Some background on the sacrament follows.
History of the Sacrament
At first it was a matter of the laying on of hands, but early on, the better to signify the gift and the anointing of the Holy Spirit, an anointing with perfumed oil or chrism was added to the laying on of hands. In the early centuries Confirmation comprised one celebration with Baptism. But the multiplication of infant baptisms and the growth of dioceses prevented bishops from being present. Hence in the Western Church the desire to reserve the completion of Baptism to the Bishop gave rise to a complete separation of the two sacraments in time.
Confirmation by the Bishop stresses the communion of the new Christian with his/her bishop as guarantor and servant of the unity, catholicity and apostolicity of the Church, and hence the connection with the apostolic origins of Christ’s Church.
The Confirmation Ceremony
Anointing is a very symbolic part of the ceremony. It is a sign of abundance, joy, health, suppleness, healing and setting apart. (Kings and priests were anointed in the Old Testament). We are thus set apart, and given a task as well as the ability to carry it out.
Stages of the ceremony
- The oil is consecrated, usually on the previous Holy Thursday
- Baptismal promises are renewed;
- The bishop extends his hands over all the confirmands (this gesture signifies the gift of the Spirit. He invokes the outpouring of the Spirit (see CCC 1299) on them; then
- He anoints with chrism on the forehead, by the laying on of hands with the words: Be sealed with the Gift of the Holy Spirit.
The effects of Confirmation
- It roots us more deeply in our divine filiation;
- It unites us more firmly to Christ;
- It increases the gifts of the Holy Spirit;
- It renders our bond with the Church more perfect;
- It gives us a special strength of the Holy Spirit to proclaim the faith boldly as
- true witnesses of Christ, and not to be ashamed of the Cross;
- It confers an indelible spiritual mark which perfects the royal priesthood of the faithful received at Baptism. It is a sharing in the priesthood of Christ.
Who may receive Confirmation?
Every baptized person is eligible. In the Latin tradition the age of discretion is given as the appropriate time. In cases of danger of death it can and should be administered to children, even by a priest.
One must be in a state of grace, and should receive the sacrament of Penance in order to be cleansed for the gift of the Holy Spirit.
Who administers Confirmation?
The original minister is the bishop. who may also permit a priest to confirm when necessary. Confirmation is regularly administered by a priest in the case of reception of a non-confirmed Christian into the Catholic Church, and in Baptism of adults.