Archdiocese to lower confirmation age to eighth grade

BRAINTREE -- Cardinal Seán P. O'Malley has approved a proposal that would lower the age of confirmation within the Archdiocese of Boston from tenth grade to eighth grade.

In June 2023, Bishop Mark O'Connell convened a "Confirmation Committee" made up of priests, religious educators, youth ministers, a Catholic school principal, representatives of ethnic communities within the archdiocese, and representatives of the Office of Lifelong Faith Formation and Parish Support. The committee met to discuss the possibility of lowering the confirmation age, and whether it would increase the likelihood of young people staying in the Catholic Church their whole lives. The committee found that lowering the age of confirmation would strengthen young people's ties to the church.

"The cardinal has been listening over many years," Confirmation Committee member Scott Morin, director of evangelization at the Catholic Parishes of Arlington, told The Pilot in a Jan. 14 interview, "and recently received very strong agreement that change should come now."

The Confirmation Committee researched the possible change by speaking with priests, religious educators, and representatives of other dioceses that have lowered the age of confirmation. They gathered their data and presented it to the Presbyteral Council, then to the vicariates.

According to Confirmation Committee member Jaye Russo, director of religious education at the Basilica of Our Lady of Perpetual Help in Boston, the Presbyteral Council "almost unanimously" supported lowering the age of confirmation.

"We have to do something to shake up our church right now," Russo said in a Jan. 12 interview. "We're losing families, we're losing kids. The cardinal, in all his wisdom, is bringing this change to our church at the perfect time. It's a new day for evangelization. I really believe that this is a paradigm shift."

She said that the newfound freedoms and responsibilities that come with high school, such as driving, relationships, and jobs, pull teens away from the church. Students often have to choose between going to Mass and going to work or sports practice. At that age, parental influence also begins to wane.

"This really does interfere with catechesis," Russo said. "In seventh and eighth grade, they're still children. Their parents are still very involved with their lives, so right now we know that we can get parents involved in catechesis."

Morin added that when children are in middle school, it is more convenient for parents to participate in the confirmation process. The more parents are involved with their children's faith journey, he said, the stronger the faith of the entire family becomes.

"Middle school is a time when individuals are undergoing significant personal development," he said, "and receiving the sacrament during this time period, we believe, will align well with their spiritual and moral growth."

He cited a 2018 study of young adults leaving the Catholic Church, which found that young people stopped identifying as Catholic at the median age of 13.

The sooner "positive faith habits and practices" can be instilled in children, he said, the better.

Russo, who has been a director of religious education for 29 years, said that lowering the age of confirmation has been a topic of discussion within the archdiocese for "many years." Some parishes, including her own, received permission to move confirmation to eighth grade this year. The Basilica of Our Lady of Perpetual Help has a large Haitian community, comprising young families who attend Mass together regularly. Russo sees this as a sign of what could happen throughout the archdiocese with a lowered age of confirmation.

Now, she said, many young people view confirmation not as a sacrament, but as a burden.

"Maybe we can lessen that," she said, "and make it something kids want to be a part of, that families want to be a part of."

Preparation for confirmation will now begin in sixth grade. Morin said that older children "will continue on their sacramental prep journey and celebrate the sacrament following the preparation period set by their pastor."

"Ultimately, young people will be welcome to celebrate the sacrament in grades 8-12 as they are ready and willing," he said.

In a Jan. 16 interview, Confirmation Committee member Father Gerald Souza, pastor of Ascension Parish in Sudbury, told The Pilot that the change will likely be phased in over the next two or three years. According to him, that should be enough time to update curricula in parishes and "make the necessary adjustments to faith formation programs."

Morin said that the implementation of the change will be discussed in the next few weeks, "with local discretion for how to do so best in each parish."

The Secretariat for Evangelization and Discipleship, led by Bishop-elect Cristiano Barbosa, will offer guidance to the parishes.