Why Confirmation? Two Catholic Perspectives

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The following is a part of a seven-article series on the sacraments, written by two University of Notre Dame students. We encourage you to read both perspectives and check our website regularly for the rest of the series!

Why Confirmation? By Pat Gouker

In Confirmation, the Holy Spirit, already dwelling within the baptized person, comes “with all the fullness of holiness and knowledge and power,”[1] imparting a new sacramental character by which the confirmand attains fullness of age in the Church and becomes able to “bear witness to Christ as a qualified member of [that same] Church.”[2] Baptism adopts us into God’s family, making us truly His beloved sons and daughters. And after this rebirth we, “[l]ike newborn infants, long for the pure, spiritual milk, so that by it [we] may grow into salvation.”[3] The virtues comprise this spiritual milk. For this reason, in order to long for it we must rid ourselves of vice, that is, “of all malice, and all guile, insincerity, envy, and all slander.”[4] And in renouncing these vices, one opens himself to receive the Gifts of the Spirit which will then bear the Spirits virtuous Fruits.[5] Baptism gives spiritual rebirth to humanity; Confirmation brings about spiritual maturity.

This spiritual maturity must not manifest itself as a sense of autonomy, however. Rather, it must show forth itself first and foremost in reliance on the Spirit of God. The Confirmation rite asks the candidates to renew their baptismal promises. This renunciation empties themselves of their desire for vice and in so doing opens within them a place for the Gifts of the Spirits, the growth of the Spirit’s Fruits, and a place for the Godhead to dwell and act. Empty of all else, the person must now rely on the Spirit. Contrary to Baptism, here the recipient of the sacrament makes these promises for himself.[6] By making this profession, the confirmed person receives willingly “citizenship in the Kingdom of God and…induct[ion] into God’s spiritual army and the lay priesthood of believers.”[7]

Each of these effects of Confirmation first begins in Baptism. For in Baptism God adopts the person as His child; while, maturing in Confirmation, the person begins to claim its inheritance which is the Kingdom of God by declaring itself a citizen of the Heavenly City. The baptismal character also obliges a Christian “to profess his faith in the face of opposition; he is called to the standard of Christ; he is Christ’s soldier.”[8] Finally, the sacrament confers a form of orders on the recipient in that he becomes inducted into the lay priesthood, that is, even though he is yet a layman, Confirmation dispatches the new Christian soldier to bear witness, to be both a missionary and a victim.[9] Indeed, the “principal function for the confirmed Christian…is to bear witness to Christ.”[10] This witness serves the purpose of sanctifying the world by teaching and spreading the Good News of Christ and ordering the world back to the worship of God, fulfilling the mission given in baptismal Chrismation to be priest, prophet, and king.

If bearing witness is the ultimate function of the confirmed Christian, why then does the Church stress the importance of confirming those in periculo mortis?[11] The answer lies in Confirmation’s raising up of the person to the army of Christ and the lay priesthood. The sacrament displays militaristic aspects in four primary ways: the anointing of the forehead with a cross of chrism reminds the Christian of Christ’s Passion to which he must conform his live by virtue of his baptism; the interior grace of the sacrament gives gifts that aid in spiritual battle; a slight blow on the cheek recalls the reality of future suffering for the Christian soldier; and, the office of ordinary minister of the sacrament belongs to the general of the Christian army, the bishop, whose authority originates from the first Christian generals the Apostles whose orders from Christ, the Commander-in-Chief descended on them through the Spirit at Pentecost.[12] Regarding the lay priesthood, Confirmation calls the confirmand to a life as a willing priest-victim whereby the soul offers as priest itself as victim in conformity with Christ’s own self-offering to the Father through the Spirit.[13] The Church wishes to confer Confirmation on a dying person so that, even at the end, he may play his proper role in the sacrament of the Church, consecrating his very death as a martyrdom offered to the Lord. That is, he may contribute to the Church as sacrament, becoming a part of the Church as a visible sign of God’s grace, through which Christ has brought salvation to the world.[14]

The dying person gives witness to Christ just as does the healthy person. For indeed, preaching occurs not only through words, but through one’s very actions. The confirmand is sealed with the chrism of salvation, the Gift of the Holy Spirit[15], the Love of God.[16] A Christian from the moment of baptism, the newly confirmed reaches a fullness of spiritual age and thereby receives a new role to play “in forming the sacrament of Christ in the world.”[17] He is no longer concerned only with personal spiritual battles but also with battles against social enemies of the Church.[18] The sacrament of the mystery of trinitarian love herself, the Church rejoices when, through Confirmation, God institutes one of her members “to convey the sanctifying action of the heavenly Priest to mankind.”[19] In so doing, the Spirit received in Confirmation allows Christ to walk “the earth again in each obedient Christian,” and that same Spirit then sanctifies, comforts, and teaches to pray the whole of mankind,[20] which the Spirit unites and gathers into “one body, one spirit in Christ.”[21]

