There is an interesting development in the Archdiocese of Liverpool, announced a couple of days ago. The decision has been taken to return to the original order of the Sacraments of Initiation - i.e. Confirmation will now be given before First Holy Communion. According to the diocesan statement, the sacrament of Confirmation will now be given to candidates who are prepared for it around the age of eight, and then sometime afterwards, they will receive their First Holy Communion, I think with First Confession somewhere in between.
This is something to watch, I think, and see how they get on. A number of theologians have for some time expressed misgivings over the present system we have in the Church where Holy Communion is given at seven or eight, and Confirmation a number of years later - the process of initiation is out of kilter, and to be honest I do have to agree with them. In the Orthodox churches the three sacraments are given together - the child is baptised, confirmed and then given a tiny fragment of the Eucharist, and then after a number of years instruction, the child begins to receive Holy Communion on a regular basis. I know Protestant denominations, Anglicans included, give Confirmation to the candidate when they are in their teens, and then they receive communion for the first time. It was Pope St Pius X who allowed children receive Holy Communion at an earlier age, partly inspired by a saintly little Irish girl, Nellie Organ who had been given permission to receive it at the age of four, having demonstrated she had reached the age of reason early and had a profound understanding of, and love for, the Eucharist.
Is it time for us in Ireland to follow Liverpool's lead? I think we should think about it and watch how things go in Liverpool. Certainly, as I and many others have said on numerous occasions, there is an urgent need for our catechetical programme to be overhauled (in my opinon, programme trashed, new orthodox people put in place to work with the official Catechism of the Church to design, write and implement a new programme, and a strict process put in place to ensure diocesan catechists are following and adhering to the programme). Seeing as the Church in Ireland is beginning to reform - I hear great things are happening in some areas of the Apostolic Visitation, we might begin a conversation with Rome to see if we should return to the original practice as Liverpool is doing. I realise there may be some problems, not least among them the age at which Confirmation is to be given. But, again, we will keep an eye on how Liverpool fares out.