The Sacrament of Confirmation
1. Catechism of the Catholic Church .
The catechism notes that the unity of the Sacraments of Initiation, Baptism, Confirmation and Eucharist is to be safeguarded (1285). As the ritual for the Sacrament of Confirmation states, "the sacrament of Confirmation is necessary for the completion of baptismal Grace". Thus, the confirmed are more strictly obliged to spread and defend that faith.
The very name chosen for the sacrament from the Latin, "confirmo" to strengthen betrays the fact that this is a sacrament of strengthening. The sacrament has become particularly connected with the outpouring of the Holy Spirit as a source of that strengthening. The Holy Spirit has always been active throughout the history of salvation from the inspiration of the prophets, through the descent of the Spirit on Jesus at the beginning of his ministry and to the descent of the spirit on the apostles at the beginning of the Church.
Throughout the history of the Church beginning with Acts, the gift of the Holy Spirit was imparted to newly baptized Christians through the laying on of hands. We see this documents in several places in the New Testament, particularly the book of Acts. This imparting of the Spirit was seen as the completion of the grace of Baptism. After a short period of time, a second ritual action was added to signify the gift of the Holy Spirit--the anointing with Chrism. The term "chrism" comes from the Greek verb, xri/w, meaning to "anoint". It is this anointing with chrism that has become the matter of the sacrament of Confirmation. In the Eastern tradition, this sacrament is called "Chrismation" or anointing with chrism.
2. Historical Development.
In his Apostolic Constitution on the Sacrament of Confirmation, Pope Paul VI wrote:
"From ancient times the conferring of the gift of the Holy Spirit has been carried out in the Church with various rites. These rites underwent many changes in the East and in the West, while ever keeping the significance of a conferring of the Holy Spirit."
In the early centuries of the church, Baptism and Confirmation were all part of a single celebration, which was presided over by the bishop. This originated in the Acts of the Apostles where we hear of the deacon Philip preaching in Samaria and bringing converts to the faith through Baptism, and similarly Apollos bringing people to the faith in Ephesus. Later Peter lays hands on them conferring the Holy Spirit.
Thus after baptism with water, there was a second rite, the imposition of hands through which the newly baptized received the Holy Spirit. This second rite was reserved to the Apostles. Thus through the early centuries of the church their was a double rite of baptism by the priest and imposition of hands and anointing with oil by the bishop.
However, as the size of the church grew, it became impossible for the bishop to be present at all baptismal celebrations. This was due to the increase of the number of people seeking baptism and the concern of parents over their children dying without baptism since infant mortality rates were high. This led to the practice of infant baptism. Thus in the fifth century, Pope Innocent I clearly distinguished the rite of "consignation" from the right of Baptism itself. The administration of baptism fell to the priest. Nevertheless, in the western church, it was desired to reserve the completion of Baptism to the bishop.
Thus Baptism and Confirmation were listed as separate sacraments, a doctrine confirmed in the Council of Lyons in 1274. Since the time of the Council of Trent, Confirmation was conferred about the age of twelve and Communion was received for the first time shortly after Confirmation. Thus, the original order of the sacraments of initiation was preserved. In the beginning of this century, 1905, Pope Pius X decreed that children might receive communion as early as the age of seven and this broke the customary sequence of the sacraments of initiation.
The Second Vatican council called for a revision of the ritual for Confirmation, which was completed in 1971. This revision was to highlight the "intimate connection which this sacrament has with the whole of Christian initiation that is to be more clearly set forth; for this reason, it is fitting for candidates to renews their baptismal promises just before they are confirmed." And Confirmation is administered in the context of Eucharistic liturgy so that they may receive Communion immediately after they are confirmed.
The Eastern Church did not share this desire and so the two sacraments were kept in union with the priest administering the sacrament of confirmation with oil that has been consecrated by the bishop.
The original ritual in the western tradition called for a double anointing with Chrism after baptism. The first was performed by the priest on the top of the head of the newly baptized to signify the participation of the newly baptized in the priestly, prophetic and kingly offices of Christ. As we saw in our discussion of Baptism, that anointing on the top of the head remains in our current ritual. There was a second anointing on the forehead of the newly baptized by the bishop. It was this second anointing that was separated from the baptismal rite and became in itself the sacrament of Confirmation.
