Read ~ Chapter 9: The Sacrament of Confirmation
Father Anthony Nachef, STD (Doctorate in Sacred Theology)
The teachings contained in this chapter are based on Holy Scriptures, the Tradition of the Catholic Church [especially The First and Second Vatican Councils, the Catechism of the Catholic Church (CCC), the Fathers of the Church (especially St. Thomas Aquinas and St. Augustine)], the Magisterium of the Catholic Church (especially Saint Pope Paul VI, Saint Pope John Paul II, Pope Benedict XVI, and Pope Francis). All Apostolic Encyclicals and Letters are found on the Vatican Website: Vatican
The Holy Spirit: last phase of God’s Self-Revelation
Every action of the Church takes place through the Holy Spirit: The Father sent the Son and the Son sent the Holy Spirit. The Spirit will abide with the Church until the end of time to lead everyone back to the Father. Therefore, it is the Holy Spirit who extends in the Church the redemption of Christ until Christ comes back (parousia). Every action that the Church performs (sacraments, prayers, meditations, good actions, etc…) happens through the Holy Spirit. In that sense St. Paul said, “No one can say Jesus is Lord, except through the Holy Spirit.” (1 Cor. 12:3)
The Holy Spirit marks the beginning of the ‘end’: As soon as Christ revealed that the Father sent him, and as soon as Christ also revealed that when he is gone, the Holy Spirit will come upon the Church, the Church immediately started to develop a theology of the Holy Spirit. The Acts of the Apostles boldly emphasizes the work of the Holy Spirit in the Church. Since God is a Trinity and since the last phase of the revelation of the Trinity took place in the Holy Spirit, the descent of the Spirit on Pentecost marks the “last days” or the eschatological time. There will be no more revelation of God. It is accomplished.
The Holy Spirit makes all the sacraments happen: Every time that we celebrate any of the sacraments, we invoke the Holy Spirit to come down and make Christ present. In the Sacrament of Baptism, we pray “send your Holy Spirit upon this water.” In the Sacrament of the Eucharist before the consecration, we pray “send your Holy Spirit upon these gifts to make them the Body and Blood of Christ…” In the Sacrament of Reconciliation, we confirm that the Father of mercies “sent the Holy Spirit among us for forgiveness of our sins…” In all the other sacraments, the church also and always invokes the Holy Spirit to communicate the grace of Christ.
Effects of the Sacrament of Confirmation
Confirmation fulfills the sacrament of Baptism: In the same way the Holy Spirit came on the Apostles to fulfill the promises of Christ, confirmation fulfills baptism. The grace of confirmation extends in the Church the grace of baptism until the end of our life. The Catechism teaches: “It must be explained to the faithful that the reception of the sacrament of confirmation is necessary for the completion of baptismal grace. For ‘by the sacrament of Confirmation, [the baptized] are more perfectly bound to the Church and are enriched with a special strength of the Holy Spirit. Hence they are, as true witnesses of Christ, more strictly obliged to spread and defend the faith by word and deed’.” (CCC, 1285) The recipient of confirmation is rooted more deeply as a child of God. By Baptism, the child is born to be a child of God; by Confirmation, the child starts to grow and mature as a child of God.
Confirmation is a personal Pentecost: The Sacrament of Confirmation is the pouring out of the Holy Spirit on the person who is being confirmed; it is a personal Pentecost. Receiving Confirmation is not only receiving the gifts of the Spirit; it is a receiving of the Holy Spirit in Person. In this Sacrament, the task of the Holy Spirit is to accomplish Christ’s redemption and lead humanity back to the Father. The Holy Spirit pours out the divine life of the Trinity on the person receiving the sacrament. St. Ambrose, as he preaches to a newly confirmed Christians, says in this regard: “You have received the spiritual sign, the sign of wisdom; God the Father has sealed you, Christ the Lord has confirmed youand has given you the gift of the Spiritin your heart.” (De Mysteriis, 7:42)
Confirmation introduces the recipient in the last phase of the common priesthood: If the sacrament of Holy Orders configures the candidate to receive the ordained ministerial priesthood, Baptism and Confirmation introduces the recipient into the common priesthood of the faithful. Every person who is baptized and confirmed is a priest in the sense that they share in the mission of Christ.
