Article 104 – Catechism of the Catholic Church Series
Paragraphs 1302-1314 As a high school student, I would help our parish priest during the weekdays by opening and closing the church and parish hall for special events. On one occasion, I was asked to open the church for a new group that was coming to our parish called the Charismatic Renewal. It was an evening meeting, so rather than leaving and coming back later, I decided to stay so I could close the church when the Charismatic Renewal group finished. Besides, how could I learn about these groups without having some firsthand experience?
While waiting in the vestibule of the church, welcoming people to our parish, I was approached by a woman from the group who asked me, “Have you received the Holy Spirit?” I responded by saying, “Yes, I received the Holy Spirit when I was confirmed.” Her response to me, “Oh no, not that Holy Spirit. I am referring to the really powerful experience of Holy Spirit we receive as members of the Charismatic Renewal.”
No doubt the woman was misguided because there is only one Holy Spirit Who we first receive when we receive the sacrament of baptism. “The special outpouring of the Holy Spirit” (in confirmation) “brings an increase and deepening of baptismal grace” (ccc 1302-1303). Among other things, the reception of the sacrament of confirmation “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” (ccc 1303).
In his work, “On the Mysteries and the Treatise on the Sacraments,” fourth-century bishop and author St. Ambrose, who is quoted in the Catechism, teaches: “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.”
The “spiritual seal” that St. Ambrose speaks about is the “indelible spiritual mark” which is “the sign that Jesus Christ has marked a Christian… with power from on high so that he or she may be his witness” (ccc 1304). This indelible spiritual mark or character “perfects the common priesthood of the faithful, received in Baptism” (ccc 1305). We renew this “perfection of the common priesthood” each time we receive the sacrament of reconciliation or confession. Confession is the ordinary way we renew our baptism on an ongoing basis. Given the fact that, for most of us, we do not receive the sacrament of confirmation for several years after receiving the sacrament of baptism as infants, it is therefore necessary for those preparing for confirmation to first receive the sacrament of reconciliation. Why? Because, as the Catechism explains, “to receive Confirmation one must be in a state of grace” (ccc 1309).
The next paragraph speaks about catechesis. Catechetical instruction for the sacrament of confirmation, we are told, “should strive to awaken a sense of belonging to the Church of Jesus Christ, the universal Church as well as the parish community” (ccc 1310). As such, it is appropriate that our sponsor for confirmation “be one of the baptismal godparents” (ccc 1311).
Who can receive the sacrament of confirmation? The Catechism tells us, “Every baptized person not yet confirmed can and should receive the sacrament of Confirmation” (ccc 1306). In fact, without the sacrament of confirmation, “Christian initiation remains incomplete” (ccc 1306). Therefore, “the age of discretion” is the reference point for the baptized to receive the sacrament of confirmation. Much, however, depends on local custom as to exact age when the baptized later receive the sacrament of confirmation. When a child is in danger of death, however, the Catechism tells us they “should be confirmed even if they have not yet attained the age of discretion” (ccc 1307). The same is true of others who are in danger of death. I recall, for example, that as a new priest, when I visited the sick each week with Holy Communion, one of my communicants who was dying asked about receiving the sacrament of confirmation. I immediately made arrangements to offer her the sacrament. The only thing I needed to do was return to the church to retrieve the Sacred Chrism and set an appropriate time to administer the sacrament of confirmation at the woman’s house. No additional permission was required from anyone because the sacrament of confirmation was being spontaneously requested by a person who was dying. Under similar circumstances, if a nonbaptized person who is dying specifically requests the sacraments, a priest may administer all three sacraments of initiation without any special permission. Why? Because, as the Catechism puts it, “the Church desires that none of her children…should depart this world without having been perfected by the Holy Spirit with the gift of Christ’s fullness” (ccc 1314). In summary, in receiving the sacrament of baptism, we receive the Holy Spirit, but this is just a beginning. The sacrament of confirmation makes fully evident what baptism means. Confirmation is the continuation of the work of God; we receive the Holy Spirit in the greatest abundance when we receive the sacrament of confirmation.