Confirmation: The next series on the sacraments

| Father Michael Van Sloun | March 26, 2020 | 0 Comments

The objective of this column is to help Catholics, in particular, as well as anyone else who has a desire to learn about our beliefs, to better understand the basic teachings of the Catholic faith. The sacraments are an excellent place to start because they have such a central role in the spiritual life. So important, in fact, that an “active Catholic” is defined as someone who is receiving the sacraments.

The sacraments were instituted by Christ and are a rich source of grace. They are at the heart of the liturgical life of the Church. They welcome a person into the community of believers, sustain a person on the journey of life, strengthen and solidify a person’s commitment to Christ and his Church, provide forgiveness and healing, seal lifetime vocational promises and prepare a person for the final journey to God at the end of one’s life on earth.

For the past three years this column has explored two of the sacraments of initiation: baptism for the first year and Eucharist for the past two years. Over the coming months, the topic will shift to confirmation.

Future issues will provide basic information and more extensive reflections on confirmation’s spiritual value and significance. The fundamentals will include confirmation’s relationship to baptism and Eucharist, how it serves as the foundation to the sacraments of commitment, the age and conditions for reception, integral elements in the preparatory process, the confirmation name, the role of the sponsors and the ordinary minister.

In subsequent months, there will be more in-depth examinations of the Church’s major teachings and core beliefs on the sacrament of confirmation. Featured topics will be the biblical basis of the sacrament, its power and effects, how it is unlike graduation, the symbols of the sacrament, the significance of the anointing with oil, the gifts of the Holy Spirit, the fruits of the Holy Spirit, the role of the Holy Spirit, and how Pentecost galvanized the faith of the first Apostles.

Today, confirmation normally is the third sacrament of initiation and the fourth sacrament overall. The usual order is baptism, reconciliation, first Eucharist, and then somewhere between the ages of 12 and 18, confirmation. But this has not always been the case.

The New Testament states that the gift of the Holy Spirit accompanies the sacrament of baptism, and in the early Church there was no separate sacrament of confirmation. Baptism and the reception of the Holy Spirit were considered a single sacrament. During the rite, the priest administered the first anointing and the bishop administered the second.

Two factors led to separating the rite into two sacraments. After St. Augustine (354-430) proposed the doctrine of original sin, it became urgent to baptize infants as quickly as possible, and many times a bishop was not available. Therefore, the second anointing was administered at a later date, usually while the recipient was still an infant or a small child and before receiving the Eucharist. The reordering of the sacraments took place in 1910 when Pope Pius X issued a directive that first reconciliation should go before first Eucharist, and that it was appropriate to celebrate both when a child arrived at the age of reason in their seventh year, and that it was acceptable to administer the sacrament of confirmation when the young person was older.

Father Van Sloun is pastor of St. Bartholomew in Wayzata.

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Category: Faith Fundamentals