Confirmation is so-called from its effect, which is to confirm and strengthen in the faith those who receive it; it is also spoken of as the laying on of hands (Acts viii. 17), from the nature of the ceremonies. Our Lord had given the Holy Spirit to His apostles before His ascension, yet they were timid and fearful, and did not lose this timidity until the Day of Pentecost, when the plenitude of the Spirit was poured out upon them. So we receive the Holy Ghost at our baptism, but not in all His fulness; this we receive at our Confirmation. On the Day of Pentecost the Holy Ghost came down upon the apostles under sensible signs, tongues as of fire and a mighty wind; so in Confirmation the visible sign is the imposition of hands, the audible sign the prayers repeated by the bishop. At Pentecost the apostles received the seven gifts of the Holy Spirit, pre-eminently the gift of fortitude, and the extraordinary gift of tongues; it is the same with us at Confirmation, only the gift of tongues is not now given. What the Day of Pentecost was to the apostles, Confirmation is to the Christian.
1. The ceremonial of Confirmation is as follows: The bishop lays his hands upon the candidates and anoints each one severally with chrism upon the forehead, with prayer; and those who are so anointed receive the gift of the Holy Ghost, especially courage to profess their faith.
The bishop extends his hands over the persons to be confirmed, while he invokes the Holy Spirit with His sevenfold gifts, to indicate that a supernatural power is communicated to them; he then goes to each one separately, and laying upon his head four fingers of his right hand, with the thumb of the same hand he makes the sign of the cross with chrism on the forehead of the person to be confirmed, giving him thereby to understand that he must never be ashamed to profess himself the disciple of a crucified Saviour, saying meanwhile: “I sign thee with the sign of the cross and I confirm thee with the chrism of salvation. In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost, Amen.” Then he gives him a slight blow upon the cheek, to teach him that he must be ready to suffer persecution for the faith, saying: “Peace be with thee.” In conclusion the bishop gives to all his blessing. The chrism is composed of olive oil and balm of Gilead; it is solemnly blessed by the bishop in the cathedral church on Maundy Thursday.
The apostles administered Confirmation, as at Samaria and Ephesus.
The holy apostles Peter and John laid their hands on the Christians at Samaria, and they received the Holy Ghost (Acts viii. 11-17). St. Paul did the same at Ephesus. At that time when Confirmation was administered, it was generally accompanied by extraordinary gifts of the Holy Ghost, such as the gift of tongues and of prophecy (Acts xix. 6). At the laying on of hands the Holy Ghost was wont to manifest His coining by visible signs, so that the apostles needed not to make use of chrism. Originally oil alone was employed; not until the sixth century was balm mingled with it. The oldest writers and Fathers of the Church speak of the Sacrament of Confirmation. Pope Urban, in the third century, says: “All the faithful ought, after baptism, to receive the Holy Ghost by imposition of hands, in order that they may become perfect Christians.” St. Augustine remarks that it must not be concluded, because the gift of tongues is no longer given, that the Holy Ghost is not communicated by imposition of hands. It was only given in early times for the more rapid propagation of the Gospel. The Council of Trent expressly declares Confirmation to be a true sacrament, not a mere rite, which formerly was appended to Baptism, nor a public profession of faith in presence of the faithful.
2. The supernatural effect of Confirmation is similar to the natural effect of oil.
It creates within us a spirit of meekness; it increases, that is, our charity towards God and our neighbor, it enlightens our understanding, strengthens our will, preserves our soul from the corruption of sin, and fills us with the sweet odor of virtue.
Oil softens what is hard, it adds vigor to the frame, it diffuses an agreeable light. Balm is a preservative against putrefaction, and emits a fragrant smell. Confirmation increases our charity towards God and our neighbor, or, in other words, it increases sanctifying grace, and imparts to us the fulness of the divine Spirit. Hence Confirmation is the complement of Baptism; in Baptism we are made the temples of the Holy Ghost, in Confirmation we receive Him in all His plenitude of graces. In Baptism we are made soldiers of Christ; at Confirmation our weapons are handed to us. Those who have been confirmed enjoy a greater degree of glory in heaven than the unconfirmed. This is why, in early times, Confirmation was ad ministered to infants. The enlightenment of the mind consists in giving man a sense of the worthlessness of the goods and pleasures of this world, and inspiring him with an abhorrence of them. By Confirmation our thoughts and aspirations are directed towards heaven; from earthly, man becomes heavenly, from sensual, spiritual; he becomes a perfect Christian. By Confirmation timidity is dispelled and courage imparted. Before the Day of Pentecost the apostles were faint-hearted as children; after that day they were bold as lions. The Holy Spirit produces a like change in those who are confirmed: they can say: “I can do all things in Him Who strengtheneth me” (Phil. iv. 13). St. Vincent is of opinion that at the end of the world Anti christ will spare no effort to deter Christian people from receiving the Sacrament of Confirmation, as in that case they would more readily apostatize from the faith. And since Confirmation confirms the will, it makes it easier for those who have received it to resist temptation, and thus avoid sin. If such a one should fall into mortal sin, he will incur a rigorous chastisement, like a soldier who deserts to the enemy’s camp. And the stronger the will, the less difficult does the practice of virtue become. Confirmation tends especially to render us humble and meek, as the oil and balm denote: for balm sinks into the liquid into which it is poured, symbolizing humility, and oil always floats on the surface, teaching man to rise superior to the vexations of life by unfailing meekness. Holy Scripture speaks of virtue as a good odor (2 Cor. ii. 15), because those who are virtuous are as pleasing to God as a sweet perfume is to us.