Confirmation cannot be repeated: In the same way the sacraments of Baptism and Holy Orders cannot be repeated in the sense that they are received once and for all, so is also the sacrament of confirmation. One cannot be ‘re-baptized’, ‘re-ordained’, or ‘re-confirmed’. By the sacrament of confirmation, an indelible mark is imprinted on the soul. Since confirmation is a personal Pentecost, the descent of the Holy Spirit on the person being confirmed is irrevocable.
The Holy Spirit is communicated through the laying on of hands and anointing: Pentecost was once and for all an event of the coming down of the Holy Spirit on the Apostles 50 days after the resurrection of Christ. However, Pentecost was meant to continue in the Church. In fact, Peter and John, right after Pentecost, were able to extend to the Church the pouring out of the Holy Spirit. When they went to the Samaritans who accepted the Word of God, “they laid their hands on them and they received the Holy Spirit.” (Acts 8:17) Also St. Paul, when he baptized the Ephesians, “laid his hands on them, the Holy Spirit came on them, and they spoke in other tongues and prophesied.” The laying on of hands is also mentioned in the Letter to the Hebrews 6:2. (Acts 19:6) In this sense, Pope Paul VI states: “The imposition of hands is rightly recognized by the Catholic tradition as the origin of the sacrament of Confirmation, which in a certain way perpetuates the grace of Pentecost in the Church.” (Divinae Consortium Naturae, 659)
Very early in the Church, anointing was added to the laying on of hands for biblical reasons. The expression ‘Christ’ means the ‘anointed one’. In fact, the anointing of Christ by the Holy Spirit shapes Christ’s entire mission from his Incarnation in the womb until his ascension into heaven. Not only Christ, but all those anointed ‘christ – ians’ are the recipients of the Holy Spirit in this sacrament. The Catechism states: “This anointing highlights the name ‘Christian,’ which means ‘anointed’ and derives from that of Christ himself whom God anointed with the Holy Spirit.” (CCC, 1289) The anointing is a sign of a total consecration to Christ in which we are sealed with a seal that cannot be erased. Through this seal we are enrolled in Christ’s service forever and are guaranteed a divine protection in the last trial at the end of time. As St. Paul says, “it is God who establishes us with you in Christ and has commissioned us; he has put his seal on us and given us his Spirit in our hearts as a guarantee.” (2 Corinthians 1:21-22)
The Holy Spirit will continue to be communicated through the laying on of hands of the successors of the Apostles at Confirmation: Since the Apostles granted the gifts of the Holy Spirit through the laying on of hands, that same gift will continue forever in the Church through Confirmation. If at Pentecost the Apostles received the Holy Spirit, and if right after Pentecost the Apostles gave that Spirit to the Church, their successors will continue the same ministry of laying on of hands that we experience today at confirmation (see Letter to the Hebrews 6:2). That is proven already by St. Paul who was not present at Pentecost with the Apostles. When he heard that the disciples in Ephesus were not baptized yet, he baptized them, “and when Paul had laid his hands upon them, the Holy Spirit came on them.” (Acts 19:6)
Confirmation enabled the Apostles to preach Christ: As soon as the Holy Spirit came down on the Apostles, they received the grace and the courage to start preaching Christ to the world. They did not know how they were able to do it because the grace of the Spirit created in them an unstoppable force to be witnesses of Jesus even in the face of death. The Apostles, who fled when Jesus was captured, are now witnesses to the end of the earth. Most of them were killed because of Jesus.
