The Sacrament of Confirmation: The Perfection of
Although in the West Confirmation is usually received as a
teenager after making First Holy Communion (Eucharist), the
Catholic Church regards it as the second of the three sacraments of
initiation, with Baptism being the first and Holy Communion
(Eucharist) the third. Confirmation is considered the perfection of
the Rite of Baptism.
Confirmation can be defined as a sacrament of strength. This
strength is received through the coming of the Holy Spirit and
enables the confirmed individual to profess, live and witness to
the Catholic faith as a true apostle of Jesus Christ. When one is
confirmed, one is strengthened and more tightly bonded to Jesus
Christ and to His Church.
History of Confirmation
In the Old Testament, we can find references to the sacrament of
Confirmation. The prophets Joel, Isaiah and Ezekiel told of the
outpouring of the Holy Spirit upon men.
Each stated in the Scriptures: "I will pour out my Spirit upon
all mankind" (Joel 3:1), "I will pour out my spirit upon your
offspring" (Isaiah 44:3), and "I have poured out my spirit upon the
house of Israel says the Lord God" (Ezekiel 39:2). The Spirit that
these prophets spoke about comes to us through the sacrament of
We also find evidence of the Holy Spirit being administered by
the Apostles in Acts of the Apostles (8:5, 14-17) and (19:5-6). In
these Scriptures, the descent of the Holy Spirit upon the baptized
people is mentioned. Jesus himself, often in his ministry, mentions
the gift of the Holy Spirit.
It is known that Jesus instituted the sacrament of Confirmation
before His ascension into heaven. The apostles administered this
sacrament after they received it on Pentecost (Acts 2:4).
Some common questions about the sacrament of Confirmation
Who can administer the sacrament of
Only the bishop can administer the sacrament of Confirmation.
Bishops are considered the successors to the apostles. Under
certain circumstances, priests can confirm although this is not a
common responsibility for them. In the name of the Church, the
bishop sends forth the confirmed to spread the faith by word and
What is the form of the sacrament of
Many people feel that the laying on of hands that signifies the
descent of the Holy Spirit is how the sacrament of Confirmation is
administered. This is not the central act in the sacrament. The
main element is the anointing of the person with chrism oil. This
is oil that has been consecrated by a bishop.
The sacrament of Confirmation is accompanied by the words, "Be
sealed with the gift of the Holy Spirit." This seal is a
consecration that symbolizes the graces conferred on the confirmed
at Baptism and kept safe by the Holy Spirit.
Who is eligible to receive the sacrament of
Any baptized Catholic who has not been confirmed is eligible for
the sacrament of Confirmation and is required to do so. Those to be
confirmed must be in a state of grace before the conferring of this
The Western Church suggests that the individual receive
Confirmation after reaching the age of reason (approximately 7
years old). A child who is in danger of death should receive
Confirmation even if he/she is younger than 7.
What are the effects of the sacrament of
Confirmation confers the special graces of the Holy Spirit upon
the individual being confirmed. It is just like the graces that the
apostles received on Pentecost when the Holy Spirit descended upon
Just like Baptism, Confirmation may be performed only one
time. Confirmation strengthens and increases the graces
received at Baptism.
The Catechism of the Catholic Church lists five effects
1. it roots us more deeply in the divine filiation (like
the sons of God) and gives us the right to cry out "Abba!
2. it unites us more firmly to Christ;
3. it increases the gifts of the Holy Spirit in us;
4. it renders our bond with the Church more perfect;
5. it 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 in the name of Christ boldly and never be
ashamed of the Cross.
Why is Confirmation a sacrament of
Even though the sacrament is not absolutely necessary for
salvation, the Church obliges us to be confirmed. Being confirmed
makes the individual a full-fledged member of the Church.
Therefore, the confirmed is required to go forth and proclaim the
Church's teachings to others.
Does being confirmed assure salvation?
It does not assure that we will be saved. We still have free
will, a gift from God, and the sacraments do not destroy this.
However, we are never free from sin if we choose to disobey God's
commandments. God gave us free will in order that we choose to do
good over evil. To choose evil is an abuse of the gift of free
When did the Church separate the sacrament of
Only in the Western Church was there a separate celebration of
the sacrament of Confirmation. From the 11th century onward,
scholars found that Confirmation was celebrated as a sacrament
separate from the sacrament of Baptism.
What are some of the perfecting aspects of
1. Confirmation binds one more perfectly to the
2. One receives the maximum fullness of the Holy
3. There is a more complete sharing in Christ's
4. The Holy Spirit marks our total beginning and not just a
5. It unites one more firmly to Christ;
6. It grants us a special strength to spread and defend the
faith, and it completes baptism;
7. It perfects the common priesthood of the faithful.
What is the relationship of Confirmation to Christian
In calling Confirmation a sacrament, the Church is emphasizing
that it is a major spiritual reality. We are asked to look beyond
the elements of the ritual, beyond the anointing with oil, beyond
the laying on of the hands, beyond the prayers and the blessings of
We are encouraged to see through them and perceive God's
compassion for us. We urged to see God's real presence in the
celebration of Confirmation. We should be so moved as to see that
the Holy Spirit is God and that God's real presence is in us. This
is a major reality in the celebration of Confirmation.
In summary, although Confirmation is not necessary for
salvation, it strengthens the graces we receive from the other
sacraments - especially those graces we receive from Baptism. The
early Church recognized that while Baptism cleansed one of sin,
Confirmation filled one with grace.
In early times, baptism by water immersion was followed by an
anointing with oil that, over the centuries, evolved into the
sacrament of Confirmation. Baptism was regarded as dying with
Christ and Confirmation as rising to new life.
Today, as a result of a decision by the Second Vatican Council,
there is a unity of the sacraments of Christian initiation. Adults
coming into the Catholic Church will experience Baptism,
Confirmation and the Eucharist as one unified ritual.
Thomas J. Rillo, oblate