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
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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
kept his promise on the first Easter Sunday and then more strikingly at
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.
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.
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.
Confirmation is to Baptism
what Pentecost is to Easter.
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.
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.
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
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.
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Anointing and Laying
on of Hands
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)
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 …”
Gifts and Confirmation
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
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
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.
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.”
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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)
and Social Action
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.
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