Confirming youngsters

Church teaching supports administering sacrament to children under age 7 who are in danger of dying

Question: As a catechist who taught the Sacrament of Confirmation for many years, I was surprised to read in one of your recent columns that children who are in danger of death can be confirmed and given Communion. Where does the Church teach this? I still think confirmation belongs in the teenage years.

— C.D., West Hartford, Conn.

Answer: The official Introduction to the Rite of Confirmation states that while in the Western Church confirmation is generally delayed until about age 7, “every necessary precaution is to be taken to ensure that in the event of danger of death or serious problems of another kind children receive confirmation in good time, so that they are not left without the benefit of this sacrament” (No. 11).

With the rite, it is stated: “In the case of a child who has not reached the age of reason, confirmation is given in accord with the same principles and norms as for baptism” (No. 52). Simply put: With an infant or young child in danger of death, baptism is followed by confirmation.

In the rites of anointing of the sick and viaticum (Communion at the time of death), there is a section on the care of a dying child that has the following instruction: “As far as possible, the Rite of Baptism for Children and the Rite of Confirmation are celebrated in the usual way. The Eucharist completes the sacraments of initiation. A dying child with the use of reason shares the common responsibility of receiving viaticum. It is also desirable that an even younger child completes his or her initiation by reception of the Eucharist, in accord with the practice of the Church” (No. 280).

Obviously, giving Communion to a dying child younger than 7 can be problematic. It may not be possible because the child may not be able to swallow anything, or infection might be a danger, or the child might simply spit out the Host. Good pastoral sense would dictate what is appropriate.

From what Church documents say, it is obvious that the Church does not think that confirmation belongs exclusively in the teenage years. Confirmation belongs to no particular age. The sacrament is appropriate at any time.

Purgatory image

Normally a reader asks the question and I provide the answer. However, Benedictine Father Boniface Muggli recently sent me the following letter about purgatory:

“I read your column on purgatory, and would like to offer an image I have used to good effect. Suppose you and your family are headed off to a wedding when your car gets stuck in the mud. You have to push it out, but your wedding finery gets full of mud.

“Are you no longer invited to the wedding? Of course you are still invited. Are you comfortable just showing up covered in mud? Probably not. Neither you nor the wedding party would appreciate your coming in full of mud.

“What to do? Obviously you have to clean up and change. So with purgatory. When we die, we are not always ready to enter heaven directly. We would not be comfortable being in that state of complete purity and joy with our remaining flaws and blemishes. We need to be further purified to fully participate in heaven’s joys. However, being in purgatory is itself a sign that heaven is our destination.”

Thank you, Father Boniface. This will show up in a homily of mine one of these days.

Msgr. M. Francis Mannion is a priest and theologian of the Diocese of Salt Lake City. Send your questions to Pastoral Answers, Our Sunday Visitor, 200 Noll Plaza, Huntington, IN 46750 or to mfmannion@osv.com. Letters must be signed, but anonymity may be requested.