Wednesday, July 29, 2009


Resuming our look at the seven sacraments, we now turn to the sacrament of Confirmation.

The Catechism starts off by saying that “the reception of the sacrament of Confirmation is necessary for the completion of baptismal grace. For by the sacrament of Confirmation, the baptized are more perfectly bound to the Church and are enriched with a special strength of the Holy Spirit,” (CCC 1285). The history of this sacrament goes back to the Old Testament prophets who proclaimed that the Spirit of the Lord would be with the Messiah (CCC 1286, referencing Is. 11:2, 61:1; Luke 4:16. This was shown at Jesus’ baptism by John (Matt. 3:13-17).

During Jesus’ life, he promised his disciples the outpouring of the Spirit. After Jesus’ death and resurrection, he fulfilled this first on Easter Sunday (John 20:22 and also at Pentecost (Acts 2:1-4). Acts then tells us of the deeds these men and women performed and how many came to believe (CCC 1287).

Pope Paul VI wrote this concerning the apostles in an encyclical titled Divinae consortium naturae

From that time on the apostles, in fulfillment of Christ’s will, imparted to the newly baptized by the laying on of hands the gift of the Spirit that completes the grace of Baptism. For this reason in the Letter to the Hebrews the doctrine concerning Baptism and the laying on of hands is listed among the first elements of Christian instruction. The imposition of hands is rightly recognized by the Catholic tradition as the origin of the sacrament of Confirmation, which in a certain way perpetuates the grace of Pentecost in the Church.

In addition to laying on of hands, an anointing with perfumed oil (chrism) was also performed to better signify the gift of the Holy Spirit. This anointing also symbolizes what we are called, Christians, which literally means “anointed”, just as Jesus the Messiah was God’s “anointed one” or Christ by the Holy Spirit (CCC 1289).

Eastern and Western churches have two traditions and practices with this sacrament. Since the bishop of each area could not be at all baptisms due to the Church’s growth, Western churches waited until the bishop could come to their area and confirm those baptized. The East kept them united, having the priest that baptized also be the one who confirms. However, the priests can only do this with the “myron” (chrism) oil that has been consecrated by a bishop (CCC 1290). Paragraph 1291 expresses the two traditions in more detail. Each one emphasizes a different aspect, with the West (Latin) expressing “the communion of the new Christian with the bishop as guarantor and servant of the unity, catholicity, and apostolicity of his Church” and the East emphasizing more “the unity of Christian initiation” (CCC 1292).

But why the use of oil and why anoint at all? Here the Catechism looks at the Bible for references. Oil “is a sign of abundance and joy” (Deut. 11:14; Pss. 23:5, 104:15). “It cleanses (anointing before and after a bath) and limbers (the anointing of athletes and wrestlers).” It is also “a sign of healing, since it is soothing to bruises and wounds” (Isaiah 1:6, Luke 10:34) (CCC 1293). This relates to the anointings in Baptism, Confirmation, and Anointing of the Sick (which will come later): “The pre-baptismal anointing with the oil of catechumens signifies cleansing and strengthening; the anointing of the sick expresses healing and comfort. The post-baptismal anointing with sacred chrism in Confirmation and ordination (Holy Orders) is the sign of consecration,” (CCC 1294).

Those anointed also receive the seal of the Holy Spirit. “A seal is a symbol of a person, a sign of personal authority, or ownership of an object.” In ancient history, soldiers were marked with their leader’s seal and slaves with their master’s. These were also used for authenticating documents and occasionally making them secret (CCC 1295). (References to Gen. 38:18, 41:42; Deut 32:34; 1 Kings 21:8; Jer. 32:10; Isaiah 29:11).

Christ declared himself he had this seal (John 6:27). As Christians we too have a seal Paul writes:

It is God who establishes us with you in Christ and has commissioned us; he has put his seal on us and given us his Spirit in our hearts as a guarantee. – 2 Cor. 1:21-22 (also reference Eph. 1:13)

It is this seal of the Holy Spirit that marks “our total belonging to Christ, our enrollment in his service for ever, as well as the promise of divine protection in the great eschatological trial,” (CCC 1296, references Rev. 7:2-3, 9:4; Ezek 9:4-6).

What does Confirmation bring about then in addition to the receiving of this mark and seal of the Holy Spirit? The Catechism gives a list:

-It roots us more deeply in the divine filiation (love) which makes us cry, “Abba! Father!” (Rom. 8:15)
-It unites us more firmly to Christ
-It increases the gifts of the Holy Spirit in us
-It renders our bond with the Church more perfect
-It gives us a special strength of the Holy Spirit 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 (CCC 1303)

This mark “imprints on the soul an indelible spiritual mark, the ‘character,’ which is the sign that Jesus Christ has marked a Christian with the seal of his Spirit by clothing him with power from on high so that he may be his witness,” (CCC 1304, Luke 24:48-49).

