In thinking about the Sacrament of Confirmation last month we held up St. Joan of Arc as a model for us. Her heroism as a soldier exemplified for us what Confirmation commissions us to do on the spiritual level as public witnesses of our Lord.
While Confirmation is intrinsically connected to being a public witness of Christ and His Church, we can also learn a lot more about this Sacrament by looking at the prayers and actions that take place in the Rite of Confirmation.
The Church tells us that Confirmation is conferred upon the candidate “through the anointing with chrism on the forehead, which is done by the laying on of the hand,” and through the words, “Be sealed with the Gift of the Holy Spirit.” You may notice that this two-fold formula contains both “matter” (the anointing with chrism on the forehead and the laying on of the hand), as well as “form” (the words, “Be sealed with the Gift of the Holy Spirit”). This structure follows the same format that was introduced with the Sacrament of Baptism, namely, that there is a proper matter and a proper form for the celebration of each of the Sacraments.
The fact that Confirmation includes an anointing with chrism oil indicates its direct connection with Baptism. Not all Sacraments use Sacred Chrism in their celebration. In fact, Baptism, Confirmation and Holy Orders are the only Sacraments that involve an anointing with chrism. Because of this, these three Sacraments are unrepeatable, meaning that a person can only validly receive each Sacrament once.
Each one confers on the Christian an “indelible mark,” or a spiritual seal. This seal indicates that we belong totally to Christ: “It is God who…has put His seal on us and given us His Spirit in our hearts as a guarantee” (2 Cor 1:21-22).
With this new seal, the Christian is consecrated, or set aside for a new purpose, a new role in the Church. The baptized Christian is incorporated as a member of the Body of Christ; the confirmed Christian is commissioned as a public witness to the Faith; and the ordained priest is configured to Christ as Head of the Body, in order to serve the Christian faithful (more on Holy Orders later).
That covers the “matter” for Confirmation but the form (again, the words, “Be sealed with the Gift of the Holy Spirit”), also instructs us more deeply as to what Confirmation is.
It’s clear from the words: the Holy Spirit is the protagonist, the “main character” in Confirmation. The Holy Spirit is perhaps the person of the Holy Trinity who is spoken about the least but He plays a vital role in our lives today. We have been, after all, in the “age” of the Holy Spirit, since the day of Pentecost.
Confirmation plants the Holy Spirit deep in our hearts as Christians. Perhaps, as we begin this new year, we can all make a renewed effort to get more deeply acquainted with the Holy Spirit, who was poured into our hearts in a new and fuller way at Confirmation.
By Father Michael Bovino