The Sacrament of Confirmation       

1. The challenge of living by faith and not just by sight.

  In considering our entire relationship with God here on earth, and our involvement with the Sacraments in particular, we ought take into account a few preliminary considerations. We are born into this world as persons made up of body and soul. This means that in respect to our knowledge, whatever we know comes to us in the first instance from our senses - that is, from what we see, hear, smell, touch and taste. The world external to our own minds impresses itself on us through our senses. We develop and build up our knowledge, however abstract and spiritual it may be, from that beginning. Now, God in his dealings with us has taken this very much into account.  God speaks to us through his creation which we experience with our senses. Even more, since we cannot experience him directly with our senses because he is not material, in his goodness he has come to us in human form making it possible for us to know him directly through our senses. Moreover, He has not come merely in a human form, he has come precisely as a real man. Then when he left this earth and ascended into heaven, he continued his presence invisibly among us through his Church. His Church, which we see, became his body in a mystical sense. We know him through the Church, which we experience with our senses. The Pope in his Wednesday talk of March 15, 2006 said that the Face of Christ is reflected in the face of the Church. He said that “We cannot find Jesus without the reality that he created and through which he communicates himself. Between the Son of God, made man and his Church, there is a profound, inseparable continuity, in virtue of which Christ is present today in his people.” Christ makes his presence manifest in and by means of the Church.

2. The Sacraments:

  It is a similar situation with the Sacraments. The sacraments are the visible signs of his presence which we encounter with our senses. They signify and bring about not only his presence but also his action, just as if he were present and acting in a visible and physical way. So the first thing we should appreciate about the sacraments is that they are divine in their character. Because they are actions of Christ, the Sacraments are altogether sacred, profoundly sacred. They manifest the presence and action of something far greater, something divine which in itself we could not see nor sense.

    But there is a danger. Because the sacraments are visible and material, our tendency will be to slip into thinking that they are nothing but material things. Because of the way we are constituted we tend to go just by sight, rather than beginning by sight and going on and deeper into it from there. Our tendency is to think that the truly real things are the material things, and only material realities, and there have been and are whole philosophies based on this idea. Their assertion is that the only real things are things that can be tested and proved empirically, or disproved empirically. The result of all this is that if we do not correct ourselves we, children as we are of a culture that is reluctant to admit the truth of non-material realities, shall look on the Sacraments, such as the Sacrament of Confirmation, as just a ceremony we can observe. But really, like each of the Sacraments, it is the presence and action of God. Every parent ought pray for the grace to see the Sacraments in this way. They, and their child to be confirmed, must learn to look on the Sacraments not just with sight, but with a lively faith It is this which makes the Sacraments interesting and enthralling. If they are looked on simply as ceremonies, they will be boring.

3.  The Holy Spirit in Catholic doctrine and Scripture.

 So then, what is it that is really happening in the Sacrament of Confirmation, and which is signified by what we see in it? The Sacrament of Confirmation involves the sending of the Holy Spirit by the Father and the Son to the person being confirmed, just as the Father and the Son sent the Holy Spirit to the infant Church at Pentecost. Who, then, is the Holy Spirit? He is God. He is a divine Person, the third divine Person in the one God, and together with the Father and the Son he is to be adored and glorified. The Father is the origin of all. The Son is the only begotten of the Father, the same as the Father in his divine nature. The Holy Spirit is the love between the Father and the Son, himself the third divine Person and equal to the other two. He is the Gift of the Father and the Son to the Church and through the ministry of the Church to each one of us. The Holy Spirit is the Sanctifier and the Evangelizer, making man holy and bringing to him the knowledge and the love of our Lord through the Church which he animates and empowers with his grace.

   The Holy Spirit is mentioned in the first pages of the Bible, when before the creation of the world the Spirit of God is said to be hovering over the waters. That early statement suggests to us that the Holy Spirit is very much involved in the creation of the world and in the world’s good order. Throughout the Old Testament various persons, kings and prophets, receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit is there portrayed as the greatest gift of God making all the difference to a man and his prospects. He is shown to renew man and enable him to do God’s will. In the Old Testament the prophets announced that the Spirit of the Lord would especially come to rest on the coming Messiah for his mission of salvation. This was fulfilled when at the river Jordan while Jesus was being baptized by John the Holy Spirit descended on him like a dove. It was a great sign that he was the long promised Messiah. He had been conceived by power of the Holy Spirit and his whole life and his public mission was carried out under the inspiration and guidance of the Holy Spirit. He was filled with the Holy Spirit, and John the Baptist predicted that he would baptize with the Holy Spirit.