3. The Matter and Form of Confirmation .
The sign of the Sacrament of Confirmation is the anointing with Chrism. It signifies the imprinting of a spiritual seal. In the history of salvation, anointing is a sign of consecration. In this anointing the newly confirmed receives a "mark", a character, "Xarakthr" which is the seal of the Holy Spirit. This character is drawn from the notion of the signet ring that imprints a seal on wax. That seal is the "mark" of the person. Thus in Confirmation, God seals us with his seal as a mark that we are his. So in the Sacrament of Confirmation, we are sealed with the Holy Spirit as a mark of our total possession by Christ, enrolled in his service forever.
The form of the sacrament serves also to emphasize this sealing with the Holy Spirit. When he anoints the forehead with oil, the bishop says, "Be sealed with the seal of the Holy Spirit." or "I sign you with the sign of the cross, I confirm you with the chrism in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit."
4. The Ritual of Confirmation
The ritual of Confirmation is usually celebrated in the context of Mass. As such, it takes place after the homily, which is the proper place for sacramental rites within the Eucharistic liturgy.
5. The Presentation of the Candidates
The rite itself begins with a presentation of the candidates for the sacrament. That is normally done by the pastor of the parish, or in some cases the director of the religious education program. At the end of the statement of presentation the pastor would make a formal request to the bishop that he confer the sacrament of Confirmation upon the assembled candidates.
The bishop may then inquire as to the preparation of the candidates. Upon ascertaining that the candidates have been properly instructed and prepared for the reception of the sacrament, the bishop consents to confirm the candidates. In more recent times, there have been some innovative means used to enable the bishop to know the readiness of the candidates. Many parishes will ask each candidate to write a personal letter to the bishop requesting the sacrament of confirmation, and explaining what the sacrament means to them and why they wish to receive it.
On occasion, when time permits the bishop may come to a day of renewal and speak with the candidates to ascertain their preparation. But in any case, the statement that the candidates have prepared is not simply a ritual statement, there is some evidence to back it up. When the candidates have been presented, the bishop then preaches the homily, which explains the meaning and significance of the sacrament. Many times, that homily can take the form of questions and answers between the bishop and the candidates. One bishop was known to set the candidates at ease over the questioning informing them that if they did not know the answer, he would simply put the question to their sponsors.
6. The Imposition of Hands
A prayer follows the Renewal of Baptismal Promises. During this prayer, the bishop and priests who join him in the celebration extend their hands over the whole group to be confirmed. The sign of hands extended palms downward has been since ancient times a symbol of calling the Spirit down upon those over whom hands are extended. This is clear in the Bishop's call to prayer prior to the imposition of hands.
"My dear friends, in Baptism God our Father gave these adopted children a new birth to eternal life, let us ask Him to pour out the Holy Spirit upon them to strengthen them in faith and anoint them to be more like Christ, the Son of God."
The Bishop then prays that those who have received the gift of the sacrament of Baptism and now present themselves for Confirmation receive the gift of God's Spirit in abundance, and the seven-fold gifts of the Holy Spirit.
"All powerful, God, Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, by water and the Holy Spirit you freed your sons and daughters from sin and gave them new life. Send your Holy Spirit upon them to be their helper and guide. Give them the spirit of wisdom and understanding, the spirit of right judgment and courage, the spirit of knowledge and reference. Fill them with the spirit of wonder and awe in your presence. We ask this through Christ our Lord."
To this prayer the assembled congregation answers a resounding, "Amen".
7. The Anointing with Chrism
The actual reception of the sacrament following in the anointing with chrism, what is known as the essential rite of the sacrament of Confirmation. Each candidate for the sacrament approaches the bishop with his/her sponsor. Upon approaching the Bishop, the sponsor places his/her right hand on the shoulder of the one to be confirmed and presents the candidate to the bishop using their chosen confirmation name. Note this highlights the role of the sponsor to be with the candidate through the preparation process and then present the candidate to the minister of the Sacrament implicitly promising to be with the candidate as they live out the life of a Confirmed Catholic.
