Thank you for the in-depth exposition on the juridic dimension of Baptism. A related topic, I think, is Confirmation. While I was baptized quite early (at age five, if I remember right), my own children were baptized when they were about Grade V and the same thing is now happening to my grandchildren, all in Catholic schools. What does Canon Law really say about this?
TO answer this question thoroughly, we had started—in the past issue—with the sacramental structure of Confirmation and its immediate juridic effects. In this issue, we shall complete the exposition with the juridic aspects of the administration of the sacrament.
The Minister of Confirmation
“In the first centuries Confirmation generally comprised one single celebration with Baptism, forming with it a ‘double sacrament’, according to the expression of St. Cyprian. Among other reasons, the multiplication of infant baptisms all through the year, the increase of rural parishes and the growth of dioceses often prevented the bishop from being present at all baptismal celebrations. In the West the desire to reserve the completion of Baptism to the bishop caused the temporal separation of the two sacraments. The East has kept them united, so that the Confirmation is conferred by the priest who baptizes. But he can do so only with the myron consecrated by a bishop” (CCC, n.1290). From this, the canonical regulation of the minister of Confirmation follows.
a. The Ordinary Minister is a Bishop
1) For validity, the ordinary minister of confirmation is the Bishop…(c.882), whether or not he is a diocesan Bishop, whether or not the candidate is his proper subject, in whatever place he confers it.
2) For licitude, the Code qualifies the competence of the Bishops in the following terms:
a) In his own diocese, the Bishop legitimately administers the sacrament of Confirmation even to the faithful who are not his subjects, unless there is an express prohibition by their own proper Ordinary (c.886, §1).
b) In another diocese, to administer Confirmation licitly, the Bishop needs at least the reasonably presumed permission of the diocesan Bishop, unless it is a question of his own subjects (c.886, §2).
c) In exempt places. The minister may administer confirmation even in exempt places within the territory where they are able to confer the sacrament (c.888).
3) Special Duty of the Bishop. Precisely because the Bishops are the original ministers of Confirmation, it is incumbent upon them to make sure that it is duly administered to the faithful. The Code articulates this duty in the following terms:
1º The diocesan Bishop is obliged to see that the sacrament of Confirmation is conferred on his subjects who properly and reasonably request it (c.885, §1).[He] is to administer Confirmation personally, or see that it is administered by another Bishop, but if necessity requires he may give the faculty to administer this sacrament to one or more specified priests (c.884, §1).
2º Any Bishop, for a grave cause … may in individual cases associate priests with [himself] so that they may administer the sacrament (c.884, §2). In other words, any Bishop can delegate the faculty to administer Confirmation to any priest(s) in individual cases.
b. The Extraordinary Minister is a Priest with Faculty ipso iure or concessione
Can. 882 established that a priest who has this faculty by virtue of either the common law or a special concession of competent authority also confers this sacrament validly. The Code has simplified the matter of granting the faculty to administer Confirmation to priests in the following terms:
1) Ipso iure. The following have the faculty of administering Confirmation by the law itself (c.883):
1º those who are equivalent in law to the diocesan Bishop, within the limits of their territory;
2º the priest who by reason of office or mandate of the diocesan Bishop baptizes one who is no longer an infant or one already baptized whom he admits into the full communion of the Catholic Church, with regard to the person in question;
3º the parish priest or any priest, with regard to those in danger of death.
2) By special concession. If necessity requires, [the diocesan Bishop] may give the faculty to administer this sacrament to one or more specified priests (c.884, §1).
3) Terms and Limits of the Faculty. The Code articulates the terms and limits of this faculty as follows:
a) Possibility of delegation. A priest who has the faculty to confirm by virtue of law or special concession of competent authority may in individual cases associate [other] priests with [himself] so that they may administer the sacrament (c.884, §2).
b) Specific passive subjects. A priest who has this faculty must use it for those in whose favor the faculty was granted (c.885, §2).
c) Specific territory. A priest who has the faculty to administer Confirmation licitly confers this sacrament in the territory designated for him, even on externs unless there is a prohibition of their own proper Ordinary; but such a priest may not validly confer the sacrament on anyone in another territory (c.c.887), except for those in danger of death (c.883, 3º).
Those to be Confirmed
a. Canonical requirements for the reception of Confirmation
1) For validity: All baptized persons who have not been confirmed and only they are capable of receiving confirmation (c.889, §1). Thus, there are three criteria regarding who can validly receive Confirmation:
a) Only the baptized. Baptism is a necessary requisite for validity, since it is the door to the other sacraments (c.849), such that whoever has not received it cannot be admitted to the other sacraments (c.842, §2). In practice, the only problem with this requirement could stem from a persistent doubt whether a subject had been baptized, for which the Law has provided the possibility of baptizing sub conditione (cc.869, §1 & 845, §2).
b) All the baptized. Baptism is a sufficient requisite for validity, such that no other condition—e.g., age, full possession of mental faculties, preparation—constitute a requirement for validity.
c) Not yet confirmed. The sacraments of Baptism, Confirmation and Holy Orders cannot be repeated since they imprint character (c.845, §1).
