Tuesday, January 13, 2004



I believe there is likely very little debate between liberals and conservatives, or even Catholics and Protestants over the Sacrament of Confirmation. Thus, I am adding an article to my homepage on the Sacrament of Confirmation less to explain some point of controversy, and more to make sure my section on the sacraments covers all seven sacraments of the Catholic Church.

The section covering the sacrament in the Catechism of the Catholic Church is excellent, and if one looks at the footnotes and references, one can find more than ample Scriptural justification for the sacrament, as well as historical references to demonstrate that the sacrament is part of Sacred Tradition.

The Sacrament of Confirmation is one of three sacraments of initiation into full union in the Catholic Church. The first sacrament is Baptism.

Baptism is done with water and a Trinitarian formula. It symbolizes immersion in Christ's death to rise with him. It symbolizes new birth. It symbolizes a cleansing because original sin and all prior personal sins are washed away in Baptism. Water is a basic necessity of life, and the sould is strengthened against sin through Baptism. Catholics believe that the grace of Baptism is necessary for salvation, and that though a "Baptism of desire" may be available to those who have never heard or understood the Gospel, all people who accept Jesus as Lord and savior should seek to be baptized as soon as possible to realize their union with Christ through his body - the Church. I have an article at Questions on Baptism that answers many questions about Baptism.

The Eucharist, or memorial of the Lord's Supper which makes present the living sacrifice of the Body and Blood of Christ under signs of bread and wine is also a sacrament of initiation. The Liturgy of the Eucharist is the source and summit towards which all Christian life is directed, and from which all grace flows. By consuming the Body and Blood of christ, we become the Body of Christ.

Confirmation really completes the sacrament of Baptism. It is a praying for the outpouring of the holy Spirit in the recipient by a representative of the Church community (often the Bishop). Because grace is a free and completely unmerited gift, Catholics baptize infants. Confirmation is the laying on of hands that followed baptism in the New Testament.

In the early Church, annointing with oil was added to symbolize that we are united to the Christ, which means "Annointed One". In order to permit some conscious awareness of what occurs to us in Christian initiation, Confirmation has been separated from Baptism in the West, and is typically reserved for young adulthood.

A person can receive Confirmation as an infant in an emergency, and the Church encourages the age of reason as a common minimum age, which would be the age of seven. Most local churches wait to the age of about 12 or 13 years old, as a person crosses from childhood to adolescence and becomes a young adult.

This discussion of the age of the sacrament brings me to an important point made by my seminary professor about Confirmation and grace. The point is affirmed in the following quotation from the Catechism:
1308 Although Confirmation is sometimes called the "sacrament of Christian maturity," we must not confuse adult faith with the adult age of natural growth, nor forget that the baptismal grace is a grace of free, unmerited election and does not need "ratification" to become effective.
My professor emphasized that Confirmation is not an adult opportunity to confirm the faith through a rational choice! Rather, the sacrament is the Church's confirmation that you have been given the gift of grace!

This is a subtle distinction, but an important one. We are not saved by what we do, but by what Christ does. This professor - a nun - stated that when preparing a class of eighth graders for Confirmation, she would woudl not say that Confirmation was a choice. Rather, she would say, "When you were baptized, you received a gift. It's time to bring that gift to completion. You will be confirmed." Her emphasis was not on eliciting an affirmative response to grace, but on making clear that we are called to grace by God's action and initiative.

Of course, many Catholics prefer to think of Confirmation as a sort of Catholic equivalent to the Protestant altar call. Despite the fact that grace is a free and unmerited gift, all Christians realize that the gift must be received. The gift requires a response.

Where many of us make no conscious decision to be Baptized, Confirmation offers a memorable conscious act of accepting Christ into our lives. There is nothing really wrong with pondering this aspect of conscious response, but my teacher is ultimately right: grace is a gift that is given even if we are not fully consious of it.

The only other point I can think of regarding Confirmation that is not covered already in the Catechism is the notion of taking a confirmation name. In the days before Vatican II, Catholics were encouraged to take a Confirmation name - usually a saint - as a sign that we are born again to new life through initiation into the Church.

After Vatican II, there was less emphasis on this practice, because we began to consider that it is really Baptism that begins our new life in Christ, and we were given a name at that time.

In recent years, there has been some effort to retrieve the practice of taking a Confirmation name as a way of honoring the saints. Theologically, a new name makes little sense. As a devotion to the saints, there is probably no harm done.

Confirmation seals the grace of Baptism and, as a separate sacrament, offers unique grace and imprints its own indelible character on the soul. Adult converts will often receive all three sacraments of initiation together at the Easter Vigil after a period of preparation and conversion. Adult conversion is really a model for all Catholics - and an inspiration to us.

Let us pray for all who are preparing for the Sacrament of Confirmation that the Holy Spirit will lavish her sevenfold gifts upon the recipients.

Peace and Blessings!

Readers may contact me at


posted by Jcecil3 3:31 PM

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