Catholic confirmation – what makes a rite of passage meaningful?

Recently I had the good fortune to be invited to the confirmation ceremony of a friend of my eldest.  Although I’ve been invited to all manner of coming of age ceremonies (people know that it’s my thing!) I’d not been to a Catholic confirmation before.

After the stage had been set: a beautiful building, special clothing, candles, incense, and chanting, each adolescent was called by name to stand in a semi-circle at the front.  They were then asked a series of serious questions relating to their faith.

As babies at baptism key adults in these children’s lives undertook to answer these questions on their behalf; now in their teens, these young people were taking over this responsibility for themselves.

This was no small thing.

Over several months they would have met together with elders of their church to learn more about their faith and what it would actually mean to say “I do” to the questions at their confirmation.  In these times when the majority of teens are not actively practicing any religion, the need to truly search for meaning in their faith would have been very real.

After being called forward by name, and agreeing to take on the adult mantle of their faith, each child was brought to the Bishop, one by one, to be anointed and to take a new name of their own choosing.  With tears in my eyes, I watched as each child stepped up to the Bishop with their sponsor at their side.  Their sponsor, often a parent, stood behind them, with a hand on their shoulder, as the bishop touched their forehead with consecrated oil and spoke the words of confirmation.  I could feel the power of tradition as the same actions, the same words, the same ceremony was repeated for each child as probably would have been done for their sponsor years before, and most of the adults in the congregation.  A choir sang in beautiful harmony in the background.

Although there was a steady stream of thirty or more children, the attention that each child received gave a sense of the importance of what was happening for each one.

I talked to our newly confirmed friend afterwards and he said, “At first I was sort of going along with it – but when it came to it, in the actual service, I had one of those moments that felt really peaceful… what being in touch with God feels like.  It confirmed why I’m Catholic.”

This is the power of ceremony:- this young person’s ability to take responsibility for some very important aspects of his life was acknowledged.  After a period of instruction and guidance from their elders, each child was asked to step forward to take up that responsibility. 


Adolescents strive to be seen and treated as young adults 

Many religions have continued to recognise the importance of taking their young adults through a process of initiation into adulthood.  Most young people are denied this however – as many families no longer have a religion to which they subscribe.   Unlike with baby namings, weddings and funerals, the secular community have lost this particular ceremony – the rite of passage marking a person’s coming of age.

This is to our communities’ detriment.  We miss the opportunity to positively influence our teens shaping into adults. Young people crave their maturation to be acknowledged and if the adults won’t do it, they’ll create it for themselves through mimicry of what they perceive to be ‘adult behaviour’ using dress, drinking, sexual activity, and risk-taking.

Research shows that teens have brains that are being reconfigured – and while they are reforming, they are maleable and vulnerable.  Young people benefit hugely from the guiding influence of honourable and caring adults.  Many teens have few others than their own parents (and sometimes not even them) to turn to during their times of challenge and change.  We abandon our teens to a long drawn-out adolescence if we don’t enable them to take over the reins and begin to adopt the attributes of a maturing grown-up.

What makes a rite of passage meaningful is that young people are taken to one side and time is invested in preparing them for adulthood.  They are challenged and tested and prove themselves to be ready to take a symbolic step towards young adulthood.  This step is witnessed and celebrated in the eyes of their community.  Young people feel that their maturation is acknowledged and many report a positive shift in their sense of themselves.

More parents are realising the power of providing their child with explicit support as they come of age.  This website is expressly designed to support parents in doing this.  The Journey on the right hand side of this page guides you through this process – with suggestions about how to deepen your relationship with your child, to stand you in good stead as they enter their teens.  Information on how to create your own rite of passage ceremony is also here.  Specific information is available for mother’s guiding girls through puberty.  Then the pieces that I write regularly are sparked by what girls say in my groups, or conversations with mothers, or your comments on this website.

I really appreciate your comments and contributions.

Posted on 31 January 2014
Musings: Coming of age, Rites of passage
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