Confirmation Now and Then

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The sacramental effect Confirmation has on the one being confirmed is it renews the promises made at Baptism, and bestows on us the gifts of the Holy Spirit. When we are confirmed, we are renewing the promises made by our parents, sealing us with the Holy Spirit. When asking about the purpose of Confirmation, the common response you may hear is that it is the act of becoming an adult in The Church. This is a common misconception that has been made due to the order in which the sacraments of Confirmation, Baptism, and Eucharist are performed. “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” (CCC 1308) When we receive the Sacrament of Confirmation, we are making a promise to God that we will teach his holy word and will continue to follow his teachings. When some people are confirmed, they put themselves under the false belief that this sacrament makes them inherently Christian, and therefore they do not have to go to church any longer. The truth is the exact opposite. By receiving the sacrament of Confirmation, we should be participating in the church as much, if not more than before we were confirmed.

The Sacrament of Confirmation has gone through many changes over the years. In the times of the early church, Confirmation was done along with Baptism and Eucharist. The order in which these “Initiation Sacraments” were performed is the same as they are now at an Easter Vigil. The recipient would first be baptized by the priest, then confirmed by the Bishop (Confirmation at this time was the second part of Baptism) Then, the recipient would be given there first Eucharist. This was possible because at this time, The Castholic Church was small and each church had a Bishop. In years following the early church, these Initiation Sacraments were split up due to the widespread acceptance of Christianity. Bishops could not be present at everyone’s Baptism and therefore could not complete the second half. Therefore, Confirmation became separated from Baptism, as it is today. Since Eucharist now took place after Baptism but before Confirmation a misconception was formed that Confirmation was the most important of all the Initiation Sacraments instead of The Eucharist. In reality the Eucharist is the “the source and summit of the Christian life.” (CCC 1324)

There is a reason for the two different orders in which the Initiation Sacraments are performed. When what are now the Orthodox Christians broke away from Catholicism, they decided they wanted the Initiation Sacraments to be performed in the order in which they were originally intended to be performed. Catholicism decided to change the order of the Initiation Sacraments to Baptism, Eucharist, then Confirmation. The Orthodox Christians, according to Sacraments: Celebration of Gods Life, practice the Sacrament of Chrismation. This is in essence the Initiation Sacraments all rolled into one and is done at infancy.

In Confirmation there are many different ritualistic actions, some which have even come and passed. The main ritualistic actions in Confirmation are the laying on of hands, and the sealing of the Holy Spirit with chrism. The symbolism in the laying on of hands is that the Bishop “invokes the outpouring of the Spirit.” (CCC 1299) What this means is that the Bishop is presenting us with the gifts of the Holy Spirit. The sealing with the chrism is, in my opinion, the most important ritualistic sign in Confirmation. The sealing with chrism signifies the sealing of the Holy Spirit and it’s gifts. It in some way “Authenticates” (CCC 1295) us in the Catholic Church. A ritualistic sign that has come to pass is the love tap/slap, that though not an actual part of the Confirmation, evolved in it’s own way to have a lot of meaning. The love tap was a result of a tradition that came from the taps on the cheek Italian Bishops would give the recipients of Confirmation, after they had been sealed with the Holy Spirit. This was observed by others and people came to believe it was the “first attack” against a newly sealed “soldier of Christ.” This became a widespread ritual for many years due to such a small misunderstanding.

The symbolism of the Bishop in Confirmation is a Bishop is of a higher order in the Catholic Church. It seems only natural that someone of a higher order should be the one to invoke the Holy Spirit into us. Just as God bestowed the seal of the Holy Spirit on the apostles at Pentecost, the Bishop bestows the seal of the chrism on us during Confirmation. “And suddenly there came from the sky a noise like a strong driving wind, and it filled the entire house in which they were.

Then there appeared to them tongues as of fire.” (Acts 2: 2-3) Just as God bestowed the tongues of fire, the Bishop bestows the chrism.

Confirmation is a Pentecost that is never changing, because during Confirmation we are given the gifts of the Holy Spirit and are expected to share those gifts and teach others God’s ways just as the apostles did. When we receive these gifts from God, the way we should respond is by openly receiving and sharing these gifts with others. By doing this we are fulfilling the true purpose of being sealed with the Holy Spirit. This is what we are being called to do as Christ’s disciples. We are being called to preach God’s word, and teach others of his glory. “They devoted themselves to the teaching of the apostles and to the communal life.” (Acts 2: 42) As the apostles did, so must we.

Bibliography
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The Catechism of the Catholic Church.
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The New American Bible
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7 Dec. 2002 22 Oct. 2007 http://www.vatican.va/archive/ENG0839/_INDEX.HTM

Martos, Joseph. Sacraments: Celebration of God’s Life. Harcourt Religious Publishers, 2003
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