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).