The Sacrament of Confirmation: A Complete Preparation Course is part of The Didache Series: Sacramental Preparation. It was written, “in accordance with guidelines from the Committee on Evangelization and Catechesis of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops” (p. xi). Parents and teachers can use this course with full confidence that it is in line with the teaching magisterium of the Church and that it teaches the fullness of the Catholic faith.
The Sacrament of Confirmation presents a very comprehensive course designed particularly for those who are preparing to receive the sacrament. It can be used in a class setting or for independent study. The primary audience is students in grades seven through nine since that encompasses the years when the sacrament is most commonly conferred.
The 269-page student textbook is the primary resource for the course. This is a non-consumable, softcover book with gorgeous illustrations and a well-designed layout. The content is extremely thorough. It discusses the sacrament of Confirmation at length, but it also covers foundational information about the key beliefs of Christianity and the Catholic Church, the story of salvation history, the person and work of the Holy Spirit, the gifts and fruit of the Holy Spirit, the Church, the sacraments of initiation, prayer, holiness, evangelization, serving others, and living a Christian life. Sidebars cover a plethora of other topics such as “Unbaptized Babies Who Die” (p. 103), “The Miracle of Lanciano” (p. 125), and “Ideas for Daily Prayer Time” (p. 180). And biographical sketch pages introduce students to heroes of the faith such as St. John Paul II, St. Josephine Bakhita, and St. Francis Xavier.
On the first page of the textbook, the author addresses the possibility that some students are taking the course just because others their age are doing so in preparation for Confirmation. Even so, the rest of the course is written with the assumption that the student believes in God and is ready to hear and respond to a call to discipleship. Occasionally, questions that students are to discuss with parents hint at the possibility that students might not be certain about their faith, but there’s no clear acknowledgment that this might actually be the case once past the first page. Students who are questioning their belief in God or other essentials are not given opportunities to work through their questions before diving into the discussion of the sacraments, grace, and discipleship. While this is fine for students who believe in God and want to grow spiritually and in their knowledge of the faith, it might not be appropriate for those who are not. Parents or teachers might want to provide time for a frank discussion about where students are spiritually before starting into the lessons.
The book has an introductory lesson and twelve chapters. The introductory lesson and the chapter lessons should each take a week to complete, so the entire course should take about 13 weeks. Each week’s lesson has quite a bit of material to read and questions to answer, so students should be working at least a few days a week on it. In addition, there are vocabulary words to learn, discussions with parents and sponsors, and two or three “Practical Exercises.”
The Practical Exercises vary, with different exercises such as researching topics, praying, spending time in personal reflection, practicing apologetics, discussing, writing, and visiting an Easter rite liturgy. (Parents can help students choose which of these to do.) It is important to mention that the text frequently stresses the importance of personal prayer, regular Mass attendance, and reception of the sacraments.
Since parents are supposed to be deeply involved in the spiritual formation of their own children, the course includes a section at the end of each week’s lesson titled “You and Your Parents.” Both parents and Confirmation candidates should read through these sections, but most important are the discussion prompts at the end. These prompts are in the form of questions for teens to ask their parents—questions such as “When did you learn the meaning of being a true Christian?” and “Have you ever struggled with having faith in God?” (p.33). These are the types of questions that I mentioned early in this review—questions that might allow students to discuss their struggles with belief if parents or teachers allow or encourage very open conversations. It’s important to note that these questions might be uncomfortable for some parents, but the goal is to have honest and open discussions about faith and the way parents practice it. The assumption is that these conversations will ultimately be supportive of spiritual growth and faithfulness, but that won’t always be the case.
There’s a similar section titled, “You and Your Sponsor” that works the same way as “You and Your Parents,” but with different questions to be discussed between the student and the sponsor they have selected. I think that students might want to pick and choose from both sets of questions to use those best suited for discussions with parents or sponsors.
A 66-page Presenter’s Guide is useful for both group classes and independent study students. The course has both introductory questions and study questions for each lesson, and the answers are in the Presenter’s Guide. The Presenter’s Guide also has material that is designed for use in group classes: an opening prayer, an opening activity, a main activity, and a closing activity. (The activities are primarily lesson presentation and interaction suggestions for the teacher.)
In addition to answer keys and lesson presentation material, The Presenter’s Guide repeats both the key points to remember and the vocabulary words and their definitions that are in the student’s textbook.
Since the age for the reception of Confirmation is determined by each bishop, some younger and older children (outside the range of grades seven through nine) might be preparing to receive the sacrament as well. So the Presenter’s Guide offers variations of the main classroom activity for three different levels: grades three to five, grades six to eight, and grades nine and up. Occasionally, it presents other adaptations for younger students. However, since the student textbook was written for use with only the two upper age levels, I don’t see how the course can easily be used with students in grades three through five.
Most of the lesson material that students will read is not in the Presenter’s Guide, so the parent or teacher might want to have his or her own copy of the student textbook.
The Sacrament of Confirmation: A Complete Preparation Course is excellent from an academic standpoint, and it covers the bases in terms of spiritual formation information for those who are ready for it. It should be great for students who are eager to learn and understand their faith at a deeper level. However, the academic flavor of the course might be off-putting for students who could benefit more from a personal and relational approach to sacramental preparation. The teaching ideas in the Presenter’s Guide and the discussion questions can help to make it a more personal and relational course, but it’s up to the parent or teacher to guide that process.