What Age to Confirm?

I was quoted in an article in the current issue of the National Catholic Reporter, talking about the issue of what age to confirm. What are your thoughts about this issue?

(pictured: Bishop Samuel Aquila of Fargo, N.D., and Fr. Luke Meyer, chancellor, talk with children at St. John Catholic Church in Wahpeton prior to their April 23, 2010, confirmation and first Eucharist Mass. (Diocese of Fargo/Tanya Watterud)

About Joe Paprocki 2742 Articles
Joe Paprocki, DMin, is National Consultant for Faith Formation at Loyola Press, where, in addition to his traveling/speaking responsibilities, he works on the development team for faith formation curriculum resources including Finding God: Our Response to God’s Gifts and God’s Gift: Reconciliation and Eucharist. Joe has more than 35 years of experience in ministry and has presented keynotes, presentations, and workshops in more than 100 dioceses in North America. Joe is a frequent presenter at national conferences including the Los Angeles Religious Education Congress, the Mid-Atlantic Congress, and the National Conference for Catechetical Leadership. He is the author of numerous books, including the best seller The Catechist’s Toolbox, A Church on the Move, Under the Influence of Jesus, and Called to Be Catholic—a bilingual, foundational supplemental program that helps young people know their faith and grow in their relationship with God. Joe is also the series editor for the Effective Catechetical Leader and blogs about his experiences in faith formation at www.catechistsjourney.com.


  1. Like you, I was a DRE for 7 years. We confirmed in 8th grade. I agree with all you mentioned in the article. My answer is that we should do what the Orthodox do and give all three sacraments of initiation at once at baptism. As for understanding, the sacraments are and always will be a mystery. Our lives are mystagogical moments from the time we are initiated into the faith until death. If we adopted this practice the bishops would probably be left out in most instances, so maybe there would have to be a Rite of Election type of thing.

    When I was a child in the Archdiocese of Chicago, the bishop came around for Confirmation just once every 4 years. At that time all the children in grades 5 through 8 were prepared for and received Confirmation at one ceremony. We had a special Confirmation catechism book to learn. I think it may have been an abridgement of the regular catechism with emphasis on learning what Confirmation was all about. I remember learning the 7 gifts of the H.S. and the 12 fruits. But what most stands out in my mind was learning that at the end of life good will be rewarded and evil will be punished. I hoped to be rewarded and not punished. But fear of punishment probably helped me avoid or at least think twice about sinning. I was just 10 years of age when I was confirmed by Cardinal Stritch.

  2. I have worked with parishes that confirm at 2nd grade, 5th grade, 7th grade, and 8th grade and I know many parishes in our area who confirm in high school. Personally, I recognize benefits — and drawbacks — at each age. I guess I’m just glad I don’t have to make that decision!

    Some people are fiercely opposed to confirming at the age of reason, but I feel that they perhaps need to be better catechized in sacramental theology.

    P.S. — loved your “carrot on the stick” line — so true!

  3. Our Diocese is readiness based, but I still find that it is a graduation from religious ed.

    My opinion is I would like to see people in late high school, or in their twenties who are Confirmed. They receive the Holy Spirit at Baptism. Confirmation should be their adult decision to become a member of the Church- in time (volunteering), talent, and treasure (tithing 10% of their income). I think if people in their twenties committed to the faith as their own, their faith would be stronger.

    Either that, or Baptize and Confirm as infants. Since, in many instances Bishops no longer Confirm anyway. And historically the 2 Sacraments were seperated so that the Bishop could Confirm.

    I don’t think we would really lose parishioners. In fact, it could strengthen parishioners.
    Yes we would Confirm less, but most of our members being Confirmed we aren’t seeing after the ceremony.
    So if people really chose to be Confirmed for themselves without any expectations or pressure, they would have a stronger committment.

    I would also like to see life long faith formation. An expectation for each member from Pre-K through age 100+ to attend faith formation each week. Everyone should want to continue to grow in their relationship with God.

    But, that is my opinion.

    I trust the various Diocese and parishes to let the Holy Spirit guide them.

    • Jenn.

