Series on the Sacraments: Confirmation
The Sacrament of Confirmation
Confirmation is the second sacrament of initiation for Christians, after baptism. Although it can be done after First Communion, it is traditional for it to be done earlier, around the age of seven. Confirmation is the sacrament in which the Christian receives gifts of the Holy Spirit, and is given the grace to live the Christian life.
For many of us, confirmation can be a confusing topic. Catholic education on the topic is often clearly lacking. Myself, I was confirmed with my grade 8 class, having little or no true idea what was going on. Even as an adult, I hardly knew much more about the concrete reasons for this sacrament. Understanding, for me, required going way back in time, to the uber-awesome Catechism of the Council of Trent.
Whereas baptism is necessary for salvation, confirmation is not. It is analogous to the outpouring of the Holy Spirit on the Apostles at Pentecost, which gave them the divine grace and power to proclaim the gospel, and ultimately to die for Christ. This is what confirmation does for us, if we are open to receiving its graces.
The Catechism of the Council of Trent dogmatically defined many things about the nature of the sacraments, and it outlines the purpose of confirmation, as well as who should receive it:
“for Confirmation has not been instituted as necessary for salvation, but that by virtue thereof we might be found well armed and prepared when called upon to fight for the faith of Christ, and for this kind of conflict no one will consider children, who are still without the use of reason, to be qualified.”
Similarly St. Thomas Aquinas expressed perfectly why confirmation can only come after baptism:
“Confirmation is to baptism what growth is to generation. Now it is clear that a man cannot advance to a perfect age unless he has first been born; in like manner, unless he has first been baptized he cannot receive the Sacrament of Confirmation.” (Summa Theologica)
Institution of the Sacrament
The institution of the sacrament of confirmation is not explicitly recorded in the gospels. We do not know exactly when or where it was instituted; only that it was instituted by Christ himself. The testimony of the epistles, as well as the unanimous testimony of the fathers gives us irrefutable evidence of the practice of the sacrament in the early Church, even from the first days.
In Acts 8:14-17, after a group on converts had been baptised, two of the Apostles “laid their hands upon them, and they received the Holy Ghost.” And in chapter 19 another group of converts: “Having heard these things, they were baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus. And when Paul had imposed his hands on them, the Holy Ghost came upon them, and they spoke with tongues and prophesied.”
St. Paul speaks of confirmation quite clearly in his letter to the Corinthians, “Now he that confirms us with you in Christ and that has anointed us, is God: Who also has sealed us and given the pledge of the Spirit in our hearts.” (2 Corinthians 1:21-22) as do many of the other epistles.
Church fathers are strikingly clear in their writings about the sacraments of initiation, as far back as Tertullian and Cyprian (around 200 AD).
Importance for the Christian Life
“…if there is no obstacle to the efficacy of the Sacrament, a baptized person… becomes stronger with the strength of a new power, and thus begins to be a perfect soldier of Christ.”
Confirmation is a sacrament that should be received by everyone. For the Christian life, this outpouring of the Holy Spirit is essential. Thus confirmation itself is not a requirement for salvation, our salvation, and the efficacy of our Christian mission in the long term must depend greatly on the grace received in this sacrament.
One last time I will quote the Catechism of the Council of Trent:
“In Baptism man is enlisted into the service, in Confirmation he is equipped for battle; at the baptismal font the Holy Ghost imparts fullness to accomplish innocence, but in Confirmation he ministers perfection to grace; in Baptism we are regenerated unto life, after Baptism we are fortified for the combat; in Baptism we are cleansed, after Baptism we are strengthened; regeneration of itself saves those who receive Baptism in time of peace, Confirmation arms and makes ready for conflicts.”
God love you,
Posted on June 2, 2012, in Catholic and tagged baptism, Christ, christian life, confirmation, council of trent, dogma, first communion, gifts of the holy spirit, grace, holy spirit, Jesus, martyrdom, pentecost, sacrament, soldier, st thomas aquinas, summa theologica. Bookmark the permalink. 3 Comments.