3, Christians ought to be confirmed at the age when they pass from childhood to youth, because at that period temptations thicken around them, and they need strength of will to resist them.
It is not well to administer the Sacrament of Confirmation before a child has attained the age of seven years, and the use of reason. The most suitable age is about twelve; it should not be deferred longer than the age of fourteen, but it is impossible to fix an exact time, as in large dioceses the bishop can only visit the more remote parishes at long intervals.
It is a grievous sin willfully to omit to receive the Sacrament of Confirmation.
To do this is to act like a traveller who, having to pass along a dangerous road, refuses to accept the means of defence offered to him; what wonder if he have to pay a high price for his folly! Although Confirmation is not absolutely necessary to salvation, yet God punishes contempt of this sacrament severely. The Fathers of the Church ascribe all the misery of Novatus, who became a teacher of heresy and ended his days in wretchedness, to his having neglected to be confirmed. In early times parents who did not have their children confirmed had to do penance for three years. Let it be enough for us to know that it is Christ’s will that all should be filled with the Spirit (John vii. 37).
4. The candidate for Confirmation ought previously to go to confession and, if possible, to holy communion; for to receive this sacrament one must be in a state of grace.
For any one in mortal sin to receive Confirmation is as if a precious and delicate substance were poured into an unclean vessel. It it not obligatory on one who is unquestionably in a state of grace to go to confession before Confirmation. In the early ages of the Church it was the custom to confirm very young children, as is now done in Greece and in Spain. In many dioceses children are confirmed before they make their first communion, provided they are eight years old and have been to confession, in order that they may not lack the graces Confirmation imparts at the time when they most need them. St. Charles Borromeo established this rule throughout his diocese.
The candidate for Confirmation must be well instructed in the doctrines of the faith, and prepare himself to receive the Holy Ghost by retirement and prayer.
He should in this respect imitate the apostles, who spent the ten days before Pentecost in persevering prayer (Acts i. 14). On this ac count several Synods decreed that candidates for Confirmation should be placed under instruction for a week previously; that each day in that week they should repeat seven Our Fathers and seven Hail Marys in honor of the Holy Ghost, and that they should keep the eve of their Confirmation day as a fast. Every one must be provided by his parish priest with a certificate, to certify that he is properly prepared for the reception of this sacrament. Without this the bishop will not confirm him.
5. Confirmation is usually administered about Whitsuntide, as the bishop visits the whole of his diocese at intervals of a few years.
In the first centuries of the Church Confirmation was, as a rule, administered at Easter and Pentecost, because it followed immediately upon Baptism. St. Jerome relates that in his time (about the commencement of the fifth century), the bishops used to take long journeys for the purpose of confirming those who had been baptized by a priest or a deacon. An ordinary priest cannot administer Confirmation unless he be expressly authorized and empowered to do so by the authority of the Pope; they are thus empowered in missionary dioceses, which are of too great extent for the bishop to tra verse, and where the converts would be in danger of relapsing into paganism unless they were confirmed in the faith as soon as possible. As in erecting a building the whole of the work is done by the work men, the finishing touch alone being put by the architect, so in the spiritual fabric it devolves upon the bishop to administer Confirmation, whereby the top-stone is put to the edifice (St. Thomas Aquinas). This sacrament appears more imposing when administered by the bishop in person.
The person confirmed receives the name of some saint at his Confirmation.
When Confirmation followed immediately upon Baptism, no other name was added to that given in baptism. But when in after years, the convert got into the habit of retaining his heathen name after Baptism, he was made to take the name of some saint at his Confirmation, on whom he was to look as his model in the spiritual war fare, as a soldier looks to his general. And he whom he chose for his pattern on earth he was to invoke as his intercessor in heaven. Besides this heavenly guide, the Christian has at Confirmation an earthly guide.
The person to be confirmed must also have a godfather or godmother.
The gladiator who is about to enter the arena requires some one to instruct him in swordsmanship and assist him with his counsel; so it is at Confirmation. In all the difficulties of life the godparent ought to be ready to support and help his godchild; he ought to do his utmost to induce him to keep within the paths of virtue; and the godchild ought to feel that he must not rely too much on his own powers, but must seek counsel from others. A spiritual relationship exists between the two, which constitutes an ecclesiastical hindrance to marriage. The sponsor chosen ought to be one who has himself been confirmed, a person of blameless life, older than the one to be confirmed, and of the same sex; not, if it can be avoided, the same who stood sponsor for him at the baptismal font.
Those who present themselves to the bishop to be confirmed must be simply and suitably dressed.
The Holy Spirit does not take up His abode in the heart that is enslaved by the pride of life. God resisteth the proud (1 Pet. v. 5). Some, on going to be confirmed, think more of their dress than of the sacrament they are about to receive. It is no longer required of the candidates for Confirmation that they should be fasting, in fact, this would not be possible now, as the ceremony often lasts a long time. They should be dressed simply, their forehead being uncovered; each one should have a prayer-book, and the necessary certificate. Adults kneel, children either stand or kneel, to receive the sacrament; be hind each one stands the sponsor, his right hand on the right shoulder of his godchild. All must be present in the church before the bishop extends his hands over all in general, after that the door is closed and no one else admitted. Nor must any one depart before the bishop gives the final blessing, although it does not constitute an integral part of the sacrament. After receiving Confirmation, one must be careful not to drive away the Holy Spirit by feasting and diversions. “Grieve not the Holy Spirit of God” (Eph. iv. 30). The chief reason why the faith of Christians is so cold in the present day is because so little is now thought of the Sacrament of Confirmation.
This article, 2. CONFIRMATION is a post from The Bellarmine Forum.
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