      Wow. I rather like your comments (and it takes nerve to think that way in our Church) that confirming people in late high school, early 20’s might be the way to go. I do agree that someone coming in at that age may have a stronger faith. The flip side of that though is that the point of these sacraments of initiation is for parents to bring their children into the Catholic Faith…..the same faith that the parents have (or supposedly have). Not having completed these sacraments as minors could lead us down a slippery slope…..COULD…..I’m not saying it would. Being devil’s advocate here but if we didn’t confirm until a much older age, why bother with the Eucharist before that point either?

      I say this because I know people that won’t baptize their children because they “want them to make up their own mind”. We have a fine line that we walk, that’s for sure!!!

  4. We have had Restored Order in the Fort Worth Diocese for over 15 years. We were left off the list! What we have found is that our children who go through Restored Order have stayed in RE classes through high school. They are some of our most involved teens. A lot attend the H.S. confirmation retreat with friends who didn’t go through RO and are even sponsors. The majority of our parents choose this option for their children. Parents and children have to attend RO classes, so it is a very positive experience for all. I too, believe Confirmation is a gift and shouldn’t be used to keep children in our RE classes. Young children have the most open, accepting hearts and they are all so excited to be receiving Confirmation and Eucharist. They can tell you what it means, with no “eye rolling” involved. (:

  5. I would vote for Confirmation at the same time as First Communion. It would still allow the Bishop to do most of the confirmations, but would help clear up up the idea that confirmation is somehow about making an adult statement of faith.

    As for keeping kids in religious ed longer, it doesn’t really seem to be making that big of a difference in my parish, and I’m guessing many others. We have lots of kids for the two first communion years, a big drop off for the in between years, and then a bigger class for the two confirmation years. So making confirmation later isn’t really helping, it just means that they show up when they have to for sacraments, and don’t come when they don’t “have to”.

    The other argument I often hear is there isn’t enough time to prepare them for confession, confirmation, and first communion all at the same time. Well, I teach RCIA kids, so I have all of those plus baptism in about 9 months while first communion/confession in most parishes I’ve heard about, is twice that. So, I’m quite sure there is plenty of time.

  6. Hi Joe,
    Our parish offers Confirmation preparation after a child has celebrated their First Eucharist. It is always the parents’ decision. We have age appropriate materials from 8 years through high school, as many families move here with children who have not celebrated Confirmation.
    If we could, we would go to restored order, but that’s not an option here yet. As the Pastoral Associate for Faith Formation, I prepare the parents who then prepare their children. They are intimately involved in the process, as the NDC states they should be. Sacramental Preparation is separate from our parish school, PSR, and Home Study religious education classes, which are based on a child’s grade in school. We use a spiral format for religious ed, so all of the sacraments are reviewed each year, again age appropriately. We also take our religion texts apart, chapter by chapter, and arrange them according to the Sunday readings, so that we are following the Liturgical Year as best as we can.
    With most of our children celebrating Confirmation around 8 years of age, we have no “graduation syndrome” to deal with. They understand, as do their parents, that Confimation is the completion of Baptism, not a rite of passage.
    As to understanding, I believe that a 3rd grader can understand the Gift of the Holy Spirit just as much as a second grader can understand Transubstantiation, or a first grader Penance and Reconciliation.
    I personally was baptized, confirmed and received Eucharist as an adult some 41 years ago, as an adult, and I am still growing in my understanding of the sacraments.
    I would say that since we are baptized once, confirmed once, and receive Eucharist forever, restoring the order helps us to understand that we are forever being initiated into the Body of Christ.

  7. I am the Coordinator of Religious Education in my parish. We have our students make Confirmation in High School. I believe that they are better able to discuss and question their faith and beliefs at this age. I also believe that they get more out of their service opportunities when they are a little older. But the biggest reason that I believe that High School is a good time is that we work at moving the Confirmation candidates into active participation in our parish. When the students are confirmed we have some moving into ministries such as Eucharistic Ministers and Lectors. We also have a very active youth program that we try to move the students into as part of the preparation for Confirmation. Unfortunately many parents and students still look at Confirmation as graduation from Religious Education and complain that the students have to return in High School. We tell the parents and students that Confirmation is not graduation but the beginning of their active participation in the parish – and High School is the best time for that.