I chose the image of chocolate milk partially because it reminds me of my summer teaching for Totus Tuus in the Diocese of Peoria. Our first weekend at a parish was Pentecost, a fitting date to begin our summer as missionaries, witnesses to the faith. (And, at times, a summer that felt like a martyrdom.) I particularly remember MC-ing a Mass for the Spanish Charismatic Renewal. I don’t speak Spanish so MC-ing was a feat. I do remember the homily, however. Explained to me later, in it Fr. Ditmer called us all a glass, filled with our souls, the milk. At Baptism the Holy Spirit (chocolate syrup) comes into our souls and changes it such that we can never remove the Spirit from ourselves (traces of syrup always remain in the milk). While the Spirit is there, it is not until Confirmation that we allow ourselves to be stirred, to let the Spirit complete His work to change our souls again in such a way that it cannot be undone. No more does the syrup rest at the bottom of the glass, but it unites itself with our soul completely. This visible change, this sign, like that on the foreheads of the 144,000 reminds us that we are God’s and we stand out as His witnesses for all the world and that this sign will be for us a mark of salvation.

If Ye Love Me, Thomas Tallis

If ye love me,
keep my commandments,
and I will pray the Father,
and he shall give you another comforter,
that he may ‘bide with you forever,
e’en the spirit of truth.

Lyrics based on John 14:15-17

I chose Thomas Tallis’ “If ye love me,” based on John 14: 15-17. This beautiful motet recalls the promise Christ made to send for us His Spirit, the Comforter. In reminds us that, the Spirit of Love and Truth will comfort us such that we might be able to endure all sorts of persecution, personal and social, as a Church. And in so doing, we will become martyrs, that is, witnesses to God, fulfilling the principle function of Confirmation.

[1] Treating Confirmation according to the Thomistic tradition, Fr. O’Neill notes that medieval theologians had only two primary texts from which they could learn their predecessors’ thoughts regarding the sacrament of Confirmation. Each of these texts emphasizes the unique and profound relationship between Baptism and Confirmation. Yet, while they are intimately connected in that each gives the Spirit to the recipient and bestows an indelible character, they are nevertheless distinct. Indeed, “[t]he two sacraments form the complete initiation of a person into the Church, but each has its own function which it is adequate of itself to fulfill.” The second of the texts which Fr. O’Neill considers is from the ninth-century and is a passage from the Archbishop of Mainz, Raban Maur. This passage in particular emphasizes the connection between Baptism and Confirmation, but also suggests a difference. The sacraments are similar in that the Holy Spirit is given in both. But, while “Baptism procures the indwelling of the Blessed Trinity; [it is] in [C]onfirmation [that] the Spirit comes ‘with all the fullness of holiness and knowledge and power.” It is from this passage that we begin our discourse on Confirmation. It is in the difference between Baptism and Confirmation that a full and complete understanding of why Confirmation exists as its own unique sacrament can be found. Thus, our definition of Confirmation revolves around not the idea of the Spirit given as gift since this is true of both Baptism and Confirmation, but as the fullness of that Spirit coming upon the one in whom the Trinity already dwells by virtue of Baptism. Colman E. O’Neill, OP. Meeting Christ in the Sacraments. Edited by Romanus Cessario, OP. (New York: Alba House, 1991), 146-7.

[2] Ibid, 160.

[3] 1 Peter 2:2.

[4] 1 Peter 2:1.

[5] The Gifts of the Spirit are wisdom, understanding, knowledge, counsel, strength, and fear of the Lord (Is. 11:2). The Fruits of the Spirt are charity, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, long-suffering, humility/gentleness, fidelity/faithfulness, modesty, self-control, and chastity (Gal 5:22-23).

[6] Here we treat infant baptism as the norm. That is to say, we imply that the godparents are the ones who make the promises on behalf of the candidate for baptism. Infant baptism helps understand the idea of rebirth, as birth is a gift bestowed by two people upon another (as with godparents and the neophyte.) This also emphasizes the aspect of spiritual maturity attained in Confirmation as the sacrament calls forth those once baptized to formerly declare their profession of the faith, they can now claim the Church’s profession of faith as their own and firmly join with an audible voice of the Church in saying “Credo.” Claimed by God as His own in Baptism, the confirmandi now, in return, claim God as their own, taking Him for their all. It should be noted, however, that while the spiritual maturity attained in Confirmation requires a profession of faith by the confirmandi themselves, their Confirmation does not make them independent of the Church. Rather, they are professing the “the faith of the Church.” (Rite of Confirmation n.23). The confirmandi thus declare their membership in the Church, and the Church, in turn, recognizes them as members with authority in her ranks because they are now to possess the fullness of the Trinity dwelling within them by the descent of the Spirit upon them.

