Why is it Important to be Confirmed in the Catholic Church?
If you are in high school and have been baptized in the Catholic Church, you are encouraged to participate in our High School Confirmation program.
Baptism, First Holy Communion or Eucharist, and Confirmation are known as the sacraments of initiation, initiation into the Body of Christ. Through the grace of these sacraments, we are incorporated into the community of God’s church. Christ meets us personally and applies, through his Spirit, the healing and enlivening power of his death and resurrection. Confirmation is necessary for the completion of baptismal grace. –Lumen Gentium, 11 (Catechism of the Catholic Church , 1285)
Confirmation in the economy of salvation
In the early Church, Baptism, Confirmation, and Eucharist were one celebration, one rite of receiving new members into the Christian community. As the church began to grow and prosper, the apostles and their successors who were designated as the bishops of local churches, were unable to be present at every initiation rite. Priests, or presbyters as they were known then and are still often called, were delegated to baptize those who were coming over to become Christians in large numbers. The bishop then visited the parish later to “confirm” the initiation of the new Christians.
Now when the apostles in Jerusalem heard that Samaria had accepted the word of God, they sent them Peter and John, who went down and prayed for them, that they might receive the holy Spirit, for it had not yet fallen upon any of them; they had only been baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus. Then they laid hands on them and they received the holy Spirit. - Acts of the Apostles 8:14-17
Later on, as entire cultures became Christian, most baptisms were of infants. The idea of Baptism with water by a priest and anointing by a bishop became more institutionalized. Since the bishop obviously could not be present for all baptisms in his area of responsibility, the anointing and laying on of hands was gradually was seen as separate and it was postponed to later on in life.
The descent of the Holy Spirit on Jesus at his baptism by John was the sign that this was he who was to come, the Messiah, the Son of God. He was conceived of the Holy Spirit; his whole life and his whole mission are carried out in total communion with the Holy Spirit whom the Father gives him without measure.
The fullness of the Spirit was not to remain uniquely the Messiah’s but was to be communicated to the whole messianic people. On several occasions Christ promised this outpouring of the Spirit and that he would give his apostles the courage they needed to face any fears about serving him.
But you will receive power when the holy Spirit comes upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, throughout Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth."- Acts 1:8
Jesus kept his promise on the first Easter Sunday and then more strikingly at Pentecost.
When the time for Pentecost was fulfilled, they were all in one place together. And suddenly there came from the sky a noise like a strong driving wind, and it filled the entire house in which they were. Then there appeared to them tongues as of fire, which parted and came to rest on each one of them. And they were all filled with the holy Spirit and began to speak in different tongues, as the Spirit enabled them to proclaim.
The apostles immediately began to proclaim the mighty works of God and Peter declared this outpouring of the Spirit to be the sign of the messianic age. They went out to preach the good news without any fear or reluctance.
Confirmation confers the courage and gifts of the Holy Spirit that we need to be witnesses to Christ in our daily lives. Christ then is still fulfilling his promise through the Sacrament of Confirmation. No part of the Holy Spirit is held back at Baptism to be given at Confirmation. Every celebration of a sacrament is a sign from the one God of the one continuing, infinite love that is poured into our being (CCC 1289). The Holy Spirit is given in both Baptism and Confirmation. But the function of the Holy Spirit in each is different.
In Baptism, we are made members of Christ’s Body. But at confirmation we are given the power of God to bear fruit in our Christian life and to speak before the world boldly, and so to draw others into the Church. Confirmation stresses the power of the Spirit to make Christian witnesses of Jesus to the world. The Sacrament of Confirmation makes Pentecost a permanent event in the life of each Christian.
When a person is baptized, the person takes on a completely new life. In the language of the ancient Church, the child “emerges from the womb of the baptismal waters” a newborn child of God. But like a child that doesn’t learn to walk or talk right after it is born, but needs to mature, the Christian does not become perfect overnight, the Christian needs to mature. It is not a sudden overnight experience but a process of gradual maturing spiritually until we meet Christ face to face in death.
The law of spiritual growth is the keynote to our Christian life. Christians are always seeking to grow and change – to become spiritually mature, not by their own efforts but by always turning to Christ for guidance and strength. Jesus has shown us the way to spiritual maturity for he has given us the Holy Spirit. The Spirit gives us the strength to face up to our responsibilities and share the gospel with others. It is the Holy Spirit who helps us to grow. This is the whole meaning of the Sacrament of Confirmation.
Every baptized person not yet confirmed can and should receive the Sacrament of Confirmation. Since Baptism, Confirmation, and Eucharist form a unity, it follows that “the faithful are obliged to receive this sacrament at the appropriate time.” (Canon Law 891, 883) Without Confirmation and Eucharist, Baptism is certainly valid and efficacious, but Christian initiation remains incomplete.
