For the first few centuries, confirmation of the Church in the West (the Roman Catholic Church) was celebrated in the Sacrament of Baptism.
In the Eastern Catholic Church (Byzantine and Orthodox), confirmation is still celebrated with Baptism and First Communion as an infant. In the first few years of the Church, the bishop was the primary celebrant of all the sacraments. As the church expanded, it became necessary for priests to be delegated to Celebrate these sacraments.
As the number of infant baptisms also began to grow, the Western Church began to separate the two sacraments. The custom arose that the parish priest baptized the babies and the bishop would later visit the parish to celebrate Confirmation. This custom is still practiced today.
The age at which one can be admitted to the Sacrament is left up to each Episcopal Conference (national gathering of Catholic bishops). In the United States, the conference established the age for Confirmation to be anywhere from seven to sixteen. Any time after that, a person can be admitted to the sacrament. In more recent years, the age tends to be older, between eighth and tenth grade.
A person who is to be confirmed must already have been baptized and have received first Penance and first Holy Communion. The Code of Canon Law is quite specific about the preparation for the sacrament. Pastors must provide adequate and ample time in preparation. This occurs either in Catholic School, in a religious education program in the parish or, more recently, as part of a Catholic homeschool program, such as the Mother Seton Program.
The prevailing attitude toward the sacrament is one of maturity. Therefore, a candidate must be capable of passing an exam. Often a candidate is called a soldier of Christ. Since Confirmation is usually the culmination of the candidate’s religious education, he should have the adequate knowledge to defend his faith in a mature fashion when questioned. Just as a soldier is called upon to defend his country, monarch, or president, so is the soldier of Christ called upon to defend Christ and Christ’s Church.
A Confirmation candidate should also possess a maturity of practice. It is not only important to defend one’s faith, but also to practice it. This is why there are many projects of service which should continue beyond the reception of the sacrament. The service projects are examples of how to practice the giving of time, talent, and treasure.
A mature Catholic is one who practices stewardship; it is hoped that this maturity level has been attained at the age of reception.