Some thoughts on Confirmation, Catholicism, and organized religion

[my own comments marked by square brackets]

Informant: “Well, not just because we’re Filipino, but because I was raised Catholic, rites of passage being like–um we’re not just a little bit Catholic… everyone in my family is really Catholic, like super Catholic, my mom goes to church every Sunday at 6:30 in the morning and walks there and it’s like a whole process for her–but I guess like a rite of passage for me would have been my confirmation… um which I resisted every step of the way *chuckle* because it’s like catechisms, you just have to learn a bunch of stuff and confirm being Catholic…”

[Walk me through a confirmation, I don’t really know what goes on during one besides a vague idea of what it is.]

Informant: “It’s kind of like, it’s basically the Catholic version of a mitzvah, so you have to learn, you go to Catholic school–sunday school–and you just learn stories from the Bible, and the confirmation, all it is is that at the very end of it you… So when you’re born, you’re baptized, which was like in the ancient times to keep your child, who would most likely not last a few months, from lining the way to hell with their skull after they die from infant mortality. So in baptism you have like a godmother saying like, oh, I’m their Christian guardian–Catholic guardian–and I baptize them and I’m their spiritual guardian [so don’t worry, it’s all good, the baby can be let into heaven]. Yeah, and then up until you’re like between twelve and fourteen, maybe even fifteen, you’re confirmed. And that’s when you’re like a reasonably conscious human being to make that confirmation…”

[What are the events involved? Do you go to a church?]

“You go to a church, you’re dressed up all fancy–it’s kind of just like a very fancy mass. And you stand up in front of everybody and recite a bunch of passages and stuff like that.”

[Is there a party afterwards?]

“No. It’s not… a joyous occasion. I mean it is, everyone’s glad that you’re Catholic *hah* but it’s not like–I’m sure you’ve been mitzvahs before where there is a somber part where you’re reading from the Torah and then afterwards you just like rage [as in party, for those who are not sure what that means]. But no, it’s not like that–you’re just like alright, well, let’s go out to lunch now and everyone’s dressed up all fancy, but there’s no like singing or dancing, there’s nothing that really goes on… It’s a very like somber experience.”

[Would you say that reflects the character of Catholicism?]

“Oh yeah. Catholicism is very ritualized. I wasn’t allowed to take… [the wafer?] um, what’s it called… shit, what’s it called… I’m sitting in a room full of Religion majors and I don’t wanna ask any of them. Um, communion. I wasn’t able to take communion. My mom left me in the pew because I wasn’t confirmed so I wasn’t allowed to take communion. But after confirmation you can. But when you’re not a confirmed Christian you’re not allowed to take part in that ritual. I mean there was one part when I was like, ‘Mom, I’m super hungry, please let me go!’ and she was like, ‘Fine…’ but it was obvious I was the youngest person out there and they were just like whatever, I don’t care.”

[Did you go to church consistently in that time of your life? Every Sunday?]

“Uhh… there’s a time in our life when our parents just kind of like gave up on us [When was that?] Uh it was just kind of like after–we went to Catholic school for a long time, and then after that it was like well, whatever… they didn’t care for structuring our religion or anything like that.”

[So after you were confirmed did you have the distinct experience of going to church that Sunday and suddenly being officially allowed to take communion as a confirmed Christian?]

“Yeah, it really is like being accepted into a group, you really–I mean that’s like the most ritualized example I could think of in my life of being like, growing up in a specific culture but not really being part of it, and you become part of it after a certain period of like… I don’t wanna say liminality, but of learning about it and then going through a ritualized process, and now you can take communion and now you can drink the wine–the blood–no, the wine–to wash it down.”

[Did that actually mean anything to you?]

“I think that’s the problem with a lot of religion, actually, is that it’s really–and even my stepmom, she’s not religious, but I have two very young siblings and she wanted to take them to church because like it creates a community, a structured environment–and so it’s less about the religion and more about you interacting with a structured group with an obvious morale, and there’s no like drugs, sex or anything going on that’s like funny [ahem?] and everyone knows each other so it really is more about the community than the religion. And I remember I had a lot of Presbyterian friends, cause there’s a big Presbyterian church in my town, and they would have like Sunday school groups and they would always hang out–and you do feel left out *smirk* when you’re not part of the Sunday school group. Whatever, they would go to some crazy Christian camps–not Jesus camps, they were more like retreats.”


The informant is not religious but she acknowledges the religious system that she has been initiated into. To her it is a supplementary piece of her identity, a shared experience that helped to shape her understanding of the world but not definitely inform it. In some ways, this non-literal conception of religion is folkloric in itself–the Catholic Church doesn’t tell you that its inherent value as an institution comes from the structure or community it provides. It’s supposed to tell you that it exists because that’s what God wants. Yet many people don’t necessarily believe that, and choose to suspend their disbelief for the sake of belonging to a tradition. Rituals such as confirmation delineate stages of faith that are further supported by rituals specific to each stage (communion, for example, for after you have been confirmed). They are visible proclamations of faith, but even more so, of identity within the culture of the faith. Confirmation also seems to set an arbitrary age at which a person is supposedly ready to make up his or her own mind about what s/he believes. In this way it can be a coming-of-age ritual more than it is a faith-based ritual.