Last December, the Vicar General’s Office announced a change concerning the celebration of Confirmation for previously baptized Catholics during the Easter season in the Archdiocese of New York. The Liturgy Office has received a number of questions concerning the details of the revised practice and the reasons for this shift. The following brief commentary outlines some of the canonical underpinnings, liturgical theology, and pastoral motivations of the new policy:

It is the perennial tradition of the Church and the teaching of the Code of Canon Law that the original and ordinary minister of Confirmation is the bishop. In some limited cases, priests have been provided by the Code with the faculty to confirm, as in emergency situations, when baptizing an adult or child of catechetical age, and when receiving a validly baptized adult or child of catechetical age into full communion with the Church.

In the past, additional delegation was given to priests in the Archdiocese of New York during the Easter season to confirm both baptized Catholics who were never catechized and practicing Catholics who were not yet confirmed, when these candidates had participated in the process and catechesis of the RCIA or its equivalent.

In recent years, this special permission has been given greater scrutiny, especially in light of the canonical principle that the bishop is the ordinary minister of Confirmation. An added consideration is that, for many Catholics, the only time during their life that they will have an opportunity to personally interact with a bishop is at their Confirmation. This encounter with a successor to the apostles who has special care for the mission of the universal Church is an important milestone in the faith journey of Catholics, and it should be preserved whenever possible. Given these factors, a clarification was made this year to minimize those number of occasions when Catholics would not be confirmed by a bishop.

Accordingly, the current procedure is as follows:

  • Baptized, uncatechized Catholic teens and adults who seek preparation for first communion and confirmation and who are enrolled in the catechumenal process may, in individual cases and with delegation from the vicar general, be confirmed and receive first communion from a priest within the Eucharistic liturgy during the Easter season (c. 137 §3).
  • Priests may not confirm previously baptized Catholics who have received their first holy communion. Moving forward, this will be reserved to bishops.

As these practices are implemented, and given that Confirmation celebrations of adult Catholics will now take place more frequently in regional settings, parishes are encouraged to remember candidates for Confirmation at Mass during the Lenten and Easter seasons, especially in the homily and Prayers of the Faithful. By their reception of a special outpouring of the Holy Spirit, may these brothers and sisters in Christ be bound more intimately to the Church and led to defend the faith by word and deed as fervent witnesses to the Risen Lord.