[7] Fulton Sheen, These Are the Sacraments (New York: Hawthorn Books, 1962), 16.

[8] As with Baptism and Holy Orders the secret, or the power, of these sacraments lies with the characters which they impart. While it is stated here that the character obliges the soul to profess the faith, the character does not ask for something impossible. Rather, the character, while requiring certain tasks to be completed, also “gives the power needed for fulfilling the duties involved.” (O’Neill, 156). Furthermore, a word should be said regarding Chrism, the matter of this sacrament. Chrism is present in the liturgies of all three sacraments which confer a sacramental character and these only. In Confirmation, in particular, the Chrism serves as a reminder of the so-called lay priesthood to which they are consecrated, the presence of the Holy Spirt, as well as their apostolic ministry to which they are called in this sacrament. These effects of Confirmation were emphasized by the Catholic Action movement and Chrism symbolizes them by “the fragrance of the chrism which, emanating from the confirmandi, fills the entire church like the Holy Spirit” just as its consecration by the bishop “symbolizes the confirmandi’s apostolic mission.” Gabrielli, 9.

[9] The aspects of the priesthood here mentioned are mission and victimhood. The first, mission, is often the only aspect of the priesthood that most consider. It encapsulates the roles of preaching, of evangelization, of interaction with the people of God, etc. Thus mission(ary) becomes synonymous with priest. Sheen’s theology of the priesthood is not complete, however, without regarding a second aspect, namely, victimhood. For Sheen, to share fully in Christ’s Priesthood is to also share fully in His Victimhood. Thus the lay priesthood, while different from the priesthood conferred in Holy Orders, calls the confirmed, nevertheless, to live out their baptismal anointing as prophet, king, and most strongly priest by being willing to become priest-victims, in the model of Christ the Priest-Victim. Sheen, 16.

[10] O’Neill, 160.

[11] It is clear that the Church stresses that a person should be confirmed in danger of death by the sheer fact that it makes an exception for a priest to be an extraordinary minister of the sacrament in danger of death of a person rather than stating that the sacrament cannot be given.

[12] These four militaristic aspects of Confirmation are taken from Sheen’s sacramental theology. Regarding the third (the slight blow to the cheek), it is necessary to acknowledge that this was a part of the Confirmation rite prior to the liturgical reforms of the Second Vatican Council, though it is still practiced in the Novus Ordo in some places. Though no longer a required part of the rite, it nonetheless has a theological purpose that compliments well the entirety of the theology of Confirmation. Therefore, we include it here as its theological significance is certainly still relevant to a proper understanding of Confirmation. Sheen,18-9.

[13] Note that while the general structure of the baptismal priesthood is akin to that of the ministerial priesthood they do differ. For example, the baptismal priesthood is not meant to offer the sacraments on behalf of the people of God. It is also worth noting that this call to the lay priesthood is also a call to an Aqedah. That is, the Christian is called to refuse his own self-interest, emptying himself such that he might have an openness to the love of God, the Spirit. And, in receiving the Person of the Holy Spirit fully, defend Him. To defend this gift, however, the soul must be willing to give up all else. For “Baptism gives the Christian a treasure [the Spirit]; Confirmation urges him to fight to preserve it against the three great enemies: the world, the flesh, and the devil.” In rejecting these enemies, the soul opens itself up to receive the Spirit fully and gives Him room to work within itself. Ibid, 18.

[14] O’Neill, 160.

[15] This is a combination of the Confirmation formulæ according to both the pre-Vatican II and post-Vatican II Confirmation rites. The pre-Vatican II rite of Confirmation had the formula “N. I confirm thee with the chrism of salvation. In the name of the + Father and of the + Son and of the + Holy Spirit.” The post-Vatican II rite has the formula “N. be sealed with the Gift of the Holy Spirit.” The earlier formula evokes the idea of resistance and opposition. The signing of the cross attached to the idea of salvation reminds the confirmand that it is through opposition to the devil, to the world, to the flesh, in a word, it is in an Aqedah, that one finds salvation and true freedom. The second formula reminds the confirmand that in a special way the Holy Spirit, gifted to them first in Baptism and now fully in Confirmation, bestows on them the strength to stand in opposition to the enemy and endure all things for God’s sake, thereby achieving salvation, by the grace of God and Christ’s Passion and Resurrection and Ascention. It is also of note that there is a great significance to the Church’s wanting to confirm the dying by anointing their forehead with chrism since the servants of God who are to be saved at the end of time will have marked on their foreheads a seal of God, not unlike the seal of the Spirit conferred in confirmation (Rev 7:4). This symbolism of the sacrament has a particular profundity when conferred at the moment of death, or in danger of death.