2) For licitude: Outside the danger of death, to be licitly confirmed it is required, if the person has the use of reason, that one be suitably instructed, properly disposed and able to renew one’s baptismal promises (c.889, §2). The tenor of the canon establishes two conditions, each of which exempts from the requisites for licitud, thereby reducing the requirements to that for simple validity—i.e., Baptism alone. These are:
a) Danger of death. In this case, the administration of Confirmation is especially entrusted to the parish priest (c.530, 2º), who has the faculty ipso iure to administer the sacrament in this case (c.883, 3º).
b) Habitual lack of use of reason, which does present some complications and casuistry. We can summarize the canonical doctrine in the following terms:
i) Infants, despite not having sufficient use of reason (by definition) are not exempted from the requirements of licitud, unless the other condition of danger of death concurs. The contrary would render the temporal separation of Baptism and Confirmation moot.
ii) All others with insufficient use of reason are exempted from the requisites for licitud, even outside the danger of death, since they—through no fault of theirs—are incapable of meeting them, and since Confirmation is a gift of the Holy Spirit.
b. Rights and Duties of the Faithful as regards Confirmation
1) Duty to receive Confirmation. The faithful are obliged to receive this sacrament at the appropriate time (c.890). The Code further specifies this appropriate time as follows:
a) Generally, at about the age of discretion, unless the conference of bishops determines another age (c.891).
b) Exceptions, when there is danger of death or in the judgment of the minister a grave cause urges otherwise (c.891).
2) Right to receive Confirmation. This forms part of the fundamental right of the faithful to the sacraments, generically formalized in c.213 and regulated in c.843. Correlative to this right of the faithful is the duty of the sacred ministers—primarily the bishop, but also the other ministers of the sacrament—to assure its administration at the appropriate moment.
The Godparents for Confirmation
The presence of godparents in Confirmation is an ancient custom, as the old c.793 of the CIC 17 explicitly acknowledged. The actual c.892 gives juridic relevance to this custom: As far as possible a godparent for the one to be confirmed should be present. The presence of the godparent, therefore, is only highly advisable, but not absolutely necessary.
a. Duties of Godparents
The function of the godparent can be considered in two levels:
1) Purely liturgical plane. This refers to his desired presence in the liturgical celebration of Confirmation mentioned in c.892.
2) Properly canonical plane: it is for the godparent to see that the confirmed person acts as a true witness to Christ and faithfully fulfills the obligations connected with this sacrament (c.892).
b. Requirements for Godparents
The Code’s treatment of the requirements for godparents in Confirmation is another manifestation of the canonical parallelism of this sacrament with Baptism. In effect, the Code regulates the matter in a summary way as follows:
1) Same requirements as for baptismal godparent. To perform the role of godparent [in Confirmation], it is necessary that a person fulfill the conditions mentioned in c.874 [requirements for godparent in Baptism].
2) Desirability of same godparent as in Baptism. It is desirable that the one who undertook the role of godparent at Baptism be sponsor for Confirmation (c.893, §2).
Proof and Registry of Conferred Confirmation
To close this discussion, we shall briefly consider the canonical regulation of the record and proof of the administration of Confirmation. The canons contained in the present Code substantially contain the same norms as the corresponding canons of the Code 17.
a. Juridic importance.
In a way parallel to Baptism, the importance of the proof of the reception of Confirmation is based on the following:
1) It cannot be repeated, due to the character it imprints (c.845, §1).
2) Its reception is required for the licit entry into certain canonical conditions—e.g., admission to the novitiate (c.645, §1), reception of Holy Orders (c.1033), if possible before Marriage (c.1065).
b. Testimonial proof of Confirmation: Can.894 remits us to c.876 regarding the possibility of testimonial proof, if it is not prejudicial to anyone, which could take either of the following forms:
1) The declaration of a single witness who is above suspicion; or
2) The oath of the Confirmed person himself, if such was received at an adult age.
c. Documental Proof: Diocesan or Parish Registry. The Code establishes the following norms.
1) Registry to be kept: The Code gives two possibilities (c.895):
1º A confirmation register in the diocesan curia;
2º A book kept in the parish archive, where the conference of Bishops or the diocesan Bishop has prescribed it.
2) Obligation of registering the Confirmation. The Code clearly puts the duty on the minister who administers the sacrament:
1º The parish priest must advise the parish priest of the place of baptism about the conferral of Confirmation so that notation be made in the Baptismal Register (cc.895 & 535, §2).
2º If the parish priest of the place were not present, the minister either personally or through another is to inform him of the confirmation as soon as possible (c.896).
Finally, with all the above, the importance of safeguarding the order and security of the parish archives and registries cannot be over-emphasized.