Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments, Age for the reception of the sacrament of confirmation, 2006, Private.


A diocesan bishop established a policy concerning the age for the reception of the Sacrament of Confirmation for the local diocese. The parents of a youngster in that diocese sought to have their child confirmed at an age below that set by diocesan policy. The bishop denied the parents request on behalf of their child. He explained that he was not refusing administration of the sacrament but only delaying its reception to a later time, at the age set by diocesan policy. The parents appealed the bishop's decision to the Congregation for Divine Worship and Discipline of the Sacraments. What follows is a series of letters exchanged by the bishop and the Congregation:




CONGREGATIO DE CULTU DIVINO ET DISCIPLINA SACRAMENTORUM

Your Excellency:

It has come to the attention of this Congregation for Divine Worship that _____, who is a resident the Diocese of _____ along with her parents, has requested the Sacrament of Confirmation but has been refused until she reached high school age. Her parents have indicated their willingness to enroll their daughter in any preparatory program requested, but it is their desire that the sacrament would be administered to her as soon as possible.

Indeed, from the accounts provided, it would appear that this girl is already sufficiently instructed to be able to receive the sacrament. Therefore, it is hoped that an agreeable solution can be reached to allow her to be confirmed according to her and her parents’ wishes.

Consequently, Your Excellency is asked to investigate the case, and if, in fact, _____ is duly prepared for the reception of the sacrament, to give renewed consideration to allowing her to be confirmed as soon as possible, even though it would be in anticipation of the moment foreseen by the local norms established for candidates in the Diocese of _____. To assist you in making this decision Your Excellency will no doubt keep in mind the following principles form the Code of Canon Law.

1. Sacred ministers may not deny the sacraments to those who opportunely ask for them, are properly disposed and are not prohibited by law from receiving them. (can. 843 §1)

2. For the licit celebration of the Sacrament of Confirmation, the Code of Canon Law requires that candidates have reached the age of discretion, unless the Conference of Bishops has determined a different age. (cf. cann. 889 §2, 891).

3. In the United States of America the National Conference of Catholic Bishops has enacted with the required recognitio of the Apostolic See as a complementary norm concerning can. 891 that "the Sacrament of Confirmation in the Latin Rite shall be conferred between the age of discretion, which is about the age of 7 and 18 years of age, within the limits determined by the diocesan bishop..." (NCCB, May 1, 1994)

4. Therefore, when a bishop has enacted local legislation to give a more precise age for the reception of Confirmation in accord with the complementary norm approved for the USA, that local norm may be dispensed from whenever the local Ordinary judges that it contributes to the spiritual welfare of the faithful, (cf. can. 88) In fact, in danger of death or for another grave reason, the minister of Confirmation may dispense from all age requirements and confer the sacrament even upon those who have not yet reached the age of discretion (cf. can. 891)

5. Parents are entrusted with the primary duty of education and preparing their children for reception of the sacraments. Indeed, they are obliged, along with the pastors of souls, to see that their children are properly instructed to receive this sacrament and that they approach it at the opportune time. (cf. cann. 226 §2, 793, 890).

Bearing these principles in mind, Your Excellency is asked to provide for this situation as soon as possible after the receipt of this letter. When you communicate your decision to the interested parties, you are kindly requested to inform this Congregation of the provisions that have been made.

With every good wish and kind regard, I remain

Sincerely yours in Christ,

+Jorge A. Card. Medina Estévez

Prefect




Your Eminence:

Your letter of _____ prompted me to revisit the policy of the Diocese on the administration of the Sacrament of Confirmation.

Your letter was in response to a communication from the family of _____ requesting your intercession with me to allow her an exception to following the Diocesan policy. You also noted her parents support her request and are willing to enroll her "in any preparatory program requested."

I have known her parents very well over a long period of time and respect them as very good Catholics. I do not know what accounts they provided to you, but if they are the same as the letters of _____ to me, you would be correct in judging to be well instructed. As a matter of fact, there are many young people in this Diocese who can be considered instructed about confirmation before they approach the age time frame set in the Diocesan policy.

I wish to assure you that at the time that I first established the Diocesan policy I reviewed canon law. Because of your letter, I have again reviewed the policy. It is my conclusion that I have been and still am acting in a way that is consistent with the law pertinent to the Sacrament of Confirmation.

