Catholic Q&A: The Sacrament of Confirmation

Catholic Q&A: The Sacrament of Confirmation

By Fr. Rick Poblocki

What is the Sacrament of Confirmation?

Confirmation is the Sacrament which completes the grace of Baptism by a special outpouring of gifts by the Holy Spirit which seal or “confirm” the baptized in union with Christ and equips them for active participation in worship and apostolic life of the Church (Catechism of the Catholic Church, Glossary, p. 872; 1285).

Who may be confirmed?

Any baptized Christian may be confirmed.

  • When adults are received into the Catholic Church, they receive the Sacraments of Initiation in the traditional order: Baptism, Confirmation, and the Holy Eucharist.
  • The practice of the Western (Latin Rite or Roman Catholic) Church is to baptize children as infants, to allow them to receive the Holy Eucharist (Communion) for the first time at the age of seven and to allow them to be confirmed between the ages of twelve and seventeen.
  • In the Eastern Churches, infants receive Confirmation and the Holy Eucharist along with their Baptism in order to preserve the traditional order of the Sacraments of Initiation.
  • Those to be confirmed should have reached the “age of discretion.”  They should be in a state of grace (i.e. free from Mortal Sin), and they should have received the Sacrament of Penance.
  • In danger of death, children of any age should be confirmed (unless they have not been baptized).  In danger of death, any unbaptized child should be baptized and then confirmed immediately after Baptism.

What is necessary in order to receive Confirmation properly?

The Catechism clearly indicates what is necessary in order to be confirmed:

“Preparation for Confirmation should aim at leading the Christian toward a more intimate union with Christ and a more lively familiarity with the Holy Spirit – His actions, His gifts, and His biddings – in order to be more capable of assuming the apostolic responsibilities of the Christian life.  To this end Catechesis for Confirmation should strive to awaken a sense of belonging to the Church of Jesus Christ, the universal Church, as well as the parish community.  The latter

[i.e. the parish] bears a special responsibility for the preparation of the confirmands” (Catechism of the Catholic Church, 1309; cf. note 127).

In addition to this, the following requirements are also laid out:

“To receive Confirmation, one must be in a state of grace.  One should receive the Sacrament of Penance in order to be cleansed for the gift of the Holy Spirit.  More intense prayer should prepare one to receive the strength and graces of the Holy Spirit with docility and readiness to act” (Catechism of the Catholic Church, 1310).

And finally:

“A candidate for Confirmation who has attained the age of reason must profess the Faith, be in a state of grace, have the intention for receiving the Sacrament, and be prepared to assume the role of disciple and witness to Christ, both within the ecclesial community and temporal affairs” (Catechism, 1319).

How often can the Sacrament of Confirmation be received?

“Like Baptism, which it completes, Confirmation is given only once, for it too imprints on the soul an indelible spiritual mark, the ‘character’…”(Catechism, 1304).

When was the Sacrament of Confirmation instituted by Our Lord Jesus Christ?

The Sacrament of Confirmation was instituted by Our Lord Jesus Christ when he conferred the Holy Spirit upon His Apostles on Easter Sunday (John 20:22-23) and on Pentecost Sunday (Acts of the Apostles 2:1-11).

How is the Sacrament of Confirmation related to Pentecost?

Confirmation is the full outpouring of the Holy Spirit once granted to the Apostles at Pentecost.

What are the effects of the Sacrament of Confirmation?

Through the Sacrament of Confirmation, the very same Lord Jesus Christ, who bestowed the Holy Spirit upon His Apostles, brings about through the ritual celebration of this Sacrament these effects:

  • The graces we received in Baptism are increased and deepened;
  • We are more firmly united to Christ;
  • Our adoption as children of God is intensified;
  • Confirmation increases the seven Gifts of the Holy Spirit in us: Wisdom, Understanding Counsel, Knowledge, Fortitude, Piety, and Fear of the Lord;
  • Confirmation perfects our bond with the Church;
  • The Lord gives us the strength of the Holy Spirit to witness to, spread, defend, and even to die for our Faith.
  • After increasing the seven Gifts of the Holy Spirit in us, Confirmation allows those who respond to those Gifts to manifest the presence of the holy Spirit through the twelve Fruits of the Holy Spirit: charity, joy, peace, patience, kindness (benignity), goodness, generosity, gentleness, fidelity (faithfulness), modesty, continence (self-control), and chastity.
  • Confirmation imprints an indelible character on the soul of the recipient; Confirmation may be received only once and may never be repeated.

