December 15, 2004

Catechism Quiz
What Is the Sacrament of Confirmation?

by Friar Jim Van Vurst, O.F. M.

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What is the Sacrament of Confirmation?
Why do we have Confirmation? What does it do for us?
What happens at the conferral of the sacrament?

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What is the Sacrament of Confirmation?

Of the seven sacraments instituted by Christ, Confirmation is probably the one that is least known or appreciated. That’s understandable because it focuses on the working of the Holy Spirit who is often the forgotten person of the Trinity. The Sacrament of Confirmation can be described as the sacrament of spiritual maturity. It enriches the soul of the person with deep graces (helps and assistance) of the Spirit. Confirmation is the sacrament that calls recipients to witness courageously the gift of faith by word and, especially, by the example of their lives. The Vatican II’s Dogmatic Constitution on the Church states that Catholics “are more perfectly bound to the Church by the Sacrament of Confirmation and the Holy Spirit endows them with special strength so that they are more strictly obliged to spread and defend the faith, both by word and deed, as true witnesses
of Christ” (Par. 11).

This sacrament harkens back to the great Pentecost event
(Acts: 2) when the disciples were huddled in the upper room and the Holy Spirit, whom Jesus had promised them, came upon them in the form of a mighty wind and tongues of fire. The disciples gathered there had been commanded by Jesus to take the good news of his death and resurrection to the ends of the earth. Yet those gathered there, up to that point, lacked a real understanding of what Jesus’ life and death fully meant. But at the Last Supper Jesus assured them that the Holy Spirit would come upon them and teach them all they needed to know. They would be strengthened to go everywhere proclaiming Jesus as Lord and Savior. Pentecost was the moment of their confirmation.

Why do we have Confirmation? What does this sacrament do for us?

The basic effects of Confirmation are: a) It roots us more deeply in our relationship with God; b) it unites us more firmly with Christ and reminds us that every sacrament we receive is an encounter with Jesus himself; c) it increases in us the gifts of the Holy Spirit: wisdom, understanding, counsel, knowledge, piety, fortitude and fear of the Lord; d) it strengthens our bond to the Church; e) finally, it gives us strength to spread and defend the faith by word and deed.

If you consider what strengths we need simply to live our Christian, Catholic lives in our present society and to make moral decisions in the face of serious temptation, it is easy to see how we need wisdom and strength. For example, a married couple raising children need to be able to counsel and encourage them to live their lives not by following the way of least resistance, but by taking the basic gospel message (“Love God and your neighbor”) and making it a part of their lives. No matter what our vocation, married, religious, priesthood or single, we need the strength of the Spirit in our lives.

What happens at the conferral of the sacrament?

The Sacrament of Confirmation is conferred by the bishop and is usually given in the early teen years when youngsters are mature enough to realize that they face serious religious and moral issues in their lives. Those received into the Church at the Easter Vigil (through Baptism or the Profession of Faith) are confirmed as part of their entrance rite into the Church. Adults who have never received the sacrament for one reason or another should contact their pastor to see when the sacrament can be received in a ceremony with other unconfirmed adults in their diocese. However, the Sacrament of Confirmation is not a prerequisite to being married in the Church.

The oil used in the sacrament symbolizes strength given to profess one’s faith in difficulty. The laying on of hands by the bishop is the symbol of the coming of the Holy Spirit upon the person. Few, if any, of us may live in circumstances that demand we lay down our lives for our beliefs. Yet there is seldom a day when we are not faced with difficult choices that test the authenticity of our faith.

Friar Jack’s Inbox

Readers respond to Friar Jack’s musings on “Heralds of the King”

Dear Friar Jack: Thank you for sharing St. Francis’ thoughts on the Incarnation and all of nature. Sometimes environmental concerns get written off as the worries of “those crazy greenies.” But I just wonder how much healthier the planet—and we!—would be if we shared St. Francis’ understanding. Thank you again, and Happy Adventing. Pat

Dear Friar Jack: “For each of us—in our own way—is called to announce the arrival of Christ’s saving presence in our own world,” you wrote in your last column “Heralds of the King.” How true! How challenging! My Christian vocation is a call to receive God's free gift of grace, the gift of his self-emptying love for me. It will be most wicked of me not to help others to receive that gift, too. To share in the mission of John the Baptist, i.e., to announce the arrival of the King, is therefore my privilege and duty! A blessed Advent, Friar Jack! Henry (Nairobi, Kenya)

Dear Henry: Letters like yours remind me of the global reach of Internet efforts like Friar Jack’s E-spirations. It’s wonderful to see that the spirit of St. Francis and the message of Christ are embraced with joy in far off nations such as Kenya in Africa. Thanks for your own hope-filled words! Friar Jack


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