“Do you reject sin, so as to live in the freedom of God’s children?”
WHAT IT IS
Confirmation comes from the Latin elements con- (“with”) and firm- (“to strengthen”), meaning to solidify something, or unite it to itself.
It consists of two elements: A set of promises and the laying on of hands by an Apostolic successor.
The promises are made in the form of an oath, with the bishop asking questions and the candidates responding, “I do.”
Do you reject sin, so as to live in the freedom of God’s children? I do.
Do you reject the glamor of evil, and refuse to be mastered by sin? I do.
Do you reject Satan, father of sin and prince of darkness? I do.
Do you believe in God, the Father almighty, creator of heaven and earth? I do.
Do you believe in Jesus Christ, his only Son, our Lord, who was born of the Virgin Mary, was crucified, died, and was buried, rose from the dead, and is now seated at the right hand of the Father? I do.
Do you believe in the Holy Spirit, the Holy Catholic Church, the communion of saints, the forgiveness of sins, the resurrection of the body, and life everlasting? I do.
God the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ has given us a new birth by water and the Holy Spirit, and forgiven our sins. May God also keep us faithful to our Lord Jesus Christ forever and ever. Amen.
The bishop responds:
All-powerful God, Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, by water and the Holy Spirit you freed your sons and daughters from sin and gave them new life.
Send your Holy Spirit upon them to be their helper and guide.
Give them the spirit of wisdom and understanding, the spirit of right judgment and courage, the spirit of knowledge and reverence.
Fill them with the spirit of wonder and awe in your presence.
We ask this through Christ our Lord.
He then anoints the head of each confirmand with oil and says:
Be sealed with the Gift of the Holy Spirit.
Confirmation completes Baptism, which washes away sin. Confirmation then delivers the Holy Spirit and brings the believer into the fullness of Christian life. He or she is now an agent of Christ, ready to oppose evil in their own lives and to lead others to God.
Specifically, Confirmation bestows the seven gifts of the Holy Spirit.:
- Wisdom: The ability to discern what is true, and to know the right course of action. It originates in God and was created before the world. Wisdom allows us to see God at work in creation and in our own lives.
- Understanding: Comprehension of the faith and what’s happening in the world around the believer. It sheds light on sacred Scripture and everyday events, letting the mind go beyond the simple perceptions to real meaning. For instance, pulling the trigger of a gun in and of itself is morally neutral. But if it’s pointed at another person, that action now has a moral dimension. Understanding lets us see the fullness of an action or situation.
- Counsel: An acceptance of God’s guidance in one’s life. It also helps the believer instruct and correct others when necessary.
- Fortitude:The ability to overcome difficulties and pain. This lets the believer endure when faced with challenges or persecution. Fortitude lets us bear the Cross of suffering in our own lives while staying obedient to the Father — just as our Savior did.
- Knowledge: An accurate sense of the faith. The Holy Spirit gives the confirmed person an intuition of what is good doctrine, and what is erroneous.
- Piety: Reverence toward God as our Father, and a view of other human beings as children of the same God. Piety motivates the individual toward justice.
- Fear of the Lord: Not a paranoia or terror of punishment, but more like the relationship of a child to a loving father.
Because it’s the work of God and not of man, Confirmation is permanent. It cannot be repeated, or undone by an act of the individual.
The most important Old Testament basis for Confirmation is when Samuel anoints David:
Samuel took the horn of oil and anointed him in the presence of his brothers, and from that day on the Spirit of the LORD came powerfully upon David. 1 Sm 16:13
As we see in the sections on Salvation History, Eucharist and Holy Orders, there are strong ties between King David and Jesus. This passage from the book of Samuel makes clear that the arrival of the Holy Spirit is linked to anointing with oil. This is the basis of the Christian Sacrament of Confirmation.
The two-stage process of Baptism and Confirmation is also clearly laid out in Acts of the Apostles, chapter 8:
“When the apostles at Jerusalem heard that Samaria had received the word of God, they sent to them Peter and John, who came down and prayed for them that they might receive the Holy Spirit, for it had not yet fallen on any of them. They had only been baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus. Then they laid their hands on them and they received the Holy Spirit.” Acts 8:14-17
Like everything else, the coming of the Holy Spirit begins with the words of Christ himself:
“I am sending the promise of my Father upon you, but stay in the city until you are clothed with power from on high.” Lk 24:49
This is the last statement of Christ in Luke’s Gospel. It follows the Resurrection and comes immediately before his Ascension into heaven. Jesus first sets the example with his own life, which he could do because he was always united with the Father. But ordinary sinners like the Apostles and ourselves need the Holy Spirit to truly follow and imitate Christ. For we, alone, can do nothing. Through Confirmation, God gives us the necessary graces. God works in human life through the sacraments.
