and it was all a secret from my family. No one there but the priest and the sacristan who was my sponsor. Lonely, lonely day. Especially the long drive home alone. But, it was done and the four months receiving and confessing that would have been lost till Easter are now priceless to me.

  18. Timothy Mulligan says:

    Fr. Zuhlsdorf, did Bishop Schladweiler give you a good slap?

  19. gracie says:

    Back in the pre-Vatican II days, the custom (at least in Detroit) was for the presiding bishop to ask questions of the applicants for Confirmation. These questions were asked AT the ceremony IN FRONT OF THE PARENTS AND EVERYONE ELSE!! The questions came straight from the Baltimore Catechism which was taught to students from the time they could read and we really did have to stand up in class and (not looking at the book) give the correct answers to the Sisters. This went on year after year up through sixth grade and at the end of that the Sacrament took place.

    The idea that anyone of us could be called to answer a question put by the archbishop was a bit scary, but at the same time it motivated everyone to really learn the answers. Looking back I realize the Archbishop was pretty gentle with us and the questions he asked weren’t the hardest ones but the thing is that the very fact of being examined by him pushed us learn the Catechism as best as we could.

    On another note, it seems that children don’t choose Confirmation names anymore – at least not in my diocese. I’ve been telling the kids they do and they get exited at the idea of being able to have a name that they choose for themselves. Then I find out that’s not the case. Why in heaven’s name have they dropped that? It’s wonderful to have a friendship with a Saint of your choosing that lasts you your whole life.

  20. gracie: Back in the pre-Vatican II days, the custom (at least in Detroit) was for the presiding bishop to ask questions of the applicants for Confirmation.

    Yes, indeed. The bishop who confirmed my did this, and he was decidedly “old school”.

    This, however, reminds of a story told about the Bp. Schladweiler.

    At a confirmation he once said, in his booming voice, “Now children, the bishop has been asking you questions. Do have any questions for the bishop?”

    One lad piped up, “What’s a Monsignor?” The priest at the parish was a Monsignor.

    Without missing a beat the old bishop said, “Why, sonny, a Monsignor is the Cross that hangs around the bishop’s neck!”

  21. AnAmericanMother says:

    When my daughter was confirmed, it was the first class of confirmands for our then-new Archbishop Gregory. Our Parocial Vicar (now director of vocations for the archdiocese) and our religious ed. director got the word that the abp wanted to meet with the kids before the ceremony. There he let slip that he was going to catechize the kids – on open mike – in front of God and everybody.
    I saw those two in the narthex before the Mass and they looked like they were ready to have kittens.
    No fear, the kids did great and answered some tough questions. They were well instructed.

  22. AnAmericanMother says:

    Husband and I, on the other hand, came in sideways as it were, without going through RCIA. We were confirmed by the rector.
    3 months later, the RCIA leader phoned my husband and said, “I hear you want to join the next class” . . . “Uh . . . Not now actually . . ”
    Hubby would have been just fine but I would have been pretty obnoxious and asked a lot of questions, so it’s just as well. I kept our “Why Catholic?” instructors on the straight and narrow. :-)

  23. Peter in Canberra says:

    I submit the lesser incidence of bishops conferring confirmation is tied up with some praxis since the Council.
    1. Other sacraments tend to be tied to the celebration of Mass, and for Confirmations, Sunday Mass (same for baptisms). Was this the old practice? I was confirmed in 1973 on a weeknight. I can’t recall if there was Mass also. But I understand such weekday evening confirmations may have been more common in the further past, and there would have been no question of it being tied to Mass (as Mass was only in the morning). I like the old way – for those sacraments not directly related to the Eucharist (Holy Communion, Holy Orders) conferral did not presume in connection with Mass, and if so they were conferred outside the Mass per se – no mixing up of things.
    2. do Bishops undertake regular parish visitations in the old sense? In Australia I don’t really see much evidence of that.