    • Julie, that’s great that your parish actively works at initiating the young people into parish life.

  8. I see the pro’s and con’s of confirmation at both sides of the age spectrum. My parish (the whole Archdiocese, for that matter) confirm around age 15 (usually 9th grade). We have a 2 year program and the teens begin in the 8th grade (around 14). I am grateful to know our young people are understanding the importance of the sacrament and choosing for themselves (for the most part – there is still parental influence of course). But I do also see the benefits of infant, or age of reason, confirmation and returning to the original order of the sacraments. In my Archdiocese the Archbishop rotates parishes, so every other year he is here for confirmation, on the odd years he sends the chancellor – which works out fine. In my parish I am a catechist in our confirmation program and happen to be on the odd years, so all of my classes are confirmed by the chancellor – but it’s still special. I also do adult confirmation – which is a huge blessing – I love to see these adults own their faith in their own time pace. They come understanding the importance, desiring to know, love, and serve God, and to find a home.

    • Jennifer, thanks for the comments about adult confirmation…that’s an important aspect to this conversation.

  9. I’d like to second Ruth Ann’s suggestion that we adopt the Orthodox practice, or at least restore the order to what God intended. The carrot-and-stick approach of waiting until adolescence omits the consideration of receptivity to the sacraments. How many adolescents are effectively nullifying their own Confirmation with overwhelming cynicism? Perhaps the reason for poor participation in parish life is due to the number of “null” confirmations over the past 40-50 years. Let’s put the sacraments back into the proper order and let the Holy Spirit sort it out. If we really need a rite of passage for adolescents, let’s pick up the Bar/Bat Mitzvahs we’re poorly imitating and do a proper job of it.

  10. I was confirmed in the 8th grade, and I believe that was an appropriate age……for me. I can’t, nor would I venture to, speak for the rest of the class. Many, many years later I opted to not have my teenage daughters confirmed because of a personal problem I had with the parish we attended. That decision bothered me for years. Then when my daughters were in their 30’s they made the conscious decision to attend classes and be confirmed together. They feel that it was far more meaningful for them to be confirmed as adults rather than in their teens. I believe it is a very personal decision and should depend on the individual.

  11. As an Eastern-rite Catholic, I received all 3 sacraments of initiation when I was a month old. That was 63 years ago last mont,h so I guess it worked for me. The sacraments are indeed mysteries and there probably is no “right” age. I agree with Jenn. Celebrate all three sacraments together – either as an infant or an adult. It is the family and parish community that you are part of that will make the biggest difference, notwithstanding the Holy Spirit!

  12. Our Archdiocese has been confirming in high school for a number of years. It began as Jr-Sr. and has dropped to Freshmen-Sophomore (with an emphasis on 2 year programs). I don’t see either of these ages working. You get a few teens who will stay involved (mostly because their families have made being Catholic truly who they are). The rest of the teens come for the exact requirements and then they are gone. Granted, if we create better leadership roles for them to get involved in afterward and make sure every parish has a youth minister who can get the youth program up and running then maybe they will come back. I’m all for moving Confirmation back with Baptism. I agree with Joe, then you focus on the teens and what they need in their lives now. I really hope this conversation goes on at the Bishop’s level so that all dioceses can get on the same page. I’d like us to find out how Young Life in the ‘mega church’ world keeps those kids coming. We need to find a way to fire up our youth without dangling that carrot in front of them. We see kids wanting to go to their protestant youth groups, Mormon kids meet early in the morning for some of their high school groups and they want to! Our local youth ministers are fantastic–it would be great to take the burden of paperwork and requirements off their plates and let them dive in and do what they really feel called to do–share their love of God with teens!

    • Sandi, thanks for your thoughts…you are very passionate about this topic and rightly so. Unfortunately, I don’t think this discussion is being had by the bishops. I don’t think they want to go there.

