A young girl is anointed during Confirmation while her sponsor looks on. CNS file photo/Gregory A. Shemitz

Fr. Yaw Acheampong: Spiritual journey to Confirmation begins

By  Fr. Yaw Acheampong
  • September 8, 2019

At the beginning of every academic year, parishes across the Archdiocese of Toronto begin the process of preparing their young parishioners to celebrate Confirmation. It is one of three “sacraments of initiation” — the others being Baptism and Eucharist — that lays the foundations of every Catholic life.

Among the three sacraments, there is something about Confirmation that makes it uniquely misunderstood by many Catholics, including the children  preparing to be confirmed — typically Grade 7 students — and their parents, guardians and those chosen by the children as godparents (sponsors). 

If you were asked to describe your experience of the sacramental preparation program for your Confirmation, what would you remember most — the classes, the catechists, the homework, the community service and the friendships you made with other children in the program? Do you remember what role you played in the life of your parish as a newly confirmed parishioner? 

Last year, in order to engage the candidates in their lessons, our parish introduced one item to the sacramental preparation program: a lesson of questions and answers. The candidates anonymously asked questions about the faith, social issues and specifically about the sacrament. Some of the questions were: what does it mean to get my Confirmation, and why is it so important; why do we need to attend classes for Confirmation; how will we know that we are ready to be confirmed; what will happen if I am not confirmed? 

Though we had a lively discussion, these questions show what insight the candidates had, and their understanding of the sacrament. 

According to the Catechism of the Catholic Church (CCC), the preparation for Confirmation “should aim at leading the Christian toward a more intimate union with Christ and more lively familiarity with the Holy Spirit … in order to be more capable of assuming the apostolic responsibilities of Christian life” (1309). 

In his writings, Pope Francis talks about the call of Christians to live as missionary disciples at every stage in their lives and urges young people to use their God-given gifts to serve others in their communities. A preparation program for Confirmation can be a starting point for young Catholics to learn how to participate in the life of their parish communities.

The archdiocese has resources to help guide parishes in their sacramental preparation programs. However, it’s up to the local pastor to decide on what program he thinks works for his parishioners. 

The program can take a few weeks to several months to complete and its contents could differ from one parish to another.

At this early stage of the program, some of the questions that we may have to ask are: What should a preparation program for Confirmation look like? As parents/guardians, what do we want for our children when they are confirmed? As sponsors, how can we help support the candidates in fulfilling their “apostolic responsibilities?” As pastors, how can we engage with the candidates to continue to live as “mature” Christians after Confirmation? 

Through the program, the candidates know the gifts of the Holy Spirit. As a community, we must find ways for them to help build their relationship with Jesus using the gifts of the Spirit.  We must also encourage the candidates to find ways for them to foster and develop these gifts to serve the church community after Confirmation.

We need to also acknowledge that the age of the children means that many of them are enrolled in extracurricular activities such as sports, Girl Guides, Boy Scouts, music and dance. 

Time is required for all our activities. While we recognize the benefits of these activities, spiritual preparation is a significant component in our development as Christians. 

Some may tend to perceive Confirmation as a form of graduation from the Church. But it is not. Our hope is that when candidates, priests and parents/guardians are all invested in the program, it results in the “growth in holiness” that Pope Francis talks about in his document Gaudete et Exsultate (Rejoice and Be Glad): “Growth in holiness is journey in community, side by side. …  Sharing the word and celebrating the Eucharist together fosters fraternity and makes us a holy and missionary community” (141-142). 

Let us pray for a spirit-filled year for our children to be prepared to celebrate Confirmation. 

(Fr. Acheampong is pastor at Our Lady of Peace Parish in Toronto.)

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