When did you receive your sacraments?
Most of us in the United States were baptized as babies. We then receive the Sacraments of Reconciliation and our First Eucharist around the age of reason (7). Then, the next sacrament we receive would be Confirmation. In the United States Confirmation is typically done sometime between the ages of seven to eighteen.
This is a wide range. Why? Many have been taught that Confirmation is a sacrament of maturity. So the question becomes when is one mature enough to receive Confirmation. For many, the phrase “sacrament of maturity” is interpreted to mean we have graduated from our religious education. Others see Confirmation as when we become adults in the church. Confirmation is neither graduation nor becoming an adult in the church.
Both graduation and becoming an adult can be seen as “rites of passage” meaning they mark a transition from one stage of life to another. Confirmation as a “sacrament of maturity” meaning that we have come to a new awareness of faith but we must realize that we still have a lot to learn. In this sense Confirmation is considered a “Sacrament of Initiation.”
There are three Sacraments of Initation; Baptism, Confirmation, and Eucharist. Baptism is clearly an initation into God’s family. Confirmation is initiation as marking our growing in awareness of faith. Eucharist is considering the final step in initiation. In receiving the Eucharist, our entry into God’s family reaches a new level.
Note that I say the Church sees the Eucharist as the final sacrament of initiation. That means that both Baptism and Confirmation should be received before our First Communion. Why hasn’t this been the case?
For centuries, Confirmation, First Eucharist, and First Penance were all received around the age of twelve. Early in the 2oth Century, Pope Pius XII realized that children under the age of twelve had sufficienct understanding of the Eucharist to receive Communion. He lowered the age of First Communion to seven years old. There was no change in the age of Confirmation. So the order became Baptism, First Communion, and then Confirmation. This is the order most of us grew up with.
With the Second Vatican Council there was a great interest in examing the historical customs of the Church. This led to a new awareness of the order of the Sacraments. The term Restored Order is now used to signify receiving the Sacraments in their original order of Baptism, Confirmation, and the Eucharist (if you attend the Easter Vigil you will see this is the order in which the elect receive their sacraments).
Then, under the model of Restored Order, what is the proper age to receive the Sacraments? Baptism continues to be done on babies. At the age of seven, one is considered to have reached the “age of reason” and is ready to receive Confirmation and Eucharist. In this model, then, Confirmation and First Communion happen at the same Mass, first Confirmation after the homily, and then they receive their First Communion with the rest of the congregation.
Restored Order for children is not yet a universal practice of the church but it is an honest effort to follow the original customs of the Church.