Confirmation enables the candidates to share in the public ministry of the Church: When one is confirmed, they receive both the power to publicly proclaim the mission of the Church and the gifts of the Holy Spirit to perform that mission. It is a ‘guaranteed’ sacramental grace of the Holy Spirit just like at Pentecost and as such it is irrevocable: St. Paul confirms to the Corinthians that God “has put his seal upon us and given us his Spirit in our hearts as a guarantee.” (2 Cor 1:22) Those who receive this sacrament only need to accept this grace, work with it, nurture it, and keep it growing until the end of their lives.
Confirmation is the beginning of the journey of faith: Confirmation is the beginning of the journey of faith, not its end. In many cases, the grace of the Holy Spirit at Confirmation produces its fruits when people convert after a long life of sin. Conversion is the product of the Spirit’s grace at confirmation. This grace has inspired people to travel to the end of the earth in order to preach the Gospel of Jesus Christ. In this sense St. Paul says: “In him (Christ) you also, who have heard the word of truth, the Gospel of your salvation, and have believed in him, were sealed with the promised Holy Spirit, who is the guarantee of our inheritance…” (Ephesians 1: 13-14).
Confirmation in case of danger: Note that in case of danger, children should be confirmed immediately to complete the grace of baptism (see CCC, 1307). St. Thomas Aquinas reminds us that many children in the history of the Church fought for their faith to the point of shedding their blood (STH, III, 72, 5, ad. 2). This indicates that the grace of Confirmation can work in everyone independently of age. Add to that, if a Christian is in danger of death, a priest can give them the sacrament of Confirmation. The Church does not wish that any of her children should die without receiving this sacrament.
Gifts of the Holy Spirit
The gifts of the Holy Spirit are sanctifying gifts, because they inspire their recipients to obey the Holy Spirit who will help them to accept Christ, grow in holiness and be led to eternal life. We receive these gifts at Confirmation.
Wisdom: The first is the gift of wisdom or the divine penetration of the truths of faith. Wisdom is the capacity of understanding the truths of the Catholic faith and direct human affairs in light of God’s divine revelation. It is a deep intelligence and a perspicuous conception of how to apply the Catholic faith to our daily life.
Knowledge: If the gift of wisdom is to understand the truths of the Catholic faith, the ability to do so is the Holy Spirit’s gift of knowledge. In the same way the human will is the faculty of freedom, the ‘faculty’ of knowledge is wisdom. Wisdom is like the eye and knowledge is the actual vision. When one receives the gifts of the Holy Spirit, one develops a paradigm to act according to the values of the Gospel. Paradigm is the way one looks at the world: receiving the gift of wisdom and knowledge shifts one’s paradigm to look at the world in the eyes of Christ. Knowledge is the ability to judge correctly about faith and morals in order to keep oneself on the path of justice.
Understanding: Every time one perceives the world through the mind of Christ, the Holy Spirit is the one nourishing their wisdom, so they constantly look at things through the values and the truths of Catholic faith. Understanding is a deeper insight into the intrinsic reality of things. It is the inner capacity of reading the heart of truths about the world and God. Note that we have two approaches in today’s moral theology: the first is called the pragmatic approach and the second is called the cognitive approach. Cognitive approach takes as its point of departure the truths of the Catholic faith. Based on these truths one proceeds to act. The pragmatic approach is when people appoint themselves as the criteria of truth. For them, it does not matter what God teaches; it matters what they think is true. Understanding will help avoid the pragmatic approach because reading the hearts of truth comes from God’s revelation.
Counsel: The gift of counsel is the perfection of the virtue of prudence. Here the Holy Spirit urges us to integrate the gift of prudence with the elements of faith. An example could be the gift to detect something bad hidden behind something looking good. Counsel allows the human person to follow God’s necessary path that leads them to salvation.
Fortitude: The Holy Spirit gives us the strength and the will to be witnesses to the Catholic faith: the gift of fortitude. The Holy Spirit strengthens people when they are on trial or are at the verge of getting killed because of adherence to the faith. Fortitude is a radical determination to do good and avoid evil. The Holy Spirit will grant the confidence to overcome all difficult and dangerous obstacles in view of the rewards of eternal life.