  13. This issue seems to just never go away but it’s all good. In my humble opinion, the sacrament of confirmation seems to be “hijacked” for the simple reason of keeping kids in religious education programs. If a baby can be baptized and receive the gifts of the Holy Spirit without the “age of reason”, then what’s to prevent confirmation? Do any of us, lay or clergy, know exactly when the gifts of the Holy Spirit “kick in” or “matures” in our lives??

    The continuing religious faith formation of children shouldn’t be based on receiving this sacrament or that sacrament at a certain age/grade. The continuing faith formation should fall squarely and sorely on the adult parent(s)!! If the child no longer attends church or religious ed after 2nd or 3d grade, then it’s the parent(s) fault, totally!! I’ve yet to see the DMV issue drivers license to anyone under 16yrs.

    We adults who don’t practice our faith and yet impose it on our children make the biggest mistake ever and only lend an “out” for the child as they grow older to leave the church and explore the world.

    If no lifetime faith commitment from parents, then why should the child be held to a different standard? Similarly, if parents wear only jeans and/or shorts to church, then what does that signify?

  14. I have been a DRE for over 20 years and have seen Confirmation given to many age groups. We here at our parish confirm mostly in the Fall of the junior year in High School. But the Sacrament is actually given when the student has met all the requirements for prepartion. So we have had some students receive in their 10th year. We now have a strong youth group. Yes we do have many thinking it’s a graduation from church. But changing the age to younger will not make that situation better. I have also seen teens who came to us with very little or no faith to knowing there is a God who loves them personally. They take Him as their personal savior. This would not have happened if they were not in our classes on the high school level. We were there handing them the faith when they needed it very bad. They are grateful for our program because some of them receive very little support from home. Those are the students who come back and are part of the ministries of the church.

  15. Confiormation should be given in high school. 11 & 12 grade
    8th grade students are not ready for the theology of the great Sacrament.

  16. Hi, I went through the entire 8 years of CCD before I was confirmed in 8th grade. I was hoping for the same for my 3 girls. I had a wonderful CCD in class in my 8th grade that shaped my faith. It was done in someone’s home.
    It was a husband and wife, with a family, that had volunteered. They discussed more topics about religion and how it had affected their lives, how they had put religion in their life. I looked forward to it and I often
    think back to our discussions. I was hoping to find a similiar class for my children. It no longer is available. It seems all the requirements for confirmation have taken over the confirmation process. I think 8th grade is a good time to get confirmed since high school, peer pressure, and a number of things occur in high school. I believe it is better to have confirmation covered in 8th grade. It may give kids the strengh to get through high school and keep their values high. In my parish, a child may or may not get confirmed depending on if it is the year the bishop visits your church. I think you are losing so many kids do to all these requirements they have to go through to get confirmed. I see many children leaving the faith because of these requirements. Plus the parents are pulling the kids out because they do not want to have to run their kids around to complete the 30 hours of community service and 25 hours of church service. I see many kids going to more kid friendly religion classes. You need to make it more fun and keep it about the true
    meaning of confirmation and keep all these milestones out.

  17. I love teaching 8th graders about confirmation. For me, it is important that the children know and are able to “open and recognize” the gifts given to them by the Holy Spirit at their confirmation. Again, for me, it is also important that they are willing and knowingly committing themselves to a stewardship way of life. I stress to them the importance of their commissioning by the bishop to be apostles, and that they should go out and take the Good News to their neighbors and that many times that might be their own family.
    That is why I think that any younger than 8th grade is a little too soon.

  18. As a revert who left the church for a short time and found a congregation full of people functioning in supernatural gifts, my hunch has been that we need to hold off until kids can know and believe what is happening.

    However, in a recent discussion about this with a priest friend, I came to understand the position that the deeper graces available n the sacrament may sometimes be what pulls that individual back later in life. In this theory, the sacrament is basically serving as a safety line, rather than the intended supercharger to produce evangelism.

    Either way, something must be done. Our young people shouldn’t be seeing confirmation as a boring ritual while folks of all ages are fired up with love for God and praying in tongues after someone (not a bishop) lays hands on them at the “bible church” down the road!

    (Yes, I have volunteered to be a catechist so I hopefully will not be sitting on the sidelines complaining but seeking a solution 😉

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