As you know, we are considering in these weeks the sections of the Catechism which speak of the Sacraments. Last week we thought a bit about the foundation of all the Sacraments, which is Baptism — and how, whether we are old or young when we are baptized, we enter into a new life: a life freed from sin, a life in Christ Jesus, a life in the fold, the family, of the Lord’s Church.
Today we move on to the next Sacrament, Confirmation. I say “the next Sacrament” since it is, logically, the next Sacrament after Baptism. Someone being baptized as an adult is confirmed just a few minutes later … And the eastern rites of the Catholic Church, Confirmation is given immediately after Baptism even to babies. But for us in the Latin rite of the Catholic Church, it is normal, if we receive Baptism as a baby or small child, that we are confirmed later on, anytime after about the age of 7. And, often, that means that we are confirmed after we have started to receive Holy Communion. In fact, for most of us in this country, this will seem like the norm. But at least one god-daughter of mine, in a Scottish diocese, was confirmed at around the age of 8, and made her 1st Holy Communion a few months after that. So, there are different practices.
What we must never lose sight of is that Confirmation is not an ‘optional extra’ sacrament, just designed for keener Catholics! Confirmation is the completion of Baptism, a personal Pentecost in which we receive an outpouring of the Holy Spirit, normally at the hands of the local bishop — though in some circumstances delegated to the priest. So, we should in no way treat it as some sort of secondary Sacrament, just for those who wish. It is not about us confirming our faith in God … it is about God confirming His grace given first in Baptism. In the same vein, we do not talk of “taking our Confirmation” or even of “making our Confirmation” … As with all the Sacraments, we should speak of “receiving” the Sacrament of Confirmation. Each and every Sacrament is a gift, a gift from the Lord. We pray for it, we ask for it from the holy Lord; we receive His gift …
And how we need those gifts of the Holy Spirit! How desperately we need those gifts that fired up the apostles at Pentecost. The Catechism quotes these lovely words of the bishop, St Ambrose:
“Recall then that you have received the spiritual seal, the spirit of wisdom and understanding, the spirit of right judgment and courage, the spirit of knowledge and reverence, the spirit of holy fear in God’s presence. Guard what you have received. God the Father has marked you with his sign; Christ the Lord has confirmed you and has placed his pledge, the Spirit, in your hearts.”
Aren’t we sorely in need of those gifts, and to utilize those gifts as we go about our daily tasks, offering our lives to God in prayer, and to one another in charity? Those of us who have been confirmed, should really ask God to keep confirming in us his gifts through grace. Those of you — adults — who have not been confirmed for whatever reason, should think very seriously about preparing to be confirmed. Usually, those Catholic adults who desire the Sacrament of Confirmation prepare alongside those who are asking to be baptized in our parish and received into the Catholic Church. It takes the form of a weekly preparation, more-or-less from September to Easter, in an informal and friendly atmosphere — I really encourage anyone who is not yet Confirmed to take this wonderful opportunity, starting next autumn … come and speak to me some time about this.
A final word about the form the sacrament takes: an anointing with the special ‘Oil of Chrism,’ in the sign of the Cross on the forehead, symbolizing the Holy Spirit sealing the beloved Christian disciple. The oil has been blessed by the Bishop in the cathedral in Holy Week, and it is fragrant with balsam, an eastern spicy perfume … The anointing in this Sacrament conveys the Holy Spirit upon the one receiving it: one is enfolded in the loving grace of God, set apart, consecrated, prepared for the mission of an adult Catholic. What a special moment, a beginning, and not an end: it is an expression of God’s love for the one chosen, so that they can go on to live an active Christian life, filled with the courage and wisdom that an apostle needs in a world that often does not recognise or love God. Please reflect on this: those of you confirmed, are you living out a life that is guided by the Holy Spirit; any of you not confirmed, when will you make an active choice to seek that Confirmation?
Confirmation is a great gift, whether or not we remember well the occasion: God remembers, He does not take back His gifts, and He longs for you to be alive in the Spirit! Let’s keep in our prayers those to be confirmed as adults at Easter, and those to be confirmed as teenagers on April 28th. May God’s Spirit inspire them all to be holy all their days!