     On several occasions our Lord promised the Holy Spirit would be given to mankind (Luke 12:12; John 3:5-8; 7:37-39; 16:7-15; Acts 1:8), a promise that was fulfilled on the evening of Easter Sunday when our Lord breathed on the Eleven and gave them the Holy Spirit and empowered them to forgive sins. The promise was fulfilled even more strikingly on Pentecost Sunday when the Holy Spirit came upon the infant Church gathered around Mary and the Apostles. Then, filled with the Holy Spirit, the apostles began to proclaim  the great things God had done, and Peter declared this coming of the Holy Spirit to be the sign of the age of the Messiah, the age God had promised would come.

     We remember how it is narrated in the Acts of the Apostles that immediately after Pentecost Peter preached to the crowds. He said to them, “Repent, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins, and you shall receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.” The Apostles and their collaborators offered baptism to anyone who repented and believed in Jesus. In the same Acts of the Apostles we read how from that time on, the Apostles, in fulfilment of what Our Lord had wanted, gave to the newly baptised the gift of the Holy Spirit by the laying on of hands. This completed the gift of the Holy Spirit that they had received at Baptism. So the Holy Spirit came at Baptism and again at the laying on of hands.

4. The Holy Spirit at Baptism and at Confirmation.

    Through the gift of the Holy Spirit at Baptism the Holy Spirit takes sin away and makes the person holy. Of course, a person can easily fall away from this state of endowed innocence into sin, and for that reason the Apostles were given the power to forgive sins. This too is a gift of the Holy Spirit the Sanctifier. But our first initiation into the Christian life involves the gift of complete remission of sins, be it the original sin we inherit, or if we are above the age of reason when baptized, personal sins we are guilty of - of course we must have repented of them. We are sanctified by the Holy Spirit completely at Baptism. We are reminded of this on the day our Lord rose from the dead when he appeared to the eleven and breathed on them the gift of the Holy Spirit. Then he said, whose sins you shall forgive they are forgiven. The Holy Spirit was given to them to take away sin, to sanctify others - especially, of course, through the Sacrament of Baptism but also through the Sacrament of Penance. And then the Holy Spirit was sent to them again at Pentecost after our Lord had ascended into heaven. On this occasion the Holy Spirit came especially as the Evangelizer, and with that coming, the Apostles and the infant Church received the grace to bear witness to Jesus amidst opposition. Though they are not a direct parallel, these two comings of the Holy Spirit in the New Testament tend to remind me of the two comings of the Holy Spirit to Christ’s faithful at Baptism and then again at Confirmation. The Holy Spirit is the divine Sanctifier and the divine Evangelizer. He makes us holy and freed from sin at Baptism and he helps us to be apostolic and to bear witness to Jesus in the Sacrament of Confirmation. By means of these two Sacraments we become the abode of the Holy Spirit who sanctifies and strengthens us to share in Christ’s mission.

5. The Ceremony of Confirmation.

  Much of this we are reminded of by the very ceremony of Confirmation. It is important that we understand what is going on if we are being confirmed, or if we are watching it or preparing our child for it. The Sacrament of Confirmation is usually celebrated during Mass, and begins with the renewal of the baptismal promises and the profession of faith by those to be confirmed. At every Mass the profession of faith in the Creed is meant to be a renewal of our baptismal promises. Doing this at the ceremony of Confirmation shows that Confirmation is meant to follow Baptism as part of a person’s full initiation into the Christian life. If an adult is baptised, he receives Confirmation immediately after it, and then receives Holy Communion. The oil that is used by the Bishop or his delegate to anoint the one to be confirmed is specially consecrated during Holy Week at the Mass of Chrism. During that mass the Bishop consecrates the sacred oil, called the sacred chrism, for the whole of his diocese. After the renewal of the baptismal promises by the ones being confirmed, the Bishop extends his hands over the whole group of those to be confirmed. This extending of the hands over the person has always signified the giving of the Holy Spirit. Then the Bishop invokes the outpouring of the Holy Spirit in these words:

         “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 reverence. Fill them with the spirit of wonder and awe in your presence. We ask this through Christ our Lord.”

