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The Sacraments Instituted By Christ… What Is “Confirmation”?

December 31, 2017 Our Catholic Faith No Comments

By RAYMOND DE SOUZA, KM

Part 9

To most Catholics today, the least known of all sacraments is Confirmation. According to a rather cynical friend, Confirmation is the sacrament the bishop confers on teenagers immediately before they drop out of church!
It is a sad reality, but true: In a large number of parishes today, teenagers receive a rather superficial understanding of this sacrament, and move on with their lives without any clue about what the words “becoming a Soldier of Christ” mean at all.
Not only teenagers. Adults, too. The lack of commitment to defend the faith on the part of so many adults today reveals their ignorance of the sacrament they received, and confirms our view that an immensely better job is needed in training and educating people who are going to receive Confirmation.
A few years ago, I was invited to a parish to give a talk to a group of young teenagers and, after the Q & A session, I approached the person in charge of the pre-Confirmation event and whispered: “Frankly, not one of them is ready to receive the sacrament. They know nothing at all about it.”
He sheepishly smiled in agreement, and said that the parish priest wanted them to be confirmed, and the bishop had already been invited to come. I felt sorry for the kids.
So, let us make a contribution to the proper formation for Confirmation by, first of all, answering the question: What does the Church teach about it?
The solemn teaching of the Church is that Confirmation is a sacrament; its ordinary minister is a bishop; it imprints a character, or indelible mark, on the soul and cannot be received more than once; it gives us an increase of grace and strengthens us in the faith.
Now let us break it down into more details to facilitate the understanding. Confirmation is the sacrament that completes Baptism and gives the grace to live as strong and perfect Christians. Remember that Baptism is the sacrament of spiritual birth; Confirmation, as its name suggests (con-firm), is the sacrament of spiritual strength. Baptism gives us supernatural life, and Confirmation strengthens it in us.
Normally, Baptism is given to infants, and Confirmation to teenagers, as they are beginning to understand life and its challenges, and need the strength to face them as good Catholics.
Ordinarily, the only person who can confer Confirmation is a bishop. Extraordinarily, a diocesan bishop may grant the faculty to a priest to act on his behalf, but this occurs only on an exceptional basis.
Sometimes, it can also be conferred by a priest upon a Catholic in danger of death, or, if he has the faculty, upon an adult whom he is receiving into the Catholic Church. A priest may also be given the faculty for other occasions.
Who can receive Confirmation? The subject, or the person, who receives this sacrament is anyone who has been baptized but not yet confirmed. Unbaptized people cannot receive it, and if they line up to the bishop to receive it, it will not take effect. Only a baptized person, who has already in his soul the character of Baptism, can receive Confirmation properly. Moreover, it can be received only once in a lifetime.
Readers may remember that there are three sacraments that can be received only once: Baptism, Confirmation, and Holy Orders. Therefore, people who have been baptized, confirmed, or ordained to the priesthood will be baptized, confirmed, and ordained for eternity: In Heaven or in Hell, they will have those sacramental characters in their souls.
The Rite of Confirmation is both simple and beautiful. First, the bishop invokes the Holy Spirit, usually by singing Veni Creator Spiritus, then the bishop imposes his hand on the recipient and anoints his forehead with chrism in the form of a cross, while reciting the words: “Receive the seal of the Gift of the Holy Spirit.”
But this is the new, simplified form introduced after the Vatican II. In the past, the traditional form was “N., I sign you with the sign + of the Cross, and I confirm you with the chrism of salvation; in the Name of the Father + and of the Son + and of the Holy + Ghost.” (In Latin: signo te signo crucis + et confirmo te chrismate salutis, in nomine Patris + et Filii + et Spiritus + Sancti.)
Then the bishop would strike a slight blow on the recipient, which became customary about the 12th century, when Christians had to fight against the pagan Muslims to defend their countries against their invasions and in the Crusades. That little blow reminded the recipient that he must be ready to suffer everything for the sake of Christ. Once all the candidates had been confirmed, the bishop gave a blessing, and the recipients (confirmandi) and their sponsors would recite the Creed, Our Father, and Hail Mary (Credo, Pater Noster, and Ave Maria).
That is how the confirmandi were introduced to the adult life as a Christian. No wonder there were so many who fought and died for Christ, and spread the Gospel all over the world. Fortitude was their virtue. They knew how to make good use of the graces of the sacrament. It was a reminder that, “as a valiant combatant, he should be prepared to endure with unconquered spirit all adversities for the name of Christ.”
They were Soldiers of Christ. Pity that today there are so many “snowflakes” among the recipients, who never think of defending the faith in which they have just been confirmed.
It was also customary that a candidate for Confirmation, where possible, had a sponsor to help him live as a true witness of Christ and be faithful to the duties inherent in this sacrament. The requirements in a sponsor are the same as for Baptism, and it is desirable that it be one of the godparents again.
It is also customary at Confirmation to take the name of a saint whom one would like to adopt as a patron.

The Eastern Rite

The next question is: When is Confirmation conferred on a baptized Christian? In the early Church, it was customary to give Confirmation and the Blessed Eucharist to children immediately or soon after Baptism — as is still the practice in the Eastern Rite Churches.
I remember with joy when attending the Holy Liturgy at a Ukrainian Catholic parish that the priest would place a tiny drop of the consecrated wine from the chalice on the lips of the babies present in church. Of course, they are baptized, had committed no sin, and it was only natural that they should receive the Precious Blood of Christ. And no baby ever complained about the taste….
Eastern priests, therefore, always have had the faculty to confirm. In the Latin Church, the administration of these sacraments is usually postponed until the child has reached the age of reason and is sufficiently instructed. Confirmation is postponed so that the bishop can confer it personally.

+ + +

(Raymond de Souza, KM, is a Knight of the Sovereign and Military Order of Malta; a delegate for International Missions for Human Life International [HLI]; and an EWTN program host. He is a militant pro-life writer and apologist, addressing live audiences and delivering talks on television, radio, and online. To date he has given over 2,500 presentations in 38 countries of the six continents. He is available to speak at Catholic events, both large and small, anywhere in the Free World, in four languages — English, Spanish, French, and Portuguese. Website: www.RaymonddeSouza.com.)

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