|The Seven Sacraments: Confirmation- Nicolas Poussin|
Over the past several years, several dioceses and archdioceses have restored the order of the Sacraments of initiation, so that Confirmation is received before First Communion, and have also lowered the age that children can receive Confirmation. As Pope Francis had said in 2013, Confirmation should no longer be known as "the sacrament of farewell". Foremost among those bishops that restored the traditional order was the aforementioned Archbishop Aquila in the Archdiocese of Denver (and the Diocese of Bismark before his transfer to Denver), and he has recently been joined by Bishop Silva of the Diocese of Honolulu and Bishop Libasci of the Diocese of Manchester in New Hampshire who will be implementing these changes this year. I have also heard from some at Franciscan University that the Diocese of Joliet's Bishop Conlon had worked to restore the traditional order of Sacraments while still Bishop of Steubenville, but I couldn't find anything to corroborate that online. Bishop Libasci describes the reasoning for the restoration of the traditional order thusly:
Restored order means returning the three sacraments of Christian initiation to the logical order in which they were designed to be celebrated: first Baptism, then Confirmation, then Eucharist. During the first five hundred years or so of the history of the Church, it was always the case that the sacraments of Christian initiation were celebrated in this sequence. By placing Confirmation at [a younger age], the Diocese of Manchester will be following the natural sequence of the sacraments of Christian initiation. In addition, by placing Confirmation prior to the reception of First Eucharist it makes it easier to view the Eucharist as the summit of Christian initiation.
[The benefits of a restored order are that,] first, it will highlight that the Eucharist, not Confirmation, is the culmination of Christian initiation. Secondly, with the reception of grace of the Holy Spirit at a younger age, it will give children greater courage and guidance in facing the increasing difficulties of living a Christian life. Finally, it will allow for more opportunities for parents to take their rightful place as the primary educators of faith formation. It places sacrament preparation at an age when children are naturally more open and receptive to participating with their parents.Those dioceses that have previously restored the traditional order of the sacraments are as follows:
Great Falls-Billings (1996)
Portland, Maine (1997)
Why should we be doing this though? From the above linked article:
Amid the many theological and pastoral reasons for lowering the age of confirmation and restoring it to its original place before first Eucharist, none ranks higher for Archbishop Aquila than to provide children with much-needed spiritual strength to become “courageous, authentic disciples of Jesus Christ.”
“In an increasingly secular world,” he wrote in the pastoral letter, “the reality is this: the souls of our children are the battleground.”
“As the shepherd of the Archdiocese of Denver, I must do everything I can to help those who form children win that battle,” he added.
The archbishop explains that one way to do this is to “make available every sacramental grace the Church has to offer to children who have reached the age of reason [around 7 years old].”
“This is profoundly important,” he wrote, “because we live in a different spiritual terrain than our parents or grandparents did. Indeed, the spiritual landscape of modern American society underscores the need for children to receive grace earlier.”
About 10 years ago, an auxiliary bishop in the archdiocese I was living in offered to give the Sacrament of Confirmation to any child who desired to receive it regardless of age, so that they didn't have to wait until 8th grade. This bishop recognized that the graces received in the sacrament would be extremely beneficial to those young people that had received their First Holy Communion, but not Confirmation yet. Four of my cousins, ranging in age from 7-11, took advantage of this, and I sponsored one of my cousins. It was great to know that my cousin was receiving the Sacrament of Confirmation, and that it would help him in living out Christ's will. I hope the same can happen for my children, but we'll wait and see if this trend starts to catch on in more U.S. dioceses. In the meantime, bravo to those bishops that have stepped up to help these children have a fighting chance in the spiritual battle they face.