NCCB and Cong. for Bishops, An Exchange of Letters Regarding the Age for the Sacrament of Confirmation in the United States to Be Established by the National Conference of Catholic Bishops, 13 December 1991 .
The following memorandum of December 13, 1991, from Archbishop Pilarczyk to the bishops of the dioceses in the United States, in response to a letter from Cardinal Gantin of the Congregation for Bishops, shows the attempt to apply c. 891 in the Church in the United States.
In June of this year, it was brought to our attention that inadvertently we had failed to obtain the required recognitio for the action taken by the body of bishops in November of 1984 relative to the implementation of c. 891 on the age for the sacrament of confirmation. At that time, the bishops voted to “authorize diocesan bishops to determine the age at which the sacrament of confirmation is conferred in their dioceses.”
On June 17, 1991, I wrote to the Congregation for Bishops requesting approval for the 1984 action of the bishops. I have attached the response from Cardinal Gantin which states that the Congregation cannot approve a norm that does not specify a particular age.
To move the matter forward, I am appointing an Ad Hoc Committee to consider the pastoral implications and to prepare a proposal for action by the body of bishops. I am asking Bishop Emil Wcela, Chairman of the Committee on Pastoral Practices, to serve as Chairman of the Ad Hoc Committee. To serve as members, I am asking Bishop Alfred Hughes, Chairman of the Committee on Doctrine, Bishop Wilton Gregory, Chairman of the Committee on Liturgy, and Bishop John Leibrecht, Chairman of the Committee on Education. The Ad Hoc Committee will be staffed by the staff persons assigned to the respective committees and coordinated by the Secretariat for Doctrine and Pastoral Practices.
It is my hope that the work of the Ad Hoc Committee might be completed by June 1993.
The following is Cardinal Gantin’s letter of 26 November 1991, to which Archbishop Pilarczyk referred [English original]:
Prot. No: 296/84
I am writing with reference to our conversation yesterday and in response to your letter of June 17, 1991, in which you mentioned an administrative oversight, and as a consequence requested the recognitio for the decision approved by the National Conference of Catholic Bishops in November of 1984, concerning the age for the sacrament of confirmation (c. 891). This Congregation notes that at that time what in fact the Conference decided was to leave to each individual bishop the determination of the age for confirmation.
After consultation with the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments and the Pontifical Council for the Interpretation of Legislative Texts, this Congregation would point out that the Holy See has a difficulty in confirming this decision because only two age options are presented in the Code: either the approximate age of discretion, Sacramentum Confirmationis conferatur fidelibuscirca aetatem discretionis, or another age decided upon by the episcopal conference. It is not, however, foreseen that the episcopal conference can decide on any or every age. The faculty envisaged by c. 891 and given to episcopal conferences is specifically to decide on an age, which, after the recognitio of the Holy See, becomes normative.
The Holy See realizes how arduous a task it was for the bishops of the United States to try to come to a common decision by reason of diverse pastoral practices that had emerged in recent years.
Canon 891 does not oblige an episcopal conference to issue a general norm concerning the age for the reception of confirmation. Rather, it leaves to the episcopal conference the liberty to determine, if it so chooses, a common age, to be established as the general practice in the country, while keeping in mind the obligation of the faithful to receive the sacrament of confirmation “tempestive” (cf. c. 890).
At this time the Holy See would therefore ask the episcopal conference kindly to reconsider this important matter with its many pastoral implications.
NCCB and Cong. for Bishops, 26 November 1991, On the Episcopal Conference’s Effort to Determine the Age for the Reception of the Sacrament of Confirmation in the United States, RRAO (1992): 20-23.