Pentecost, Jean II Restout, 1732. Wikipedia.
Pentecost, Jean II Restout, 1732. Wikipedia.

Listers, Confirmation allows us to be faithful soldiers of Jesus Christ. Perfecting the grace given to us in Holy Baptism, the Sacrament of Confirmation seals our souls with an indelible mark showing we belong to Christ and grants us the grace necessary to live as faithful disciples of Christ. As it is the Holy Spirit thats works this wonder in us, the Sacrament of Confirmation has always been associated with Pentecost:

When the day of Pentecost had come, they were all together in one place. And suddenly a sound came from heaven like the rush of a mighty wind, and it filled all the house where they were sitting. And there appeared to them tongues as of fire, distributed and resting on each one of them. And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues, as the Spirit gave them utterance. Acts 2:1-4

All Catholics, by virtue of their baptism, are called to holiness and to evangelize. Confirmation, as shown below, is an increase or a perfection of baptismal grace. As such, the Sacrament of Confirmation gives the baptized additional spiritual strength to respond to the univeral call to holiness and to be a faithful soldier of our Lord Jesus Christ.

1. What is the Sacrament of Confirmation?

A Sacrament is an "outward sign instituted by Christ to give grace."1 The Sacrament of Confirmation "is a Sacrament through which we receive the Holy Ghost to make us strong and perfect Christians and soldiers of Jesus Christ."2 Along with Baptism and the Holy Eucharist, Confirmation is a Sacrament of Initiation: "the faithful are born anew by Baptism, strengthened by the sacrament of Confirmation, and receive in the Eucharist the food of eternal life."3 As an outward sign, the Bishop or the priest lays their hands upon the recipient, anoints them with holy chrism, and prays, "be sealed with the Gift of the Holy Spirit."4 In general, the institution of the Sacrament of Confirmation by Christ is evident through Christ's promises to send the Holy Spirit and the fulfillment of those promises at Pentecost.5 The grace given at Confirmation is a necessary "completion of baptismal grace," which includes an "increase of sanctifying grace, the strengthening of our faith, and the gifts of the Holy Ghost."6 Finally, Confirmation "imprints on the soul an indelible spiritual mark" signifying "Jesus Christ has marked a Christian with the seal of his Spirit by clothing him with power from on high so that he may be his witness."7

2. How is Confirmation Foreshadowed in the Old Testament?

As Holy Mother Church teaches, "the New Testament lies hidden in the Old and the Old Testament is unveiled in the New."8 To understand the riches of Scripture as a whole, the Church has since its earliest days used typology. Typology is "the discernment of person, events, or things in the Old Testament which prefigured, and thus served as a 'type' (or prototype) of, the fulfillment of God's plan in the person of Christ."9 Studying the types of Confirmation can help us understand how Confirmation, instituted by Christ, fits into the "dynamic unity of the divine plan of salvation."10 As early as Genesis, we see Jacob laying hands on his sons and blessing them.11 Later in story of Israel, anointing was "the rite by which priests and kings were consecrated."12 For example, we see the prophet Samuel anointing David for his vocation as the new King: "Then Samuel took the horn of oil, and anointed him in the midst of his brothers; and the Spirit of the LORD came mightily upon David from that day forward."13 In addition to these Old Testament prototypes of Confirmation, the prophets also prophesized about the coming of the Holy Spirit, as discussed below.14

3. How is Confirmation Instituted by Christ in the New Testament?

Holy Mother Church teaches, "in the Old Testament the prophets announced that the Spirit of the Lord would rest on the hoped-for Messiah for his saving mission."15 Jesus Christ fulfilled these prophecies as seen in the role of the Holy Spirit in the virgin birth, in Christ's baptism when the Holy Spirit descended upon him, and in his whole life and ministry as the Father had given him the Holy Spirit "without measure."16 The Sacrament of Confirmation is a true "participation in the anointing of Christ."17 As the Church teaches, "the fullness of the Spirit was not to remain uniquely the Messiah's, but was to be communicated to the whole messianic people."18 Holy Scripture clearly records Christ's promises to send the Holy Spirit to his followers—the Church—which "he fulfilled first on Easter Sunday and then more strikingly at Pentecost."19 The power of the Holy Spirit given to the Church at Pentecost was then communicated to new Christians by the laying on of hands. In the Early Church, as witnessed by the Book of Acts, Sts. Peter and John go to the Samaritans who had been baptized but had not received the Holy Spirit.20 Holy Scripture records, "Then they laid hands on them and they received the Holy Spirit."21 Approximately thirty years later, the Book of Acts records St. Paul carrying out a similar ritual in Ephesus, in which he lays hands on the already baptized so that they may receive the Holy Spirit.22 Later, the author of the Book of Hebrews lists "laying on of hands," as "one of the first elements of Christian instruction."23 Unlike Baptism and the Holy Eucharist, "the exact time at which Confirmation was instituted [by Christ] is not known;" but given the evidence in the Old Testament, the promises and fulfillment of Christ in the New Testament, and the practice of the Apostles, the Church has, in adherence to the teachings of the Early Church Fathers, held that Confirmation was undoubtedly instituted by Jesus Christ.24

