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home : our faith : faith alive March 17, 2018

Faith Alive: Sacrament series: Confirmation
Come, Holy Spirit -- Bishop David M. O'Connell, C.M., anoints a youngster's forehead with Sacred Chrism during a Confirmation ceremony held in 2017 in Holy Innocents Church, Neptune. Confirmation strengthens the gifts and graces given at Baptism. John Batkowski photo
Come, Holy Spirit -- Bishop David M. O'Connell, C.M., anoints a youngster's forehead with Sacred Chrism during a Confirmation ceremony held in 2017 in Holy Innocents Church, Neptune. Confirmation strengthens the gifts and graces given at Baptism. John Batkowski photo
Related Content on the Sacraments
In 2016, Bishop David M. O'Connell, C.M., wrote an insightful series on the Sacraments. Click here to read the essay he wrote on the Sacrament of Confirmation.

Also videos on the Sacrament featuring Confirmation candidates as well as Bishop O'Connell may be viewed by clicking here.

By Catholic News Service


In Confirmation, the Holy Spirit strengthens us in our identity as children of God, imparting an "apostolic" character, which associates us with the active mission of the Church.

The sacrament of Confirmation has helped me, on the daily, to say yes to God.

To be confirmed is to be chosen -- chosen by God to be a sign of God's presence in the world, sealed with the gift of the Holy Spirit.

Confirmation strengthens our identity as children of God

By John C. Cavadini | Catholic News Service

The sacrament of Confirmation is perhaps the most mysterious of all the sacraments. Many Christians find it difficult to understand what benefit it brings. Isn't the Holy Spirit received at Baptism?

Yes, Baptism makes us "a member of Christ and a temple of the Holy Spirit" (Catechism of the Catholic Church, No. 1279). Then why do we need to receive the Holy Spirit again in Confirmation?

And, isn't Baptism "valid and efficacious" without Confirmation? Yes (No. 1306). Then why do we say that "Confirmation is necessary for the completion of Baptismal grace" (No. 1285, 1288) or that it brings an "increase and deepening of Baptismal grace" (No. 1303), its "strengthening" (No. 1289)?

What do we mean when we say Confirmation "perfects Baptismal grace" (No. 1316)? Isn't Baptismal grace perfect enough?

Of course, to answer the first question, all the sacraments are "actions of the Holy Spirit" (No. 1116) and all "'sacramental grace' is the grace of the Holy Spirit," though in a way "proper to each sacrament" (No. 1129). So, the Holy Spirit is received in every sacrament, not just Baptism, but in each in a different way.

We can ask, What is the special relationship between Confirmation and the Holy Spirit? What is the "action" of the Holy Spirit in Baptism, and what is the action of the Holy Spirit in Confirmation?

To address the second question, Baptism is valid and efficacious without the Eucharist also, and someone who dies immediately after Baptism is saved without the help of any other sacrament. And yet we would not say that the Christian life on this earth attains its full exercise apart from the Eucharist.

The Eucharist, too, completes Baptismal grace, in the sense that Baptismal grace is ordered toward the Eucharist. Baptism is the "gateway to life in the Spirit ... and the door that gives access to the other sacraments" (No.1213); by Baptism we are "born of water and the Spirit" (No. 1225, Jn 3:5), given freedom as "the children of God" (No. 1250).

We are given "a share in the common priesthood of all believers" (No. 1268). This priesthood is exercised first in our participation in the Eucharist and in the eucharistic life it forms in us, as our whole life and all of our acts become more and more a living sacrifice of praise (Heb 13:15) in Christ and for Christ.

This can help us understand the function of Confirmation. Just as Baptism is the sacrament of dying with Christ and rising with him to the new life of a child of God, and so is especially associated with the cross and resurrection, so Confirmation is especially associated with Pentecost. In fact it is "the special outpouring of the Holy Spirit as once granted to the apostles on the day of Pentecost" (No. 1302).

The Holy Spirit was poured out upon the apostles to strengthen them for their apostolic mission. Confirmation "perpetuates the grace of Pentecost in the Church" (No. 1288). The sacrament thus has a unique connection to the apostles, and indeed the original rite of Confirmation consisted of the apostles' laying on of hands of the newly baptized, to strengthen them for their mission with the same special outpouring of the Spirit that they received.