   The essential rite of the sacrament then follows. 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, “Be sealed with the Gift of the Holy Spirit.” Then a sign of peace is given which demonstrates the union with the bishop and with all the faithful.

6. The effect of the Sacrament of Confirmation.

  Now, what is the effect of receiving this Sacrament? The effect is, above all, a special sending of the Holy Spirit by the Father and the Son to the one who is being confirmed. In terms of the gifts the Holy Spirit gives to a person at Confirmation, the gifts are similar to those conferred at the coming of the Holy Spirit on the infant Church and the Apostles at Pentecost. But of course, being a coming of the Holy Spirit, it also brings an increase and deepening of the grace already received at Baptism. Therefore it deepens in us our divine sonship. We become even more profoundly a child of God our Father, with a greater gift of his life and his supernatural gifts. With even greater reason ought we address God as Abba, Father, dear Father! In receiving this further gift of the Holy Spirit, we are also united to Christ more firmly. We possess more gifts of the Holy Spirit enabling us to preserve our union with Jesus brought about at our baptism. It also renders our bond with the Church more perfect.

   But what is especially distinctive about Confirmation is that it gives to the one confirmed a special strengthening by the Holy Spirit to spread and defend the faith by word and action as a true witness of Christ, to confess the name of Christ boldly, and never to be ashamed of the Cross of Christ. On one occasion our Lord said to his disciples that if anyone is ashamed of me and my words (that is, the Gospel and the Church’s teaching) before men, I will be ashamed of him before my Father in heaven. Confirmation helps us to be courageous in our witness to Jesus in everyday life. It also helps us to know more clearly how best to bear this witness.

 Consider this point a little more. When a person is baptized, that person becomes an adopted child of God, with the gifts of faith, hope and charity which if exercised will enable that person to grow in a lively sense of God as his father, and a desire to live accordingly. We could understand it as being parallel to the growth of a child in a family. That child grows with a sense of being a member of the family and of being a child of his parents, and hopefully with a disposition to obey and cooperate with the parents and the family. At least that is what a good child does - so too with a good child of God who has been baptized.

   But a child would remain incomplete if he did not reach a mature adulthood. So too with the person who is baptized and only baptized. The baptized person is called and intended by God to reach the fulness of Christian life. He is called to Christian adulthood. One of the distinguishing features of adulthood is that of assuming one’s responsibilities to others and of  exercising a good influence. This is done by doing good to society and to others, raising a family and serving one’s family generously and in a spirit of sacrifice. Such a person is a force for good. He undertakes a work in life, a work of service. Our Lord said on one occasion that the Son of Man had come not to be served but to serve and to give his life for the many. So too in the Christian life. A baptized person is called to take on responsibilities of service, and to serve the Church and the world in union with Christ. This is what spiritual maturity involves, and for this, further gifts of the Holy Spirit are necessary, gifts that enable the Christian to bear the burdens of witnessing to the faith in family and in the world, and of playing an active part in the work of Christ. This is to say, the further help of the Holy Spirit is needed to live as an adult member of the Church and not simply as a child, spiritually speaking. As I said earlier, a parallel could be seen in the difference between the effect of the coming of the Holy Spirit to the Apostles on the day our Lord rose from the dead, when they remained timid and unable to enter actively in the mission of our Lord, and the effect of his coming to them at Pentecost. After Pentecost they actively bore witness to the faith and drew people to believe in the person of Christ. They were able to sustain difficulties in living out their love for Jesus, and in the midst of those difficulties were able to be an influence on behalf of Christ and extend the Church.

