ASK FATHER: Confirmation at an SSPX chapel?

009_TmsmConfirmation2016From 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.

About Fr. John Zuhlsdorf

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

    My archbishop is restoring the former order and the children have confirmation before First Communion, or rather at the same time. But when my children were ready for confirmation in my former diocese, where some years there were no confirmandi, I obtained permission from the bishop in a neighboring diocese as did others who were homeschooling at the time. And so that is what happened. Besides, I would not have trusted my former parish to teach them either. My children are grown now but still Catholic.

  2. Andrew1054 says:

    Sometimes I wonder if I should have a conditional reconfirmation. When I became Catholic as an adult, the RCIA I attended did some goofy things. For example, they had lay people do the blessings etc. that are done during the scrutinies. Yes, a bishop did the confirmation with chrism (matter and form was there) but knowing him now I wonder what his intention was in regard to the sacrament. This, coupled with lay people doing things they are unable to do, has made me angry that I was denied the full graces that come with the conversion process. I feel ripped off and taken advantage of. I didn’t know better at the time. Sometimes I wonder if I am confirmed at lease in the way the Church traditionally understands this sacrament. I’ve heard that the SSPX sometimes conditionally confirms people.

  3. Ave Crux says:

    “Salus animarum supemus lex esto” — the salvation of souls … must be the supreme law in the Church.”

    Father, this raises a question for me also. How far are we obliged to obey a Hierarchy that in almost every respect is now setting itself against the good of souls and even Truth itself? [I know you are frustrated, but … “a Hierarchy”…”in every respect”? That’s where you lose most everyone. Moreover, people read this blog who are looking for help. I don’t think that helps.]

    I was Confirmed at the age of 10 and I can remember to this day the transformative Grace I received on that occasion and the impress it left in my soul.

    I entered the church that day for Confirmation as a distracted little child and came out of the church completely transformed and caught up in the mystery of what had just taken place in my soul.

    I knew nothing about the Saints or about mystical graces and therefore did not comprehend at the time what had taken place in my soul. It is only in retrospect that I understood later that God had left His impress on my soul in a very special way that day.

    The early teen years are absolutely treacherous for our youth today. To deprive them of the Sacrament of Confirmation is to deal recklessly with their souls. Bishops should know this and should Grant access to the Sacrament of Confirmation accordingly.

    Many teenagers are not Confirmed until later and completely lose any desire for the Sacrament, receiving it with indifference, rather than with the innocence of childhood before it is vitiated..

    I can certainly understand the anxiety and solicitude of a mother who cares about the salvation of her children while seeing them exposed to the treachery of this world without the protections that come from the Sacrament of Confirmation.

    I think you offered a solution that would eliminate any scruple, and that is to travel outside the state for Confirmation.

    If not for this alternative, I can certainly understand why a parent would have recourse to SSPX chapels to have their children Confirmed 4 years earlier. That’s a long time for a young child to be deprived of the helps of Confirmation in a world as sick as ours, and for a Bishop to deny parents this option is a dereliction of his duty.

  4. I think we really need to confirm children at younger ages. In fact, with the filthification of popular culture and education, and the pushing of sex ed for younger and younger kids, I will go as far as to say I think infants should be confirmed. Children need all the graces they can get to withstand the constant and unremitting assaults on their faith and their baptismal innocence.

  5. Ave Crux says:

    A further thought, is it not the mark of satan – not that of Holy Mother Church, devoted to Her children – that just as the need for Confirmation becomes more urgent in this age than ever before in human history (especially given the proliferation of hedonism and sexual license through the media directly into our homes),that the age for Confirmation is being delayed 3-4 years?

    In our diocese, the directive was to delay Confirmation so the teenagers could decide for themselves whether they actually wanted this Sacrament! What 16 year old (as some of them were) will readily volunteer for the yoke of Christ, if in fact they have even bothered to go to Catechism any longer at that point, especially without the helps of Confirmation.

    The Hierarchy seems to be falling in quite nicely with satan’s plans.

    If it’s clear that many of these recent changes could only please the enemy of our souls, how far do we obey…..?

    This is a question on my mind and that of many others I know.

  6. thomistking says:

    It is also my understanding that SSPX priests, because they lack faculties, confirm invalidly. I’m not sure about the SSPX bishops. The Canon above seems to imply they need some sort of faculties as well, but it certainly doesn’t say that.