[16] This concept of the Spirit of Love and Confirmation as the sacrament of love comes from a quotation by St. Therese of Lisieux cited by Sheen in his work on the sacraments. The pneumatological theology of the Little Flower as well has her sacramental theology of Confirmation are profound. Sheen quotes her: “I went into retreat for Confirmation. I carefully prepared myself for the coming of the Holy Spirit. I cannot understand why so little attention is paid to the sacrament of love. Like the Apostles, I happily awaited the promised Comforter. I rejoiced that soon I should be a perfect Christian, and have eternally marked upon my forehead the mysterious Cross of this ineffable sacrament. On that day I received the strength to suffer, a strength which I much needed, for the martyrdom of my soul was about to begin.” Things of particular note are that the marking of the forehead with the cross sets the confirmand apart from the non-confirmed. He is now called specially to give witness to God, to be a martyr in the truest sense of the word. Though this was true by virtue of Baptism, the confimand now has authority in the Church with which to bear such witness. Thus, the Little Flower can proclaim that the martyrdom of her soul was to begin, for her soul was about to give witness to the glory of God. And, she was further able to endure suffering because of the Gift she received in the sacrament, namely, the Holy Spirit. The Gift of the Spirit is the Gift of Love, which allows one to endure trials because “[l]ove bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things” (1 Cor. 13:7). Sheen, 19.

[17] O’Neill, 151.

[18] “Every sacrament has been set as a kind of balance between the individual and the community,” says Sheen. Baptism brings the individual into a community. And, even more so, Sheen suggests, “Confirmation…orients us toward the community or fellowship of believers. The grace received in these sacraments descends through the individual and into the community, for “the grace is for the perfection of the Mystical Body.” Sheen continues, suggesting that “love is a union by which one escapes from egotism.” (This aligns itself with the anthropology that Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger, with whom Sheen studied for a time, would later develop in his Principles of Catholic Theology, namely, that to be human is to be related in love, or be in a union of love.) “Children live for themselves,” Sheen observes, “adults cease to live exclusively for themselves, particularly those who reach the ‘perfect age’ in the spirit. Thus, Sheen argues, that Confirmation in particular has both a personal and social aspect. On the one hand, Confirmation imbues the confirmand with the Gifts of the Spirit that aid him in his personal spiritual struggles. But, rightly harnessed, those same Gifts will bear Fruit for the entire world, building up the Church and conquering her enemies. Sheen, 20.

[19] O’Neill, 155.

[20] Sheen, 17.

[21] Eucharistic Prayer III; see also Eph 4:4.

Why Confirmation? By Mary Biese

Mary’s relationship with the Holy Spirit, begun at her Immaculate Conception and sealed by the Incarnation,[i] illuminates the sacrament of Confirmation. Mary, a virgin engaged to Joseph,[ii] has already entered relationship with both God and man. Rather than choosing isolation, Mary lives in relation to others; likewise, in the Sacraments of Initiation, the Holy Spirit configures us for relationship.[iii] The Holy Spirit renews the confirmand’s covenant with God,[iv] anoints him or her into Christ’s threefold mission (as priest, prophet, and king/shepherd), strengthens Baptism,[v] points to the Eucharist, challenges its recipients to enter deeper relationship with Christ and His Church, turns confirmands outwards towards the ecclesial whole, intensifies and reinscribes Trinitarian indwelling, recreates creation itself, and continually divinizes the confirmand, transforming him or her into another Christ.

