of the Spirit
of the Century
issue carries an
Archdiocese of Cincinnati.
by Rev. Thomas
Richstatter, O.F.M., S.T.D.
were you confirmed? Do you remember the ceremony? I was a 10-year-old
fourth-grader at St. Anthony School in Wichita, Kansas. Today, Catholics
often associate Confirmation with high school, or even junior high.
In fact, in a small but increasing number of parishes, children are
being confirmed at a much younger age, before they receive first Holy
Communion. Each year at the Easter Vigil we see adult converts receiving
Confirmation immediately after their Baptism. Catholics of the Roman
Rite may be surprised to learn that in most Eastern Rites even infants
are confirmed at Baptism.
The sacrament of Confirmation
gives the Holy Spirit; but with so many different ways in which Confirmation
is celebrated, we might well ask why the wide variety. What is Confirmation?
Is it a sacrament of "Christian maturity" when given to infants? How
does it make children "soldiers of Christ"? Is the Spirit given at Confirmation
somehow "different" from the Holy Spirit given at Baptism? Are these
even the right questions to ask?
The best way to understand
Confirmation is to see it standing between Baptism and Eucharist as
part of the Rites of Christian Initiation. This is the approach taken
by the Catechism of the Catholic Church, which treats Confirmation
under the heading "Sacraments of Christian Initiation," and insists
that the unity of Baptism, Confirmation, Eucharist "must be safeguarded."
For those Catholics who
are not accustomed to thinking of Confirmation, together with Baptism
and Eucharist, as part of the initiation process, perhaps this analogy
will be helpful: What do we do when invited out to eat? In most cases
there would be three steps: When the time comes (1) we take off our
old clothes and wash up by taking a shower or bath. Then (2) we dry
off and put on our good clothes. Finally (3) we go to the place where
we have been invited and there we join with our friends to talk, eat,
and Eucharist exist in a similar relationship: In Baptism (1) we take
off the old, sinful person and wash away Original Sin. In Confirmation
(2) we are anointed with the oil of the Holy Spirit and filled with
his sevenfold gifts. Finally, (3) we are led to the Eucharistic banquet.
Confirmation is like the
"drying off" part of the above analogy. To understand this analogy,
it is helpful to remember that our liturgical ceremonies for initiation
are influenced by Roman customs at the time our rites were being formed.
In second-century Rome, after bathing, people rubbed their bodies with
oil to moisturize the skin and dry off. Similarly, the bath of Baptism
was followed by an anointing: Confirmation.
In early Church documents
we do not find much written about Confirmation because it was considered
part of Baptism. In these documents the authors, when writing about
Baptism, often meant both Baptism and Confirmation, both the water bath
and the anointing with oil. Likewise today, if I said, "I am going to
take a bath," I would mean both the "washing" and the "drying off."
Another aspect of this
"bath" analogy might be helpful in understanding Confirmation and the
gift of the Holy Spirit. When we take a bath, we get clean by washing
off the dirt. We can speak of "getting clean" and we can speak of "washing
off dirt" but, in fact, removing "dirtiness" and receiving "cleanness"
go together. In the Sacraments of Initiation, we wash away Original
Sin and receive the Holy Spirit. Taking away sin, and being filled with
the grace (presence) of the Holy Spirit, are something like the "washing
off" and "getting clean." The two actions go together and are understood
in relation to each other.
We can call one action
Baptism and the other Confirmation. We can even celebrate them at two
different times in a person's faith journey, but to understand them
correctly we must view them together. It is one and the same Holy Spirit
celebrated at Baptism, Confirmation and Eucharist.
Each sacrament is both
sign and words. To understand Confirmation, the Sacrament of the Spirit,
we examine the words that accompany the anointing and compare them with
the prayers which speak of the Holy Spirit in Baptism and Eucharist.
and the Holy Spirit
At Baptism, we hear of
the role of the Holy Spirit in the prayer over the baptismal water:
Father, look now
with love on your Church,
and unseal for her the fountain of baptism.
By the power of the Spirit
give to the water of this font
the grace of your Son...
cleanse [those to be baptized] from sin in a new birth of innocence
by water and the Spirit.
At Confirmation, we learn
the implications of this new life in the Holy Spirit:
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 judgment and  courage,
the spirit of  knowledge and  reverence.
