Saturday, April 26, 2008

Why is Confirmation Sometimes Held on Palm Sunday?

In the comments section of my last post I mentioned that the rite of Confirmation is held in some churches on Palm Sunday. The only reason I could see for the choice was allowing the newly confirmed to commune on Maundy Thursday and Easter. While that may be the reason adopted by some, Dr. David Scaer in a conference paper entitled "Confirmation as a Sacramental Rite" (2002, In Christ: The Collected Works of David P. Scaer, Vol. II), offers another explanation you may find interesting. He relates his experience at a German cultural museum in Berlin which featured an exhibit on Confirmation in its nineteenth-century section:

"In what then had become a united Germany under the leadership of Chancellor Bismark, Confirmation was the rite of passage from youth to adulthood. A Confirmation certificate served also as a diploma testifying to the good moral character of the confirmed, recommending her or him to their first employers. It seems as if this view of the rite came with the German immigrants to the United States, where Confirmation came to be seen as a graduation ceremony from formal education. It took place on Palm Sunday, which was the traditional end of the school year in Germany. Afterwards, the confirmand would take up manual work of some sort. We must remember that in the nineteenth century universal high school education still lay n the future, college education was rare, a master's was still the highest degree and some schools like Johns Hopkins were just thinking of importing the German doctor's degree. Around the age of fourteen or fifteen, my grandfather, Gustav Zimmerman, went to work delivering flowers for a New York City multi-millionaire, Eugene Higgins, a man for whom he worked for sixty years until Higgins died in 1949. He had been confirmed, and this meant in the minds of his parents he was qualified for a job." (142)

Well, now we know how Palm Sunday became a popular day for Confirmation for German Lutherans, and that it was the Germans who confused this rite with "graduation"!

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