Clarifying Certain Misunderstandings About Confirmation

Yesterday we discussed a bit about baptism and some of the pastoral practices surrounding it. Today in a kind of companion piece I’d like to address some of the distortions and confusion that often surround the Sacrament of Confirmation.

Some one once said that Confirmation is the Sacrament in search of a theology. While not true, the statement does capture that there is a lot of incorrect and sometimes silly teaching about this sacrament to young people. And since it is the season for Confirmations, it may be helpful to explore what the Catechism teaches about the sacrament.

It will also help to exclude certain common, but incorrect notions about Confirmation.

1. Confirmation is not a Sacrament of Maturity – Canon Law (891) states that Confirmation is generally to be administered at about the age of discretion, which age is understood to be seven (Canon 97.2). It may be administered earlier if there is “danger of death” or for another “grave cause.” The same Canon allows the conference of bishops to determine another age for reception of the sacrament. While one may argue that a later date for the Sacrament is pastorally advisable, (e.g. to keep young people engaged in catechetical instruction) one simply cannot argue that it is a “Sacrament of maturity” when Church law generally presupposes its celebration at the age of seven. This is made clearer by the fact that most Eastern Churches, and the Orthodox confirm infants.

2. Confirmation is not “becoming an adult in the Church.” – This is just plain silly. I was taught this as a mere seventh grader, and found it laughable even then. Seventh graders are not adults. They are children and remain so even after Confirmation.

3. Confirmation is not a sacrament where one claims or affirms the faith for himself – Baptism confers faith. To claim that Confirmation “allows me to speak for myself” is to imply that this is how faith comes about. It is to imply that baptism somehow did not actually give real faith, or at least gave inadequate faith,  and now I am getting it by “speaking for myself.” No, Faith is a gift, it is not something I cause by speaking for myself, it is something I receive as an unmerited and free gift of God. It is true that the grace of faith mysteriously interacts with our freedom. But faith is received at baptism. Confirmation strengthens faith that is already there, but it does not cause it. Further it is a bit of a stretch to say that seventh or eighth graders really “speak for themselves.”

4. Confirmation does not “complete Christian initiation” and “make me a full Catholic.” – One of the problems with delaying Confirmation is that the three Sacraments of Initiation are celebrated out of proper order. The proper order of celebration is: Baptism, Confirmation, and Holy Communion. Hence it is Holy Communion that completes initiation, not Confirmation. That we celebrate it out of order creates a lot of confusion and makes initiation a little murky. The Rite of Christian Initiation for Adults observes the proper order. Some diocese in this country have returned to this for children as well. In a couple of diocese of which I am aware, the bishop comes to the parish and confirms the seven year old children and then, at the same Mass, gives them First Holy Communion. While this preserves the order of Initiation, and there are pastoral advantages in this regard, it  must be clear that each Bishop is able to set the policy that makes most sense for his diocese. He will obviously weigh a number of pastoral concerns in making his decision.

So what is Confirmation?

1. Confirmation is the Christian’s Personal Pentecost – The Catechism of the Catholic Church says, The sacrament of Confirmation is the full outpouring of the Holy Spirit as once granted to the apostles on the day of Pentecost (# 1302) Before Pentecost, the Apostles were fearful, confused and secretive, gathering only behind locked doors.

But, Suddenly from up in the sky there came a noise, like a strong driving wind which was heard all through the house where they were seated. Tongues as of fire appeared which parted and came to rest on each of them. All were filled with the Holy Spirit. They began to..make bold proclamations as the Spirit prompted them. (Acts 2:1-4)

Consider the change in these men! They had been fearful and confused. Now they are courageous, boldly proclaiming Christ, with insight and an effectiveness so great, that three thousand were added that very day to their number. This is what can happen when we really yield to the power of the Holy Spirit.

It is in the Sacrament of Confirmation that we called to experience the outpouring of the Holy Spirit to strengthen us for our mission of spreading and defending our faith. The very word, Confirmation comes from the Latin word Confirma, meaning to strengthen.