The bishop then moistens his right thumb with the chrism, places his right hand on the candidate's head and makes a cross with the chrism on the forehead of the candidate (the matter of the Sacrament). While he is doing this, he speaks the formula of the sacrament, "Be sealed with the Gift of the Holy Spirit," the form of the Sacrament.
The bishop then extends his hand to the candidate offering the sign of peace with the words, "Peace be with you", and the candidate accepting with a handshake responds, "And also with you." The candidate and sponsor return to their places. This shows a shift in the theology of Confirmation. In older rites, the bishops extend his hand to "slap" the right cheek of the candidate as a sign of trial and difficulties that they would have to face as they went forth as "soldiers of Christ." The current sign of peace demonstrates the union of the faithful with the bishop. The candidate receives the greeting that Jesus gave his apostles just before he sent them on mission. This could be a sign that these candidates now participate in the mission of the apostles with the bishop.
8. Effects of the Sacrament of Confirmation
The first and primary effect of the sacrament is the full outpouring of the Holy Spirit on the newly confirmed. Secondly, there is a renewed and deeper commitment to fulfilling the promises made at Baptism, hence a deepening of the graces of Baptism. These are now taken on as a personal task, not something that has been provided from others. Thus the new confirmed are more firmly united to Christ, receive the gifts of the Holy Spirit, achieve a more perfect bond of unity with the Church, and receive the special strength of the Holy Spirit "to spread and defend the faith by word and action..."
Further the close connection between Confirmation and Baptism is manifest in the fact that Confirmation also imparts an indelible mark, a character that is a sign of Jesus marking the Christian with the seal of his spirit. This character initiates the newly confirmed further into the priesthood of Christ. The newly confirmed person, "receives the power to profess faith in Christ publicly and as it were officially."
9. Recipients of the Sacrament
All persons who have received the sacrament of Baptism; yet have not received the sacrament of confirmation should so do. Since Confirmation is intimately connected to Baptism and Eucharist, it is appropriate that it be received at an appropriate time to insure the completion of the sacraments of Initiation.
The current theology of Confirmation speaks of it as the "sacrament of Christian maturity" but we must not, the catechism cautions, confuse Christian maturity with adult age of natural growth. Thomas Aquinas reminds us the "age of body does not determine age of soul." Through the history of the church, many who would be considered mere children have fought bravely for Christ even to the point of martyrdom.
What is significant is that the young person seeking the sacrament be properly prepared as to the meaning of the sacrament, and understand fully the responsibilities that it lays upon them. Catechesis, training, for the sacrament should lead the candidate to a deeper knowledge and love of God, Jesus, and the Spirit, a deeper knowledge and commitment to the church, a sense of belonging in the church both universal and local parish
Finally, the Church requires that the recipient of the sacrament of Confirmation be in the state of grace. Thus, one is urged to receive the sacrament of penance as part of the immediate preparation for Confirmation.
10. Sponsor for Confirmation
The order for the sacrament of Confirmation states that "ordinarily there should be a sponsor for each of those to be confirmed." As we saw in the rite, the sponsor presents the candidate to the bishop/priest for anointing and later helps the newly confirmed fulfill his baptismal promises faithfully under the influence of the Holy Spirit. Thus, it is understood that the obligation of being a sponsor for Confirmation is serious.
In the revised rite of Confirmation, it has been suggested that since there is such a significant connection between Baptism and Confirmation, the primary candidate for sponsor at Confirmation would be one of the Baptismal sponsors. However, the choice of a special sponsor for Confirmation is not excluded. A parent may even present their child for the reception of the sacrament.
What are the qualifications of a Confirmation Sponsor? 1) The sponsor should be sufficiently mature for this role. 2) He/she should belong to the Catholic church and be already initiated into the three sacraments of Baptism, Eucharist, and Confirmation. 3) The sponsor should not be prohibited by law from exercising the role of sponsor.
Finally canon law notes that valid Confirmation gives rise to a spiritual relationship between the sponsor and the one confirmed. The relationship binds the sponsor to regard the one confirmed as permanently committed to his/her care and to safeguard his/her Christian education. The relationship, however, does not establish an impediment to marriage. (CIC 797; 1079).