4. How was the Sacrament of Confirmation Celebrated in the Early Church?

After the apostolic age, the Early Church—St. Hippolytus, Tertullian, St. Cyril of Jerusalem, and St. Ambrose—all gave witness to the Sacrament of Confirmation, as a distinct ritual from Baptism, in which the recipient was strengthened in the Holy Spirit by the laying on of hands and the use of holy chrism.25 The use of holy chrism—perfumed oil—began very early in the Church to better "signify the gift of the Holy Spirit" as seen in the Old Testament anointings.26 In the East, the Sacrament took the name Chrismation due to the use of holy chrism, while the West it was called Confirmation due to the Holy Spirit confirming the baptismal grace.27 In AD 215, St. Hippolytus describes the following post-baptismal ritual:

Then, pouring the consecrated oil into his hand [the Bishop's] and imposing it on the head of the baptized, he shall say, 'I anoint you with holy oil in the Lord, the Father Almighty, and Christ Jesus and the Holy Spirit.' Signing them on the forehead, he shall kiss them and say, 'The Lord be with you.' He that has been signed shall say, 'And with your spirit.' Thus shall he do to each.28

In AD 350, St. Cyril of Jerusalem taught:

After you had come up from the pool of the sacred streams, there was given chrism, the antitype of that with which Christ was anointed, and this is the Holy Spirit. But beware of supposing that this is ordinary ointment. For just as the bread of the Eucharist after the invocation of the Holy Spirit is simple bread no longer, but the body of Christ, so also this ointment is no longer plain ointment, nor, so to speak, common, after the invocation. Further, it is the gracious gift of Christ, and it is made fit for the imparting of his Godhead by the coming of the Holy Spirit.29

In the fourth century, St. Ambrose used the anointing of King David as an Old Testament type of Confirmation, then showed the grace given was rooted in the Trinity: "God the Father has sealed you, Christ has confirmed you, and the Spirit has given you the pledge in your heart."30 The Early Church teachings on Confirmation endured during the centuries, and were enshrined in the sixteenth century in St. Thomas Aquinas' Summa Theologica.31

5. What is the Outward Sign of the Sacrament of Confirmation?

In order to be valid, each sacrament as an outward sign has a proper matter and form that must come together. In general, the matter of each sacrament is something visible, and the form of each sacrament is a prayer.32 In the Sacrament of Confirmation, the outward sign is the "anointing with chrism on the forehead, which is done by the laying-on of the hand, and through the words: 'Accipe signaculum doni Spiritus Sancti' (Be sealed with the Gift of the Holy Spirit)."33 The matter of the Sacrament of Confirmation is the laying on of hands and the anointing with holy chrism, which may be done as one gesture.34 As a sign, the laying on of hands "signifies the descent of the Holy Ghost upon us and the special protection of God through the grace of Confirmation."35 The holy chrism "signifies strength, and the balm signifies the freedom from corruption and the sweetness which virtue must give to our lives."36 The form of the Sacrament of Confession is the necessary prayer, "be sealed with the Gift of the Holy Spirit."37 The form signifies the seal or mark the recipient receives in Confirmation—"a seal is a symbol of a person, a sign of personal authority, or ownership of any object."38 Therefore, just as "soldiers were marked with their leader's seal and slaves with their master's," so too are all Christian in Confirmation marked with seal of the Holy Spirit showing they belong to God.39 It is in understanding the form of Confirmation, that the Church defines the sacrament as "a Sacrament through which we receive the Holy Ghost to make us strong and perfect Christians and soldiers of Jesus Christ."40

