Confirmation continues to support our faith journey

| Father Michael Van Sloun | February 17, 2011 | 0 Comments

Confirmation is one of the seven sacraments that belongs to a special group of three sacraments known as the sacraments of initiation. The other two are baptism and Eucharist. The sacrament of confirmation is administered only once.

The biblical basis for confirmation. Confirmation was established by Jesus. When Jesus died, “he breathed his last” (Luke 23:46), and as he commended his spirit to his Father, with his last breath he imparted his spirit to us. Then, when Jesus appeared in the upper room after the resurrection, upon entering, he said, “‘Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, so I send you.’ And when he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them, ‘Receive the holy Spirit’” (John 20:21-22). The gift of the Spirit that was bestowed upon the apostles on the first Pentecost (Acts 2:1-4) is the same Spirit imparted to each person who is confirmed.

The effects of confirmation. Confirmation completes the sacrament of baptism. It marks a person for Christ and is a full outpouring of the Holy Spirit, an intensification of the gift of the Holy Spirit. Confirmation increases and deepens baptismal grace, unites the person more firmly to Christ and the church, and “gives a special strength of the Holy Spirit to spread and defend the faith by word and action as true witnesses of Christ, to confess the name of Christ boldly, and never be ashamed of the Cross” (Catechism of the Catholic Church, No. 1303).

The age for confirmation. At one time in the early church, all three sacraments of initiation were administered together, whether as an adult or an infant. Today, all three sacraments are administered together for catechumens as the culmination of the Rite of Christian Initiation, but separately for those who are baptized as infants. In the Latin Rite, the appropriate time for confirmation is “the age of discretion” (Canon 891). It is customary for the bishop to set the policy for the appropriate age in a particular diocese. It may be as early as second grade and as late as high school.

Preparation for confirmation. Confirmation is a major step in the life of grace, and those who desire to receive the sacrament should prepare themselves with study and prayer. Candidates should enroll in the sacramental preparation classes at their parish, and then attend each session, listen attentively to presentations, read the assigned materials, participate in the discussions, and fulfill their program requirements. Since the candidates intend to bind themselves more strongly to both Christ and the church, private and communal prayer is indispensible, personal prayer alone each day and communal prayer each weekend at Mass. A pre-confirmation retreat is highly recommended. Good works and community service are most worthwhile. Finally, it is necessary to be properly disposed and in the state of grace to receive the sacrament, so it is advisable to approach the sacrament of reconciliation first.

The confirmation name. It is customary to choose a confirmation name, a third name to go with one’s first and middle names. It should be a faith-based name, typically the name of a saint, or the name of an angel like Gabriel or Michael, or a biblical name like Aaron or Sarah, or the name of a virtue like Faith or Joy. The name should identify the person as a disciple and serve as a model and inspiration to help the individual live a holier and more virtuous Christian life.

The confirmation sponsor. Each candidate for confirmation is supposed to have a sponsor, someone they would choose who is able to vouch for their faith, offer spiritual support and guidance, and insure “that the confirmed person behaves as a true witness of Christ and faithfully fulfills the obligations inherent in this sacrament” (Canon 892). The specific criteria for eligibility is a person who is at least 16 years of age; a fully-initiated practicing Catholic (i.e., someone who has received both first Eucharist and confirmation), and is not the candidate’s mother or father (Canon 874). If possible, “it is desirable to choose as sponsor the one who undertook the same function in baptism” (Canon 893.1), a baptismal godparent, to emphasize the unity of the two sacraments (Catechism, No. 1311).

The oil for confirmation. Initially, the Holy Spirit was conferred by the apostles by the laying on of hands (see Acts 8:17; 19:6), but very early in the history of the church, “to better signify the gift of the Holy Spirit, an anointing with perfumed oil was added” (Catechism, No. 1289). This oil is called sacred chrism, olive oil richly-scented with balsam and consecrated by the bishop at the annual chrism Mass. It is the same oil used to anoint the crown of the head at a baptism, the palms of the hands at a priestly ordination, and poured on the head at a bishop’s ordination. The minister of the sacrament, ordinarily a bishop, uses the sacred chrism to make a Sign of the Cross on the forehead while saying, “Be sealed with the gift of the Holy Spirit.”

A sacrament, not a diploma. Confirmation is nothing like a high school graduation. Graduation says, “I have nothing more to do. My job is finished here!” Confirmation says, “I’m just getting started, and I am ready to go!” A diploma says, “You have fulfilled the requirements;” “You have mastered the curriculum.” For a confirmed Christian, there is always more to do, always room for improvement. Graduates leave their building, only to return occasionally; while the confirmed return to church every week to worship. The graduating class disperses, while the confirmed bind themselves more tightly than ever to their parish community as well as the wider church.

Father Michael Van Sloun is pastor of St. Stephen in Anoka.

Tags: ,

Category: The Lesson Plan