Confirmation perfects ‘new life’ of baptism

NienstedtBlThe Easter Season is a most appropriate time for the celebration of the sacrament of confirmation. While this powerful sacrament can be celebrated at any time of the year, spring is the season that, to my mind, complements it best.

Spring, by nature, is the budding of new life and the illumination of longer periods of light. Easter celebrates the new life of Christ’s resurrection, following his passion and death. And so, confirmation, which completes and, in a sense, perfects the new life given in baptism, has a certain affinity with springtime and the Easter season. It is a sacrament of great power and grace.

To be totally transparent, let me say that presiding at confirmation ceremonies is one of the most fulfilling roles that I have as a bishop.

There in the Church body, the eager candidates are gathered, all dressed up and appropriately nervous about how their lives are about to be transformed. This is also a family event when proud parents and grandparents, brothers and sisters, catechists and directors of religious education come to participate in the fruit of their efforts and to see the result of their prayers.

It is a moment that looks to the future with great hope and expectation. It is an experience that is ripe with potential in a Church that offers rich possibilities for growth in holiness, possibilities that can seem boundless in light of the horizon that lies ahead.

Of course, confirmation is the sacrament, per se, of the Holy Spirit. Now this is not to say that all the sacraments do not depend on the power of the Holy Spirit, but here we find that the special gifts of Pentecost are transmitted to each individual candidate.

Confirmation is one of what we call the three “Sacraments of Initiation,” that is, baptism, confirmation and holy Eucharist, as they are considered the gateways to the new life of God’s grace.

The Acts of the Apostles chronicles the very early distinction made between baptism and confirmation. In chapter 8 of Acts, we read that the Deacon Philip, after preaching the Gospel to the people of Samaria, baptized them in the faith. But then we read:

“Now when the apostles at Jerusalem heard that Samaria had received the word of God, they sent to them Peter and John, who came down and prayed for them that they might receive the Holy Spirit; for it had not yet fallen on any of them, but they had only been baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus. Then they laid their hands on them and they received the Holy Spirit” (Acts 8:14-17).

This clearly describes a sacrament distinct from baptism and one that was reserved to the Apostles. And it remains so today. The laying on of hands remains an essential component to the rite and this is followed by an anointing on the forehead of the person with sacred chrism.

Now the word “chrism” has the same origin as the words “Christ” or “Christian,” meaning the “Anointed One.” Chrism consists of olive oil mixed with a fragrant scented balm. It is “consecrated” by the bishop at the annual Chrism Mass, during or near Holy Week. St. Cyril of Jerusalem in the fourth century spoke of its importance:

“Beware of supposing this to be plain ointment. For just as the bread of the Eucharist, after the invocation of the Holy Spirit, is no longer mere bread, but the
Body of Christ, so too this holy ointment is no longer simple ointment . . . after the invocation. It is Christ’s gift of grace; and, by the coming of the Holy Spirit, it is made fit to impart his divine nature. The ointment is symbolically applied to your forehead . . . . While your body is anointed with the visible ointment, your soul is sanctified by the holy and life-giving Spirit.”

In the earliest centuries of the Church, the informal name for confirmation was “the seal” (in Latin: signaculum) because the sacrament functioned analogously to a signet ring. Important documents were secured with a wax seal impressed with the image on the face of the ring. While the seal did not affect the message of the document, it did convey the official nature of that document. After the fifth century, the word “confirmation” was adopted as a closer description of what the sacrament does, namely, “confirming” or completing what was begun at baptism.

In my next column, I hope to describe the effects of the sacrament of confirmation.

God bless you!

La confirmación perfecciona la ‘nueva vida’ del bautismo

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Category: Only Jesus

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