Gabriel calling Mary “full of grace”[vi] indicates that the Holy Spirit already dwells within and fills her, as He does within baptized candidates for confirmation.[vii] The perplexed Virgin[viii] receives and contemplates upon God’s Word, just like those at the rite of Confirmation receive and contemplate upon the form of the sacrament (the words of the rite) through sacramental preparation, continued prayer, and participation (mental and verbal) in the rite itself.[ix] The confirmand has already received the gifts, indicative of God’s “favor,” of the Church and the Holy Spirit, in a full and effective way, through Baptism.[x] God ratifies, renews, and intensifies these gifts during Confirmation. Gabriel, God’s messenger, commissions Mary as mother, names Jesus as Son, and points towards Jesus’ eternal kingship.[xi] In Confirmation, the Holy Spirit commissions the recipients for deeper relationship with Christ and His Church, reveals Christ to those present as “the Son of the Most High,”[xii] and strengthens the Baptismal anointing. Mary follows Jesus even to the Cross, where He, like the Holy Spirit does in Confirmation, bestows on her the mission of witness and of continuing to live an active Christian life.[xiii] In this bestowal, Christ forever connects His mother to the Church’s Apostolic authority. The Church symbolizes and incarnates this authority in the person of the Bishop and in the sacramental chrism oil that contains a bishop’s breath[xiv] and constitutes the matter of Confirmation.[xv] Mary receives Jesus’ name from another, similar to the way a confirmand, during the Confirmation rite, receives a new name from his or her confirmation sponsor, who presents the bishop with the name. By this disappropriation, this laying down of one’s own baptismal name and adding-on of a saint’s, the confirmand enters the communion of saints and turns radically outwards towards the communal, ecclesial whole.[xvi]

Mary’s question to the angel only fits within the context of her intimate relationship with God, which itself informs her relationship with Joseph, her spouse. Her acceptance of the Holy Spirit’s overshadowing continues, perfects, and incarnates[xvii] her already-extant promises and relationships.[xviii] Accepting the entire person of the Holy Spirit in Confirmation brings about the same. The sonship language in verse 35 reiterates and fulfills the Trinity’s sustained dwelling in Mary and in the baptized.[xix] The angel’s words about Elizabeth, whose barrenness and social isolation God reverses with the fruitfulness of a son,[xx] bring to mind the fruits of the Holy Spirit and the importance of community—as seen in the family, the Church, and the world.[xxi]

When Mary finally assents,[xxii] her return-gift—agency, name, and witness—responds to God’s unquantifiable grace in an active but not overly voluntaristic or autonomous way: Mary’s choice lies in her own Aqedah, her laying-down of her will, her Fiat. Through her self-gift the Holy Spirit refigures her entire identity; He makes a dwelling place for Himself by opening space in her flesh for the Word of God to Himself take on human flesh. Confirmation, through the action and assistance of the whole Body of Christ, divinizes the recipient[xxiii] through his or her self-gift that imitates and draws strength from the Incarnation and Pentecost (and the Church Herself).[xxiv] The Holy Spirit remains[xxv] with Mary throughout her life, recreating her and, through her, all of creation.[xxvi] This transformation involves dedicated witness,[xxvii] entry into a joyful community, and conformity to Christ.[xxviii]

Why Confirmation: Mérode Altarpiece, by Robert Campin

This artwork depicts the Incarnation. The characters on the left point to the ecclesial nature of Confirmation, in which the bishop renames confirmands in the saints’ names and the community prepares and accompanies the particular confirmand. Mary’s relationship with the Church in the left panel finds its parallel in her relationship with St. Joseph in the right panel. Confirmation makes sense within the context of relationality and self-gift: here Joseph pours himself out over his handiwork so that he can sustain his family. Mary, focused on God’s Word, assents to the Word Incarnating within her own body. Out of the window on the left of the middle panel emerges Christ, embodied, with a redemptive Cross in hand, heading straight for Mary’s womb. The lines indicating movement echo the breath and movement of the Holy Spirit. Red garments and accents in the photo could point to the Paschal Mystery sealed in Christ’s blood, which was only possible by His Incarnation. The lilies on the table in the center symbolize Mary’s virginal gift to God and the candle symbolizes her prayerful vigilance; both images therefore point to her already-extant relationship with God that mirrors that of the baptized confirmation candidate.

Why Confirmation: Robert J. Powell’s “Magnificat”

My soul doth magnify the Lord,

And my spirit hath rejoiced in God my Savior.

For he hath regarded the lowliness of his handmaiden.

For behold from henceforth

All generations shall call me blesséd.

For he that is mighty hath magnified me,

And holy is his name.

And his mercy is on them that fear him

throughout all generations.

He hath showed strength with his arm;

He hath scattered the proud in the imagination of their hearts,

He has put down the mighty from their seat,

And hath exalted the humble and meek.

He hath filled the hungry with good things,

And the rich he has sent empty away.

He remembering his mercy hath holpen his servant Israel,

As he promised to our forefathers,

Abraham and his seed forever.

Glory to the Father, and to the Son, And to the Holy Ghost;

As it was in the beginning, is now,

And ever shall be, world without end. Amen.

