Today I’m thinking about the sacrament of Confirmation. Through the laying on of hands, anointing with chrism (oil) and prayer, the faith that a person has been given in Baptism is confirmed, meaning that the grace obtained in Baptism is completed and a person’s faith is strengthened by the Holy Spirit such that he/she is able to publicly profess the faith and live up to the role as an apostle for Christ. We say that, in effect, the person has become a soldier for Christ.
Given the definition of “sacrament” (an outward sign instituted by Christ to give grace), you might wonder, as I did, what Christ said or did that instituted this sacrament. I did a little research. Since it is so closely related to Baptism, passages supporting Baptism are the ones instituting Confirmation. For example, we have Matthew 3:13-17 and John 1: 33-34, i.e., the gospel accounts of the Baptism of Jesus by John in the Jordan River. These include the coming of the Holy Spirit (like a dove) and the voice from heaven: “This is my beloved son, with whom I am well pleased.” The early Christians apparently believed from this that, though someone was baptized, the Holy Spirit had not yet come upon the person. See Acts 8: 14-17 and Acts 10:37-38. Apparently, in order to complete and confirm the coming of the Holy Spirit, the anointing with oil and the laying on of the hands was understood to be required. Jesus’ words in Matthew’s account were: “Allow it now, for thus it is fitting for us to fulfill all righteousness.”
Just as the apostles and the Blessed Mother received the Holy Spirit at the first Pentecost, Catholics today receive the Holy Spirit at their Confirmation. In the Catholic Church today, most members are baptized as infants and then, after they have received rudimentary education in Church teachings, usually in the teenage years, they receive this beautiful sacrament. For those who join the Church as adults, Baptism and Confirmation are usually conferred together.
The photo (courtesy of Kevin Clark) shows Bishop James Conley of the Diocese of Lincoln recently administering Confirmation to a young Catholic at St. Therese Parish in Lincoln.