Confirmation imparts 1) an increase of sanctifying grace which makes the recipient a "perfect Christian"; 2) a special sacramental grace consisting in the seven gifts of the Holy Ghost and notably in the strength and courage to confess boldly the name of Christ; 3) an indelible character by reason of which the sacrament cannot be received again by the same person.
Confirmation can be conferred only on those who have already been baptized and have not yet been confirmed. In the early years of the Church, when only adults were usually baptized, confirmation was administered immediately after; however, when infant baptism was the predominate custom, confirmation (in the Latin Rite) was kept at the "age of adulthood", which in the US is usually around age 14/8th grade. Its reception is obligatory (necessitate præcepti) "for all those who are able to understand and fulfill the Commandments of God and of the Church. This is especially true of those who suffer persecution on account of their religion or are exposed to grievous temptations against faith or are in danger of death. The more serious the danger so much greater is the need of protecting oneself". (Trent)
The bishop alone is the ordinary minister of confirmation. This is expressly declared by the Council of Trent (Sess. VII, De Conf., C. iii). Simple priests may be the extraordinary ministers of the sacrament under certain conditions (during Easter vigil Mass). In such cases, however, the priest cannot wear pontifical vestments, and he is obliged to use chrism blessed by a Catholic bishop. In the Greek Church, confirmation is given by simple priests without special delegation, and their ministration is accepted by the Western Church as valid. They must, however, use chrism blessed by a patriarch.
The Bishop/priest takes Chrism, makes the sign of the Cross on the forehead of the recipient, and says, "Receive the Gift of the Holy Spirit".
13. Sacrament of Confirmation
The sacrament by which, through the laying on of hands, anointing with chrism, and prayer, a baptized person is strengthened by the Holy Spirit so that he can steadfastly profess the Catholic faith.
This sacrament brings a special outpouring of the Holy Spirit as it was once granted to the Apostles at Pentecost.
Confirmation, like Baptism and Holy Orders, places an indelible character or mark on the human soul that God can see, which remains visible for all eternity.
The celebrant for confirmations of born Catholics is usually the bishop, to show recipients the importance of professing the Faith. However, persons who have become complete in the Catholic faith as adults are usually confirmed at their parish church on Easter Vigil. Since the bishop cannot be everywhere at once, the priest usually celebrates these Confirmations.
The essential rite of the Sacrament of Confirmation occurs when the celebrant anoints the recipient with chrism and says, "Name, be sealed with the gift of the Holy Spirit."
Confirmation is neither a "Catholic bar-mitzvah" nor a Protestant-type confirmation that a person accepts the baptism that he formerly received. It is a strengthening.
Confirmation is not necessary for the salvation of a child under the age of discretion. However, we have a grave obligation to receive this sacrament when we reach the age of discretion. If we make no effort to receive Confirmation after a priest recommends it, we are in mortal sin and cannot attain heaven. We recover by confessing the capital sin of sloth, receiving sacramental absolution, and then as soon as possible thereafter receive Confirmation.
The matter of confirmation is chrism. The person may be immersed in the water, or the water may be poured or sprinkled on the person.
The form of baptism is the words of the essential rite pronounced by the priest or deacon: "I baptize you in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit."
Confirmation is a sacrament of the living. We must be in the state of grace to receive it fruitfully. It is customary to receive the Sacrament of Penance shortly before receiving the Sacrament of Confirmation.
14. The Minister of Confirmation
The original minister of the sacrament of Confirmation is the bishop. However, in the case of adults who receive the sacrament of Confirmation at the time of their baptism, or adults who are received into the full communion with the church, the priest who baptizes or receives has the authority to administer the sacrament of Confirmation (CIC 883.2)
Those cases are extraordinary. The ordinary minister is the bishop. It was the bishop who was the original minister in the early church. Recall that baptism was separated in the western Church because of the increase in numbers of people and the demands on bishops. Nevertheless, it is appropriate when possible that the bishop remain the minister of Confirmation. Since the bishops are the successors of the apostles, the effect of receiving the sacrament from a bishop is to unite the candidate more closely with the Church which has its origin in the apostles, and whose mission is bearing witness to Christ.
• Question and Answer: Penance and Reconciliation
• What is the sacrament of Penance or Reconciliation?
