The Archbishop has explained: Parents are the teachers of their children in the ways of faith, so their example is critical. Confirmation is not graduation or in the words of Pope Francis “the sacrament of farewell.” A key component in the restored order is the formation of the parents in assisting them to encounter Christ.The place of Confirmation “as a rite of passage for teens” has been a longtime problem not merely for Roman Catholics but also for Lutherans. The instruction has long been dumbed down with less emphasis upon doctrine, catechism, and memorization and more upon the idea of relationship and the realm of experience. The length of time spent in catechesis has diminished in some places to a month or even six months from its previous norm of two years. While Lutherans should not simply follow Rome, this development should give pause to those who believe early communion and later confirmation is a better alternative than that which we have traditionally known.
The greater challenge to address, however, is how do we form our children in the faith in a way that truly brings them into relationship with Christ, and that this relationship lasts and grows throughout their lives. We don’t have all the answers, but we are working with pastors and catechists to rethink how we approach youth ministry. One of the greatest helps I have found in helping people to encounter Christ, even young people is to teach them lectio divina. Every class should begin with lectio even with the children. Through lectio even young children can encounter Jesus, the Father and the Holy Spirit and it instills in them a love for Scripture and especially the Gospels.
I will admit that my own thinking is still evolving on this. In the beginning I thought early communion, separated from confirmation, was the best direction. Now I am not so sure. While I have never been in favor of the very early communion espoused by those who hearken to the East, I have long thought that our previous practice of postponing first communion to eighth grade or the first year in high school was too late. That said, I am not sure that we have adequately prepared our youth to regularly receive the Sacrament with a few session workshop on the Lord's Supper. While I am certainly in favor of moving the age earlier rather than later, I am greatly concerned that we are not preparing our youth for a life of faith by shortchanging them on the intensive catechesis that leads to confirmation. Further, I am more and more suspicious of youth groups that focus more on fun or relationship than on the continuation of the catechesis and the preparation of our youth for a world unfriendly to the faith and a college atmosphere where the faith is often ridiculed by those who believe that education begins by stripping our youth of their sacred beliefs.
I have no idea whether or not the Archbishop of Denver's plan will become the norm for Roman Catholics in the US (I rather doubt it), I think it is one more reason why this whole issue of catechesis and confirmation and first communion needs not only more study but more uniformity of curriculum and age across the expanse of the LCMS. Our statistics of the loss of youth and young adults from the life of the church cries out for us to do more rather than less.