Mark P. Shea is a popular Catholic writer and speaker. The author of numerous books, his most recent work is The Work of Mercy (Servant) and The Heart of Catholic Prayer (Our Sunday Visitor). Mark contributes numerous articles to many magazines, including his popular column “Connecting the Dots” for the National Catholic Register. Mark is known nationally for his one minute “Words of Encouragement” on Catholic radio. He also maintains the Catholic and Enjoying It blog. He lives in Washington state with his wife, Janet, and their four sons.
A reader writes:
While you may not be the best source for my questions but in that your name came to mind first, so here goes.
I have been writing/publishing/developing the Little Flowers Girls Program (www.eccehomopress.com) for many years now. I strive to develop a program that fits the needs of families while teaching the girls a bit about virtue life, etc.
Here’s the problem - one of our ‘wreaths’ is written for girls preparing for Confirmation and was developed for girls approx. 12 and up as I found (or thought I found) that was a pretty good median age for this sacrament.
However, I have been contacted by one woman whose girls will be getting confirmed in 3rd grade along with younger children, down to Kindergarten. She is wondering how to bring down the wreath to their level. (I have written her back to ask what diocese but have not yet
heard.) And I have no idea!!
My question - while I know a bishop has the right to choose the age of confirmation, I am having a hard time wrapping my head around teaching children about the glory, majesty and power of this sacrament when they are still struggling to learn how to read successfully. Having taught confirmation both at home w/ my own kids and through my parish’s CCD program I know the struggle this sacrament ‘without a home’ can have. I have had the petulant teens who are merely filling the seat because their parents have told them to. But also having
taught my kids from kindergarten through high school, I don’t know how I would impart the truths of confirmation to such young children.
Any help here?
There are a few things I would keep in mind. First, keep in mind the story of Frank Schaeffer a convert to Orthodoxy. He was talking with his priest about the Eastern (and, by the way, Byzantine Catholic) practice of giving all the sacrament of initiation (Baptism, Confirmation and Eucharist) to infants and he blurted out, “But babies don’t even understand what these sacraments are!”
The priest replied, “Do you?”
In short, the first thing to know about the sacraments is that they are effectual, not because of our understanding of them, but because of the power of God. My own wife wound up being confirmed when she was in third grade and has always credited the grace of that sacrament with her lifelong desire for God.
As far as catechesis goes, two things seem to me to stand out. It seems like *some* things can be pitched to a third grade understanding: Confirmation is to make you strong so you and serve God and tell other people about him and it’s given because God is not just your Father, he’s your friend. Get those ideas across and you’ve gotten the core of the Church’s teaching across. You could talk a bit about the gifts of the Holy Spirit (kids can relate to gifts) and that would probably be sufficient for a little one.
The second thing to remember is that this is not your one and only chance to ever talk about confirmation. There might be some way to arrange periodic appointments for parents and/or catechists to revisit confirmation over the succeeding years and check in with the confirmand as he/she grows up and discerns their charisms, discovers the power of the sacrament at work in their lives and so forth. Not knowing details I can’t say how that might work with respect to your wreaths, but it seems like a reasonable approach to take.
FWIW, you might go back over my blog entries in this space from last fall and on into winter, where I teased out some of the catechism’s teaching on Confirmation. There might be ways to translate some of that into “Kidlish” so that the basic concepts get across.
Hope that helps!