  24. Gail F says:

    I was confirmed as an adult. Our bishop was elderly and my parish priest was one of the priests in the diocese who had been given faculties to do confirmations, so it was done at one of our parish masses. At first, I felt cheated. I wanted to be confirmed by the bishop! Also, it was not the custom then in our parish to have a confirmation name, but someone told me I could ask for one anyway, so I did. The priest asked me why I wanted the name, and I started to tell him, but I guess he just wanted to know that I had a reason and I wasn’t being nasty about it, because he cut me off! But I got one. Anyway, it turned out to be a very beautiful, wonderful day. So while I think Fr. Z has an excellent point, and I do think bishops should confirm whenever possible, in my case it was great.

    As far as confirmation names go: AFAIK, for a while it was a trend to tell people tuse their baptismal name because they wanted to emphasize that this was a continuation of baptism. Now, I’m glad to say, we have a different bishop and they give the option of having a confirmation name. Most of the kids in my children’s confirmation classes did pick one, although a few in each class chose not to. A funny note: My son was confirmed at our parish, but by the old bishop! Now that he is retired one of the things he does is travel to confirm people.

  25. Tantum Ergo says:

    Yes, the Bishop should confirm, and bring back the custom of giving “the blow on the cheek.” That action “confirms” that we may well have to suffer real blows (or worse) for the Faith. It makes one take the Sacrament more seriously.

  26. I was confirmed by Bishop Bevilacqua, then bishop of Pgh. It was a profound moment in my life. I got the first question and I had the right answer. I remember he touched my face with his hand and I looked him right in the eyes. I’ll never forget it.

  27. James Joseph says:

    I wish I had received the Sacrament of Confirmation when I was much younger.

    I remember my first Eucharist. It was a seemingly innocuous day and I had instantly a great understanding. I was very young and innocent; probably, in first-grade. I had not gone through a class of any-sort nor receieved the Sacrament of Confession.

    The first Communion just happened. I did not make my ‘second’ Communion until a year or so later. Pride-filled, by that time I certainly was aware of being in mortal danger. It was part of my CCD (where we sang Calvinist hymns). And, that time around, we all made our Confessions.

    I wish I had received the Sacrament of Confirmation when I was much younger. Six-years old would have been good. Five-years old would have been better. It would have been better to be able to store away the memory as a treasure of the days of my innocence. Instead, I received the Confirmation in young-adulthood and years passed before it took effect, before I was pre-disposed to the Sacramental Grace.

    …And I lament.

  28. tonyballioni says:

    In the Diocese of Charlotte, we have the Benedictine Monastery at Belmont Abbey. At a recent confirmation at my home parish, Bishop Jugis delegated the confirmation to the Abbot of Belmont Abbey, because I believe he was presiding at another confirmation in another part of the diocese. I think this is cool, because it harkens back to the day when Belmont Abbey was the territorial abbey for Western North Carolina, and because there are not that many times when your average Catholic will get to meet an abbot (even less than when they meet the bishop.)

  29. Tonia says:

    Our elder son will be confirmed in a few weeks (there are 148 other children being confirmed by an auxiliary bishop over 3 Masses). It prompted me to phone my mum and ask her to dig out my confirmation certificate and find out who confirmed me. It was Bishop Charles Grant, Bishop of Northampton UK in 1980. He died in 1989 but I’ll say a prayer for him.

    The priest who baptized our younger son is now secretary to the Papal Nuncio. I was back in the UK on holiday last year and spotted him in M&S at Kensington High Street. I managed to resist the urge to rush up and say “Guess what, you baptized my son!”, but I was very tempted!

  30. Michelle F says:

    I came into the Church as a 30 year old adult through RCIA, and I have to admit that I felt a little bit cheated because my Confirmation was administered by the parish priest instead of the bishop. From my perspective I was submitting my life and my will to Christ and His Church, and I would have liked to have had that confirmed/accepted by His representative in the person of my bishop.

    I would also like for converts to be able to enter the Church year-round, not just at the Easter Vigil. My priest when I was in RCIA thought that converts should spend one year living the life of the Church before they entered the Church. The result of his philosophy was I spent 3 months attending Mass with a desire to enter the Church before RCIA classes started. Then I had to spend 12 months in RCIA. Then I had to spend an additional 7 months waiting for the Easter Vigil. In all I spent 19 months in RCIA, and had attended Mass for a total of 22 months before I was allowed to enter the Church.

