Confirmation: The Service
Baptism and Confirmation
You will remember that Baptism and Confirmation are really parts one and two of the same Sacrament. In the early days of the Church, people were normally confirmed by the bishop within a few minutes of their being baptised. This was possible because at that time almost every town had its own bishop. But later, when many bishops had a great area to look after, those who had been baptised by their parish priest had to wait for their Confirmation until the bishop was in the neighbourhood, and this might not be very often.
The Bishop of Lincoln had charge of an area stretching from the Thames to the Humber, and the Bishop of Exeter had all Devon and Cornwall to manage. In the year 1240 the Synod of Worcester laid down that any parents, whose children had not been confirmed by the time they were a year old, should not be allowed in church. In 1287 the Synod of Exeter ordered that parish priests should arrange for children in the parish to be confirmed as soon as possible after Baptism, and in any case before they were three years old.
As the bishop did not visit every parish as often as every three years, many children were confirmed by him as he travelled on the road from one part of the country to another. So we read that St Thomas à Becket, while he was on his last journey from London to Canterbury about a week before his martyrdom in the Cathedral, was “attended by a mighty concourse but only of the poor, who came to ask his blessing and who brought their children in hundreds for Confirmation, the Archbishop continually dismounting and administering the Sacrament in fields and on the roads”. (1)
Perhaps we are a little surprised at one and two-year olds being confirmed, but the point is that Confirmation is something which God does to us, not something we do for him. For in Confirmation he gives us his Holy Spirit to strengthen our souls.
Since then, however, buses, trains and cars have made travelling much easier and there are a large number of Confirmation centres. So people can now be confirmed without having to wait very long and the age at which girls and boys are confirmed has gone up. This also means they can answer for themselves during the service. Many people are confirmed when they are around 11 or 12 years old, but older people (sometimes in their 80s or 90s) are also confirmed. Whatever people’s age, Confirmation is a joyful day to look forward to.