May 6, 2011

Seeking the Face of the Lord

Confirmation is necessary for completion of baptismal grace

(Editor’s note: While Archbishop Buechlein continues to recover from a stroke, we offer some reprints of his various columns for your enrichment. The following column is from the April 23, 2004, issue of The Criterion.)

Do you sometimes wonder if you understand the origins and meaning of the sacrament of confirmation?

The Easter season is an ideal time to reflect on the meaning of this sacrament.

Other than in faith formation classes and the Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults in which candidates prepare for confirmation, little is said about it. It is sometimes misunderstood and unappreciated, yet it is truly important for living the Christian life.

The Catechism of the Catholic Church states clearly: “Baptism, the Eucharist and the sacrament of Confirmation together constitute the ‘sacraments of initiation,’ whose unity must be safeguarded. It must be explained to the faithful 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. Hence they are, as true witnesses of Christ, more strictly obliged to spread and defend the faith by word and deed’ ” (#1285).

On several occasions, Christ promised the outpouring of the Holy Spirit, a promise which he fulfilled first on Easter Sunday and then more strikingly at Pentecost. We know that Peter and the Apostles were filled with the Holy Spirit, and began to proclaim “the mighty works of God.” Those who believed in the apostolic preaching and were baptized received the gift of the Holy Spirit in their turn.

The catechism continues: “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 the Baptism and 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” (#1288).

Very early, in order to more clearly signify the gift of the Holy Spirit, an anointing with perfumed oil, called chrism, was added to the laying on of hands. As the catechism reminds us, “This anointing highlights the name ‘Christian,’ which means ‘anointed’ and derives from that of Christ himself whom God ‘anointed with the Holy Spirit’ ” (#1289).

In the Church of the first centuries, ­confirmation was usually celebrated in conjunction with baptism. The Eastern Churches have maintained this practice, while the Roman Church developed the practice of separating the two sacraments. The Church in the West wanted to express more clearly the communion of the new Christian with the successor to the Apostles, the bishop, who is “guardian and servant of unity, catholicity and apostolicity of his Church.” In other words, it is our tradition for the sacrament of confirmation to be conferred by the local bishop to emphasize the connection with the apostolic origins of Christ’s Church (cf., #1292).

By the anointing with chrism and the laying on of hands accompanied by formal prayer, the baptized candidate is “sealed” with the gift of the Holy Spirit. This seal of the Holy Spirit marks our total belonging to Christ, our enrollment in his service forever, as well as the promise of divine protection (cf., #1296).

The catechism gives us a forthright statement of the effects of this sacrament. “It is evident from its celebration that the effect of the sacrament of Confirmation is the special outpouring of the Holy Spirit as once granted to the Apostles on the day of Pentecost (#1302).

“From this fact, Confirmation brings an increase and deepening of baptismal grace:

“… It roots us more deeply in the divine filiation which makes us cry, ‘Abba ! Father!’,

“… 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” (#1303).

I hope this teaching of the Catechism of the Catholic Church helps clarify the meaning and importance of this sacrament. I encourage any adult who has not been confirmed to speak to your pastor about how to prepare to receive this gift of grace.

A central ministry of our Church is evangelization, that is, helping people find Christ and his message as handed on in the Catholic tradition. Our archdiocese has made evangelization a fundamental priority, particularly through our parish “Disciples in Mission” program. For this, we are empowered in a unique way by the sacrament of confirmation. †

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