Confirmation is a special sacrament that helps Catholics live a fuller life in Christ and prepares them to spread the Gospel to others.
Pastors from the Diocese of Charleston say people should recognize that the sacrament confers very special graces.
Franciscan Father Paul M. Williams, pastor of St. Martin de Porres Church in Columbia, celebrated confirmations in the Midlands Deanery for nearly two years after Bishop Robert J. Baker was reassigned in fall 2007.
He said confirmation is often mistakenly thought of as simply the next step for Catholics, a ritual to be celebrated with parties and gifts.
“The sacrament is misunderstood. It’s not just a rite of passage. I like to think of it as a prayer for strength and perseverance as a Catholic. You are asking God for the graces necessary to be the Catholic Christian man or woman God has called you to be, asking God for the gift of the Holy Spirit to strengthen you on life’s journey,” Father Williams said.
What confirmation means
The Catechism of the Catholic Church defines confirmation as one of the “sacraments of Christian initiation,” along with baptism and the Eucharist. Paragraph 1285 states:
“It must be explained to the faithful that the reception of the sacrament … 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.”
Who gets confirmed and when
In the early days of the church, confirmation was usually celebrated as a “double sacrament” along with baptism. As the church grew, however, it became more difficult for bishops to be present at every celebration, so the two sacraments were separated.
According to the Catechism, “every baptized person not yet confirmed can and should receive the sacrament of confirmation” (paragraph 1306).
In the Eastern rite churches, infants are still confirmed at the same time they are baptized, and the priest performs confirmation, according to the Catholic Encyclopedia and the Catechism.
However, in the Roman rite, confirmation is reserved until the age of discretion, which has changed over the years. Currently, in the Roman church, most children are prepared for confirmation around age 13.
In the diocese, some parishes confirm young people in the eighth grade, while others wait until the ninth grade. It depends on the preferences of the parish or priest.
Adults who are coming into the Catholic Church for the first time as catechumens receive the sacraments of baptism, confirmation and the Eucharist all at once, usually at the annual Easter Vigil Mass.
At this time, candidates who have already been baptized in the Catholic Church but have not been confirmed are also confirmed and received into the church.
What happens next …
Confirmations are usually performed by the bishop, but can also be done by priests with special permission.
During confirmation, the bishop or other celebrant will lay hands on the candidates and pray for the Holy Spirit to descend on them.
Then, the celebrant anoints each person’s head with perfumed holy oil called chrism, and says, “I sign thee with the sign of the cross and confirm thee with the chrism of salvation, in the name of the Father, of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.”
The Catechism states that people are anointed with holy oil because it is a sign of consecration.
“… those who are anointed, share more completely in the mission of Jesus Christ and the fullness of the Holy Spirit with which he is filled” (paragraph 1294).
Father C. Alexander McDonald, pastor of St. Andrew Church in Clemson, said the chrism is a wonderful symbol of the sacrament’s meaning.
“To find the message of confirmation, look to the chrism,” he said. “Perfume makes something or someone pleasing and fragrant, and through confirmation, we are made pleasing in the eyes of God. It’s like what happens when Jesus comes out of the baptismal waters and the spirit descends on him. At confirmation, the Holy Spirit descends on us and God shows us we are beloved.”
Those being confirmed are also asked to select a special confirmation name, which is conferred on them during the rite. Father Williams said young people are often encouraged to use their baptismal names, but many enjoy researching saints’ names and choosing their own.
How to prepare
Young people go through several months of special preparation for confirmation, either at Catholic school or religious education classes for those who attend public schools. Preparation usually includes special instruction in the catechism and other tenets of the Catholic faith. Many parishes also require youth to attend a confirmation retreat.
At many parishes, like St. Martin de Porres and Our Lady of the Lake in Chapin, students must also complete a service project prior to confirmation.
“We want the kids to get an idea of volunteering, of serving outside themselves,” Father Williams said.
Candidates for confirmation are asked to have a sponsor who provides spiritual help and support leading up to the sacrament.
Father Williams said it is often preferred that children have one of their baptismal godparents as a sponsor, but not required.
Confirmation is not required in order for a Catholic to receive the Eucharist and participate in the life of the church, but it is considered that a person’s initiation into the church is incomplete until they are confirmed, according to the Catechism (paragraph 1306).
Father Williams said it is important that parents convey the magnitude of confirmation to their children because too often, he sees young people who have not been confirmed and don’t see a reason to do so.
“Parents make a terrible mistake when they fail to appreciate the awesomeness of the sacrament and do not encourage young people to be confirmed,” he said. “A lot of teens are fearful of the unknown, and part of the job of the parent is to challenge the teens to go beyond themselves, to help them see why confirmation is beneficial to them.”
Adults who have not been confirmed take part in instruction, either privately with a catechist or through Rite of Christian Initiation for Adults classes. Father Williams asks adult candidates at St. Martin de Porres to go through the RCIA program.
The age of the person being confirmed does not matter. Whenever the sacrament of confirmation is received, it’s a special gift.
“I think confirmation is a big ‘I love you’ from God,” Father McDonald said. “It’s a way of knowing we are loved by God. Confirmation seals in us God’s promise to unleash the Holy Spirit in our lives. We are changed forever.”