Article 102 – Catechism of the Catholic Church Series
Paragraphs 1285-1292 When the sacrament of confirmation is mentioned, my thoughts ordinarily jump to the Holy Spirit, Who we first received in the sacrament of baptism. My memory of my own confirmation also included a tap on the cheek from the bishop during the confirmation ceremony as a reminder that the life of a Christian includes sacrifi ce and participation in the suffering of Christ. Sometimes I wonder why we got rid of that simple gesture. It served as a reminder that we were confirmed for others, not ourselves.
Like many others, when the sacrament of confirmation is mentioned, the seven special gifts of the Holy Spirit also come to mind. These are found in the Book of Isaiah 11:1-2 (wisdom, understanding, counsel, fortitude, knowledge, piety, and fear of the Lord), and are often memorized during one’s catechetical preparation for the sacrament.
The more important matter to consider when reflecting on the sacrament of confirmation, however, is that “the reception of the sacrament of Confirmation is necessary for the completion of baptismal grace” (ccc 1285). In fact, because we already received the gift of the Holy Spirit in baptism, it is more accurate to say that through confirmation, we “are enriched with a special strength of the Holy Spirit,” making us “true witnesses of Christ, more strictly obliged to spread and defend the faith by word and deed” (ccc 1285).
The Holy Spirit Who took up residency in our souls at baptism, and Who we receive as a special strength at confi rmation, is the same Holy Spirit Who descended upon the womb of the Blessed Virgin Mary at the conception of Jesus. Sacred Scripture tells us that “the angel Gabriel [said] … Behold, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you shall name him Jesus …The holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you. Therefore the child to be born will be called holy, the Son of God” ( Lk 1:26-35).
Several years later, Jesus was baptized by John the Baptist. Describing the baptism of Jesus, Sacred Scripture explains: “After all the people had been baptized and Jesus also had been baptized and was praying, heaven was opened and the holy Spirit descended upon him in bodily form like a dove. And a voice came from heaven, ‘You are my beloved Son; with you I amwell pleased’” ( Lk 3:21-22). The Catechism explains that “the descent of the Holy Spirit on Jesus at his baptism by John was the sign that this was he who was to come, the Messiah, the Son of God” (ccc 1286). In fact, “his whole life and his whole mission was carried out in total communion with the Holy Spirit whom the Father gave him ‘without measure’” (ccc 1286).
This same authority is given to us to be God’s special witnesses in the fullness of the Holy Spirit. In fact, “Christ promised this outpouring of the Spirit, a promise which he fulfilled first on Easter Sunday and then more strikingly at Pentecost” (ccc 1287). No wonder that, from the time of the apostles, following the will of Jesus Christ, “the newly baptized by the laying on of hands” received a special strengthening of the Spirit “that completes the grace of Baptism” (ccc 1288). This “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” (ccc 1288). More than that, from the days of the ancient Church, in order “better to signify the gift of the Holy Spirit, an anointing with perfumed oil [chrism] was added to the laying on of hands” (ccc 1289). Thus, the anointing with chrism highlights the title “Christian,” meaning “anointed,” which derives from Christ Jesus Himself whom God “anointed with the Holy Spirit” ( Acts 10:38 ). Anointing with sacred chrism has continued down through the centuries in both the East and the West. In the early Church, confirmation was included in the same celebration as baptism, forming with it a “double sacrament” (ccc 1290).
In the West (the Roman Catholic or Latin Church), the desire to reserve the completion of baptism (confirmation) to the bishop caused “the temporal separation of the two sacraments” (ccc 1290). In the East (in the non-Latin rites), however, the sacraments of baptism and Confirmation remained in the same celebration “so that Confirmation is conferred by the priest who baptizes” (ccc 1290). To say it another way, the ordinary minister of the sacrament of confirmation in the Catholic Church in the West is the bishop, while the ordinary minister of the sacrament of confirmation (or Chrismation, which it is more commonly called) in the Eastern Catholic Church is the priest.
T h e final point that this section of the Catechism emphasizes is the anointing with sacred chrism by the priest in the sacrament of baptism, which “signifi es the participation of the one baptized in the prophetic, priestly, and kingly offi ces of Christ” (ccc 1291). Our next article will explore the biblical roots of such anointing and its meaning for each of us who were born again in baptism and confirmed in the precious faith given to us by Jesus Christ.
Father Hillier serves as Director of the Diocesan Offi ce of the Pontifical Missions, the Office for Persons with Disabilities, and Censor Librorum.