Confirmation is considered the third of the three sacraments that are together recognized as the “sacraments of Christian initiation”. The first and second are the sacraments of Baptism and the Eucharist, respectively. The sacrament of Confirmation is considered necessary as it provides completion of the baptismal grace. Once confirmed, an individual is provided additional graces from the Holy Spirit by which he is increasingly fortified to be a soldier for Christ in the worldly battle against evil (Catechism, 1994, para. 1285).
The descent of the Holy Spirit upon Jesus during His baptism in the Jordon, confirming that He was the true Messiah, symbolizes our confirmation as followers of Christ through the graces bestowed upon us by the Holy Spirit. Christ was conceived by the Holy Spirit and carried out His mission on earth in communion with the Holy Spirit. It is by the Holy Spirit that we are nourished and guided in carrying out our mission on earth as soldiers for Christ (Catechism, 1994, para. 1286).
Perhaps the most dramatic outpouring of graces by the Holy Spirit, and most important confirmational event was what occurred at Pentecost. The apostles were flooded with graces from the Holy Spirit whereby they began proclaiming “the mighty works of God”. By this, the apostles were tasked with traveling to the corners of the world spreading the news of Jesus Christ, as this was the beginning of the messianic age. Those who listened and believed in the apostolic preachings were baptized and themselves received the Holy Spirit (Catechism, 1994, para. 1287).
The apostles spent the rest of their lives spreading the word of Jesus Christ, baptizing those open to His word and laying of hands completing the grace of Baptism through the Holy Spirit. This is spelled out in the Letter to the Hebrews, as being among the first elements of Christian instruction. The “laying of hands” has been adopted as a Catholic tradition and as an intrigal part of the sacrament of Confirmation. It is believed that this act perpetuates the grace of Pentecost in the Church (Catechism, 1994, para. 1288).
Very early on, the Church, in addition to the laying of hands, adopted the anointing with perfumed oil (chrism). The anointing with oil is thought to bring light to the name “Christian”, which means “anointed”. It was Jesus who became the “Christ” though His anointing by God “with the Holy Spirit”. This tradition has continued through the centuries by both the East and the West. The East however calls the sacrament “Chrismation”, whereas the West calls it “Confirmation”, as it ratifies one's Baptism by strengthening the baptismal grace (Catechism, 1994, para. 1289).
Prior to the celebration of the sacrament of Confirmation, the sacred chrism must be consecrated. This consecration of the chrism is in some ways considered part of the Confirmation sacrament. The chrism is consecrated by the local bishop during the course of the Chrism Mass of Holy Thursday. This consecrated chrism is to be shared by the entire diocese (Catechism, 1994, para. 1297).
“The Liturgy of Confirmation begins with the renewal of the baptismal promises and the profession of faith by the confirmands”. This demonstrates chronology of events, with Confirmation succeeding Baptism. For adults that are baptized in the Roman Rite, Confirmation immediately follows along with participation in the Eucharist (Catechism, 1994, para. 1298, p. ).
As part of the Roman Rite, “the bishop extends his hands over the whole group of the confirmands”. This act, handed down from the apostles, signifies the gift of the Spirit. With this, “the bishop invokes the outpouring of the Spirit in these words”:
All-powerful God, Father of our Lord Jesus Christ by water and the Holy Spirit you freed your sons and daughters from sin and gave them new life. Send your Holy Spirit upon them to be their helper and guide. Give them the spirit of wisdom and understanding, the spirit of right judgement and courage, the spirit of knowledge and reverence. Fill them with the spirit of wonder and awe in your presence. We ask this through Christ our Lord.
Following this comes the “essential rite”. With this, the confirmand is anointed with chrism on the forehead, by the laying of hands and with the words: “Accipe signaculum doni Spiritus Sancti” [Be sealed with the Gift of the Holy Spirit]. In the eastern Churches additional parts of the body are also anointed (Catechism, 1994, para. 1300).
The effects of the sacrament of Confirmation is the “full outpouring of the Holy Spirit as once granted to the apostles on the day of Pentecost”. The results are an enhancement of the baptismal grace. Through this enhancement we are more deeply rooted in the divine filiation, more firmly united to Christ, more filled with the Holy Spirit, more bonded with the Church, and more emboldened with our mission to “spread and defend the faith by word and action as true witnesses of Christ, to confess the name of Christ boldly, and never to be ashamed of the Cross”. (Catechism, 1994, para. 1303, p. 330).
Like Baptism, the sacrament of Confirmation is only administered once, for it, like Baptism, places an indelible spiritual mark of “character” upon the recipient's soul. This mark is the Seal of Jesus Christ, clothing the recipient with His Spirit, empowering him to be His witness. This “character” further incorporates him into the common priesthood joined in Baptism, and perfects it. With this new status as a soldier for Christ, “the confirmed person receives the power to profess faith in Christ publicly and as it were officially (quasi ex officio)”. (Catechism, 1994, para. 1304-1305, p. 330).
All who have been baptized can and should receive the sacrament of Confirmation at the appropriate time, along with the sacrament of the Eucharist. Baptism alone, removes original sin, however, the Eucharist and Confirmation provides completion to the Christian initiation.(Catechism, 1994, para. 1306).
The “age of discretion” is the age at which the Church deems one ready to understand and accept Confirmation. Children in danger of death should be confirmed even if they have not yet reached the “age of discretion”. According to St Thomas, age of the body does not determine age of the soul. Age of the soul is determined by the graces of the Holy Spirit and may be more mature and fortified than the body (Catechism, 1994, para. 1308).
There should be adequate preparation prior to Confirmation. This preparation should aim at leading the confirmand “toward a more intimate union with Christ and a more lively familiarity with the Holy Spirit”. Prior to receiving the sacrament of Confirmation, one must be in a state of grace, having received the sacrament of Penance, in order to be cleansed for the gift of the Holy Spirit (Catechism, 1994, para. 1309-1310).
Lastly, the confirmand should have a spiritual sponsor, preferably one of the two godparents, to emphasize the unity of the two sacraments (Catechism, 1994, para. 1311).
Catechism of the catholic church (1994). New York, NY: William H. Sadlier, Inc.