If there was ever a time when the Sacrament of Confirmation
needed to be explained carefully, that time is now. All too many members of the
Church neglect it altogether; and those who have received it or who plan to
receive it, see it as something minor in their lives. There is need, then, for
instruction on the nature, power, and dignity of this sacrament. Far from being
neglected or received in a mere perfunctory way, Confirmation must be restored
to the reverence and devotion it deserves.
These words introduced The Roman
Catechism published by Pope St. Pius V in 1566. They might just as
appropriately have been written today.
Institution by Christ
There is no direct evidence in Scripture that Christ
actually instituted the sacrament of Confirmation. Yet the Church has formally
defined that Christ personally instituted this sacrament. Indeed the Council of
Trent went out of its way to teach as irreversible Catholic doctrine that the
Confirmation of baptized persons is
a true and proper sacrament. It simply rejected the notion that
Confirmation meant nothing more than a certain catechesis by which those
nearing adolescence gave an account of their faith before the Church (Decree on the Sacraments, March 3, 1547).
Already in the Old Covenant the prophets foretold that
outpouring of the Spirit of God over the whole of humanity as one of the
distinctive signs of the messianic age.
Jesus plainly promised to send the Holy Spirit, and went on
to describe the effect this would have on His followers.
I shall ask the Father and He will
give you another Advocate to be with you forever, that Spirit of truth whom the
world can never receive since it neither sees nor knows Him (John 14:16-17).
I have said these things to you
while still with you. But the Advocate, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will
send in my name, will teach you everything, and bring all things to your mind
that I have said to you (John 14:25-26).
On the way to His ascension, Christ finally promised to send
the Holy Spirit soon. He told the disciples not to leave Jerusalem but to wait
there for what the Father had promised. He reminded them: It is what you have
heard me speak about. John baptized with water but you, not many days from now,
will be baptized with the Holy Spirit. Then still more clearly, He predicted
what the Holy Spirit would do in their lives. You will receive power, Christ
assured them, when the Holy Spirit comes on you, and then you will be my
witnesses not only in Jerusalem but throughout Judea and Samaria and indeed to
the ends of the earth: (Acts 1:4-5, 8). Note that the Greek word for
witnesses in the inspired text of the Acts of the Apostles is martures which means martyrs. The kind of
witnessing that Christs followers will be empowered by the Holy Spirit to give
is to martyrdom.
What the apostles themselves received on Pentecost Sunday,
they soon began to communicate to others. The rite they used was the imposition
of hands on the newly baptized.
When the apostles in Jerusalem
heard that Samaria had accepted the word of God, they sent Peter and John to
them. And they went down there, and prayed for the Samaritans to receive the
Holy Spirit, for as yet He had not come down on 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 8:14-17).
Later on in the Acts of the Apostles, we are told that St.
Paul imposed his hands on some twelve converts who had been baptized and they
received the Holy Spirit (Acts 19:6).
So the practice continued through the apostolic age into the
early Christian centuries. And always the understanding was that Confirmation
was a sacrament distinct from Baptism; that it consisted in the imposition of
hands by the apostles and their successors; that the effect of the outward rite
was a special communication of the Holy Spirit, the divine source of interior
What is Confirmation?
As we did for the sacrament of Baptism, we will examine the
meaning of Confirmation in the words of the new Code of Canon Law. It contains
all the essential elements of this second of the seven sacraments.
The sacrament of Confirmation
confers a character. By it the baptized continue their path of Christian
initiation. They are enriched with the gift of the Holy Spirit, and are more
closely linked to the Church. They are made strong and more firmly obliged by
word and deed to witness to Christ and to spread and defend the faith.
Immediately we see that Confirmation is exactly what its name
implies. It is the sacrament which makes firm
or strengthens the gifts of grace that are first received in Baptism.
Sacramental Character. The Church
stresses that the indelible seal received in Confirmation is really a new
character. It is not merely a deepening of the baptismal character. The
Churchs tradition teaches that the confirmation character gives the power and
the right to perform actions which are necessary in the spiritual battle
against the enemies of the faith. These enemies are the world, our own proud
intellect and will, and the evil spirit.
Moreover, the Church does not hesitate to say that
Confirmation changes the simple members of the kingdom of Christ into soldiers
of Christ. St. Ignatius, in his Spiritual Exercises,
expresses this idea forcefully in the invitation that Christ extends to His
My will is to conquer the whole
world and all enemies and thus to enter into the glory of my Father. Whoever,
therefore, desires to come with me must labor with me in order that following
me in pain, he may likewise follow me in glory (The
Kingdom of Christ).
The character of Confirmation confers on the baptized the
strength they need to live up to Christs expectations of the Mystical Body on
earth, which is the Church Militant.
Sacramental Graces. Consistent with
the distinctive character of Confirmation, a variety of special graces is
assured for a lifetime loyalty to Christ and His Church.
Along with Baptism, Confirmation is a sacrament of
initiation. It lays the foundation, after Baptism, for living up to the hard
demands of the gospel.