Piety: The gift of piety makes us aware of the supremacy of God as our Father and of people as his children. The Holy Spirit inspires us to revere God with filial affection, to respect people’s dignity because of their relationship with God, to honor the saints, and to accept the Bible with reverence as God’s Word. Piety is the feeling of adoration and reverence toward the majesty of God. Our free will plays a major role in accepting the gift of piety and submitting itself entirely to God.
Fear of the Lord: This gift confirms the virtue of hope and profound respect to God’s majesty. The fear of the Lord in us acknowledges the hope that was revealed through the faith, and wholeheartedly submits and bows to God’s majesty. It is not a negative fear; rather, it is a positive attitude of knowing who we are in relationship to God and of never allowing ourselves to be separated from God.
St. Ambrose summarizes the gifts of the Holy Spirit by saying: “Recall then that you have received the spiritual seal, the spirit of wisdom and understanding, the spirit of right judgment and courage, the spirit of knowledge and reverence, the spirit of holy fear in God’s presence. Guard what you have received. God the Father has marked you with his sign; Christ the Lord has confirmed you and has placed his pledge, the Spirit, in your hearts.” (De Myst. 7:42)
Confirmation is the action of the Blessed Trinity
The Holy Spirit is the Spirit of Jesus Christ: The only sacrament that we emphasize the Holy Spirit in Person is Confirmation. All the other six sacraments we evoke the Holy Spirit to confer the grace of Christ’s redemption. However, one cannot ignore the Christological dimension of the Sacrament of Confirmation because the Holy Spirit is the Spirit of Christ. Pope Benedict VI states: “There are also those who propose the hypothesis of an economy of the Holy Spirit with a more universal breadth than that of the Incarnate Word, crucified and risen. This position also is contrary to the Catholic faith, which, on the contrary, considers the salvific incarnation of the Word as a trinitarian event. In the New Testament, the mystery of Jesus, the Incarnate Word, constitutes the place of the Holy Spirit’s presence as well as the principle of the Spirit’s effusion on humanity, not only in messianic times (cf. Acts 2:32-36; Jn 7:39, 20:22; 1 Cor 15:45), but also prior to his coming in history (cf. 1 Cor 10:4; 1 Pet 1:10-12).” (Dominus Iesus, 11)
The Holy Spirit is the Spirit of the Father and the Son: The task of the Holy Spirit is to be present in the Church (space and time) until the end of human history. The Holy Spirit will lead humanity through Christ back to the Father. Therefore, the Holy Spirit who proceeded from the Father and the Son will lead us through the Son back to the first Origin: the Father.
Spirituality of the Charismatic groups: Charismatic groups seek to be filled and moved by the Holy Spirit. They invited the Holy Spirit to fill them and to move them to preach and live the Gospel.
Of great Importance in the spirituality of these movements is never to forget that the redeemer who became man in the womb of the Virgin Mary is Jesus Christ. The Holy Spirit will always “take from what is Christ’s and give it to the Church.” Focusing on the Holy Spirit is essential because everything happens through the Holy Spirit. Keep in mind, however, that the ‘content’ of the Holy Spirit’s mission is the will of the Father and the redemption of Christ. The Most Blessed Trinity will always be the center of the Catholic faith because every act act performed by God emanates from the Blessed Trinity. Saint Pope John Paul II elaborated this truth of faith saying:”This is the same Spirit who was at work in the incarnation and in the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus and who is at work in the Church. He is therefore not an alternative to Christ nor does he fill a sort of void which is sometimes suggested as existing between Christ and the Logos. Whatever the Spirit brings about in human hearts and in the history of peoples, in cultures and religions, serves as a preparation for the Gospel and can only be understood in reference to Christ, the Word who took flesh by the power of the Spirit ‘so that as perfectly human he would save all human beings and sum up all things.” (Redemptoris Missio, 28-29)
By Fr. Anthony Nachef, STD (Doctorate in Sacred Theology)