Robert J. Powell’s “Magnificat,” sung and individually recorded by my choir (recently renamed the Magnificat Choir!) last semester, proclaims Mary’s hymn at the Visitation. Like a confirmand, the Blessed Virgin Mary proclaims God’s wondrous deeds (as the Apostles did at Pentecost). She prophesies that “all generations shall call me blessed” and contextualizes that statement within the greatness of God and His action and mercy. This hymn also speaks of the fulfillment of the covenant of Abraham, who, like Mary, emptied himself for God’s sake; here also the lowly, humble, meek, and hungry find God’s favor. The piece swells with strength when recounting God’s shows of strength, which paints the words beautifully (e.g. “He hath showed STRENGTH with His ARM, He hath SCATTERED the proud). The varying pace of the piece brings to mind the incalculable but ever-present movement of the Holy Spirit in Confirmation.

[i] This paper will focus on Luke 1:27-38 but will include reflections on the entire chapter of Luke. Note that Mary does not perform the act of announcing or of incarnating during either event. Her necessary cooperation underlies but does not by herself enact or initiate the events at stake. Similarly, the sacrament of Confirmation involves cooperation with the action of the Holy Spirit. This point will be explored later on in this paper.

[ii] The angel came “to a virgin engaged to a man whose name was Joseph, of the house of David. The virgin’s name was Mary.” Her virginal commitment assumes a promise made before God; her spouse’s assent to such brings him into her relationship with God and intensifies the relationship between Mary and Joseph. Lk 1:27.

[iii] The Church calls Catholics to consider the three Sacraments of Initiation—Baptism, Confirmation, and Eucharist—as coherent, cohesive, and inseparable. Each one includes an outpouring of the Holy Spirit and a revelation of Christ and God the Father. Both baptism and confirmation ritually move toward the Eucharistic altar. See Gabrielli, Timothy R., Confirmation: How a Sacrament of God’s Grace Became All About Us. (Collegeville, Minnesota: Liturgical Press, 2013), 17, 54. This book gives an incredible overview of the pastoral and theological concerns and changes surrounding the Sacrament of Confession in the United States during the 20th century. See also Fr. Kevin Grove, CSC, for comments on relationality.

[iv] See the connection with David the king and the Davidic covenant. The other Sacraments of Initiation focus heavily on a new covenant that supersedes and fulfills all previous covenants. Ratified in Christ’s blood, the Eucharistic covenant serves as the summit of Initiation. It is this blood that Mary carries within her as the Word Made Flesh begins in her womb. It is this blood and water that Mary watches flow from His side on the cross that perfect this covenant between the Incarnate God and His adopted baptismal children. See The Rites of the Catholic Church: the Roman Ritual Revised by Decree of the Second Vatican Ecumenical Council and Published by Authority of Pope Paul VI and Pope John Paul II. Study ed. (Collegeville, MN: Liturgical Press, 1990), 483-484. See also 2 Sam 7:12-13, Heb 9:20-22, Jn 1:14, Jn 19:34, Ezek 36:25-29.

[v] The connections to Baptism within the rite include a reference to Christ’s baptism and a renewal of baptismal promises. Rites 488-489.

[vi] See the opening words of the Hail Mary prayer. Lk 1:28.

[vii] This verse includes the presence of God the Father as well, in Mary’s Immaculate Conception (God the Father’s gift, in anticipation of the Son’s Death and Resurrection) and in Mary’s devotion as a devout Jew. By the end of this passage, present also is Christ Incarnate.

[viii] Her sense of bewilderment and her questioning the source of God’s messenger echo Acts 2, in which the bewildered crowds, from all around the earth (see Irwin’s Cosmic Model of Eucharist), question whether the Apostles, who (with Mary) have just received the Holy Spirit at Pentecost, derive their strength and eloquence from drunkenness or the Holy Spirit. One who has received the sacrament of Confirmation may not “feel” particularly changed, nor immediately go out ecstatically praising God and speaking in tongues; however, the sacrament (properly received) has changed and continues to change its recipient. One may feel bewildered at the lack of immediate feeling of Confirmational grace, but such a feeling should not detract from or forget the sacrament’s true effectiveness. 

[ix] The most crucial words that demand reflection, “Be sealed with the gift of the Holy Spirit,” constitute the form of the Sacrament of Confirmation. The West adopted this language from the East to emphasize the permeating and permanent action of the Holy Spirit. Rites 476-477, 482.

[x] Mary, the Mother of the Church and the Spouse of the Holy Spirit, exemplifies the relationality without which Confirmation falls short of its full meaning.

[xi] “And now, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you will name him Jesus. He will be great, and will be called the Son of the Most High, and the Lord God will give to him the throne of his ancestor David. He will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of his kingdom there will be no end.” Lk 1:31-33.

[xii] i.e. God the Father, emphasizing the Trinitarian element here.