    [SSPX bishops don’t have dioceses.]

  7. youngcatholicgirl says:

    Our diocese usually confirms children in the 8th grade (so, 13 or 14 years old), but my mother had absolutely no trouble from our bishop when she asked if I could be confirmed in another diocese (St. Louis, in the Extraordinary Form, at the Institute of Christ the King apostolate), at the age of 12 (the youngest allowed at the apostolate). The folks in St. Louis said sure, if it’s okay with your bishop, who said sure, if it’s okay with your pastor, who said sure. ;)

  8. Vincent says:

    Andrew, I’m no canon lawyer, but I believe that you have to be very careful with the logic of “I don’t know what his intention was” – this is an argument that’s used quite a lot among hard line Traddies about Holy Orders. Some essentially say that because you can’t be sure what the intention of some bishops are (we don’t have to look far to find examples), we can’t be sure that some priests are actually ordained.

    This is a dangerous argument, not least because the SSPX bishops work almost solely on the presumption that “ecclesia supplet” in regards to faculties – since they do not have faculties granted to them by the Pope.

    Secondly though, it’s very hard to invalidate on a matter of “intention” because the Church acts as a sort of guarantor that those who act in good faith are not deprived of the sacraments.

    Please don’t fall down the rabbit hole of “intention” – it doesn’t do anyone any good and it would be quite wrong of any one to reconfirm you without it being proven that the intention of the bishop was awry. And even then, I don’t think you’d need to be reconfirmed, as “ecclesia supplet”.

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  10. Nicholas1978 says:

    I have much the same dilemma. I live in South Africa where for years the nationwide rule has been that Confirmation is given in the penultimate year of high school – usually age 17 – but a minimum age 16. My wife was confirmed age 10 in an SSPX chapel and here the SSPX admits children of around that age…but we attend the EF in a parish now and our stuck when it comes to Confirmation. Two of our children would have been confirmed had we been SSPX still. It is saddening and infuriating. Also First Holy Communion is normally given at age 10/11 here but we managed to have ours receive at 7. Confirmation though is episcopal policy and I very much doubt they will make an exception for my family. The bishops dig in their heels.

  11. Austin says:

    I can’t remember when I last saw a confirmation performed by a bishop. Almost all here seem to be done by the parochial clergy, at best the head of the parochial cluster. Seems to lack a sense of integration to the wider church, even if it is sacramentally efficacious.

  12. Moro says:

    Not to go off on too much of tangent, but there really is a need for good catechesis on confirmation. It may require a pope, at some point in the not too distant future, to clear it up. In my experience here in the US, too often confirmation is nothing more than a Catholic, coming of age ceremony or as I like to a describe the mindset: a Catholic Bar Mitzvah. Worse, it is often framed as a graduation from the faith as in my diocese, 8th graders were confirmed prior to entering high school and it was seen as the point where they made their own decision as to whether or not to continue with the practice of the faith. Those who went to Catholic elementary schools graduated and were confirmed in the same year and often stopped the practice of the faith. It’s a mess to say the least.

  13. Fr_Sotelo says:

    Grace builds upon nature. As the grace of the sacrament of marriage does not guarantee that a couple will live as faithful spouses, open to the children that God wishes to send, so in the same way, the grace of confirmation does not guarantee that a Catholic child will resist the evils of the present age.

    A Catholic couple must truly give their heart over to God’s plan and be formed in their conscience according to a Catholic morality in regards to the goods of marriage. Then the graces of marriage can bear fruit.

    In the case of Catholic young people, I ask this about the graces of confirmation. If parents have kids in public school, involved in sports or clubs, or circles of friends who are secularists and atheists, watching the regular TV of today, seeing Hollywood movies, and listening to music that are part of today’s youth culture, using the internet freely, and in possession of smart phones–what do you expect the graces of confirmation to accomplish?

    Shall we confirm Catholic youth early because this will magically reverse the effects of today’s culture which the parents have allowed the children to have access to, in a spiritual death by a thousand cuts? How often I have seen parents insist (!) that their young children be confirmed, and then relax their vigilance, and then allow numerous portals for the devil to have access to their kids.

    I think many bishops will either confirm children who are younger, or delegate the pastor to confirm children at a younger age, if the pastor emphatically states that the children in question are well prepared in the Catholic home by parents who are truly catechists and apostles in word and deed for their children. After all, children who go through RCIA are allowed to be confirmed by the pastor, so the bishop is already accepting the canonical provision for the pastor to confirm his parishioners who are below the confirmation guideline.