6. What is the Grace Given in the Sacrament of Confirmation?

Confirmation is characterized by a "special outpouring of the Holy Spirit as once granted to the apostles on the day of Pentecost."41 In Confirmation, the outpouring of the Holy Spirit "brings an increase and deepening of baptismal grace."42 Thus all graces received in Baptism—divine filiation, union with Christ, gifts of the Holy Spirit, membership in the Church—are strengthened.43 In addition, Confirmation marks the recipient with an "indelible spiritual mark" on his or her soul, which is called indelible as no sin can remove it nor can death abolish it.44 The indelible mark or seal—like the military mark on a soldier by his general—has a twofold effect: first, as the soldier belongs to his general, so too does the recipient belong to Christ; second, it gives the recipient a special grace to be a soldier of Christ. The Church teaches that Confirmation 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 to be ashamed of the Cross."45 The Church has, since her earliest years, expressed this special grace and the indelible mark in militant language. For Confirmation makes us "make us strong and perfect Christians and soldiers of Jesus Christ," and "we are called soldiers of Jesus Christ to indicate how we must resist the attacks of our spiritual enemies and secure our victory over them by following and obeying Our Lord."46 As we are marked as belonging to Christ, as must never be ashamed of the Gospel and must always be willing to profess publicly our faith—even to the point of martyrdom.47 In order that the Catholic may live this life, the Holy Spirit perfects the grace received in Holy Baptism by imparting in Confirmation the gifts of the Holy Spirit.48 The gifts of the Holy Spirit are wisdom, understanding, knowledge, counsel, piety, fortitude, and fear of the Lord.49 In sum, “The effects of Confirmation are an increase of sanctifying grace, the strengthening of our faith, and the gifts of the Holy Ghost.” 50

7. Who is the Minister of the Sacrament of Confirmation?

The ordinary minister of the Sacrament of Confirmation is the bishop.51 In Acts, “the rite of the communication of the Holy Spirit was performed by the Apostles,” and in the Early Church, the bishops, as the apostolic heirs of the apostles, had the sole priviledge of administering the Sacrament of Confirmation.52 Faced with various heresies regarding Confirmation, the Council of Trent (1545-63) held, in uniformity with Sacred Scripture and the Western tradition of the Faith, that bishops alone were the ordinary ministers of Confirmation.53 The summary of the rationale of the Church on this point may be said as follows: “As a Sacrament of perfection, Confirmation, as is appropriate, is administered by the possessors of the fullness of the sacerdotal power, the generals of the militia christiana, the bishops, who thereby impose on the receipients an obligation to wage spiritual warefare.”54 Though the bishops are the ordinary ministers, priests can act as extraordinary ministers of Confirmation if need be.55 Regarding the recipients, the person, who must be baptized, who is to be confirmed is called a confirmand and the persons the confirmandi.

Conclusion

Through the Sacrament of Confirmation, the Holy Spirit perfects the work he began in the soul at Holy Baptism and perfects the ability of the soul to respond to the call to holiness and to evangelize. Gifting to the soul sanctifying grace, strengthened faith, and the gifts of the Holy Spirit, the Catholic is empowered to live the life of a soldier of Christ—the life of an intentional disciple. St. Cyril of Jerusalem, an Early Church Father, told the confirmandi that they were being anointed so that “you might stand up well against the attacks of the demon… having been clothed with all the armor of the Holy Spirit, you resist the hostile powers.”56 The study of Confirmation is also an invitation to understand and discern how the Holy Spirit is alive and working in our lives. The Church has a rich devotional treasury on the Holy Spirit. On Pentecost Sunday, the Church sings the Veni, Sancte Spiritus, a prayer to the Holy Spirit, which reads in part: Come, Holy Spirit, come! […] Heal our wounds, our strength renew; On our dryness pour your dew; Wash the stains of guilt away: Bend the stubborn heart and will; Melt the frozen, warm the chill; Guide the steps that go astray.” Another popular invocation to the Holy Spirit is the Veni Creator Spiritus, and, in conclusion, the popular prayer also known as the Veni, Sancte Spiritus:

Come, Holy Spirit, fill the hearts of Thy faithful and enkindle in them the fire of Thy love.

V. Send forth Thy Spirit and they shall be created. R. And Thou shalt renew the face of the earth.

Let us pray. O God, Who didst instruct the hearts of the faithful by the light of the Holy Spirit, grant us in the same Spirit to be truly wise, and ever to rejoice in His consolation. Through Christ our Lord.

Amen.

Published on Pentecost Sunday 2017. Veni, Sancte Spiritus.


