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Confirmation: Sacrament and challenge Print
Year of Faith
Thursday, Jan. 17, 2013 -- 12:00 AM

By Abbot Marcel Rooney, OSB

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The Catechism of the Catholic Church says about this sacrament: “By the Sacrament of Confirmation [the baptized] are more perfectly bound to the Church and enriched with a special strength of the Holy Spirit. Hence they are, as true witnesses of Christ, more strictly obliged to spread and defend the faith by word and deed” (#1285).

The sacrament of Baptism incorporates one into the Body of Christ and hence makes one a member of Christ’s Church. What the Catechism means when it says that the baptized “are more perfectly bound to the Church” is that Confirmation, in effect, completes the process begun in Baptism, and fulfills what Christian Initiation is all about. This is why the traditional order of the sacraments in the Church, from our earliest evidence, is generally: Baptism, then Confirmation, and then Holy Eucharist.

In the 4th century Roman Church, after Baptism was conferred, the ceremony was completed by the bishop, who imposed his hands and then poured chrism oil on the neophyte’s head. Then, all went from the Baptistery building to the Church of St. John for the celebration of the Holy Eucharist, and the neophytes’ first Holy Communion.

Order of sacraments

When the Western Church spread to lands far away from Rome, the situation arose in which there wasn’t a bishop in close proximity to the parish church. And hence Confirmation came to be postponed until the bishop could come to celebrate the sacrament. For centuries, however, the Church tried to maintain the ancient order of the Initiation sacraments, usually by postponing First Communion until after Confirmation.

However, at the beginning of the 20th century, Pope St. Pius X urged that the celebration of First Communion be done for children just as soon as they have reached the age of reason. Which meant that Confirmation was then placed after the full celebration of the Holy Eucharist.

Today, generally, in the United States, the sacrament is celebrated during the high school teenage years. Whether that is the wisest solution to the question of when to confer the sacrament is under discussion. Certainly to answer the question of the time of conferring Confirmation will demand taking into account the very different tradition of the Eastern Catholic Churches.

Anointing

There is an anointing toward the end of the celebration of Baptism — which is primarily into Christ. The accompanying prayer says: “As Christ was anointed Priest, Prophet, and King, so may you live always as a member of His Body. . .” The prayer at the time of anointing in the celebration of Confirmation is primarily into the Holy Spirit. It says: “Send your Holy Spirit upon them to be their Helper and Guide. Give them the spirit of wisdom and understanding. . . right judgment and courage. . . knowledge and reverence. . . wonder and awe in your presence.”

Clearly the anointing at Confirmation is to bring the individual to a new level of maturity in faith. What was begun in Baptism is thus profoundly enhanced — if the individual is truly disposed to receive this grace. Hence the need for careful and thorough catechesis before the celebration of Confirmation.

All of us need to examine our hearts to see whether we are really trying to live the grace we received in Confirmation; whether we are really trying “to spread and defend our faith by word and deed” — or whether we are just sitting back passively and letting the secular world dictate all the values we are to live by.

As we conclude this article, let us all pray, “Come, Holy Spirit. . . enlighten us and inspire us with the fire of Your Divine Love.”


Abbot Marcel Rooney, O.S.B., is president of the Orate Institute of Sacred Liturgy, Music and Art, resident in the Madison Diocese. The Institute is devoted to helping people understand more and pray better the sacred liturgy.