This theme of the Spirit returns at the beginning of Acts of the Apostles, which was also written by Luke:
“John baptized with water, but in a few days you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit.” Acts 1:5
This promise was fulfilled ten days after the Ascension:
“When the day of Pentecost came, they were all together in one place. Suddenly a sound like the blowing of a violent wind came from heaven and filled the whole house where they were gathered. Then what appeared to them to be tongues of fire separated and came to rest on each of them. All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues as the Spirit enabled them to proclaim.” Acts 2:1-4
Jesus explains the role of the Holy Spirit in this passage from John:
“It is better that I go away because if I don’t the Advocate will not come to you. If I go, I will send Him to you. And when he comes he will will convict the world concerning sin and righteousness and condemnation. Sin because they do not believe in Me; righteousness, because I am going to the Father and you no longer see me; and condemnation because the ruler of this world has been condemned. I have many more things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now. But the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth. He will not speak on His own initiative, but whatever He hears. He will declare to you the things that are coming. He will glorify Me, for He will take of Mine and will disclose it to you. All things that the Father has are Mine; therefore I said that He takes of Mine and will declare it to you.” Jn 16:7-15
This passage is key to the entire Christian faith because it promises that the Holy Spirit will guide the Church. Without this power, the Apostles would not have been able to preach the word, and their successors would not have had the knowledge to accurately determine which books belonged in the Bible. After all, most writings attributed to the Apostles during the first 200 years of Christianity were false. Only with guidance of God did early Church leaders know the true Canon of Scripture. That authority began on Pentecost.
The following passage from Luke explains how the Holy Spirit guides the lives of ordinary Christians. It shows how we can always trust in God at times of need — especially when facing persecution or sin:
“When you are brought before synagogues, rulers and authorities, do not worry about how you will defend yourselves or what you will say, for the Holy Spirit will teach you at that time what you should say.” Lk 12:12-13
The mark of confirmation is also referenced in Revelation:
“Then locusts came from the smoke and descended on the earth, and they were given power to sting like scorpions. They were told not to harm the grass or plants or trees, but only the people who did not have the seal of God on their foreheads.” Rv 9:3-4
Just as Baptism finds it earliest traces in the Great Flood, in Salvation History Confirmation parallels Abraham’s response to God’s call in Gen 22. Willing to sacrifice his only son to the Lord, God responds by swearing on Himself:
“Because you acted as you did in not withholding from me your son, your only one, I will bless you and make your descendants as countless as the stars of the sky and the sands of the seashore; your descendants will take possession of the gates of their enemies, and in your descendants all the nations of the earth will find blessing, because you obeyed my command.” Gen 22: 16-18
This divine protection is the reason why the Jewish people have survived for more than 3,000 years while other groups from antiquity have disappeared.
Baptism, like the Great Flood and circumcision, is done by another upon the subject. His or her free will are not necessary. Confirmation, however, is God’s response to our free will and our initiative. It often follows a test, as occurred with Abraham. Similarly, the Holy Spirit only came to the disciples in the upper room after their faith was tested in a period of prayer. The Descent of the Spirit also followed the choice of Matthias to replace Judas (Acts 1:26), where God ratifies the authority of the Church and Peter as its leader.
Timing is also important because the Holy Spirit came to the Apostles on the Jewish feast of Pentecost, which celebrated the giving of the 10 Commandments at Mount Sinai. In the first Pentecost, God gives the Law. In the second, He establishes His Church.
All Salvation History is a process where God building on previous steps and growing closer to humanity. Our Lord initially chose 12 tribes, and gives them the law. In the new Messianic covenant He gives Himself.
Like Baptism, elements of Confirmation predate the birth of Christ.
The practice of laying on hands first appears in the book of Numbers, shortly after the Exodus, when Moses ordains Joshua:
The LORD said to Moses, “Take Joshua the son of Nun, a man in whom is the Spirit, and lay your hand on him; and have him stand before Eleazar the priest and before all the congregation, and commission him in their sight. You shall put some of your authority on him, in order that all the congregation of the sons of Israel may obey him. Moreover, he shall stand before Eleazar the priest, who shall inquire for him by the judgment of the Urim before the LORD. At his command they shall go out and at his command they shall come in, both he and the sons of Israel with him, even all the congregation.”Moses did just as the LORD commanded him; and he took Joshua and set him before Eleazar the priest and before all the congregation. Then he laid his hands on him and commissioned him, just as the LORD had spoken through Moses. Nm 27:18-23
The ancient Jews also appointed elders with the laying on of hands, and maintained an unbroken succession from the time of Moses to rabbis centuries later. This ancient Biblical practice, known as Semikhan, was the basis for the Church maintaining a line continuously back to the Apostles. God works within these lineages throughout the Bible, and there is no basis in scripture for people acting outside of them.
At what age?
The age at which Confirmation is performed has changed over the years. It was often performed on infants under the authority of their parents at the same time as Baptism. This practice continues in some eastern rites.
It is currently given to children at age 12 after a period of studying the faith. Adult converts are Baptized and Confirmed at the same time, followed by the first Communion.
Soldier of Christ
Traditionally the sacrament of Confirmation had a strong militaristic tone as the individual was inducted into the army of Christ. He or she joined the Church Militant, and pledged to battle against evil. But, this is always a spiritual war in which we are girded in truth, clothed with righteousness and hold faith is our shield. We are protected by the helmet of salvation and the only sword we wield is that of the Spirit, which is the world of God.