The biblical basis for confirmation

| Father Michael Van Sloun | June 25, 2020 | 0 Comments

Confirmation is a sacrament instituted by Christ and established in sacred Scripture.

Jesus promised the gift of the Holy Spirit. When he warned his disciples that they would stand trial, he promised that the Holy Spirit would come to them and give them what they were to say (Mt 10:19-20; Mk 13:11; Lk 12:11-12). When Jesus spoke about living water, it was “in reference to the Spirit that those who came to believe in him were to receive” (Jn 7:39).

On Holy Thursday evening Jesus promised his disciples, “I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Advocate to be with you always” (Jn 14:16). He went on to say that the Father would send the Advocate, the Holy Spirit, in his name (Jn 14:26), and that he would take an active role in the conferral of the Holy Spirit: “I will send you from the Father (the Advocate, the Spirit of truth)” (Jn 15:26). He then promised, “I will send him (the Holy Spirit) to you” (Jn 16:7).

When Jesus appeared to his disciples in Jerusalem after his resurrection, he told them, “I am sending the promise of my Father (the Holy Spirit) upon you” (Lk 24:49). Before he ascended to heaven, he instructed them to wait for “the promise of my Father” (Acts 1:4) because “you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes upon you” (Acts 1:8).

Sacred Scripture gives several accounts of the coming of the Holy Spirit: one on Good Friday, another on Easter Sunday, and a third on Pentecost. As Jesus died on the cross, “he handed over the spirit” (Jn 19:30b). While some interpret this to mean that Jesus handed over the spirit of his life to his Father in heaven, others interpret this to mean that as Jesus breathed his last, he exhaled and breathed over those at the foot of the cross as well as the whole world, and that his parting gift from the cross was his abiding presence in the form of the Holy Spirit.

The second coming of the Holy Spirit was on the first day of the week (Jn 20:19), Easter, when Jesus “breathed on them and said to them, ‘Receive the Holy Spirit’” (Jn 20:22). The third was on Pentecost, 50 days after the Resurrection, when tongues as of fire came to rest on each one of them and all were filled with the Holy Spirit (see Acts 2:3,4). In the first two accounts, Jesus bestowed the Spirit, and it was given before the Ascension; while in Acts it is presumed that the Father bestowed the Spirit and it was given after the Ascension.

The conferral of the Holy Spirit, a ritual that resembles confirmation, was an important part of the spiritual life of the early Church. When Peter and John traveled to Samaria, they prayed over the Samaritans in the hope that they might receive the Holy Spirit, and when they laid hands upon them, they received the Holy Spirit (Acts 8:14-18).

Likewise, Ananias laid his hands upon Saul (Paul) so he would be filled with the Holy Spirit (Acts 9:17). When Peter spoke to a crowd in Caesarea, “the Holy Spirit fell upon all who were listening” (Acts 10:44), and when he spoke in Joppa “the Holy Spirit fell upon them” (Acts 11:15). When Paul traveled to Ephesus, “he laid hands on them (and) the Holy Spirit came upon them” (Acts 19:6).

Jesus promised that the Holy Spirit would come. His promise came true when the gift of the Holy Spirit was imparted at the time of his death, on the day of his resurrection and on Pentecost. After the Holy Spirit descended upon the apostles, the apostles bestowed the divine gift of the Holy Spirit upon believers, and the bishops, the successors of the apostles, confer the gift of the Holy Spirit on those who receive the sacrament of confirmation.

Father Van Sloun is pastor of St. Bartholomew in Wayzata. This column is part of an ongoing series on confirmation. Find the series at TheCatholicSpirit.com.

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Category: Faith Fundamentals