[xiii] Christ tasks Mary with mothering the Apostle John and thereby the entire Church (Jn 19:26-27). See Gabrielli’s accounts of Catholic Action and the Liturgical Movement as crucial for the development of Confirmation in the US in the 19th century. Gabrielli, Confirmation 7-10.

[xiv] The chrism oil requires the bishop for its blessing; likewise, barring unusual circumstances, the confirmand requires the bishop for its sacrament of Confirmation. “The reception of the Spirit through the ministry of the bishop shows the close bond that joins the confirmed to the Church.” Rites 481.

[xv] The Church’s authority also comes to the fore in Confirmation via the laying of hands; though this gesture is not the matter of the sacrament, it nevertheless “contributes to the complete perfection of the rite” and “perpetuates the grace of Pentecost.” The anointing itself “signifies the laying on of the hand.” Rites 477-478, 474, 475.

[xvi] It is within the very “character of confirmation” to transcend “the narrow circle of personal salvation” for the sake of “the Church as a whole.” The entire Church gathers to celebrate the confirmand’s relationship with the Holy Spirit; the sponsors, in particular, “bring the candidates to receive the sacrament, present them to the minister for the anointing, and will later help them to fulfill their baptismal promises faithfully under the influence of the Holy Spirit whom they have received.” Gabrielli, Confirmation 8. Rites 479-480.

[xvii] The confirmand undergoes “ongoing formation in the womb of the Church.” The Church, through her pastoral care and administration of her other Christ-given sacraments, continues to surround and nourish the confirmand long after he or she has received the sacrament of Confirmation. As such, to consider Confirmation as some sort of “graduation” ignores this crucial ongoing ecclesial and Trinitarian action. Gabrielli, Confirmation 41. See also Rites 487.

[xviii] The Blessed Virgin, Immaculately Conceived and sinless, had a deep intimacy with God as a devout Jewish woman. She dedicated her virginity to God, and Joseph had agreed to a non-consummated marriage.

[xix] The baptized are adopted sons and daughters of God. In the Trinitarian blessing in the rite of Confirmation, the confirmand is reinscribed and recapitulated into the name of the Trinity. Rites 493.

[xx] God chooses Elizabeth as a site for new life (like Baptism), miraculously healing even the brokenness of her own body so that it may bring forth great fruit—John the Baptist. The healing of body and spirit—of the whole person—relates in a particular way to the sacraments of healing (Confession and Anointing).

[xxi] Confirmation entails moving outwards towards others; the rite indicates a movement from the family to the Church to all men, indicating the cosmic realities at work in the sacrament. See the communal language within the rite itself: “He fills our hearts with the love of God, brings us together in one faith but in different vocations, and works within us to make the Church one and holy.” Rites 491, 488.

[xxii] The rite only assigns the confirmand words of assent, which parallel nicely with Mary’s Fiat. Assent is part of return-gift and thus does not fit within overly calculating, overly individualistic voluntaristic ecclesiology. Return-gift also includes living fruitfully in the Spirit and in Christ’s peace. See Gabrielli, Confirmation 27-30, 52.

[xxiii] “Confirmation effects what the Holy Spirit does… The work of the Spirit is to effect the divinization of man.” Gabrielli, Confirmation 17.

[xxiv] Gabrielli describes the neo-Thomistic paradigm as focusing on the themes of “Strengthening of the confirmand, the more perfect indwelling of the Holy Spirit… and the relationship between baptism and confirmation.” Gabrielli, Confirmation 2..

[xxv] The final blessing of the Confirmation rite implores the Holy Spirit to “come upon you and remain with you for ever.” Rites 494.

[xxvi] In Isaiah 11 we see that radical recreation is needed for nature to overcome its own violent tendencies. Through the Holy Spirit’s gifts, He recreates the confirmand; the fruits of this recreation are the fruits of the Holy Spirit, which heighten and build upon the gifts themselves. Excellent. Can you make a clearer distinction of gifts and fruits? Why the fruits? What do they add to the Isa 11 gifts? The Holy Spirit brings peace and proves absolutely necessary for the graces that stem from the Incarnation and from Pentecost. See Jn 14:27, Jn 16:12-15.

[xxvii] The rite brings to mind Christ’s ministry and the call to active witness: “The gift of the Holy Spirit which you are to receive will be a spiritual sign and seal to make you more like Christ and more perfect members of his Church. At his baptism by John, Christ himself was anointed by the Spirit and sent out on his public ministry to set the world on fire… You must be witnesses before all the world to his suffering, death, and resurrection; your way of life should at all times reflect the goodness of Christ… Be active members of the Church, alive in Jesus Christ.” Rites 488. The verb “sent” recalls the last words of the Mass: “Ite missa est. Deo gratias,” “Go forth, the Mass is ended. Thanks be to God.” The people of God, sent forth after partaking of the Eucharistic table, assent to bear witness to Christ..