? Penance and Reconciliation is the sacrament of God's loving forgiveness by which we are set free from sin and reconciled with the Church which we have wounded by our sins. This sacrament helps us to grow in God's grace, and it strengthens us to avoid sin and to lead holier lives. (1422)
? Be merciful, as your Father is merciful (Lk 6:36).
• From whom do we receive the gift of this sacrament?
? We receive the gift of the sacrament of Penance and Reconciliation from Jesus, who gave the apostles the power to forgive sins. (1441)
? He breathed on them, and said to them, "Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained" (Jn 20:22–23). (RSV)
• Who may receive the sacrament of Penance and Reconciliation?
Any Catholic who has committed sin may receive the sacrament of Penance and Reconciliation. (1446)
• How do we know that God is willing to forgive sins?
? We know that God is willing to forgive sins because in the Gospel Jesus has told us this many times and in many ways. (1489)
? For the Son of Man came to seek out and save what was lost (Lk 19:10).
• Can every sin be forgiven?
? Yes, every sin can be forgiven through the sacrament of Penance. Jesus said to the apostles:
? I will give you the keys to the kingdom of heaven, and whatever you bind on earth will have been bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will have been loosed in heaven (Mt 16:19).
• How is the sacrament of Penance given?
? The sacrament of Penance is given when we go to confession with sorrow for sin, accept the penance that the priest gives, and receive absolution: "I absolve you from your sins in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit." As when receiving the Eucharist and Confirmation, we answer, "Amen." (1448–1449)
• What makes up the sign of the sacrament of Penance?
The sign of Penance is made up of three "acts of the penitent," plus the words of the priest.
• Who is a penitent?
? A penitent is someone who is sorry for his or her sins.
o Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you (Lk 15:18).
• 9. What are the three acts of the penitent?
? The penitent's three acts are contrition (sorrow), confession (telling our sins), and satisfaction (making up for the harm done when possible, and doing or saying the penance given by the priest). We also may perform or say other penance beyond what is required. (1450)
• 10. What steps does a person follow in receiving this sacrament?
To receive this sacrament with spiritual profit, a person first needs to examine his or her conscience, then to be sincerely sorry for sin, resolving to avoid it in the future. This sorrow is based on spiritual motives such as love of God and hatred of sin. The person then confesses the sins and accepts the penance. (1450, 1460)
• 11. What is perfect contrition?
• Perfect contrition is sorrow for sin especially because sin displeases God, who is all good and loving, and deserves all our love. (1452)
• 12. What is imperfect contrition?
? Imperfect contrition is sorrow for sin for reasons that are good but not the very best, such as sorrow based more on fear than on love. (1453)
• What does one do after receiving this sacrament?
? One who has received the sacrament of Penance and Reconciliation must say or do the penance given by the priest, avoid everything that would lead to sin, and make up as much as possible and necessary for the harm done. The sign of Penance is made up of three "acts of the penitent," plus the words of the priest.
? How the harm is to be made up for is explained under various commandments, such as the 7th and 8th. (1459)
• Who acts for Jesus in this sacrament?
? The priest acts for Jesus in the sacrament of Penance and Reconciliation. When we confess our sins to the priest, we are confessing them to Jesus, who forgives us through the priest. (1461)
? All of this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ and has given us this ministry of reconciliation (2 Cor 5:18).
• What is the seal of confession?
? The seal of confession is the most solemn obligation of a priest to keep secret what has been revealed to him in confession. The priest may never break this seal even to save his own life. (1467)
• 16. Should we ever speak of what we heard or said in confession?
With regard to overhearing someone else's confession, we are strictly bound to secrecy; regarding our own confession we are not. However, it is better not to talk about the advice given, the penance, etc.
• Should we ever be so embarrassed that we do not go to confession?
Embarrassment or fear should not keep us from this sacrament, for the Lord awaits us with love despite our sins. The priest is Christ's representative, bound by the seal of confession never to reveal anything told to him in the confessional. Also, we are free to confess to any priest. (1465)
• 18. What does absolution mean?
? Absolution means, "releasing." Through this sacrament, we are released from our sins--set free from them. (1449)
? He who conceals his transgressions will not prosper, but he who confesses and forsakes them will obtain mercy (Prov 28:13).