What is the sacred character given to the Confirmation candidate?

The sacred character or seal is explained by the Catechism of the Catholic Church as being:

“…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 (Catechism, 1304; cf. note 121; Luke 24:48-49).

The Catechism expands in 1305 (see note 122) the meaning of the sacred character even further:

“This ‘character’ perfects the common priesthood of the faithful, received in Baptism, and ‘the confirmed person receives the power to profess the faith in Christ publicly as it were officially (quasi ex officio).

How is the Sacrament of Confirmation conferred?

The Sacrament of Confirmation is conferred through the anointing with chrism of the forehead, which is done by the laying on of the hand, and through the words N., be sealed with the Gift of the Holy Spirit.  The candidate responds, “Amen.”  The Bishop continues, “Peace be with you.”  The recipient replies, “And with your spirit.”

  • The Sign of Peace which concludes the Rite signifies and demonstrates communion with the Bishop and all the Faithful.
  • The matter of the Sacrament is the anointing of the forehead with Sacred Chrism.
  • The forehead is anointed by tracing a cross on the forehead of the recipient.
  • The form of the Sacrament consists in these words: “Be sealed with the Gift of the Holy Spirit.”
  • In the Eastern Churches, after a prayer, the forehead, eyes, nose, ears , lips, breast, back, hands, and feet are all anointed.
  • A confirmand is a person receiving Confirmation.  Many candidates for confirmation are called confrimandi or confirmands.

Who is the “ordinary minister” of Confirmation?

The Bishop is the ordinary minister of Confirmation, although a priest may confirm in certain circumstances, or with the permission of the Bishop.  The matter is fully discussed in articles 1312-1314 of the Catechism of the Catholic Church, which mentions:

  • The designation ordinary minister means the member of the clergy who is able to confer the Sacrament.
  • In the Latin Rite (Roman Rite), the Bishop ordinarily confirms the Faithful.
  • Priests can confirm when they baptize an adult, receive someone into Full Communion with the Catholic Church, or when the Bishop designates a priest to assist him in confirming the Faithful (for example, in the Buffalo Diocese, Msgr. Slubecky – Vicar General and Moderator of the Curia – assists the Bishop in confirming candidates for the Sacrament).
  • In the Eastern Churches, the priest is the ordinary minister of Confirmation, because each baby is confirmed and given Holy Communion at the same time they are baptized.
  • If a Christian is in danger of death, any priest can give the person Confirmation (Catechism, 1314).

Why is a Sponsor required for the celebration of Confirmation?

A Sponsor is required for the Sacrament of Confirmation in order to (1) present the candidate to the Bishop and (2) in order to assist the confirmed person in living out the obligations and responsibilities that come with being confirmed.  That is why it is so important that a sponsor for Baptism or Confirmation be a Catholic who is truly practicing their Faith!

What are the requirements for a Confirmation Sponsor?

The requirements for a Confirmation Sponsor are set forth in the 1983 Code of Canon Law.  Canons 874 and 893 list the necessary requirements:

  • The Sponsor should be 16 years of age or older, unless a different age has been established by the diocesan bishop or if it seems to the Pastor or minister that an exception may be made for a just cause;
  • The Sponsor must be a baptized Catholic, who is confirmed, and who has made their First Holy Communion – and who lives a life in harmony with the [Catholic] Faith and the role to be undertaken.
  • The Sponsor must not be excommunicated or bound by any other penalty;
  • The Sponsor may not be the father or mother of the one to be baptized or confirmed;
  • The Sponsor must be a Catholic, and never a non-Catholic person.
  • The Sponsor may be of either sex – although in Baptism, if two Sponsors are used, one must be male and the other female. If only one Sponsor is used in Baptism, as is Confirmation, the Sponsor may be of either sex (Canon 873).

