Gifted with the Spirit: Confirmation
Junior High, Lesson #7 “Celebrating the Sacrament of Confirmation”
Dear Parents, Guardians, and Sponsors:
We are getting close to the date when your son or daughter will receive the Sacrament of Confirmation. So in this lesson, we took time to explain the ritual itself. What is a sacrament? What should they expect at their Confirmation? What symbols and gestures are used and why?
To begin with, a sacrament is an outward sign of an inward grace. In other words, a sacrament is a visible sign of God’s invisible presence and action. Through the sacraments, which we can see and sense, we recognize God at work to bring us to salvation.
In Confirmation, the most basic sign involves words and a gesture. The bishop or priest lays his hands on the candidate and invokes the Holy Spirit by saying, “Be sealed with the gift of the Holy Spirit” while anointing the forehead with sacred Chrism in the sign of the cross. This part of the ritual is the most ancient and most essential. It goes back to the Apostles. For example, Luke tells us in his second book, Acts of the Apostles, that “when Paul laid hands on them, the Holy Spirit came upon them” (Acts 19:6a). Likewise, we read:
“When the apostles in Jerusalem heard that Samaria had accepted the word of God, they sent Peter and John to Samaria. When they arrived, they prayed for the new believers there that they might receive the Holy Spirit, because the Holy Spirit had not yet come on any of them; they had simply been baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus. Then Peter and John placed their hands on them, and they received the Holy Spirit” (Acts 8:14-17).
In Scripture, sacred oil was used to anoint priests, prophets, and kings. Jesus is considered to be the ultimate Priest, Prophet, and King. In fact, the words Messiah and Christ mean “anointed one.” Christians are anointed at Baptism and Confirmation to symbolize our sharing in these three roles of Christ:
Priest – We share with Christ in offering a perfect sacrifice of love to the Father. This is what our participation at Mass is all about. We receive Christ in the Eucharist in order to be Christ’s presence in the world. But also at Mass, Christ receives us and takes all the good we do in His name and makes it part of His perfect offering of love to the Father. In short, a priest offers prayers and makes sacrifices out of love. There are ordained priests who share this ministry in a special way, but every Baptized person also shares in the priesthood of Christ and is empowered to pray to the Father in Christ’s name by the presence and power of the Spirit dwelling in us.
Prophet – Christ is the Word of God. He not only speaks to us about God; he speaks as God. This far exceeds what any other prophet had ever done or could do. We share in this prophetic role of Christ by standing up for justice in the world. As all the prophets did, we are given the responsibility to speak against sin, corruption, and oppression and to speak for the poor, the marginalized, and the disenfranchised. In short, a prophet speaks the truth and proclaims the Good News of salvation.
King – Jesus showed us that true leadership is not self-serving, but serving others. When the Israelites wanted to have “a king to lead us, like all the other nations,” Scripture tells us it was an affront to God, who said, “they have rejected me as their king” (1 Samuel 8:7). Yet, God permitted it and then later it was prophesied that the Kingdom of David would never end (e.g. 1 Kings 2:45). One king later, however, and it ended. Except, one of King David’s descendants, Jesus, was destined to fulfill this prophecy. He is the King who will rule forever. God allowed a human king and then became that human king! We have a royal identity and a royal destiny. We share in his work of ruling the world with equity and justice, mercy and love by living lives of service.
The oil used to anoint priests, prophets, and kings symbolizes strength, for oil was often associated with athletic ability. It also symbolizes the source of strength, the Holy Spirit. Sacred Chrism is a sweet-smelling mixture of olive oil and balsam, which is added to the oil for its fragrance. During Holy Week, just before Easter, the Bishop blesses the Sacred Chrism in the company of a large gathering of priests, deacons, and laity from throughout the diocese. This oil is then distributed to the parishes where it is used for Baptisms, Confirmations, and Holy Orders (the sacrament by which a man is ordained a deacon, priest, or bishop).
So, who may receive Confirmation? Although babies are Confirmed at Baptism in a ritual called Chrismation by the Eastern Churches, the Latin Church has long separated the two sacraments and reserved Confirmation for those who have at least reached the “age of reason,” usually understood to be 7 years old. In addition, the candidate…
- Must already be baptized (or may be baptized just prior to Confirmation in some cases)
- Must be properly instructed in the faith
- Must profess the Catholic faith, affirming their Baptismal promises and the creed
- Must be in a state of grace, meaning not guilty of any mortal sin. A good Confession before receiving the sacrament is always a good way of preparing.
- Must have the right intention, i.e. intent to receive the Holy Spirit in the sacrament (as opposed to just jumping through the hoops to make parents happy, or hoping to make some money)
- Must be personally willing to accept to rights and responsibilities of a Christian disciple and witness, willing to make sacrifices for the sake of advancing the Gospel and sharing with others by word and example the saving message of Jesus Christ and His Church.
Concerning the profession of faith, the candidates will be asked to affirm their Baptismal promises. At Baptism, parents and godparents made these promises for the child (except when an older person is Baptized and makes the promises for him/herself). Now, the young person affirms that indeed this is their Trinitarian faith. You are probably very familiar with the questions they will be asked to affirm:
- Do you renounce Satan, and all his works and empty promises?
- Do you believe in God, the Father almighty, Creator of Heaven and earth?
- Do you believe in Jesus Christ, His only Son, our Lord, who was born of the Virgin Mary, suffered death and was buried, rose again from the dead and is seated at the right hand of the Father?
- Do you believe in the Holy Spirit, the Lord, the giver of life, who today through the Sacrament of Confirmation is given to you in a special way just as he was given to the Apostles on the day of Pentecost?
- Do you believe in the holy Catholic Church, the communion of saints, the forgiveness of sins, the resurrection of the body, and life everlasting?
Once they have affirmed this faith, the bishop or priest says, “This is our faith. This is the faith of the Church. We are proud to profess it in Christ Jesus our Lord.” We all respond: Amen!
Kevin Dowd is a doctoral candidate in theology and education at Boston College, where he also received his M.Ed. A graduate of Harvard University, Kevin has taught in Catholic schools and public schools in both Massachusetts and New York. Currently he teaches theology at Anna Maria College in Paxton, MA and writes a weekly blog connecting the Sunday readings to life. You can read the blog at http://www.bayardinc.com/the-word-is-life/