7. Preparation for the Sacrament of Confirmation.

   Of course, the exercise of these gifts, especially the gift of being able to bear witness to the faith before others, presumes that the person wants to do this. It presumes that the person to be confirmed has been brought up to want to do it. All too often the one being confirmed has had no example at home of being faithful in living a truly Catholic life, involving prayer, obedience to God’s commandments, and observing the laws of the Church such as Mass every Sunday and receiving the Sacraments such as regular Confession.  The one being confirmed often has had no example before him of what it means to be an active Christian and Catholic influence on others, and bearing witness to the truth and beauty of the teachings of Christ in everyday life. When things come up at home or among friends in which the Church’s teachings are contradicted, there is often no witness by the parents to the truth of those teachings. The parents or those around the child might simply fall in with the current attitudes, accepting them or falling silent. When things are heard on television or in general conversation perhaps at school or among acquaintances that are contrary to the teachings of Christ and the Church, there is often no example to the child of bearing witness to the faith in the way a confirmed Catholic should. Apart from the lack of example, often the child is never told that this work of bearing witness to the faith has to be regarded as part and parcel of an authentic Catholic life, once a person is confirmed. In Confirmation the Holy Spirit gives the spiritual gifts to do all this, and the vocation to do it. But if the parents and family have no conviction whatsoever about this, they will be unable to instruct the child in it, nor give the child encouragement to do it, nor offer any example in that direction. And so the child will be very poorly prepared to receive the Sacrament of Confirmation - even though God wants the child to receive the fulness of Christian initiation, which comes not only with Baptism, not only with the Eucharist, but with Confirmation.

    If the one being confirmed is there largely because it is expected and because it is looked on as a great social occasion, but has no intention of living and being instrumental in the spread of the faith, then of course, those gifts that have been given will remain undeveloped and will not have their due effect. The vocation too that the child receives in baptism and more fully in Confirmation will not reach its fruition.  What is that calling? It is to become a truly holy member of God’s family, sharing in the life and mission of our Lord and being filled with a growing friendship with him. All this is lived out in everyday life as a lay person in the world, unless that baptised and confirmed person receives the further vocation to be a priest or religious. The danger is that little might come of receiving the Holy Spirit in Confirmation because of lack of interest in its real purpose and the family’s lack of involvement in the life and the mission of Christ. At Confirmation the child receives the vocation and the gifts to be a Christian influence, to be one who draws others by his example and words to Christ and the Church. The parents receive the task to help the child to do this.

   This is what St Ambrose in the early Church wrote:
   “Recall then that you have received the spiritual seal, the spirit of wisdom and understanding, the spirit of right judgment and courage, the spirit of knowledge and reverence, the spirit of holy fear in God’s presence. Guard what you have received. God the Father has marked you with his sign; Christ the Lord has confirmed you and has placed his pledge, the Spirit, in your hearts.”
  Like Baptism which it completes, Confirmation is given only once. Just like Baptism it imprints on the soul an indelible spiritual impression or mark, commonly called in Church teaching the “character” of Confirmation. It is the sign on the very soul of a person that Jesus Christ has imprinted on the soul of the Christian the seal of the Holy Spirit by endowing him with powers that enable him to live his Christian faith generously and also to be his witness before others. This “character”, as it is called, perfects the common priesthood of the faithful  received in Baptism, and the confirmed person receives the power to profess faith in Christ before others.

8.  What the parents and family ought do:

  Now, from my previous observations, it ought be obvious that the most important thing is that the child be truly prepared for this sacrament, so as to cooperate with its graces. The whole family, especially the parents, ought see the Confirmation of their child as a new beginning for the whole family, especially for the child and for themselves. It ought involve a renewal of their own baptism and confirmation. It ought be a new beginning in their relationship with God and in their involvement in the mission of Christ and the Church. That mission is to bring the knowledge and the love of our Lord to the world around.  For it to be this new beginning, the parents in particular must understand that the Holy Spirit will come to the child in a new way, and therefore to the home in a new way. This ought not be ignored. The whole family, parents and especially the one to be confirmed, ought aim to welcome this coming of God. They ought aim at a more intimate friendship with Christ and a greater devotion to the Holy Spirit. If the Holy Spirit is to come to the child, the child and the entire family ought strive to have a greater feeling for the Holy Spirit. The weeks of preparation ought result in the Holy Spirit meaning a lot more to them. He is God. The child and the parents ought awaken in themselves a greater sense of belonging to the Church, the universal Church gathered around the Pope, as well as the local Church gathered around the Bishop, and very locally around the priests who represent the Pope and the Bishop. The parents’ union with and participation in the Church ought increase. Furthermore, to receive the Sacrament of Confirmation, the child should be in the state of grace, and therefore should have gone to Confession recently. The parents ought do the same as part of their renewal of their baptism and confirmation - even though it is not, absolutely speaking, an obligation for them. But they ought prepare for the coming of the Holy Spirit to their family in the person of their child by themselves going to Confession and receiving the forgiveness of sins and the grace to make a new beginning in seeking to life a good and holy life.

