This week, as we continue our examination of the seven Sacraments, we will take a closer look at the Sacrament of Confirmation.
The Catechism places Confirmation after Baptism because this Sacrament is the completion of the graces received at Baptism. “For ‘by the sacrament of Confirmation, [the baptized] are more perfectly bound to the Church and are enriched with a special strength of the Holy Spirit. Hence they are, as true witnesses of Christ, more strictly obliged to spread and defend the faith by word and deed’” (CCC #1285). So, the graces received at baptism are fortified by the graces received in Confirmation in order to strengthen the faithful in their call to evangelize and defend the Faith.
Confirmation was instituted by Christ Himself and uses physical means to communicate heavenly realities, which, if you recall from last week, are the two defining components of a
sacrament. Jesus promised an outpouring of the Holy Spirit many times to His disciples. These promises came to their fulfillment on Pentecost. The Holy Spirit descended upon the upper room and empowered the Apostles to go out and proclaim to the thousands gathered “the mighty works of God” in their own languages. Then those who were converted also received the gifts of the Holy Spirit (CCC #1286). Further, there are three New Testament scriptural references (Acts 8:15-17, Acts 19:5-6, Hebrews 6:2) in which the Apostles apply the laying on of hands – imparting the gifts of the Spirit – after Baptism. This illustrates that the teaching they received from Jesus was to confer the Sacrament of Confirmation following Baptism, in order to complete and fulfill the baptismal graces (CCC #1288). The Sacraments of Baptism and Confirmation, thereby, go hand in hand.
Like all sacraments, Confirmation has visible and physical signs and symbols because God sees fit to communicate His grace to us in ways that we can relate to and understand. The primary symbol used in Confirmation is anointing with oil, which imprints on us a spiritual seal. The oil used in the Sacrament of Confirmation is the sacred chrism, which is blessed at the Chrism Mass of Holy Thursday every year by the local bishop (CCC #1297). The Catechism tells us, “Anointing, in Biblical and other ancient symbolism, is rich in meaning: oil is a sign of abundance and joy (Cf. Deut 11:14; Ps 23:5; 104:15), it cleanses (anointing before and after a bath) and limbers (the anointing of athletes and wrestlers); oil is a sign of healing, since it is soothing to bruises and wounds (Cf Is 1:6; Lk 10:34); and it makes radiant with beauty, health, and strength” (CCC #1293). The anointing with oil during Confirmation marks us with the seal of the Spirit – showing ownership – so that we may reap all of the same benefits as mentioned in Scripture. As we are anointed and sealed with the oil, it cleanses us, limbers us, and heals us, so that we may properly go out to do the will of God in growing His kingdom here on earth.
Any baptized person can and should receive the Sacrament of Confirmation. It is generally considered a sacrament of maturity because there should be some understanding of the Faith to receive it, particularly because it comes with a call to evangelize. However, this should not at all be confused with “a decision to be Catholic.” To call it a personal decision is to put the human at the center of the sacrament rather than placing God at the center as bestowing gifts upon us. So long as there is good preparation and formation and the recipient is of the age of reason, it can be appropriate to receive the sacrament and to allow God to do His work in the person. Here in the Diocese of Phoenix, third graders receive their Confirmation along with their first Eucharist, which falls in line with the appropriate conditions for the reception of the sacraments (CCC #1306-1309). The proper and ordinary minister of Confirmation is the local bishop since the bishops are the direct successors of the Apostles (CCC #1312). However, because it can be difficult to reach all of the candidates in his diocese, he “may grant the faculty of administering Confirmation to priests” (CCC #1313). In the case of an emergency, such as impending death, any priest may administer the Sacrament of Confirmation without explicit permission from the bishop (CCC #1314). Unlike Baptism, Confirmation is not necessary to enter into the kingdom of Heaven, so it is therefore not appropriate for anyone other than a priest to administer the sacrament in an emergency.
Like any other sacrament, Confirmation produces unique effects and graces that are proper to it. In its essence, Confirmation is the outpouring of the Holy Spirit upon us, which is reminiscent of the Apostles at Pentecost. Paragraph #1303 of the Catechism lists the following as its effects:
– it roots us more deeply in the divine filiation which makes us cry, “Abba! Father!”
– it unites us more firmly to Christ
– it increases the gifts of the Holy Spirit in us
– it renders our bond with the Church more perfect
– it gives us a special strength of the Holy Spirit to spread and defend the faith by word and action as true witnesses of Christ, to confess the name of Christ boldly, and never to be ashamed of the Cross
Once we receive these gifts, we have an indelible spiritual mark imprinted on our soul, which identifies us as a Christian and as belonging to Jesus Christ (CCC #1304). This is an invisible spiritual reality communicated to us by visible earthly means, as is God’s way with us.
Unlike our baptism, we likely have at least some memories of our Confirmation. Can we recognize the graces we received on that day in our lives today? Can you think of a time in your life when you may otherwise have had a difficult time living or defending your faith had you not been fortified by the graces you received at your Confirmation? Place yourself in the Apostles’ shoes at Pentecost and seek out new ways to be emboldened to share your faith according to the particular gifts the Holy Spirit has given you.
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