Anointing and Laying on of Hands
Throughout the New Testament, the foundation for the laying on of hands and the clear distinction between Baptism and Confirmation is evident. Philip the Deacon sent for the apostles Peter and John to come and lay hands on some women and men whom he had baptized “that they might receive the Holy Spirit.” (Acts 8:14-17) After Paul baptized some disciples of John the Baptist, he also laid hands on them and then “the Holy Spirit cam upon them, and they spoke in tongues and prophesied.” (Acts 19:1-7)
Very early in the Church, an anointing with perfumed oil or chrism was added to the laying on of hands. This anointing highlights the name “Christian” which means “anointed” and derives form Christ himself whom God “anointed with the Holy Spirit” (Acts 10:38). For this reason Eastern Churches call this sacrament Chrismation. The anointing with chrism shows the ratification of Baptism which is inherent in Confirmation, the completion of Christian initiation, and the strengthening of Baptismal grace.
Today, the sacrament of confirmation continues to be conferred by the laying on of hands and anointing in the form of a cross with chrism on the forehead.
The chrism used for anointing consists of olive oil mixed with balsam. The oil is a symbol of strength; the perfume is a symbol of the “fragrance of Christ,” which the Christian must spread. The sacred chrism must be consecrated by the bishop.
The Israelites anointed priests and kings as a sign that they were chosen by God. Like them, the Christian is anointed or chosen for a purpose. As he anoints, the minister of Confirmation says the words: “Be sealed with the gift of the Holy Spirit.” To be “sealed” is to be authoritatively marked or stamped as the property of someone. In confirmation, this mark is permanent and may not be repeated. In confirmation, the Spirit claims and empowers a Christian as an “official” representative of the Church before the world. He or she is to take responsibility for bringing Jesus to the ends of the earth.
The bishop, the designated leader of the local church community, is the normal minister of Confirmation. In some cases, such as for the Easter Vigil during the initiation of those who have been through RCIA or RCIC, the priest pastor may administer the sacrament.
The Liturgy of Confirmation when celebrated separately for Baptism begins with the renewal of baptismal promises and the profession of faith by those who are receiving the sacrament. This shows that confirmation follows form Baptism. The essential rite of Confirmation then consists in the anointing with chrism on the forehead which is done by laying on of the hand and through the words, “Be sealed …”
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The word confirmation means a “strengthening.” The Holy Spirit comes and strengthens those gifts we received at Baptism. It is evident from its celebration that the effect of the confirmation is the full outpouring of Holy Spirit as once granted to the apostles on the day of Pentecost. From this fact, Confirmation brings an increase and deepening of baptismal grace.
Confirmation imprints on the soul a spiritual mark, a character, which is the sign that Jesus Christ has marked a Christian with the seal of his Spirit by clothing him with power from on high so that the recipient may become Jesus’ witness.
For this reason, preparation for Confirmation should aim at leading the Christian toward a more intimate union with Christ and a more lively familiarity with the Holy Spirit – his actions, his gifts, and his biddings – in order to be more capable of assuming the apostolic responsibilities of Christian life. To this end, catechesis for Confirmation should strive to awaken a sense of belonging to the Church of Jesus Christ, the universal Church as well as the local church or diocese and the parish community.
Those preparing for Confirmation should have a sponsor from the local parish community. The word sponsor comes from the same root as “responsible”, a root that means “someone who guarantees, pledges, promises.”
A sponsor needs to be a person who can travel with the person preparing for confirmation in their journey to Christian maturity. The sponsor is meant to be a spiritual mentor who is available to listen to concerns and questions about the church. The sponsor chosen must be sufficiently mature, belong to the Catholic Church, and be fully initiated. A sponsor should be a spiritual friend.
Another traditional practice in the Church at the time of Confirmation is choosing a name that will remind us of the sacrament and its purpose. This requires prayerful reflection. The choice might be the name of a saint who is a Christian role model. Or the choice might involve a recommitment to a person’s given name, especially after some reflection on it meaning and discovery of some of the great people in Christian history who have shared that name.
Today in the Church within the United States, there has been increased emphasis on confirmation as the sacrament of Christian commitment. Therefore, Confirmation is normally conferred when young people reach high school age. In the Diocese of San Diego, confirmation is conferred after two years of preparation usually covering the ninth and tenth grades with reception coming at the end of the tenth or sometimes as late as the eleventh grade. However, it is never too late for adults to receive this sacrament and it is a wonderful opportunity if someone has been estranged from the church for an extended period of time.
We know that the Holy Spirit brings us to spiritual maturity and strengthens the gifts we received at Baptism. But what is the purpose of this great strengthening we receive in Confirmation? First, we need to identify the specific gifts.
When we speak of the gifts of the Holy Spirit, we normally refer to the seven gifts that the prophet Isaiah foretold that the promised Messiah would posses in their fullness. In biblical symbolism, the number seven stands for fullness, completeness, and perfection.
Likewise, Saint Paul’s list of the fruits of the Holy Spirit expresses the limitless benefits of the Spirit: “The fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.” (Galatians 5:22-23a)
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Paul also wrote: “When I was a child, I used to talk as a child, think as a child; when I became a man, I put aside childish things.” (1 Corinthians 13:11) Maturity always brings with it a greater sensitivity and responsibility toward those around us. And that is why the Sacrament of Confirmation is often referred to as the sacrament of social action. The strengthening and increased maturity we receive in Confirmation are not only for own benefit. They are given us by the Holy Spirit so that we can contribute actively and creatively to the family life of the Church and the world. We all have our own special gifts and talents. And one way or another we have many opportunities to help the Church in the world. This is how we are called by Confirmation to witness to Christ.