Sacrament of Initiation or Sacrament of Graduation

Christ the Teacher

By Javier Soegaard

One of the things we Confirmation teachers and directors lament is the “graduation” mentality that accompanies the current American practice of Confirmation. Wedged between the 8th grade and high school years, it is easy for our young people and their parents to consider this Sacrament a sort of moving-on from the doldrums of religious education into the blasé world of ambiguous religious practice. It certainly doesn’t help that the albs worn by our confirmands are tremendously reminiscent of academic garb.

Changing our vesting practices during the sacramental rite, however, will not bring us any closer to the solution. Nor will simply saying, “Hey guys and gals, this isn’t the end, this is just the beginning of your faith journey!”

Siiiigh.  I’d like to think Confirmation classes aren’t simply preparation for a Catechesis Quiz Show. Can you name the Seven such-and-such-es? Recite the Novena to so-and-so in English, Latin, and Klingon? Those are good things, but as a friend reminded me yesterday – they’re not necessarily mystagogical – they provide a stopping point rather than an invitation into the depth and mystery of faith.

Part of the solution to this problem requires focusing due attention to students after they receive the Sacrament: keeping them engaged in public service, retreats, and liturgical life. However, I think it also requires us to have a completely different frame of mind when we work through our Confirmation curriculum. Instead of trying to rush through certain fundamentals and must-know data of faith, we really need to treat it like a beginning. We need to approach our conversations as conversations which don’t stop, ones which have an infinite amount of talking points, ones which provoke more and more curiosity even as more is learned. In this way we begin to cultivate the mystagogical mindset, rather than the merely catechetical one.

The facts of our faith are crucial; time and again they will inspire us, challenge us, and comfort us: it is crucial that we know and teach them. However, as a professor of mine always used to say (in his twangy Aussie accent), “God is always bigger.” If we teach in such a way that our lessons start and stop, rather than grow and grow, we will never be fully educating our young people to know this God, the one made himself small that we might ever know the fullness of his love.

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