The ages at which Catholic children in the Archdiocese of Philadelphia receive the sacraments of first holy Communion and confirmation will remain as they are today, Archbishop Chaput told priests of the archdiocese in a letter Nov. 30.
Currently most children in grade two receive first holy Communion, and most children receive confirmation in grade six. Some parishes routinely confirm their children in seventh or eighth grades, while other parishes with small congregations combine sixth, seventh or eighth graders into a single group for confirmation.
The Blue Ribbon Commission (BRC) on Catholic education recommended that the ages be reexamined due to the formation of 21 regional Catholic schools, and the closure of 55 parochial schools.
Regionalization of schools has led to a situation in which children from several parishes attend the same school and study at the same grade level, but their parishes hold confirmations at different times of the year and, conceivably, at different grade levels.
Parents and members of archdiocesan parishes had been discussing the possibility for revision of the ages for receiving sacraments, especially raising the age for confirmation to eighth grade, ever since the BRC’s report was released in January 2012.
In his letter, Archbishop Chaput said he raised the matter for discussion at a recent Presbyteral Council meeting, a group that is representative of all the 841 diocesan and religious-order priests in the archdiocese.
There was consensus that the age level for receiving first holy Communion remain at grade two. Since no clear consensus emerged on the question of the best age for reception of confirmation, Archbishop Chaput asked the 12 regional deans to discuss the issue among priests in their deaneries.
The deans reported the consensus was to “retain the current practice of the archdiocese regarding the age for reception of both first holy Communion and confirmation. I have accepted this recommendation,” Archbishop Chaput wrote.
“In the situation of merged or regional schools,” he wrote the priests, “pastors associated with those schools will collaborate to establish a common age. They will also cooperate in determining a date for reception of the sacraments.
“This will enable children from different parishes who attend the same school to receive the sacraments at approximately the same time,” he said.
The current archdiocesan policy is for the archbishop and his assisting bishops to confer the sacrament of confirmation in parish celebrations only, not at schools.
Archbishop Chaput said he hoped pastors’ efforts to establish a common age and dates would also “facilitate sacramental preparation and catechesis.”
The priests’ council recommended further discussion regarding the ages of reception of sacraments. The council suggested a “forum be provided for priests to learn more about the theological, canonical and pastoral dimensions associated with determining the age for reception of the sacraments. This would enable them to make a more informed decision regarding the proper age.”
The archbishop said he directed the vicar for clergy, Msgr. Daniel Sullivan, to explore such a forum.