From a reader…
Thanks for all that you do on this blog. It’s been a real blessing for me and my family over the years. My question concerns confirmation. I live in a diocese where the bishop has established a “policy” of not confirming children until they are 15. The pastor of my FSSP parish has been very reluctant to fight this. My impression is that we are barely tolerated in the diocese so I understand his position, but I nevertheless need to get my children confirmed. I have a 13 year old and an 11 year old that very much want to be confirmed this year. They know their catechism. If the diocese won’t confirm them because of their “policy” (which seems to contravene the canon law right of the faithful to receive the sacraments), would I sin by having recourse to the local SSPX chapel for confirmation? I’m not sure what else to do. Recourse to Rome seems unlikely to bear fruit these days, and waiting until 15 is unacceptable.
Pope St. Pius X, of blessed and hallowed memory (Lord, raise up holy clergy and hierarchy like unto him!) did many good things for the Church. However, his decision to move the age of First Holy Communion back to the age of reason, while arguably laudable, displaced the Sacrament of Confirmation. Valiant attempts have been made to put the Sacraments of Initiation back into their traditional order (Baptism, Confirmation, Holy Communion), but in many places these attempts have been met with fierce resistance from various quarters But, perhaps that is tangential to this immediate and pressing question.
Parents are the primary educators of their children. We are constantly reminded of this by Holy Mother Church. Pastors of souls have the obligation of ensuring that their flock are well-prepared, properly disposed, and ready to receive the sacraments. The Latin Rite Bishops in these USA mandated by decree on 21 August 2001, that the proper age for confirmation is “between the age of discretion and about sixteen years of age, within the limits determined by the diocesan bishop and with regard for the legitimate exceptions given in canon 891.”
So, the Bishops punted.
Rather than opting for a younger age, or an older age, the Bishops mandated somewhere between 7 and 16. Quite a wide berth. However, local bishops have the right to make additional specifications.
If one disagrees with one’s Bishop, who makes a decision about something which is within his purview to decide, what can one do?
St. Ignatius of Antioch has some advice:
“Your submission to your bishop, who is in the place of Jesus Christ, shows me that you are not living as men usually do but in the manner of Jesus himself, who died for us that you might escape death by belief in his death. Thus one thing is necessary, and you already observe it, that you do nothing without your bishop; indeed, be subject to the clergy as well, seeing in them the apostles of Jesus Christ our hope, for if we live in him we shall be found in him.”
In your case, I would write a letter to the bishop and plead for an exception to his decision. Offer to meet with him, not in a hostile way, but as a devoted child to a pastoral father.
If the bishop rejects the letter, rejects the offer to meet with him, stands firm on his decision (which, again, is his decision to make), one may still disagree with him. However, in this antinomian age, obedience to our legitimately appointed shepherds in those things legitimately deputed to them, as difficult as it may often be, can be a way of loving submission to Our God.
Mind you, obedience in those arenas where a bishop does not have legitimate authority is an entirely different kettle of fish.
I would not go to a chapel of the SSPX until they are fully reintegrated in a manifest way.
That said, I have on occasion also answered questions about going outside of one’s diocese for confirmation. Can. 886 of the Code of Canon Law for the Latin Church states,
“A bishop in his own diocese may lawfully administer the sacrament of confirmation even to the faithful who are not his subjects, unless there is an express prohibition by their own Ordinary.”
For example, last November here in Madison, the Bishop conferred the sacrament on many young people, some of whom were brought by their parents from many states away. We will have confirmations again in December, I believe, and I expect the same will happen to a greater or lesser degree. Of course, there was in the case of each confirmand a written verification with the pastor of his or her parish. These things are not done in the dark, sneaking around.
Some people who find that their local bishop is not cooperative, could discover that the bishop of the neighboring diocese may be friendly and helpful.