Fill them with the spirit of  wonder and awe in your presence.
This prayer names the
traditional "Seven Gifts of the Holy Spirit." The biblical origin of
these seven gifts is found in Isaiah (11:1-3) where he is foretelling
the qualities of the Messiah.
But a shoot shall
sprout from the stump of Jesse,
and from his roots a bud shall blossom.
The spirit of the Lord shall rest upon him:
a spirit of wisdom and of understanding,
a spirit of counsel and of strength,
a spirit of knowledge and of fear of the Lord,
and his delight shall be the fear of the LORD.
[The ancient Greek
and Latin translations of this passage read "piety" for "fear of the
Lord" in line six; this gives us our traditional seven gifts.]
These seven gifts are
the signs that the Messiah will be guided by the Spirit. The relation
of these gifts to the sacrament of Confirmation becomes clear when we
remember that the word "Messiah" (Christos in Greek) means "anointed."
Jesus was "anointed," filled with the Holy Spirit at his baptism. At
Confirmation we are anointed with the Holy Spirit. Throughout the Gospels
we see how these seven gifts form Jesus' personality. They are characteristic
of his activity. Consider the wisdom expressed in his parables; his
understanding of the poor and the sick; his right judgment when tested
by the Pharisees; his courage to continue the journey to Jerusalem where
he surmised what fate awaited him; his knowledge of God's will; his
reverence for his heavenly Father; his awe before the wonders of creationthe
lilies of the field, the birds of the air....The seven gifts of the
Holy Spirit are the manifestation of the Divine Power active in the
life of Jesus of Nazareth.
In Baptism, our sins
are washed away and we come up from the water bath to be clothed in
a new garment. Putting on the baptismal garment is a visible symbol
of the invisible reality of "putting on Christ." When we are anointed
with oil in Confirmation, it is a visible symbol of the invisible reality
of being anointed with the Spirit, being "Christ-ed" or "messiah-ed."
We put on Christ, and the sevenfold gifts of the Spirit become our gifts.
We pray that the qualities of the Messiah take root in us and become
our qualities so that we may become signs of God's presence in the world.
At the actual anointing
during Confirmation we hear the words: "(Name), be sealed with the gift
of the Holy Spirit." Here the gift referred to is the Holy Spirit himself.
We are sealed with the gift of (that is, the gift which is) the Holy
Spirit. The Holy Spirit is God's "first gift to those who believe" (Eucharistic
leads to Eucharist
"The holy Eucharist completes
Christian initiation" (Catechism). With our sins washed away
and clothed in the Spirit, we are led to the banquet table of the Eucharist.
The eucharistic prayers given us following Vatican II express the role
of the Holy Spirit even more clearly than the traditional Roman Canon
(Eucharistic Prayer I). Although the words vary according to the prayer,
at each Eucharist we ask God: "Let your Spirit come upon these gifts
to make them holy, so that they may become for us the body and the blood
of our Lord, Jesus Christ... [so that] ... all of us who share in the
body and blood of Christ may be brought together in unity by the Holy
Spirit" (Eucharistic Prayer II).
At each Eucharist we ask
the Holy Spirit to do two things: first, to change the bread and wine
into the sacred Body and Blood of Christ; and, second, to change usthose
who eat and drink the sacred bread and wineinto the sacred Body
and Blood of Christ. The saying, "You are what you eat," certainly holds
true here. As St. Augustine reminded his fourth-century audience: "If
then you are the body of Christ and his members, it is your sacrament
that reposes on the altar of the Lord....Be what you see and receive
what you are" and "There you are on the table, and there you are in
As Catholics, we are proud
of our tradition of reverence for the Body and Blood of Christ, which
by faith we perceive really present in the action of the Spirit changing
the bread and wine. This same Spirit challenges us to the often more
difficult reverence for the Body of Christ which, by faith, we perceive
really present in the action of the Spirit who changes our faith community.