I have not denied the Sacrament of Confirmation to _____. Rather, I have established an appropriate time for Confirmation in the Diocese of _____ which is much later than the age of discretion, specifically, the sophomore year of high school or older. At that time _____ will be eligible under the current policy. As I understand the "recognitio" given to the Bishops of the United States, which has many times been discussed at general meetings of the bishops, "the Sacrament of Confirmation in the Latin Rite shall be conferred between the age of discretion, which is about the age of 7 to 18 years of age, within the limits determined by the diocesan bishop." In keeping with that I have established limits for this Diocese.

I can say quite confidently that the policy which I have set in consultation with the Presbyteral Council is pastoral in its basic thrust, suited to the pastoral needs of the people in this territory, and in accord with the law of the Church.

_____ has not been involved in this preparatory program. You state in your letter, Your Eminence, that her parents are willing to place her in any preparatory program requested. It would be inappropriate to place her with older teenagers. Furthermore, the preparation of candidates has been going on for many months, as has been announced in the parishes. It would be a puzzle for our many teachers and pastors to see an exception made by me now when they have constantly insisted that the candidates and families adhere to the policy.

All this leaves me in a predicament, Your Eminence. In your letter you mentioned my communicating with the interested parties. I have nothing to add to what I have already communicated to them.

Your Eminence, I appreciate very much your willingness to give time and attention to one of the families of the Diocese. It is good for the people to know that the offices of the Holy Father take an interest in them personally.

I hope that our communication will help to clarify one of the important pastoral practices of this Diocese.

With best wishes,

Sincerely in Christ,

/s/ Diocesan Bishop




CONGREGATIO DE CULTU DIVINO ET DISCIPLINA SACRAMENTORUM

Your Excellency:

This Congregation for Divine Worship has now completed its attentive study concerning the request of _____, who is a resident in the Diocese of _____ along with her parents, for reception of the Sacrament of Confirmation in anticipation of the local policy of conferring the sacrament no sooner than the sophomore year of high school. In particular, it was noted that Your Excellency acknowledged _____ to be "well instructed" and her parents to be "very good Catholics." It is therefore clear that this young lady is rightly disposed and desirous of the sacrament.

The revised Code of Canon Law legislates that sacred ministers may not deny the sacraments to those who opportunely ask for them, are properly disposed and are not prohibited by law from receiving them (cf. can. 843 §1). As a result, the importance of allowing this person to enjoy the graces that flow from the Sacrament of Confirmation must be seen to override considerations of an administrative nature.

This Dicastery entrusts to Your Excellency's prudent judgment the manner of this decision's implementation, asking only that the necessary steps be taken to provide for _____’s confirmation in the near future.

In order to complete our documentation concerning this question, this Congregation would be grateful to Your Excellency to receive notice of the agreement you will have reached with the family for _____ the confirmation.

With every good wish and kind regard, I remain

Sincerely yours in Christ,

+Jorge A. Card. Medina Estévez

Prefect




CONGREGATIO DE CULTU DIVINO ET DISCIPLINA SACRAMENTORUM

Your Excellency:

This Congregation for Divine Worship expresses its appreciation for your kind reply concerning the request of _____ along with her parents for reception of the Sacrament of Confirmation in anticipation of the local policy of conferring the sacrament no sooner than the sophomore year of high school.

In light of Your Excellency's considered response, this Dicastery has decided that it is necessary to respond in some detail to the considerations you raise, and so, the case was submitted to a renewed and attentive examination. The Congregation was anxious to communicate the results of this study as soon as possible asking you to note the authoritative nature of the conclusions contained therein.

At the same time this Dicastery has considered it important to respond to the considerations raised by Your Excellency in refusing to dispense her from the Diocesan Policy in order that she might anticipate her reception of the Sacrament of Confirmation. This Congregation wishes, however, to preface its further comments with the observation that your Excellency's refusal to grant this dispensation must be seen as having the juridic value of an administrative act denying an anticipated conferral of the sacrament. Among the responsibilities entrusted to this Dicastery is the authoritative examination of appeals against such administrative actions (cf. Apostolic Constitution, Pastor Bonus, arts. 19, §1,63).

In reply to this Congregation's decision that appropriate steps be taken to provide for her confirmation in the near future, Your Excellency had proposed essentially two arguments:

1. Though willingly admitting that she is well instructed and that her parents are very good Catholics, you point out that "instruction is not the sole criterion for recognizing the opportune time for confirmation… The evaluation is a pastoral one which involves much more than just being instructed."

2. Your Excellency indicated that the Diocesan Policy establishing that conferral of the sacrament is to be no earlier than the sophomore year of high school is within the right inherent in the law in light of the legislation complementary to can. 891 for the United States of America.

