Q — Our seventh-grade religion class would like to know why we have to wait until high school to receive the sacrament of confirmation. We believe that we are ready to receive the gift of the Holy Spirit by the time we are in eighth grade, which would complete the process of initiation into our Catholic community. (Albany, New York)

A — The age at which confirmation is administered varies across the United States, and the choice is made by the local bishop. The church's Code of Canon Law says, “The sacrament of confirmation is to be conferred on the faithful at about the age of discretion unless the conference of bishops has determined another age” (No. 891).

In 2000, the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops decreed that confirmation should be administered “between the age of discretion and about 16 years of age, within the limits determined by the diocesan bishop.”

In several U.S. dioceses, confirmation is now conferred on children at 7 or 8 years of age; only after they are baptized and confirmed do these children receive first Communion. Your own bishop evidently feels that students in high school are best able to understand what the sacrament means and how it should guide an individual's future in the Catholic community.

If you feel — as some do — that eighth grade is the more strategic and less confusing time for that thought process to take place, you should make your feelings known to your bishop.

Q — Can a Catholic priest officiate at the renewal of vows for a non-Catholic couple? (City and state withheld)

A — I’ve never seen any “rule” on this, but if asked by a non-Catholic couple I would have no hesitancy doing what you say — listening to them repeat their marriage vows and then saying a prayer to bless their union. This, of course, assumes that the couple is in a marriage considered valid by the Catholic Church.

I would not participate if, for example, either of the parties was remarried with a former spouse still alive — because that would be inconsistent with the Catholic Church's views on marriage and divorce.