In 2016, 15,900 people were confirmed, of whom 24 per cent were under 12, and 45 per cent were 20 or over. This is down from 29,380 in 2006, when 39 per cent were 20 or over. In 1960, the total was 190,713.
The good news is that, today, most younger people are confirmed because it is what they want. If this is in a parish where children are not admitted to holy communion, there may be a tendency for confirmation to happen when they are quite young; so the decision itself, though real, is not made with quite the independent decisiveness of adolescent vigour.
But parishes that are admitting children to holy communion are well placed to enable confirmation to happen when young people are a little older — at least 12 or 13 — and then really make something of it as a commitment to whole-life discipleship. I think this is the best pattern, and one to be encouraged. There is a wonderful nobility to the decision of young people to be confirmed when childhood, and the directing of parents, is left behind, and independence and the life choices that go with it are beginning to be embraced.
It never fails to move me; for confirming anyone is a great joy, but to see a young person make the faith their own is a special joy indeed. Such commitment, and a pattern of preparation and confirmation that enables it, provides the Church with a great opportunity; for even if the church that presents them has not fully realised it, these young people are claiming the Christian faith for themselves, and committing themselves as disciples of Christ. They want and need a preparation for confirmation, and a liturgy that will match this aspiration.
Therefore, if this pattern is to be encouraged, and if the young people themselves are going to be able to put down roots in the Christian faith, confirmation preparation needs to shift from learning about the faith to learning to live the faith. Young people want more commitment, not less. They still need to know what it is that Christians believe, but they are hungrier to know how it works, and how it cashes out in their daily lives. Most of all, they need God.