Confirmation and being Catholic in the United States the development of the sacrament of confirmation in the twentieth century

Date of Award


Degree Name

M.A. in Theological Studies


Department of Religious Studies


Advisor: Dennis M. Doyle


This thesis examines the development of the Catholic sacrament of Confirmation in the United States across the twentieth century. It argues that as United States Catholics' relationship to their wider culture changes, Confirmation theology and practice changes to reflect that relationship. In order to illustrate the thesis, the work is broken into four periods--1910-1959, 1960-1971, 1972-1980, 1981-2006--each of which represents a different stage in the evolution of Confirmation in U.S. Catholic discourse and practice. At different points in its twentieth century history, Confirmation becomes the sacrament of: Catholic Action, the Liturgical Renewal, and the Charismatic Renewal. In the final period, there is a strong emphasis on the Confirmation as the sacrament of choice, that is the time when young Catholics are accorded the opportunity to choose Catholicism from among the religious options presented to them. Such an emphasis makes sense from an historical perspective, as this final period is characterized by what Catholic historian Jay Dolan has called a rage for pluralism" among Catholics. The demands of pluralism seem to beg for a time when a young Catholic can choose Catholic Christianity as his or her particular religion. Some of the negative results of this "theology of choice" include: Confirmation understood as "graduation"; excessive pressure laid upon confirmandi to make a definitive choice at the moment of Confirmation; often unfulfilled expectations of a profound experience to occur on the day of Confirmation; a sacramental reinforcement of the dominant consumer model of religion and a voluntaristic understanding of the Church; and increased individualism among Catholics. In light of the dominance of this theology and the problems associated with it, the conclusion calls for a renewed emphasis on the Gift of the Holy Spirit received in the context of the Church. It points to the work of several theologians and catechists as examples of fruitful contributions to Confirmation theology in the direction of emphasizing the Holy Spirit and ecclesial formation."


Catholic Church United States, Confirmation Catholic Church United States, United States Church history 20th century

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