Article 103 – Catechism of the Catholic Church Series
Paragraphs 1293-1301 Throughout our diocese, our country and beyond, young Catholics prepare to be sealed by the Holy Spirit through the sacrament of confirmation. Like those who came before them, those preparing for the Rite of Confirmation are often overwhelmed by the signs and symbols surrounding this ancient sacrament. Paramount among these is “the sign of anointing,” which is “rich in meaning” (ccc 1293). The Catechism tells us that the sign of anointing ” signifies and imprints a spiritual seal” (ccc 1293). Down through the centuries, kings and queens were anointed with special oil as a sign or symbol of the great weight they were called to carry as monarchs. The blessed oil was meant to assist them in the many battles ahead, some metaphorical struggles and some real ones. Consistent with ancient symbolism, in addition to cleansing and being a sign of healing, anointing is also “a sign of abun- dance and joy” (ccc 1293). We learn from the Catechism that “anointing with oil has all these meanings [as previously described] in the sacramental life” (ccc 1294). Within the Rite of Baptism, but just prior to being baptized, we are anointed with a special oil called the oil of catechumens, which “signifies cleansing and strengthening” (ccc 1294). Immediately following this anointing with the oil of catechumens, we are born-again through the sacrament of baptism with water. In confirmation, we are anointed with a different oil, called sacred chrism (also used for the sacrament of holy orders), which “is the sign of consecration.” This sacred chrism, as well as the oil of the sick (used for the sacrament of the anointing of the sick and dying) and the oil of catechumens (used during the sacrament of baptism), is blessed by the bishop in every diocese at the Mass of Chrism during Holy Week each year.
In the words of the Catechism, “those who are anointed, 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’” (ccc 1294).
When the bishop places the sacred chrism on our foreheads and traces the sign of the cross with his thumb at confirmation, he says, “Be sealed with the gift of the Holy Spirit,” to which we affirm with our response, “Amen.” This mark or seal is “a sign of personal authority” (ccc 1295). As Christ himself “was marked with his Father’s seal,” we too, are “also marked with a seal” (ccc 1296). This act of sealing us with the Holy Spirit “marks our total belonging to Christ, our enrollment in his service forever” (ccc 1296).
Those who receive the sacrament of confirmation at the hands of the bishop ordinarily received the sacrament of baptism years before by a priest or a deacon. Therefore, given the distance of time since having been baptized, it is fitting that “the Liturgy of Confirmation begins with the renewal of baptismal promises and the profession of faith” by those to be confirmed (ccc 1298). On the other hand, when adults receive the sacrament of baptism (usually at the Holy Saturday Liturgy of the Easter Vigil), “they im mediately receive Confirmation and participate in the Eucharist” within the same liturgical celebration (ccc 1298).
Getting back to the celebration of the sacrament of confirmation, “the bishop extends his hands over the whole group of the confirmands ” (those to be confirmed), which is a gesture that goes back to “‘the time of the apostles’ signifying ‘the gift of the Spirit’” (ccc 1299). The bishop invokes the outpouring of the Spirit in these words: 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. Amen.
Following this prayer, which names the seven gifts of the Holy Spirit, the essential rite of the sacrament of confirmation occurs. As described above, the essential rite involves the bishop placing sacred chrism on the foreheads of those receiving the sacrament of confirmation and pronouncing the words: “Be sealed with the Gift of the Holy Spirit” (ccc 1300).
Eastern Rite Catholics, such as those belonging to the Byzantine Catholic Rite, ordinarily receive the sacrament of confirmation (or Chrismation, which it is more commonly called) as infants. This happens within the same celebration as the sacrament of baptism. The anointing is also administered on the forehead, but “the more significant parts of the body are [also] anointed [including] the… eyes, nose, ears, lips, chest, back, hands, and feet” (ccc 1300).
Finally, the rite of the sacrament of confirmation concludes with the sign of peace. “Peace be with you,” the bishop [or in the Eastern rite, the priest] says to the newly confirmed. The response by the newly confirmed, “and also with you,” concludes the confirmation ritual. The Catechism explains that this sign of peace rite is meant to signify and demonstrate that the newly confirmed enjoy “ecclesial communion with the bishop and with all the faithful” (ccc 1301), and take their rightful place, as fully initiated Catholics, among the People of God.
Father Hillier serves as Director of the Office of the Pontifical Mission Societies, Censor Librorum and oversees the Office for Persons with Disabilities