Friday, July 17, 2009


Since the topic was brought up in the midst of the baptism discussion, I’ll take a small detour and talk about purgatory, one of many Catholic teachings that are easily misunderstood.

First off, purgatory takes up a small portion of the Catechism, only three paragraphs. The teaching on purgatory is found in the first section of the Catechism I skipped over, which is the Profession of Faith based on the Apostles’ Creed. It falls under the Article “I believe in life everlasting.”

The Catechism states, “All who die in God’s grace and friendship, but still imperfectly purified, are indeed assured of their eternal salvation; but after death they undergo purification, so as to achieve the holiness necessary to enter the joy of heaven,” (CCC 1030). This purification’s name is Purgatory, and was formulated primarily at the Councils of Florence and Trent during the Middle Ages. “The tradition of the Church, by reference to certain texts of Scripture, speaks of a cleansing fire,” (CCC 1031). Those Scripture references listed are 1 Corinthians 3:15 and 1 Peter 1:7:

By the grace God has given me, I laid a foundation as an expert builder, and someone else is building on it. But each one should be careful how he builds. For no one can lay any foundation other than the one already laid, which is Jesus Christ. If any man builds on this foundation using gold, silver, costly stones, wood, hay or straw, his work will be shown for what it is, because the Day will bring it to light. It will be revealed with fire, and the fire will test the quality of each man's work. If what he has built survives, he will receive his reward. If it is burned up, he will suffer loss; he himself will be saved, but only as one escaping through the flames. (1 Cor 3:10-15, NIV,

These [trials] have come so that your faith—of greater worth than gold, which perishes even though refined by fire—may be proved genuine and may result in praise, glory and honor when Jesus Christ is revealed. (1 Peter 1:7)

Pope St. Gregory the Great comments on this as well:

“As for certain lesser faults, we must believe that, before the Final Judgment, there is a purifying fire. He who is truth says that whoever utters blasphemy against the Holy Spirit will be pardoned neither in this age nor in the age to come. From this sentence we understand that certain offenses can be forgiven in this age, but certain others in the age to come.” (St. Gregory the Great, 600s AD)

My understanding of this is that most do not die in perfect, holy communion with God, there is still the effect of sin on us. Purgatory cleanses us from this before we enter heaven. An analogy I heard is that Purgatory is like being able to smell heaven’s goodness and scent, yet we are not quite ready for it yet. It is not a place of neutrality; people judged for hell have already set themselves against God. The same is true of those bound for heaven. But because God is all holy, we ourselves must become pure and holy to enter His presence.

Prayers for the dead and masses are based on a Catholic biblical book, 2 Maccabees. This book is not found in the Protestant canon, though Bibles with deuterocanonical/apocryphal books would have this one.

He then took up a collection among all his soldiers, amounting to two thousand silver drachmas, which he sent to Jerusalem to provide for an expiatory sacrifice. In doing this he acted in a very excellent and noble way, inasmuch as he had the resurrection of the dead in view; for if he were not expecting the fallen to rise again, it would have been useless and foolish to pray for them in death. But if he did this with a view to the splendid reward that awaits those who had gone to rest in godliness, it was a holy and pious thought. Thus he made atonement for the dead that they might be freed from this sin. – 2 Macc. 12:43-46

St. John Chrysostom wrote about this as well in his lifetime (347-407 AD):

Let us help and commemorate them. If Job’s sons were purified by their father’s sacrifice, why would be doubt that our offerings for the dead bring them some consolation? Let us not hesitate to help those who have died and to offer our prayers for them.

To be honest, this part I have not fully come to terms with. My struggle is that after our death, time would cease to have meaning. So then, how can a time be put on our time in purgatory? Ultimately, we do not know what exactly happens after our death. What we do know is that God will judge us and we will be separated like sheep and goats (Matthew 25:31-46).

Wednesday, July 8, 2009


I had a comment from my last blog that made me realize I perhaps wasn't very clear about the point of these blogs. I want to create a better understanding of Catholicism to both Catholics and non-Catholics, and if there are any questions or comments about my blog posts, please speak up!

I go under the assumption that people are understanding what I'm writing, but if it's not clear, do ask questions so I can clarify or elaborate. It helps me as a writer and also helps you as a reader because I do not want to confuse people.