    Considering how long I had to wait to enter the Church, I wouldn’t have minded waiting a few more weeks or months so I could be Confirmed by our bishop.

    As for large groups of Confirmands, whether cradle Catholics or converts, the only thing I wonder about is how well catechized they are. One priest in my area is more concerned with having the largest group of converts entering the Church at the Easter Vigil than he is with having converts who know and believe what the Church teaches.

  31. homeschoolofthree says:

    It is a lovely thing to pray for the priests who have conferred the sacraments upon us. I remind my children upon celebrating the anniversaries of their baptisms each year, the circumstances surrounding their baptisms, who was there, who baptized them and we pray for all who prayed(and hopefully still do) for them. My dear Priest and dear Deacon-soon to be ordained Priest- record the names of all those they have baptized in their Rite of Baptism books so that at each baptism, they offer prayers for all of the people they have baptized. I find this to be a truly touching custom. BTW- another sweet thing Fr does for infants- fills the baptismal font with warm water for the baptism!

  32. dans0622 says:

    Prof. Basto,
    Since the law specifically states that it is the diocesan bishop who can grant the faculty (c. 884.1), then it would seem that the auxiliary bishop could not do so. It is important to remember that bishops do not have or need a faculty to confirm so an auxiliary could not delegate the faculty as in the faculty to assist at a wedding. The faculty could be granted orally, as long as it is expressly given–I think we can draw this conclusion from the requirements regarding the granting of the faculty to assist at a marriage (c. 1111.2). The bishop could have given the faculty orally but can’t give what he doesn’t have or act as the diocesan bishop in this regard. So, the minister did not have the faculty. However, c. 144 should have applied.

  33. mrsschiavolin says:

    I’m proud to say that Abp. Aymond did all confirmations when he was bishop. That was so surprising to me, given my experience in Milwaukee where the pastors always did it.

  34. leonugent2005 says:

    On the subject of confirmation I was quite surprised to have learned the following…… (CNA/EWTN News).- Bishop Samuel Aquila of Fargo said he is delighted to have first-hand papal approval for changing the order by which children in his diocese receive the sacraments.

    “I was very surprised in what the Pope said to me, in terms of how happy he was that the sacraments of initiation have been restored to their proper order of baptism, confirmation then first Eucharist,” said Bishop Aquila, after meeting Pope Benedict on March 8.

  35. Volanges says:

    Each year a few more dioceses return the sacraments of initiation to their original order. It returns Communion to its proper place as the goal and summit of initiation.

    We forget, or never knew, that it’s only been in the last 100 years that Confirmation has been imposed after First Communion, and it’s only in the last 40 years or so that it has been withheld until the confirmand was a teenager. When I was growing up, each time the Bishop visited Confirmation was conferred on everyone who had received their First Communion since his last visit – for me that was when I was 7, in second grade.

  36. E says:

    I attended my nephew’s Confirmation in Charlotte, NC, at St. Matthew’s. The Confirmation class consisted of 350 souls, so it was divided up into a Friday evening Mass, Saturday morning and again evening. My nephew had morning. The Friday night group must have worn out the bishop, since Abbot Placid of Belmont Abbey was sent as his replacement. He was terrific, gave a rousing, booming homily, since he is used to dealing with college students; I don’t think the people knew what hit them. A priest confirmed one half of the group. There was a rock band, which startled me at first, since it had been years since I heard one at Mass. Then I relaxed and smiled, remembering how important it was to me as a teenager. My nephew took the name Martin, which was suggested to him by the priest who precided at my father’s funeral which took place on St. Martin’s feast day, Nov 11. After the Mass, at the reception, the Abbot posed for pictures with the newly confirmed.
    I don’t remember much at all of my own confirmation. It was at the same time as my sister’s, I didn’t get to use the saint’s name that I chose since my mother didn’t like it so she decided what it should be, and the sponsor(s) I chose didn’t show up because they didn’t want to travel. I have no idea who the bishop would have been.
    However, I did spend my sophomore year at Belmont Abbey College, and ever since then I’ve had a soft spot in my heart for all things Benedictine.

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