In almost every Catholic Church, in every city in Canada and possibly elsewhere there is a growing decline of enrollment for the Sacraments. Confirmation in particular seems to be suffering most, as year after year Pastors, sacramental coordinators, and teachers notice a marked lack of interest among our young people and their parents.
And so the same questions are raised, why is this happening? And what can we do about it?
While I believe that there are many meaningful solutions proposed by faithful and creative individuals, I would like to suggest that the following three solutions (which are held by many) should be considered distractions more than anything else. For the longer we entertain them, the longer we take to get to the real source of all sacramental disengagement, a previous failure to evangelize.
1. Confirmation is celebrated at the wrong age – One of the constant responses to that first question is that we are celebrating the Sacrament at the wrong age. Since parents are generally led to enroll their children in Confirmation at about grade 7 or 8, the unofficial consensus out there is that the children themselves are too immature, or too jaded, or too ignorant of the Sacramental reality, or unable to live out their sacramental promises once confirmed.
And what can we do about it? Change the age of course, says the same common wisdom. But should it be older like it is in similar rituals found within the protestant communion? This would at least make it more likely that the young person would be choosing the Sacrament for themselves, and in theory anyway, the experience would be more authentic all around. Another option is to place Confirmation earlier, approaching the method still found in the eastern churches where babies are baptized, confirmed and receive the Eucharist all within the same service.
But let’s stop for a moment. Can we be honest enough with ourselves to recognize that a change of age will bring with it its own set of problems and challenges? If the age is lowered we will have increased our enrollment simply because younger children put up less resistance to being in pretty much anything. And if the age is increased, then our enrollment might drop more dramatically still. The age is not the problem.
2. Young people are too busy – It is true, with the sports, and the dance, and the music lessons and their regular duties and pleasures at school, young people seem to have very little time to devote to the Sacrament of Confirmation. But this begs the question, who helps them to make these decisions and prioritize the activities in their lives? Everyone is busy, but we are not all busy with the same things. If anything, this solution points most clearly in the direction of the parents and raises some further challenges. In many cases, parents see the Sacrament of the Church as equal to, or less important than, other activities in the life of the child. Busyness is not the problem, prioritizing is.
3. They don’t understand its importance – Perhaps the last and most common distraction contributing to the falling enrollment is that the kids just don’t get it. In particular, they don’t get why this Sacrament is more important than say, their graduation from elementary school, or that hockey tournament that is quickly approaching. Upon further reflection, it also becomes clear that many adults don’t seem to get Confirmation either. As Confirmation programs across dioceses continue to be as different as they are, one has to wonder whether sacramental coordinators and those they work with also fall into this category.
(I admit that this goes hand and hand with busyness, because it is terribly unlikely that one will give high priority to something that one does not think is important.)
We cannot minimize the challenges and shortcomings that the above solutions try to overcome, but until they address the root problem they will continue to be distractions more than anything else.
Remember, no matter the age of the child their parents will be the same, and the parents just like the children have not been evangelized.
People who have encountered the Lord, Jesus do not need to be argued into Sacramental preparation. To the contrary, they willingly seek out programs to assist themselves and their families understand the Faith on deeper levels. They value the Sacraments and they order the many demands in their lives and those of their children accordingly.
Right now we spend far too much energy sacramentalizing our community and far too little energy evangelizing them. Preach the Gospel, change hearts, and enrollment will take care of itself.