"Grant that we, who are nourished by his body and blood, may be filled
with his Holy Spirit, and become one body, one spirit in Christ" (Eucharistic
Prayer III). This call of the Spirit to unity is, no doubt, the reason
why Pope John Paul Il has designated Christian unity as the ecumenical
goal for 1998, this year of the Holy Spirit.
and the Holy Spirit
On the Coming of the
Third Millennium states
that the Jubilee is to demonstrate that "the disciples of Christ are
fully resolved to reach full unity as soon as possible in the certainty
that 'nothing is impossible with God."' The Holy Father continues: "Among
the most fervent petitions which the Church makes to the Lord during
this important time...is that unity among all Christians...will increase
until they reach full communion. I pray that the Jubilee will be a promising
opportunity for fruitful cooperation in the many areas which unite us;
these are unquestionably more numerous than those which divide us."
It is the work of the
Holy Spirit to ultimately fulfill the high priestly prayer of Jesus:
"I pray...that they may all be one, as you, Father, are in me and I
in you, that they also may be in us, that the world may believe that
you sent me. And I have given them the glory you gave me, so that they
may be one, as we are one, I in them and you in me, that they may be
brought to perfection as one" (John 17:20-23). The courage and vision
to strive for this ultimate unity are the promise and grace of Confirmation:
Sacrament of the Spirit.
Thomas Richstatter, O.FM., S.T.D., has a doctorate in liturgy and sacramental
theology from the Institut Catholique of Paris. He teaches courses on
the sacraments at Saint Meinrad (Indiana) School of Theology. His latest
book is Liturgy
and Worship: Faith and Witness, A Course on Catholic Living (William
Anyone who takes
on a new full-time job just shy of her 82nd birthday is noteworthy.
It's all the more remarkable when the position being filled
is that of U.S. ambassador to the Vatican, and you are the first
American woman in the role. But former U.S. Congresswoman Corinne
Claiborne (Lindy) Boggs has never been anything other than out-of-the-ordinary.
The daughter of a wealthy Louisiana sugarcane plantation owner,
she learned early to be concerned about the less fortunate.
That message was reinforced in school by her teachers, the Sisters
of St. Joseph of Medaille.
Later, as the
wife, and then the widow, of Congressman Hale Boggs, she was
on the side of any number of political causes that weren't chosen
for their popularity. These included correcting the economic
imbalances between rich and poor and championing the civil-rights
movement during the 1960's in segregated New Orleans. After
winning her late husband's seat in Congress, Mrs. Boggs earned
a reputation as a pro-life legislator who opposed abortion as
well as the death penalty while promoting women's rights. Her
Catholic faith has been a beacon guiding her in a long life
of public service.
When she left
Congress in 1990, Republicans and Democrats alike claimed her
as "First Lady of the House," and a role model who had shown
how to use power with effectiveness and grace. They applauded
the unlikely political tools she used: civility, style, dignity,
Now, Mrs. Boggs
is bringing those skills to the Vatican in the position she
assumed last November. At her swearing-in ceremony, attended
by her children and grandchildren, Church leaders and a host
of Washington "names," the new ambassador pronounced herself
"very excited" at the challenges lying before her at the end
of one millennium and the dawn of another.
One month later,
on her first trip back to the U.S. since moving to Rome, Mrs.
Boggs spoke of her determination to work closely with the Holy
See "in promoting peace in troubled regions, increasing freedom
and democracy, and protecting and especially promoting human
It's all part
of her family's tradition of service, and an outgrowth of the
lessons taught by the Sisters of St. Joseph, who kept her aware
that "there's always another opportunity to serve."
of the Century
the world prepares to bid farewell to the second millennium
and the 20th century, various media are conducting polls about
who has left the greatest impact on this period of history.
Recently, readers of the British Catholic Herald newspaper
were invited to complete the following sentence: "The Catholic
who has made the greatest contribution to world civilization
in the 20th century is..."
first and garnering 31% of the vote was Pope John XXIII, who
convened the Second Vatican Council and whose cause for canonization
is in process in Rome. Next in line were Pope John Paul II,
receiving 18% of the votes, and Mother Teresa, 11%. Others mentioned
included St. Pius X, Padre Pio, Teilhard de Chardin, G.K. Chesterton,
Edith Stein, St. Maximilian Kolbe, Thomas Merton and Dorothy
Two of the
British newspaper winners also surfaced in a survey that asked
readers of the Polish weekly Polityka to name the "greatest
Pole of the 20th century." Pope John Paul II led with almost
84% of the votes cast, while St. Maximilian Kolbe, who died
in the Nazi death camp at Auschwitz, ranked 21st. Also named
were politicians, artists and scientists.