  1. Baltimore Catechism, q. 574. ↩︎

  2. BC, q. 670. ↩︎

  3. CCC, 1212; 1285. ↩︎

  4. CCC, 1300; BC, q. 675-77. ↩︎

  5. CCC 1286-89; Paul Haffner, The Sacramental Mystery, 78-84. ↩︎

  6. CCC, 1285; BC, q. 698, cf. CCC 1302 for the effects of deepening the baptismal grace; Dr. Ludwig Ott, Fundamentals of Catholic Dogma, 4th edition, 361: the Council of Trent condemned those who held Confirmation was not necessary. ↩︎

  7. CCC, 1304. ↩︎

  8. CCC, 129. ↩︎

  9. CCC, Glossary, Typology↩︎

  10. Id. ↩︎

  11. Genesis 48-9; Haffner, 78. ↩︎

  12. Jean Danielou, SJ, The Bible and the Liturgy (1956), 114; see also 116. ↩︎

  13. II Sam 16:13 ↩︎

  14. CCC, 1286, citing, Isa 11:2; 61:1; Lk 4:16-22; see also, Joel 2:28; Is 44:3b; Haffner, 78; see also Ott, 361, adding Ez 39:29. ↩︎

  15. CCC, 1286. ↩︎

  16. CCC, 1286, citing Jn 3:34; cf. Mk 1:10, Lk 4:18. ↩︎

  17. Danielou, 117. ↩︎

  18. CCC, 1287. ↩︎

  19. CCC, 1287; promises: Lk 12:12; Jn 3:5-8; 7:37-39; 16:7-15; Pentecosts: Jn 20:22; Acts 2:1-4; cf. Haffner, 78; citing, Jn 14:25-6; 15:26-7. ↩︎

  20. Haffner, 79, citing Acts 8:14-17. ↩︎

  21. Acts 8:17. ↩︎

  22. Haffner, 79, citing Acts 19:1-8. ↩︎

  23. Heb 6:1-2; CCC 1288. ↩︎

  24. See CCC 1288; in adherence to Holy Scripture and to the teachings of the Early Church Fathers, the Council of Trent (AD 1547) declared, "the sacraments of the new law were… all instituted by Jesus Christ our Lord," CCC 1114, citing, Council of Trent (1547): DS 1600-1601. ↩︎

  25. Haffner, 80-83; see Danielou, 115 on Tertullian. ↩︎

  26. CCC, 1289. ↩︎

  27. CCC 1289. ↩︎

  28. The Apostolic Tradition 21–22 [A.D. 215]; Confirmation, Catholic Answers. ↩︎

  29. Catechetical Lectures, 21:1, 3–4 [A.D. 350]; Confirmation, Catholic Answers. ↩︎

  30. Haffner, 82, citing, St. Ambrose, De Mysteriis, 6, 29; 7, 42; in PL 16, 398, 402-03; See Ps 133:2. ↩︎

  31. Haffner, 82-3, citing Faustus the Abbot of Lerins (fifth century) and Rabanus Maurus, Archbishop of Mainz (ninth century); ST III q. 72. ↩︎

  32. Haffner, 16; cf. BC, q. 587. ↩︎

  33. Haffner, 86, citing Bl. Pope Paul VI, Apostolic Constitution on the Sacrament of Confirmation, Divinae Consortium Naturae (1971); see also CCC, 1300; cf. "The bishop extends his hands over those who are to be confirmed, prays that they may receive the Holy Ghost, and anoints the forehead of each with holy chrism in the form of a cross." BC, q. 677. ↩︎

  34. Haffner, 86, citing, Pontifical Commission for the Interpretation of the Decrees of Vatican II, Responses of 9th June 1972 in AAS 64 (1972), p. 526. ↩︎

  35. BC, q. 678. ↩︎

  36. BC, q. 680. ↩︎

  37. CCC, 1300; BC, q. 685. ↩︎

  38. CCC, 1295. ↩︎

  39. CCC, 1295. ↩︎

  40. BC, q. 670. ↩︎

  41. CCC, 1302. ↩︎

  42. CCC, 1303. ↩︎

  43. CCC, 1303. ↩︎

  44. CCC, 1304. ↩︎

  45. CCC, 1303, see also 1304-5. ↩︎

  46. BC, q. 670, 673. ↩︎

  47. BC, q. 687-90; see also the relationship of fortitude and being a soldier with the sign of the cross made with the holy chrism, q. 686. ↩︎

  48. BC 698; Danielou, 119. ↩︎

  49. CCC 1830; Isa 11:1-3; Danielou, 119-20. ↩︎

  50. BC, 698. ↩︎

  51. BC 675; Ott, 368. ↩︎

  52. Ott, 368; see Acts 8, 19:6. ↩︎

  53. Ott, 368. ↩︎

  54. Ott, 368. ↩︎

  55. Ott, 369. ↩︎

  56. Danielou, 121. ↩︎