Q: Archbishop J, why is Confirmation necessary?
Confirmation is an integral part of the initiation into the Catholic Church. It is a structure of grace and a space to encounter the Holy Trinity—Father, Son and Holy Spirit. It is a necessary sacrament if we are to live adult Christianity and a significant step in the spiritual journey of someone who is proceeding to full incorporation into Christ.
Adults who become Catholic experience the way that the sacraments are intended. They receive Baptism, Confirmation and then Eucharist. This order of receiving the sacraments is how they were designed.
Through Baptism we are incorporated into Christ. We are washed, made clean and are grafted onto Christ, the way our hand is grafted onto our body. We are integrally part of the Body of Christ: We are in Christ and Christ is in us.
In Baptism, we are also anointed with sacred chrism, the most holy of oils. With this anointing, we are missioned—as prophet, priest, and king—set aside for the service of God.
In his First Letter, St Peter expresses this very clearly: “But you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s special possession, that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light” (1 Pet 2:9).
Confirmation in Scripture
In the Acts of the Apostles, Philip the deacon preached to the people of Samaria; they believed and were baptised. The account narrates the event and then makes a comment:
When the apostles in Jerusalem heard that Samaria had accepted the word of God, they sent Peter and John to Samaria. When they arrived, they prayed for the new believers there that they might receive the Holy Spirit, because the Holy Spirit had not yet come on any of them; they had simply been baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus. Then Peter and John placed their hands on them, and they received the Holy Spirit (Acts 8:14–17).
Baptism is only one part of the initiation into Christ. Confirmation and Eucharist complete the initiation.
A Christian who is baptised and not confirmed, is like a car without an engine. He or she will be like Fred Flintstone picking up his car and running with it—with all his will and strength. This is not Christ’s intention for His people.
Catechism of the Catholic Church
The Catechism states it well: The sacraments of Christian initiation—Baptism, Confirmation, and the Eucharist—lay the foundations of every Christian life.
The sharing in the divine nature given to men through the grace of Christ bears a certain likeness to the origin, development, and nourishing of natural life. The faithful are born anew by Baptism, strengthened by the sacrament of Confirmation, and receive in the Eucharist the food of eternal life. By means of these sacraments of Christian initiation, they thus receive in increasing measure the treasures of the divine life and advance toward the perfection of charity (1212).
The Church sees the three sacraments as interdependent. Each one laying a foundation for the next; the three together doing their work to bring the person to full maturity in Christ. Baptism and Confirmation are called character sacraments because they put an indelible mark on the soul of the person. The Catechism says:
“The Father has set his seal” on Christ and also seals us in him. Because this seal indicates the indelible effect of the anointing with the Holy Spirit in the sacraments of Baptism, Confirmation, and Holy Orders, the image of the seal (sphragis) has been used in some theological traditions to express the indelible “character” imprinted by these three unrepeatable sacraments (698).
Baptism and Confirmation are unrepeatable! The seal of God on our soul cannot be erased, no matter how bad we are or what bad things we have done. This is another way of speaking about us being incorporated into Christ.
From time to time, people write to ask us to take their name off our baptism register. While this is possible, it is impossible to erase the seal of God from them.
Living fully in Christ
The purpose of Confirmation is to give the person what is necessary to live a life fully given over to Christ. Through the anointing of Baptism, we become sons and daughters of God. Through the anointing of Confirmation, we receive the Holy Spirit in its seven-fold grace.
The prayer calling down the Holy Spirit on those to be confirmed says: “Send upon them, O Lord, the Holy Spirit the Paraclete; give them the spirit of wisdom, and understanding, the spirit of council and fortitude, the spirit of knowledge and piety; fill them with the spirit of the fear of the Lord” (cf. Is 11:1,2).
This seven-fold nature of the Holy Spirit is vital to live fully in Christ. It is vital to live a holy life. It is vital to become a saint.
Together with the seven-fold grace, we also receive the fruits of the Spirit, identified in St Paul’s Letter to the Galatians: “But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control. Against such things there is no law” (Gal 5:22–23).
These fruits, as you may see, are essential if each of us is to be transformed into another Christ. They give us the grace of inner transformation. Each of them dramatically impacts how we relate to other people. They also witness to the inner work that Christ is doing in our souls, as people see us grow and transform in these ways.
The Spirit also comes with gifts, as outlined in St Paul’s First Letter to the Corinthians: the word of wisdom, the word of knowledge, increased faith, the gifts of healing, the gift of miracles, prophecy, the discernment of spirits, diverse kinds of tongues, interpretation of tongues (1Cor 12). These are vital for mission.
Confirmation is necessary for the Christian to have the gifts, fruits, and grace to live as an adult Catholic.
If you are confirmed recall the event and ask God to release in you the seven gifts of the Spirit you received in the sacrament. If you are awaiting Confirmation, ask for the grace of complete surrender.