In Baptism, the action of the Holy Spirit configures us to the passion, death and resurrection of Christ, bringing about our death to sin and our rebirth in the love and the life of Christ. We have a new identity as children of God.

In Confirmation, the action of the Holy Spirit is to strengthen us in our new identity, imparting an "apostolic" character. It associates us more fully with the apostolate, or the active mission of the Church.

It is Baptismal grace itself that in a sense seeks its own maturity, its own growing up, its own perfection, just as the natural life of a child, in a sense, seeks its own maturity, completion, growing up. Baptismal grace precisely because it is a rebirth, is ordered toward the "growing up" and strengthening of the newly born in Christ.

The action of the Holy Spirit in Baptism orients us toward his own further action in conferring the further apostolic grace of Pentecost. Thus we are empowered to live out the eucharistic life toward which Baptism, and indeed all of the other sacraments, are ordered, with a "Pentecost" identity, an identity analogous to that of an apostle.

Thus Baptism and Confirmation are closely linked. Originally, Confirmation immediately followed Baptism, and it still does in the Eastern Catholic Churches (and in the Latin Church for adult Baptisms). But in both Eastern and Latin Churches the connection with Pentecost was never left behind. In the Eastern Churches, Confirmation makes use of the special holy chrism blessed by the bishop, the successor of the apostles, while in the Latin Church, the ordinary minister of the sacrament is still the bishop.

Because the bishop cannot be present at every Baptism, the post-Baptismal anointing of Confirmation is delayed, but that should only serve to remind us that this sacrament is our participation in Pentecost, a privilege and fulfillment that our Baptismal grace seeks and for which it makes us fit.

Cavadini is professor of theology and director of the McGrath Institute for Church Life at the University of Notre Dame.

Confirmed in college

By Connor Bannon | Catholic News Service

If there was anything that I did not anticipate doing during my freshman year of college, it was receiving the sacrament of Confirmation. As an atheistically inclined, Confirmation class dropout, I wanted nothing to do with Christ or his Church, even if Christ and his Church wanted something to do with me.

Attending a couple dozen catechesis classes and professing my belief in the Catholic Church was not something I ever expected to do. It was not on my radar. For that matter, it was not on anybody's radar. Luckily enough, it was on God's radar and that, in the end, was the only radar that mattered.

Arriving at a non-Catholic university in the nation's capital, I quickly found myself immersed in a world that offered me the objects of my avarice, gluttony and lust. It overflowed with everything that I thought that I loved and would make me happy.

It promised me everything and, as I was loath to discover, left me with nothing. This world was rudely interrupted when, on a sunny Saturday morning, a Baptist missionary knocked on the door of my hobbit-hole and invited me to his Church.

Accepting his invitation out of politeness, I quickly found myself introduced to a world that offered me faith, hope and love. It overflowed with everything that I thought I hated and would make me miserable. But it gave me everything. This world was expanded when, on a brisk Friday afternoon, a spirit from God knocked on the door of my interior hobbit-hole and invited me back to the Catholic Church.

I soon found myself in a Newman Center, confessing my sins to a priest I had never met and attending Mass for the first time in a long time. Absolved from my sins and fed by the Eucharist, I was hooked on what Bishop Robert E. Barron calls the "Catholic thing." I signed up for Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults classes without regard for my Wednesday nights. I had no idea what I was getting myself into.

At my first RCIA class, I was first delighted to see that I was not the only student there. Later, as we settled down into our chairs and introduced ourselves to one another, I was pleased to learn that I was not the only student in the world who wanted to revert to the Catholic faith.

There were, in fact, many students who had stories that were similar to mine. My class was filled with Confirmation class dropouts who had come to desire Christ and his Church.

Assembling week in and week out to learn from a campus minister and a seminarian, my RCIA class was a place of intellectual and spiritual formation wherein we learned why to be Catholic and how to be Catholic. It was also a place of human formation where we learned to turn toward good and away from evil.

As members of a family, we supported one another on our common journey to become better Catholics, better Christians and better human beings. We helped each other to prepare the way for the helper of us all, the Holy Spirit.

