June 09. 2018 6:03PM

Bishop: Confirmation will be conferred on local third-graders

New Hampshire Union Leader

Manchester Bishop Peter Libasci confirms a young man during the adult confirmation this spring at St. Joseph Cathedral. (COURTESY)

MANCHESTER - New Hampshire Roman Catholic Bishop Peter Libasci has decreed that the sacrament of confirmation - traditionally seen as a rite of adulthood passage in the Catholic Church - will be conferred upon third-graders, rather than high-schoolers, starting as early as next year.

Diocesan officials said New Hampshire joins a handful of dioceses across the country that are making the change, which they say more accurately reflects the theological underpinnings of the sacrament. According to the catechism of the Catholic Church, confirmation is the final sacrament of initiation; it is marked with oil and signifies an outpouring of the Holy Spirit upon the recipient.

But for decades - if not longer - most Catholics have been confirmed in their high school years. The Diocese of Manchester set 10th grade or the age of 16 as the target for the sacrament, said Mary Ellen Mahon, secretary of Catholic formation at the diocese.

The later age proved an incentive for parents to keep their children in religious education classes, she said. But it also conflicted with the inevitable activities and attitudes of teenage life: school activities, sports, friends, jobs and the rebellious teenage spirit.

"No sacrament should be a carrot held out to keep you in the church," she said.

In third grade, children are receptive to lessons about the faith, said Terry Bolduc, director of children and youth ministry at St. Marie Church in Manchester.

"When they're in second and third grade, their faces light up when you talk about the faith. They're a lot more excited about learning about the faith than in high school," she said.

A three-year transition is underway, and confirmations of third-graders should be the norm by 2020, Mahon said.

She said Manchester is the 11th diocese in the United State to restore the order of sacraments. She said Manchester consulted dioceses in Denver, Honolulu, Milwaukee and Portland, Maine, which have moved up their confirmation age.

Mahon said parish teachers and volunteers were initially wary of the change, but the Diocese has provided workshops and materials to assist in the change.

Religious instructors for individual churches will place emphasis on keeping children involved in religious instruction after confirmation. If kids drop out of faith formation after confirmation, the effort will have been a failure, Mahon said.

Bolduc said she'd be remiss to believe that no children will drop religious instruction after confirmation. But she believes many more will stay.

Last fall, St. Marie Church confirmed 46 teenagers. Since then, it has signed up 158 children for third-grade confirmation.

With confirmation at an earlier age, Bolduc said, the children will have the strength and encouragement they need in today's world. Those benefits include a deeper connection with the Holy Spirit, a better understanding of right and wrong, and a commitment to prayer, Bolduc said.

"We know," she said, "how desperately the children need confirmation earlier."