• 19. Does the priest ever refuse absolution?
? A priest could refuse absolution only in rare cases, for example, if the person is not sorry for his or her serious sins or has no intention of avoiding them in the future, or when there is no confidence in God's forgiving Spirit. This is what Jesus referred to when he spoke of sin which cannot be forgiven. Unless there is true sorrow, there is no forgiveness. We must have confidence in God's mercy and pray to his Spirit for a contrite heart.
? Every sin and blasphemy will be forgiven you, but blasphemy against the Spirit will not be forgiven (Mt 12:31).
• Are there any sins, which the ordinary confessor cannot absolve?
Some sins are so grave that the sinner is excommunicated. Absolution in these cases must be sought from the Pope, the bishop or a priest authorized by them. The exception to this occurs in the danger of death when any priest, even one deprived of permission to hear confessions, can give absolution for all sin and excommunication. (1463)
• 21. What is a penance?
? A penance is something, which must be done or accepted to make up for confessed sin. It should correspond to the type of sins and their gravity. Generally penance take the form of prayer, acts of mercy or self-denial. (1459–1460)
? Return to me with all your heart, with fasting, with weeping, and
with mourning; and rend your hearts and not your garments (Joel 2:12).
• 21. Who is a confessor?
• The word "confessor" may have two meanings. It can mean a priest who hears confessions, or in another unrelated sense, it can mean a saint, other than a martyr, who witnessed to ("confessed") the faith. (1466)
• 23. When must a person receive the sacrament of Penance?
A Catholic who has committed a mortal or serious sin must receive the sacrament of Penance. A mortal sin can be forgiven even before confession if a person has perfect (pure) sorrow for having offended our loving God. But normally, he or she must still go to confession before receiving Holy Communion. If we have committed serious sin, we should go to confession soon. (1456)
• What should a person do who has committed a mortal sin?
A person who has committed a mortal sin should say a prayer of perfect sorrow with the intention of going to confession soon. This obtains forgiveness and God's grace. But the person must go to confession before receiving Communion.
• 25. Are there any requirements for confessing mortal sins?
In confessing mortal sins, a person should say what kind of sins they were and--as far as possible--tell how many times these sins were committed, as well as any circumstances that might alter their nature.
• Can a person confess sins with the intention of committing them again?
A person cannot confess sins with the intention of committing them again. No sin is forgiven by God unless there is true sorrow for it (even imperfect sorrow, such as fear of divine punishment) and a firm resolution not to commit it again.
• 27. How often must we receive the sacrament of Penance and Reconciliation?
The Church requires us to receive the sacrament of Penance and Reconciliation at least once a year if we have serious sins. It is a good idea to receive this sacrament more frequently because it greatly helps our spiritual growth. (1456–1457)
• 28. Why is it beneficial to receive this sacrament frequently, even if we have committed only venial sin?
? This sacrament helps us to realize that every sin offends God. It helps us develop greater self-knowledge, grow in grace and love of God and neighbor, and grow spiritually as a living and active member of the Church. (1458)
• When may general absolution be given?
? In certain rare cases, such as during a war or a natural disaster, general absolution may be given to a group without individual confession. As always, the penitents must be sorry and intend not to sin again. One whose grave sins are forgiven by a general absolution is obliged to make an individual confession as soon as possible before receiving another general absolution, unless a just reason intervenes. (1483)
• What is a communal celebration of the sacrament of Penance and Reconciliation?
A communal celebration of this sacrament consists of a common preparation including readings, a homily, an examination of conscience, individual confession and absolution, and a common request for forgiveness and thanksgiving. This form expresses clearly the ecclesial nature of the sacrament. (1483)
• 31. What is the effect of this sacrament?
? This sacrament reconciles us with God, who forgives all our sins. We are restored to God's grace and friendship (if this had been broken through serious sin), or our union with him is deepened. We are also reconciled with the Church, which we have wounded by our sins. The sacrament gives us the grace we need to live our Christian life more deeply, thus preparing ourselves for a merciful judgment when we die. (1468–1470)
? This brother of yours was dead, and has come back to life; he was lost, and has been found! (Lk 15:32).