Fr. John asked me to say what confirmation meant to me—how, that is, I would explain it to a person who happened to ask why I would do such a thing—and I thought that it was worth sharing my reply. I saw three aspects to it, and I will add a fourth that has subsequently occurred.
The first, we could call the gateway aspect. One must be confirmed in order to gain access to other sacraments, and even if one harbored reservations about Confirmation per se, it is a prerequisite for Penance and especially the Eucharist, the value of which can hardly be gainsaid. 1
The second, we might cautiously—given the risk of misunderstanding—call the social aspect. To be confirmed is to publicly profess adherence to the Church: “I believe and profess all that the holy Catholic Church believes, teaches, and proclaims to be revealed by God.” 2 To the extent that the Catholic Church is a fully-functional society (an imperium supra imperiis, even), 3 Confirmation might be thought of as a publicly-professed citizenship oath. 4 Or perhaps we should think of it this way: The Church that sojourns in this life is, in the older formulation, called the Church Militant, 5 and Confirmation is a commission that “marks the Christian as a soldier in the army of Christ.” 6 In many senses, it is not only Cardinals who “are entrusted with the service of love: love for God, love for His Church, [and] an absolute and unconditional love for his brothers and sisters, even unto shedding their blood, if necessary….” 7
The third, and most important, is what we must call the sacramental aspect. Far from an “idle ceremony,” Confirmation “imprint[s] in the soul a character, that is, a certain spiritual and indelible Sign,” 8 that “complet[es] … baptismal grace.” 9 The Catechism puts it this way:
Confirmation brings an increase and deepening of baptismal grace:
– it roots us more deeply in the divine filiation which makes us cry, “Abba! Father!”;[ Rom 8:15.]
– it unites us more firmly to Christ;
– it increases the gifts of the Holy Spirit in us;
– it renders our bond with the Church more perfect;[ Cf. LG 11.]
– it gives us a special strength of the Holy Spirit to spread and defend the faith by word and action as true witnesses of Christ, to confess the name of Christ boldly, and never to be ashamed of the Cross:[ Cf. Council of Florence (1439) DS 1319; LG 11-12.]
Recall then that you have received the spiritual seal, the spirit of wisdom and understanding, the spirit of right judgment and courage, the spirit of knowledge and reverence, the spirit of holy fear in God’s presence. Guard what you have received. God the Father has marked you with his sign; Christ the Lord has confirmed you and has placed his pledge, the Spirit, in your hearts. [SL Ambrose, De myst. 7, 42 PL 16, 402-403.] 10
Charles Coppens adds that its increase of sanctifying grace fortifies the confirmand “openly and patiently to profess the faith, and to combat against our spiritual enemies, the world, the devil, and the flesh,” 11 and the Rite of Confirmation (we’ll use the old translation for now) gets right to the point:
[The Bishop says] My dear friends: in Baptism God our Father gave the new birth of eternal life to his chosen sons and daughters. Let us pray to our Father that he will pour out the Holy Spirit to strengthen his sons and daughters with his gifts and anoint them to be more like Christ the Son of 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 judgment 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.
Finally, I might add what we could call the psychological aspect. In protestant communities rooted in the anabaptist tradition, including American evangelical groups, adult converts are baptized, even when it is in fact a rebaptism. This serves as a valuable psychological demarcation in their lives: It is a tangible act done to affirm both internally and externally a changed internal disposition. And, candidly, I must tell you that I was somewhat disappointed (having attended an evangelical church as an agnostic husband to a Christian wife, and thus having absorbed some of its assumptions) to realize that I would not be rebaptized. (Indeed, couldn’t be rebaptized: We don’t have to revisit the history behind it today, but that is the essence of the affirmation in the Credo that “I acknowledge one baptism for the forgiveness of sins.”) Confirmation would seem to fulfill the same psychological need.
These are the thoughts I have on it looking forward toward the Easter Vigil.
- Cf. Jn 6:32 et seq., and 20:23; MP: The Merits of the Eucharist, March 3, 2012. ↩
- Importantly, that is an affirmation of the Magisterium, not an independent concurrence with each item of doctrine.The logical endpoint of protestantism is that one could—while remaining a protestant and thus on the basis of one’s own scriptural analysis—agree with every single doctrine taught by the Church except its authority to teach it authoritatively. ↩
- Cf. John Sullivan, the Externals of the Catholic Church 3-4 (1919) ↩
- Cf. Ps 22:25. ↩
- As contrasted to the Church Triumphant, which is the communion of saints in Heaven, and the Church Suffering, comprising the souls undergoing the cleansing fire of purgatory, cf. 1 Cor 3:12-15. ↩
- Baltimore Catechism, no. 339; cf. LG33; Charles Coppens, The Catholic Religion, no. 242 (1903). ↩
- Benedict XVI, Address to the Ordinary Consistory fory the Creation of New Cardinals, Feb. 18, 2012; cf. Zenit, Cardinals’ Oath on Receiving Biretta, Oct. 21, 2003. ↩
- Waterworth’s Council of Trent, at 55, 58 (7th Sess. 1547); cf. Balt. Cat., no. 337. ↩
- CCC ¶ 1285; cf. Acts 8:14-17 and 19:5-6; Tertullian, On Baptism, ch. 7 (c. AD 200). ↩
- CCC ¶ 1303; see also id., ¶¶ 1287-89. ↩
- Coppens, supra, no. 143. ↩