What is the name of the Oil used to anoint the candidate during Confirmation?

The candidate is anointed with Sacred Chrism.  Sacred Chrism is olive oil consecrated by the Bishop during the Chrism Mass celebrated during Holy Week.  A special perfume called balm is added when the oil is consecrated by the Bishop.  This gives Sacred Chrism a unique fragrance.

  • In Latin, the Sacred Chrism is called Sacra Chrisma (pronounced “Sah-kra Krizz-ma“).  Sacred Chrism is kept along with the other “Holy Oils” in a special receptacle known as an Ambry (pronounced “Am-bree“).
  • The other Oils are called the “Oils of Catechumens” (Olea Catechumorum – which is used to anoint infants during the Rite of Baptism) and the Oil of the Sick (Olea Infirmorum – which is used to anoint the sick when the Sacrament of the Anointing of the Sick is celebrated).
  • Olea Catechumorum is pronounced “Oh-lee-ya Kat-teck-koo-more-room“;Olea Infirmorum is pronouned “Oh-lee-ya In-firm-more-room.”

What does the Sacred Chrism signify?

The Oil of the Sacred Chrism signifies abundance and joy, of the healing and strength given by Our Lord the Holy Spirit.  Through this holy anointing in Confirmation, the recipient is strengthened by the Holy Spirit in order to live a Christ-like life more intensely.

What are the key actions in the celebration of Confirmation?

The Rite of Confirmation is described in 1297-1301 of the Catechism.  It has four elements:

I. Renewal of Baptismal Promises and Profession of Faith

“When Confirmation is celebrated separately from Baptism, as is the case with the Roman Rite, the Liturgy of Confirmation begins with the renewal of baptismal promises and the profession of the faith by the confirmands.  This clearly shows that confirmation follows Baptism” (Catechism, 1298).  When adults are baptized, they immediately receive Confirmation and participate in the Eucharist” (Catechism, 1298, note 113).

II. The Extension of the Bishop’s hands and the Invocation of the Holy Spirit

“In the Roman Rite the Bishop extends his hands over the whole group of confirmands.  Since the time of the Apostles this gesture has signified the gift of the Spirit.  The bishop invokes the outpouring of the Spirit in these words: “All powerful God, Father of Our Lord Jesus Christ, by water and the Holy Spirit you freed Your sons and daughters from sin and gave them new life.  Send your Holy Spirit upon them to be their Helper and Guide.  Give them the Spirit of wisdom and understanding, the spirit of right judgement and courage, the spirit of knowledge and reverence.  Fill them with the Spirit of wonder and awe in Your Presence.  We ask this through Christ our Lord.” 

III. The Essential Rite of the Sacrament

The essential rite of the Sacrament follows.  In the Latin Rite, the Sacrament is conferred through the anointing with Chrism on the forehead, which is done by the laying on of the hand, and through the words: “Accipe signaculum doni Spiritus Sancti” (Be sealed with the Gift of the Holy Spirit).  In the Eastern Churches of the Byzantine Rite, after a prayer of epiclesis, the more significant parts of the body are anointed with myron (the Eastern Christian name for the Chrism): forehead, eyes, nose, lips, breast, back, hands, and feet.  Each anointing is accompanied by the formula “the Seal of the Holy Spirit” (Catechism, 1300).

IV. The Sign of Peace

“The Sign of Peace that concludes the rite of the Sacrament signifies and demonstrates ecclesial communion with the Bishop and all the faithful” (Catechism, 1301; cf. note 116).

Fr. Rick Poblocki is the Pastor of St. Josaphat’s Parish in Cheektowaga, NY. This article also appears in St. Josaphat’s Weekly Bulletin, available for view in its entirety at www.st-josaphat.com. Don’t miss Fr. Rick on the Tuesday and Thursday Open Forum Editions of Calling All Catholics, weekdays at 5pm on The Station of the Cross Catholic Radio Network and the NEW iCatholicRadio App. Used with permission.

2017-01-02T01:42:30-05:00

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