Understanding the Sacrament of Confirmation

What is Confirmation?

The Sacrament of the Church’s Mission

Pentecost: the Gift of the Holy Spirit

Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, so I send you. And when he said this, he breathed on them and said to them, Receive the Holy Spirit (John 20:21). This is the scene of Pentecost in the Gospel of John. (The more familiar account of Pentecost is found in the Acts of the Apostles [cf. 2:113].) The same encounter with the Lord, and the same gift of the Holy Spirit for the purpose of Christian witness, takes place in the Rite of Confirmation: N., be sealed with the gift of the Holy Spirit. Peace be with you. [1] Confirmation is the sacrament of the Church’s mission, which brings the saving presence of Jesus Christ to the world.

The Holy Spirit: Breath of God and Giver of Life to the Church

Among the many images of the Holy Spirit, perhaps the one that best helps us to understand the Spirits role in Confirmation is the Breath of God.[2] God creates man by blowing into his nostrils the breath of life, and so man became a living being (Genesis 2:7). Thus, according to the Nicene Creed, the Holy Spirit is the giver of life. The Holy Spirit, the Breath of God, is also the giver of life to the Church:

What the soul is to the human body, the Holy Spirit is to the Body of Christ, which is the Church.[3]

As the soul of the Church, the Holy Spirit is the source of life and holiness for the Body of Christ.[4] Jesus blows this breath of life into the Church at Pentecost (cf. John 20:21). In this way, the Holy Spirit gives life to the Church.

A Sacrament of Mission to the World

In a particular way, the Holy Spirit gives life to the Church by making present the saving action of the Paschal Mystery of Christ, his Death and Resurrection in the sacraments.[5]

The Holy Spirit, a special outpouring of whom is given in Confirmation, enables the Body of Christ to be active in the world. The Holy Spirit gives the Church strength and stamina to continue the work of Christ. Catholics are anointed with the Holy Spirit in Confirmation so that they can be instruments of the Anointed One (i.e., the Christ) in the world.[6]

Thus the Church’s mission is not an addition to that of Christ and the Holy Spirit, but is its sacrament: in her whole being and in all her members, the Church is sent to announce, bear witness, make present, and spread the mystery of the communion of the Holy Trinity.[7]

The Holy Spirit is the source of the Church’s inner renewal, as well as the impulse to her exterior mission. This is the meaning of the Church’s mission inaugurated at Pentecost (cf.John 20:21; Acts 2:113).

Thus, the Sacrament of Confirmation is a moment of initiation into the Church, for the purpose of the Church’s mission to the world.

By the Sacrament of Confirmation, [the baptized] are more perfectly bound to the Church and are enriched with a special strength of the Holy Spirit. Hence they are, as true witnesses of Christ, more strictly obliged to spread and defend the faith by word and deed.[8]

Confirmation perfects Baptismal grace; it is the sacrament which gives the Holy Spirit in order to root us more deeply in the divine filiation, incorporate us more firmly into Christ, strengthen our bond with the Church, associate us more closely with her mission, and help us bear witness to the Christian faith in words accompanied by deeds.[9]

[1] Rite of Confirmation in The Rites, vol. 1 (Collegeville: Liturgical Press, 1990), no. 44.

[2] See Catechism of the Catholic Church, 2nd ed. (Washington, D.C.: United States Catholic Conference, 1997), no. 703. (The Catechism of the Catholic Church is also available online at the website of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops).

[3] St. Augustine, Sermon 267, quoted in Catechism, no. 797.

[4] Catechism of the Catholic Church, no. 798.

[5] Cf. Catechism of the Catholic Church, nos. 1091, 1109, especially no. 1104.

[6] Cf. Catechism of the Catholic Church, nos. 1285, 1294, 1303, 1304, 1316.

[7] Catechism of the Catholic Church, no. 738; cf. no. 850.

[8] Vatican Council II, Dogmatic Constitution on the Church Lumen Gentium, no. 11, cited in Catechism, no. 1285.

[9] Catechism of the Catholic Church, no. 1316.

The Unity of the Sacraments of Christian Initiation

The Catechism of the Catholic Church teaches that the Sacraments of Initiation are Baptism, Confirmation, and the Eucharist.[1]

The Rite of Confirmation states that the sacrament of Confirmation completes Baptism.[2] The culmination of Christian initiation is the Eucharist, toward which Confirmation and all of the sacraments are directed.[3]

Christian initiation is accomplished by three sacraments together: Baptism which is the beginning of new life; Confirmation which is its strengthening; and the Eucharist which nourishes the disciple with Christs Body and Blood for his transformation in Christ.[4]

Pope Benedict XVI emphasized that sacramental preparation must be structured so that the unity of the Sacraments of Initiation is kept intact.[5] Furthermore, the order in which these sacraments are received should be arranged so that the Eucharist is seen as the goal of Christian initiation.[6]

It is therefore essential that Confirmation be understood as a strengthening of Baptism. Like Baptism, Confirmation is given only once, and places an indelible mark on ones soul.[7] As for the Eucharist, the ongoing reception of this sacrament by the Catholic faithful is critical to the mission of the Church.

[1] Catechism, no. 1212 and 1285.

[2] Rite of Confirmation, no. 1.

[3] See Catechism, no. 1324.

[4] Ibid., no. 1275.

[5] Sacramentum Caritatis, no 17.

[6] Ibid., no. 18.

[7] Code of Canon Law: Latin-English Edition. New English Translation. (Washington, D.C.: Canon Law Society of America, 1999), canon 8451.