One should not tune into The CW’s Riverdale for accurate information about, well, anything. But a recent episode’s handling of a Roman Catholic rite can make a viewer question if the writers actually know any Catholics.
In “The Wicked and the Divine,” resident rich girl Veronica Lodge (whose family, in a significant departure from the source Archie comics, is Mexican-American) experienced her Confirmation. Confirmation is the fourth of seven sacraments of the church, rites that mark significant moments in the life of a church member. Confirmation is a “coming of age” rite, similar to those of many other religions, that marks a Catholic embracing the adult responsibilities of the church. One can see why that concept would have resonated with the Riverdale writers.
Too bad they got so much about it wrong.
Right off the bat, Veronica, who’s supposed to be about 16 or so, said it “usually happens at age 12 or 13,” but that she’d delayed scheduling it because she wanted the Monsignor who’d baptized her to perform the rite. It’s amazing how many inaccuracies can be packed into one sentence.
First, Confirmation isn’t something that a person just schedules at her convenience. It’s the fourth (and culmination) of what may be thought of as “initiation” sacraments, which include Baptism, First Communion and First Penance. There are no hard and fast rules about the age of a confirmation candidate and local parishes have a lot of discretion in deciding the optimal age for the rite.
Confirmation comes only after study and preparation. For a teenager like Veronica, that would involve her parish’s youth religious education program, the final year or two of which would specifically prepare candidates for the rite of Confirmation. Some parishes might schedule that for as early as the end of 8th grade, where the students would be 13 or 14. More typically in the U.S., it happens sometime between 9th and 11th grades, where the candidates would be between ages 14 and 17. Adults, either new converts of lifelong members who, for one reason or another, had never been confirmed, would receive a separate course of study from the kids. If Veronica ever took time out from high school drama, romantic travails and trolling for murderers to undergo the necessary study and preparation for the rite, Riverdale didn’t show that to viewers.
In any case, it’s not up to the individual to schedule a Confirmation. It’s a parish function, coordinated by the pastor and religious education director. Contrary to Veronica’s assertion, a Monsignor would not oversee the rite of Confirmation. “Monsignor” is mostly an honorific distinction, bestowed on veteran priests with long records of meritorious, distinguished service (it’s been bestowed less frequently in recent years). A Monsignor may have hierarchical priority over a rank-and-file member of the priesthood, but doesn’t really have any additional powers. Confirmation must be administered by a Bishop or some other higher rank. Bishops tend to be quite busy and have duties related to many churches in a geographical area. Their schedules would be unlikely to permit their being available for individual Confirmations.
Instead, each parish has one or two dates per year when a Bishop comes to perform Confirmations. It’s a communal ritual, involving both the candidates from the youth religious education program as well as the adult candidates. It’s highly unlikely that a Confirmation would be scheduled for the convenience of any one family, even a wealthy, connected one like the Lodges.
Next, the episode had Veronica choose her grandmother has her Confirmation sponsor. A sponsor is an already confirmed member of the church who basically serves as a character witness for the candidate. While there’s no actual rule prohibiting it, by tradition, parents and grandparents don’t usually serve as a candidate’s sponsor. It’s more of a thematic thing, since the point of Confirmation is a person embracing an adult role in the church. Individual parishes might make the tradition a firm guideline during the process of sponsor selection. More likely, another family member (aunt, uncle, older sibling, cousin) or a close family friend would serve as sponsor. On the rare occasions where a parent or grandparent does serve as sponsor, there’s usually an extenuating circumstance (usually to accommodate a special need of the candidate). For someone like Veronica, whoever was overseeing the Confirmation process at her church would have steered her away from choosing her Abuelita and likely would have directed Roni toward one of the numerous aunts or uncles the episode showed on hand for the event.
Veronica and Josie singing The Verve’s “Bittersweet Symphony” to open the Confirmation mass made for a sufficiently dramatic moment. But in reality, there is no way any parish would allow the performance of a secular song at a Confirmation. It’s a sacred moment and is more about the community than the individual. Only explicitly religious songs (contemporary or traditional) would be on the musical docket. Many parishes have a blanket ban on secular songs at any mass or service, while others might be more flexible in the case of, say, a wedding or funeral, where individual sentiment could inspire some leeway. But no Confirmation would permit the performance a modern rock hit whose lyrics insist “I can’t change.”
One thing the episode got right is the ritual rejection of Satan. That’s part of a renewal by the candidate of the Baptismal vows made on his/her behalf as a baby, by their parents and godparents. Given the action of the episode, it was a thematically appropriate element for the script to emphasize. The big party afterward also rang true. While many candidates have small, sedate family gatherings after a Confirmation, there are some who do, indeed, go all out to mark the occasion. It tracked that a wealthy family like Veronica’s would stage a blowout on behalf of her Confirmation.
Honestly, the episode feels like it may originally have been conceived as Veronica’s belated quinceañara, until someone realized the thematic potential for tying the event to a religious rite of passage. That both drove home the season’s “good vs. evil” musings and provided an opportunity for a Godfather homage. Neither a bad creative impulse on the part of the writers. One just can’t help but wish they’d vetted the details a little more carefully.