Confirmation binds the one baptized more intimately to the
Church, which means more closely to Christ, and enables us to be more devoted
to His divine Person and to serve Him more faithfully.
Three words in the Churchs definition of Confirmation bring
out the unique effects of this sacrament. They are to witness
to Christ, and spread and defend
the faith. On each of these three levels, Confirmation strengthens a Christian
and imposes the obligation to witness, spread, and defend. Let us now examine
them in detail.
- In order to be able to witness to Christ, Confirmation deepens a
persons faith by making Christ better understood, more clearly perceived, and
more firmly believed in as the Son of the living God who became man to redeem
the world. In a word, Confirmation strengthens our conviction of mind by
enabling us to say with St. Paul: I have not lost confidence, because I know
who it is that I have put my trust in, and I have no doubt at all that He is
able to take care of all that I have entrusted to Him until that Day (II
Conviction is the bedrock of
courage: A convinced mind is the foundation for a courageous will. Every
courageous witness to Christ was, in effect, a martyr for Christ, either by
shedding his blood for the Savior in dying a martyrs death, or certainly
testifying to his deathless love for Christ by living a martyrs life.
- In order to be able to spread the faith, Confirmation develops our
sense of mission and deepens our desire to share with others what others have
so zealously passed on to us.
St. John Chrysostom is warrant for
the statement that, on the last day, we shall be judged mainly on our practice of charity in sharing our Catholic
faith. The Second Vatican Council expressed the same idea in its Decree on the Apostolate of Lay People.
From the fact of their union with
Christ the Head, flows the laymens right and duty to be apostles. Inserted as
they are in the Mystical Body by Baptism and strengthened by the power of the
Holy Spirit in Confirmation, it is by the Lord Himself that they are assigned
to the apostolate (I, 3).
The council goes so far as to say
that a Catholic who does not work at the growth of the body [of Christ] to the
extent of his possibilities must be considered useless both to the Church and
himself (I, 2). The apostolate is therefore no option but a grave obligation.
- In order to be able to defend the faith, Confirmation does two
things: It enlightens the mind of the believer to know how the true faith
should be protected from danger or against assault, and it fortifies the will
to want to come to the defense of the faith at no matter what cost to ones
self-love or ease.
This defense of Catholic truth should always, of course, be
done with prudence and charity. That is why our zeal must be tempered by wisdom
and love. But the basic obligation remains.
One final observation. The faithful are told that
Confirmation deepens their duty to witness to Christ and to spread and defend
the faith. They are also told how to fulfill this triple responsibility: They
are to do so by word and deed.
These two, word and deed, go together. No less than Christ
Himself, during His visible stay on earth, proclaimed the gospel by what He
said and what He did, so those who have been confirmed by His Spirit are to
follow His example. Both verbal communication and the practice of Christian
virtue are the means of testifying to the Savior, of extending His kingdom on earth,
and of safeguarding the treasures of revealed truth which God became man to
share with the human family.
Ritual and Administration
Six years after the close of the Second Vatican Council,
Pope Paul VI determined by his pontifical authority that the essence of
Confirmation consists in both the imposition of hands and the anointing with
chrism. He also determined that the words of Confirmation should be almost
identical with those used by the Catholic Church in the Eastern or Byzantine
By our supreme apostolic authority,
we decree and lay down that in the Latin Church the following should be
observed in the future: The sacrament of Confirmation is conferred through the
anointing with chrism on the forehead, which is done by the laying on of the hand
and through the words, Receive the seal of the Gift of the Holy Spirit
(Apostolic Constitution, August 15, 1971).
The ordinary minister of Confirmation is the bishop. Priests
can also administer Confirmation provided they have the faculty by the Churchs
common law or have been duly authorized to confirm. One of the new provisions
of Canon Law gives priests the power to confirm those whom they have instructed
in the faith and received into the Church. In danger of death the pastor and,
in fact, any priest can confer the sacrament of Confirmation.
Absolutely speaking, All baptized persons who have not been
confirmed, and only they, are capable of receiving Confirmation. However, to
be lawfully confirmed a person should have the use of reason, be suitably
instructed, properly disposed, and able to renew the baptismal promises (canon
889). The Churchs general law is that the sacrament of Confirmation is to be
conferred at about the age of discretion. The conference of bishops may
determine another age. The age for Confirmation may be further qualified by the
judgment of the one who is to confer the sacrament or when there is danger of
death (Canon 891).
We should add, however, that Confirmation can be received by
any baptized person before reaching the age of reason. This is clear from the
practice of confirming infants in the west up to the thirteenth century and
today in the Eastern Church. Corresponding to its purpose of enabling a
baptized person to be a miles Christi,
soldier of Christ, the Latin Rite has decided that Confirmation should be
delayed until after infancy. However, as noted before, exceptions are
admissible, especially in danger of death. It should always be kept in mind
that Confirmation provides a person with a higher state of grace on earth and,
as a result, a higher state of glory in eternity.
Copyright © 2002 Inter Mirifica
Pocket Catholic Catechism