9. A Plan of Life:

   The parents ought resolve on a plan of life, a plan to be followed in cultivating their relationship with our Lord and playing a part in his work of saving the world. This plan of life ought become the basis of a plan of life for the children. What a wonderful thing if a child grows up with a plan which if he follows will lead to personal sanctity. What are the elements of such a plan? To begin with, there must be daily prayer. Time has to be set aside - in the morning and in the evening, and then with short prayers by means of which one keeps close to our Lord during the day. I would recommend visits to the Blessed Sacrament, perhaps often on the way home from work making a brief visit to the Church, even if one has to remain outside at the door - but knowing that our Lord himself is within inside the Tabernacle. Mass has to be the centrepiece of the week. Sunday Mass is a very serious obligation and it should never be missed. It is a serious sin to miss Sunday Mass deliberately unless it simply cannot be attended - and that should be rare. I would recommend Mass more often than just on a Sunday. Then there is the Sacrament of Penance. One should be going to Confession regularly, not just occasionally. I would recommend at least every month, and even more often. Go to Confession and receive the forgiveness of sins, and do so regularly. If you go only occasionally, you will gradually think you have few sins - and the sins will remain unforgiven and more and more entrenched. Go to Confession and make a good Confession each time, especially concentrating on sorrow for sin and the intention to amend.

    There ought be some religious reading going on regularly in one’s life, religious reading of a sound and reliable nature, by means of which one is understanding the Faith better and better, and being inspired to live it. I would recommend the Gospels, a good life of Christ, the lives of the saints, books on aspects of the Catholic Faith, and on the doctrines of the Faith. Select good books and be guided in your choice by a reliable priest. Very important is studying the ongoing teaching of the Pope and this is easily accessible on the Internet - and it is certainly available on this website here. Especially important is avoiding any reading or viewing of things that can cause doubts in one’s mind. To do this is to place oneself in an occasion of sins against the Faith. Then there is the matter of seeking spiritual direction - from time to time (preferably quite regularly) discussing with a priest your progress in the Christian life and seeking his advice on how you are going. This could be done in, say, Confession. Then every day trying to make your work holy, good and pleasing to God, a daily offering to him, a means not only of giving him service but of sanctifying others and yourself in the process. Your child ought be helped to see that one’s daily work in life, if made holy, will be a major means of becoming holy oneself. As well as this one should avoid sin and the occasions of sin. The devil is real, and he tempts one to sin through the enticements of the world and the world’s way of thinking, and he also tempts one through one’s own natural inclinations which are corrupted and inclined to sin. But by the gift of the Holy Spirit at Baptism and then again at Confirmation each member of the Church has the spiritual gifts and the indwelling of the Holy Spirit to help him to resist sin, to begin again and again in a spirit of repentance, and daily to set out on the path of holiness by imitating our Lord out of love for him. All of this the parents ought be striving to live, while striving at the same time to draw the child into living an earnest Christian life as well.
10.  The universal call to holiness: Seeking holiness is an obligation for all.

  It used to be thought that only priests and religious were called by God to be holy and full of love in the sight of God. That never was the teaching of the Church nor of Scripture. The teaching of the Church and of Scripture was always, and still is, that each member of Christ's faithful is called by God to seek personal holiness. The whole Church, all of Christ’s faithful, are called to holiness of life, and the lay faithful are called to live a holy life in their family and in the world. The Holy Spirit has come to each at Baptism, and he comes again at Confirmation to strengthen a person spiritually not only to live the Catholic Faith well in a private sense, but to be an effective influence on others drawing them to God and to the Catholic Church (which is the Church Christ founded). This is done by example and apostolic testimony whenever that is possible out there in the world, which is the characteristic milieu of the lay person. We are all called to an apostolic holiness, a holiness that involves the commitment to bring others with us to heaven, not just to aim at heaven as a private thing.

   If you ever find yourself preparing for the Sacrament of Confirmation, I invite you to make the Day of Confirmation a new beginning. Get to Confession before Confirmation at least once, but I would suggest you go more than just that, and make it a new beginning in regular Confession. Get your spiritual life in order and get it very active, and help your child to set out on the path of apostolic holiness in everyday life. Make Confirmation a new beginning for yourselves, for your family, and for the child in your family who is to be confirmed.