[xxviii] Mary gives witness and glory to God through her assent, her trek to visit her elderly pregnant cousin, and her Magnificat, a song of praise and of prophecy (see Christ’s role as prophet, priest, and king) spoken before Elizabeth. We discern the presence of the Holy Spirit in Mary, the “first disciple” of Christ, through her witness and her focus on showing God to others. She exemplifies the unity of the Holy Spirit and leads others, with her Spouse the Spirit, to Christ. “The giving of the Holy Spirit conforms believers more fully to Christ and strengthens them so that they may bear witness to Christ for the building up of his Body in faith and love.” Rites 479. See also Jn 2:5, Acts 2. 

9 Responses

  1. Whatever presence of the Holy Spirit that Mary had could not have been exactly the same as the Holy Spirit of Pentecost because Christ had not been born and completed His mission on earth (see John 7:39). His Spirit, after His ascension, is part of the Pentecost Holy Spirit. His humanity was not present in the Holy Spirit prior to His conception. Then, He was the Word. The Word was made flesh. All of the benefits of the Redemption flow into us through His Spirit after Pentecost.

    1. At Pentecost, the Spirit was poured upon Mary, the apostles and many disciples, that is upon the church. That is a completely different phenomenon to what the angel says in Luke 1:35 “35 The angel answered, ‘The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will cover you with its shadow. ” In this case we are talking of Mary alone.
      What scriptural evidence do you have to support your statement: “Whatever presence of the Holy Spirit that Mary had could not have been exactly the same as the Holy Spirit of Pentecost .” ?
      ” the power of the Most High will cover you with its shadow.” is a very strong affirmation, and it brought about the very incarnation of Jesus.
      The incarnation itself makes Pentecost possible.

      1. I think that the Pentecost Holy Spirit includes the complete Godhead of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit (see John 7:39; 14:17-18, 23; 17:23). Could Jesus come to Mary before He was conceived? I suspect that the Holy Spirit that Mary was overshadowed with had the same configuration as the Holy Spirit in the Old Testament and the 4 gospels.
        You can’t be saved without the Pentecost Holy Spirit. My understanding is that the Old Testament saints had to wait for Jesus to complete His mission on earth before they could be fully saved.

        1. I don’t think you understand who Jesus is.
          John 1 says: “1 In the beginning was the Word: the Word was with God and the Word was God.”
          Jesus is God. There was never a time when Jesus was not, he is eternal, he has no beginning and no end. At the incarnation he took on a human body in Mary’s womb.
          The Father, Son and Holy Spirit are one God, and each person in the trinity is eternal.
          Your comment about the old testament saints is spot on though.

      2. Jesus was the Word before the incarnation; but then, He was only pure Spirit. He is now the Son of God with a glorified human body interceding for us at the right hand of the Father: God and man in a single person. The Godhead now has a human component that was not there before the incarnation (see 1Timothy 3:16).

          1. Without the humanity of Jesus, there could be no shedding of His blood which was required for our connection to the Father. God limited His connection with humanity until Christ died, resurrected, and ascended. The Word could not do this prior to becoming flesh. The present humanity of Jesus and His Spirit poured out at Pentecost are essential for our salvation. Even if the humanity of Jesus does not add anything to His divinity, it adds an essential component to His present ministry on behalf of humanity.

          2. God’s connection with the humanity of Jesus never ends, Jesus is resurrected body and soul and divinity. In heaven Jesus has a glorified body, not the same as when he walked the earth.
            Rev 1: 12-17 “12 I turned round to see who was speaking to me, and when I turned I saw seven golden lamp-stands
            13 and, in the middle of them, one like a Son of man, dressed in a long robe tied at the waist with a belt of gold.
            14 His head and his hair were white with the whiteness of wool, like snow, his eyes like a burning flame,
            15 his feet like burnished bronze when it has been refined in a furnace, and his voice like the sound of the ocean.
            16 In his right hand he was holding seven stars, out of his mouth came a sharp sword, double-edged, and his face was like the sun shining with all its force.
            17 When I saw him, I fell at his feet as though dead, but he laid his right hand on me and said, ‘Do not be afraid; it is I, the First and the Last; I am the Living One,”
            By the way, the Word is God, and God can do ANYTHING he chooses. God chose to redeem humanity through the incarnation of Jesus , but he could have done this in any number of other ways if he had chosen to.

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