ConfirmationCHARLES M. MANGAN
Just what are the effects of Confirmation? It is difficult to imagine a better summary than that given in the Catechism of the Catholic Church.
It has been frequently lamented that Confirmation is perhaps one of the most poorly understood of the Seven Sacraments — not by the Church (consider the outstanding explanations of this Sacrament developed over the centuries) but by its recipients. The Magisterium has provided such excellent resources as the Catechism of the Catholic Church, the Code of Canon Law and the Roman Ritual, Rite of Confirmation which offer deep insight into the meaning and celebration of this Sacrament. The following “overview” of the Sacrament of Confirmation (which is specifically limited to the practice of the Latin Rite) relies heavily on these texts; the author recognizes that many superb theologians and spiritual writers have also presented fine, detailed summaries of the value and effects of this Sacrament. (See John A. Hardon, S.J., The Catholic Catechism and Ludwig Ott, Fundamentals of Catholic Dogma.)
Confirmation “completes” the grace which was initially given when the recipient was baptized. Although the former is not indispensable in the achieving of everlasting life, it is necessary so that one may obtain the perfection of salvation.
The Church believes that Jesus Christ instituted this Sacrament, as He did with the other six. Saint Thomas Aquinas taught that Our Lord established Confirmation non exhibendo,sed promittendo, which means that He Himself did not administer it but that He promised its administration for future use after the Holy Spirit would come in His fullness at Pentecost. (For a further treatment of the actual institution of Confirmation and the two traditions which have developed in the East and West, see the Catechism of the Catholic Church and Ludwig Ott, Fundamentals of Catholic Dogma) Theologians have traditionally maintained the existence of “Confirmation of desire,” meaning that one, in real necessity, could obtain the grace of this Sacrament by virtue of the desire for Confirmation which cannot be presently received, much as in the case of “Baptism of desire.” Saint Thomas asserted that Baptism of desire would need to precede Confirmation of desire, given the preparatory role in which the former has in relation to the latter.
An important facet of this Sacrament is that it impresses the indelible character or mark, similar to Baptism and Holy Orders, which conforms the recipient to Christ the High Priest. This character has been called the “seal of the Holy Spirit” and means that the recipients “share more completely in the mission of Jesus Christ and the fullness of the Holy Spirit with which He is filled, so that their lives may give off ‘the aroma of Christ”‘ [2Cor 2:15] (Catechism of the Catholic Church, 1294). Further more, the indelible seal “marks out total belonging to Christ, our enrollment in His service forever, as well as the promise of divine protection in the great eschatological trial” (CCC, 1296). The imparting of the indelible character, which also implies that this Sacrament — like Baptism and Holy Orders — cannot be repeated, is signified by the use of the Sacred Chrism, which must be consecrated by the Bishop during the celebration of the annual Chrism Mass.
The Code of Canon Law expresses how Confirmation is administered: “...through the anointing with Chrism on the forehead, which is done by the imposition of the hand, and through the words prescribed in the approved liturgical books” (Canon 880, 1). Generally, Confirmation is administered in a church during the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass; however, “for a just and reasonable cause it may be celebrated apart from Mass and in any fitting place: (Canon 881). In the Latin Rite, the essential words (form) for the Sacrament are: “N., be sealed with the Gift of the Holy Spirit,” while the essential action (matter) is the anointing with the Sacred Chrism on the forehead performed by the imposition of hands. The Sacrament is usually administered by a bishop; however, priests may also confirm if they possess the requisite faculty “either from the universal law or by way of a special grant from the competent authority” (Canon 882). In the danger of death, any priest may and should confirm.
There exists a sacred obligation on both the faithful and those charged with ensuring the reception of Confirmation: “The faithful are bound to receive this Sacrament at the proper time. Parents and pastors of souls, especially parish priests, are to see that the faithful are properly instructed to receive the Sacrament and come to it at the opportune time” (Canon 8990). Religious education teachers and even parish communities are to assist in the preparation for Confirmation. Those who are baptized but who are not yet confirmed are eligible to receive Confirmation. The “age of discretion” (i.e., about seven years) is the “normal” time for reception, but the Conference of Bishops may determine another age. (The Bishops of the United States have decided that the appropriate age for Confirmation is from seven years to eighteen years.) The candidates for Confirmation must be in the state of grace and properly instructed. They should receive the Sacrament of Penance before reception and be rooted in prayer.
“As far as possible the person to be confirmed is to have a sponsor. The sponsor’s function is to take care that the person confirmed behaves as a true witness to Christ and faithfully fulfills the duties inherent in this Sacrament” (Canon 892). Potential sponsors are to meet the criteria, which are the same for baptismal sponsors, provided for by the Code of Canon Law (cf. Canons 874, 893). “It is desirable that the sponsor chosen be the one who undertook this role at Baptism” (Canon 893, 2).
Just what are the effects of Confirmation? It is difficult to imagine a better summary than that given in the Catechism of the Catholic Church. This Sacrament’s effect “is the full outpouring of the Holy Spirit as once granted to the apostles on the day of Pentecost” (1302). Therefore, “Confirmation brings an increase and deepening of baptismal grace; it roots us more deeply in the divine filiation which makes us cry, ‘Abba! Father;” it unites us more firmly to Christ; it increases the gifts of the Holy Spirit in us; it renders our bond with the Church more perfect; it gives us 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” (1303).
Baptism is pivotal in the life of any disciple of Christ. One might think that God would have nothing more to give His sons and daughters after Baptism. Yet, He does do more by granting “an increase and deepening of baptismal grace” to those who worthily receive Confirmation. This valuable and life-changing Sacrament is just another sign of God’s marvels in the lives of His children.
Mangan, Charles M. “Confirmation.” The Catholic Faith 4, no. 4 (July/August 1998): 13-14.
Reprinted by permission of The Catholic Faith. The Catholic Faith is published bi-monthly and may be ordered from Ignatius Press, P.O. Box 591090, San Francisco, CA 94159-1090. 1-800-651-1531.
Msgr. Charles M. Mangan was appointed by His Holiness, Pope John Paul II, to a position serving the Vatican's Congregation for Institutes of Consecrated Life and Societies of Apostolic Life. Ordained in 1989, Msgr. Mangan formerly served the Diocese of Sioux Falls in several parishes. His is the author of many pamphlets which are available here.
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