    In petitioning the bishop, it is simply a matter for the bishop to apply the RCIA exception to the confirmation rule. It is not so much of a stretch for the bishop to allow confirmation, for non-RCIA children of parents where it can be said that “grace is building upon nature.” In this case, parents who do not treat the sacrament of confirmation as a substitute for their own hard work to penetrate the kids’ minds and hearts with a solidly Catholic ethos.

  14. Recall, too: Cong. for Divine Worship and Discipline of the Sacraments (Medina Estévez), litt. [de Confirmationis receptionis aetate] (no date), Communicationes 32 (2000) 12-14 (English text). Cites: (0057), 0843, 0889, 0890, 0891. / Synopsis: A suitably instructed and disposed child of age 11 has a right to receive the sacrament of Confirmation despite a diocesan policy setting a later age for reception.

  15. un-ionized says:

    Andrew, the fact of using proper form and matter implies the intent. Second guessing a bishop’s intent will get you nowhere.

  16. Papabile says:

    While it would be right for the bishop to have faculties to ordain in anothe Bishop’s diocese, this is not required for validity. And, it has nothings to do with ecclesia supplet.

    Confirmation in the case of a Bishop not having faculties would be valid, but illicit.

    And several Bishops are now actually allowing SSPX confirmations because of what Rome did on marriages and confessions.

  17. Papabile says:

    A Bishop confirming in a diocese not his own needs faculties to confirm licitly. This, however does not affect validity.

  18. hwriggles4 says:

    Bishops are not immune to the laws of physics and cannot be in two or more places at the same time. Therefore, at Easter Vigil, a good priest will often say that Bishop (insert name here) of Diocese (or Archdiocese)(insert location here) has given permission to the Parish priest to perform the Sacrament of Confirmation tonight.

    My nephew was confirmed last spring, and one thing I liked was Archbishop Hebda had several parishes (8 or 10) come to the Basilica that Saturday morning. The Basilica was able to hold those present, and the teenagers got to physically see a bishop. Auxiliary Bishop Cozzens did the confirmation and the homily, which was well done and the teenagers “got the message.” It was also easier for the bishop to have the parishes come to him. Actually, I heard he confirmed another 8 or 10 parishes that Saturday afternoon.

  19. Suburbanbanshee says:

    Of course Confirmation is not a guarantee. But it strengthens one, just as it says on the tin. We don’t deprive kids of vitamins and exercise, on the grounds that some kids do not grow up big and strong.

    And frankly, as a Sacrament of initiation, Grace is more to the point than Nature.

    Matrimony is a Sacrament for well formed adults, and even it is designed to work for people who are not theologians or saints. Good intentions and an understanding of contracts are perfectly sufficient as a start.

  20. Matt R says:

    I find Fr. Sotelo’s comment to be unnecessarily cynical, and it’s an attitude like this which puts up roadblocks to the age ever dropping. Further, if baptismal graces can help us avoid many sins and the formation of vices, then why shouldn’t confirmation be given to children at younger ages if it helps to strengthen us and will help remedy what has been weakened after baptism?

  21. Fr_Sotelo says:

    “Grace is more to the point than Nature.” This may not sound too convincing to the diocesan Bishop if someone is appealing to bypass his guideline for the age of confirmation. However, a young person who is properly disposed and well catechized in the faith shows that someone cares enough about the groundwork, upon which God’s grace is to build and have effect. The grace only helps and strengthens, if the recipient earnestly desires that to happen. Thus, Church qualifies that a sacrament does not confer grace “ex opere operato” if an “obex” or barrier is placed–e.g. attitudes, thinking, dispositions, hardness of heart, lack of contrition for sin, etc. which resist the Holy Spirit.

  22. christulsa says:

    There are those who would argue you can approach an SSPX priest for the sacraments since each individual priest, they say, has not been officially
    suspended. Without that, if approached, can’t they legitimately give the sacraments? Just wondering. [“the sacraments”… yes and no.]

    If so, wouldn’t that apply to approaching one of their bishops for confirmation? JPII declared them excommunicated; BXVI lifted the excommunications, but didn’t issue an official, canonical suspension according to a canonical procedure.

    And + Fellay says the Vatican gave their bishops permission to ordain priests.

    So people have argued. [Wrong.]

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