By the time RCIA classes came to a close and the Easter Vigil finally arrived, I was ready. I was ready to renew my Baptismal promises. I was ready to turn my back on Satan and to turn more fully toward God. Saying no to Satan and yes to God, my fellow confirmandi and I were branded, in a real way, with the yes of Jesus.

Wedding his yes with my yes and his Spirit with my spirit, the sacrament of Confirmation has proved a source of spiritual life. A sure beginning, the sacrament of Confirmation has helped me, on the daily, to say yes to God. It has helped me to live for him, who no eye has seen, no ear has heard, no mind has imagined and no radar has detected.

Bannon is a senior studying political science at George Washington University.

Anointing with holy oil: Consecration and promise, from Moses to Jesus

By Mike Nelson | Catholic News Service

In the Catholic tradition, to be confirmed is to be chosen -- chosen by God to be a sign of God's presence in the world.

"Be sealed with the gift of the Holy Spirit," declares the bishop (or, sometimes, a priest) who ministers the sacrament, as he traces the sign of the cross --- a sign of consecration -- with the sacred chrism oil -- representing health and strength -- on the recipient's forehead.

With this action, the newly confirmed "shares more completely in the mission of Jesus Christ and the fullness of the Holy Spirit with which he is filled," so that his life may emanate "the aroma of Christ," reads the Catechism of the Catholic Church (No. 1294).

Scripturally, we find numerous instances where one has been anointed (or chosen) with holy oil. In the Book of Exodus (29:7), God instructs Moses in the consecration of priests, in this case Moses' brother Aaron: "Take the anointing oil and pour it on his head, and anoint him."

Perhaps no anointing in the Old Testament is more profound as that of David, youngest son of Jesse, by the prophet Samuel:

"The Lord said: 'There -- anoint him, for this is the one!' Then Samuel, with the horn of oil in hand, anointed him in the midst of his brothers, and from that day on, the spirit of the Lord rushed upon David" (1 Sm 16:12-13).

That the Lord passed up David's older brothers before instructing Samuel to anoint David suggests that anointing is not administered randomly, but only to those God chooses to do his work. "You love justice and hate wrongdoing," declares the Book of Psalms (45:8). "Therefore God, your God, has anointed you with the oil of gladness above your fellow kings."

Jesus himself makes known the power and purpose of anointing in one of his first public actions, the teaching and proclamation of Scripture in the synagogues, for which he was well-received -- at least, initially.

Then, in his hometown of Nazareth, he quotes Isaiah -- "The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to bring glad tidings to the poor" -- and adds, "Today this Scripture passage is fulfilled in your hearing" (Lk 4:18, 21). The ensuing uproar causes those assembled to drive him out of the town -- a lesson to Jesus' followers of the risks awaiting the anointed ones who seek to do God's will.

St. Paul, for one, took that lesson to heart, fearlessly proclaiming the good news despite enduring persecution and punishment throughout his ministry. "The one who gives us security with you in Christ and who anointed us is God," Paul tells the people of Corinth. "He has also put his seal upon us and given the Spirit in our hearts as a first installment" (2 Cor 1:21-22).

And the catechism echoes that promise: "This seal of the Holy Spirit marks our total belonging to Christ, our enrollment in his service forever, as well as the promise of divine protection in the great eschatological trial" (No. 1296).

Catholic journalist Mike Nelson writes from Southern California.

Food For Thought

During the Rite of Confirmation, before the bishop anoints the individual confirmand with the chrism, he extends his hands over the entire group about to be confirmed and prays for an outpouring of the Holy Spirit and for the seven gifts of the Holy Spirit --wisdom, understanding, counsel, fortitude, knowledge, piety and fear of the Lord.

This action follows the New Testament custom where the apostles laid hands on those about to receive the Holy Spirit.

In Acts 8, Peter and John travel to Samaria to attend to those who had accepted the word of God.

Once there, they "prayed for them, that they might receive the Holy Spirit, for it had not 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 8:15-17).

Later in Acts, Paul journeys to Ephesus, where he meets disciples of John the Baptist. Paul baptizes them "in the name of the Lord Jesus." Then he lay his hands on them and "the Holy Spirit came upon them, and they spoke in tongues and prophesied" (Acts 19:1-6).

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