With respect to Your Excellency's first point, it is no doubt true that there is a pastoral judgment to be made in such cases, provided that by "pastoral judgment" one is speaking of the obligation of the Sacred Pastors to determine whether those elements required by the revised Code of Canon Law are indeed present, namely, that the person be baptized, have the use of reason, be suitably instructed, and be properly disposed and able to renew the baptismal promises (cf. cann. 843 § 1; 889 §2). This Dicastery notes from the testimony submitted by the family, as well as that provided by Your Excellency, that it is clear this young girl has satisfied each of the canonical requisites for reception of the sacrament In regard to Your Excellency's second point, while it is clear that the Diocesan Policy is within the right inherent in the law in light of the complementary legislation for the United States of America for can 891, it is also clear that any such complementary legislation must always be interpreted in accord with the general norm of law. As has been stated before, the Code of Canon Law legislates that Sacred Ministers may not deny the sacraments to those who opportunely ask for them, are properly disposed and are not prohibited by law from receiving then (cf. can. 843 § 1). Since it has been demonstrated that she possesses these requisite qualities, any other considerations, even those contained in the Diocesan Policy, need to be understood in subordination to the general norms governing the reception of the sacraments.

The Congregation considers it useful to point out that it is the role of the parents as the primary educators of their children and then of the Sacred Pastors to see that candidates for the reception of the Sacrament of Confirmation are properly instructed to receive the sacrament and come to it at the opportune time (cf. can. 890). Consequently, when a member of the faithful wishes to receive this sacrament, even though not satisfying one or more elements of the local legislation (e.g., being younger than the designated age for administration of the sacrament), those elements must give way to the fundamental right of the faithful to receive the sacraments. Indeed, the longer the conferral of the sacrament is delayed after the age of reason, the greater will be the number of candidates who are prepared for its reception but are deprived of its grace for a considerable period of time.

In conclusion, this Congregation for Divine Worship must insist, given the concrete circumstances of the case under consideration, that the opportunity to receive the Sacrament of Confirmation be extended to _____ as soon as is conveniently possible.

In order to complete our documentation concerning this question, this Dicastery would be grateful to Your Excellency to receive notice of the agreement you will have reached with the family for the administration of the sacrament.

With every good wish and kind regard, I remain

Sincerely yours in Christ,

+Jorge A. Card. Medina Estévez

Prefect




CONGREGATIO DE CULTU DIVINO ET DISCIPLINA SACRAMENTORUM

Your Excellency:

Several days ago I became aware of some of the negative consequences which have followed upon the letter that this Congregation wrote to you on _____, as well as the displeasure that our recent letter of _____ appears to have caused you.

I regret the disquiet that Your Excellency has experienced, especially because it seems there may have been an insufficient evaluation of the facts of the case on the part of this Dicastery. At the same time, it was in the long letter forwarded here by the Apostolic Nuncio, that Your Excellency expressed clearly your concern regarding the negative consequences for the local Church in general that you feared would arise from an action on the part of the Congregation which would seem to undermine the authority of the local Bishop.

In the absence of such precise knowledge of the situation, the concern of this Dicastery had been rather to safeguard the free access of the faithful to the Holy See (cf. can. 1417 § 1 CIC), a right which - Your Excellency can well appreciate - crucial in many instances where the rights of the faithful are unjustly infringed or overlooked.

Another concern on the part of this Dicastery was to ensure that the law of the local as well as the universal Church be applied with that sense of aequitas canonica which expressly incorporates the notion of a dispensation in order to avoid an excessive rigor iuris, thus making certain exception which are always intended for the sake of the spiritual good of the faithful, as contrasted with the ordinances of civil law.

While the Congregation is not in a position to verify Your Excellency's perception of the intentions of certain local groups to undermine your authority, it now seems apparent that Your Excellency, in a decision which has formerly seemed to this Dicastery to be characterized by a certain rigidity, was motivated rather by other specific concerns, which this Congregation perhaps might be better advised to give consideration.

I would ask that Your Excellency accept my apologies as to this misunderstanding, and I request that you communicate to me at your earliest convenience your own suggestions.

In anticipation of your kind reply and with every prayerful good wish, I am

Sincerely yours in Christ,

+Jorge A. Card. Meina Estévez

Prefect




Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments, Age for the reception of the sacrament of confirmation, 2006, Private, CLSA, Roman Replies and Advisory Opinions, 2006, 22-30.