2. Confirmation strengthens and quickens our faith for witness and mission – The essential grace (or gift) of the Sacrament of Confirmation is that we should be strengthened equipped for mission. And what is that mission? Again the Catechism teaches, 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 (CCC # 1304). The Catechism also teaches how the sacrament accomplishes this great strengthening within us: Confirmation…is the sacrament which gives the Holy Spirit in order to root us more deeply in the divine filiation, incorporate us more firmly into Christ, strengthen our bond with the Church, associate us more closely with her mission, and help us bear witness to the Christian faith in words accompanied by deeds (CCC # 1316).

See too how this sacrament is given to us not only for our own sakes but also for the world: …enriched with a special strength of the Holy Spirit…the [confirmed] are, as true witnesses of Christ, more strictly obliged to spread and defend the faith…( # 1285) Further, A candidate for Confirmation…[must] be prepared to assume the role of disciple and witness to Christ, both within the ecclesial community and in temporal affairs [i.e. “the world”] (CCC # 1319).

3. The Biblical roots of the Sacrament – Jesus had promised to send the Holy Spirit. For example He said,

Nevertheless I tell you the truth: it is to your advantage that I go away, for if I do not go away, the Counselor will not come to you; but if I go, I will send him to you….I have yet many things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now. When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth; for he will not speak on his own authority, but whatever he hears he will speak, and he will declare to you the things that are to come. (John 16:7ff).

He also told them, But you shall receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you shall be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria and to the end of the earth. (Acts 1:8) And yet again, Behold, I send the promise of my Father upon you; but stay in the city, until you are clothed with power from on high. (Lk 24:49)

Within days, while they were gathered in prayer, the Holy Spirit descended on them like tongues of fire (See Acts 2:1-4 recounted earlier). The Apostles began to boldly proclaim the gospel from that day on.

Those who believed in the apostolic preaching were baptized. But in addition to baptism these Apostles also laid hands on the faithful that they might receive the Holy Spirit. Sometimes this was done at the time of baptism and sometimes it was done later. Consider for example these two texts.

When the Apostles in Jerusalem heard that Samaria had accepted the word of God, they sent Peter and John to them. The two went down to these people and prayed that they might receive the Holy Spirit. It had not as yet come down upon them any of them since they had only been baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus. The pair, upon arriving imposed hands on them and they received the Holy Spirit.” (Acts 8:15-19)

This text shows some separation between the time of baptism and the time of confirmation (the “receiving of the Spirit). The text also explains our Catholic tradition of generally reserving the sacrament for the bishop to celebrate since, in the early Church, the Apostles made it part of their mission to impose hands for the outpouring of the Spirit. Phillip the Deacon had performed the baptisms in Samaria but he waited for the apostles to confirm them in the Spirit.

This next text shows the Apostle Paul baptizing. Because he, an apostle is present, there is no delay in confirming the newly baptized in the Spirit

“When they heard this, [Paul’s preaching] they were baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus. As Paul laid his hands on them, the Holy Spirit came down upon them and they began to speak in tongues and utter prophecies.” (Acts 19:5-6)

Thus we see the Biblical roots of the Sacrament of Confirmation. Jesus promised the Spirit and did in fact send Him on the day of Pentecost. The Apostles understood that they were not to keep this experience to themselves. So, as the catechism teaches, From that time on the apostles, in fulfillment of Christ’s will, imparted to the newly baptized by the laying on of hands the gift of the Spirit that completes the grace of Baptism….The imposition of hands is rightly recognized by the Catholic tradition as the origin of the sacrament of Confirmation, which in a certain way perpetuates the grace of Pentecost in the Church. (CCC # 1288)

4. The Importance of our Confirmation – More than ever, we need to take the power of God given in this sacrament seriously. All too frequently many Catholics are hindered by fear and confusion from proclaiming the Gospel to the world. This need not be so. There is just too much that needs to be done in proclaiming the Kingdom. We must speak boldly for Christ and announce his salvation day after day. [F]or God did not give us a spirit of timidity but a spirit of power and love and self control. Do not be ashamed then of testifying to our Lord..! (2 Tim 1:7-8) And this gift is not just for some; every member of the faithful is called to receive a special out-pouring of the Holy Spirit.

We have a mission to spread the Gospel in union with the Church by what we say and what we do. It is tragic indeed that so many have seen fit to leave this essential task to others. There is a saying that is sadly true: “Evil triumphs when the good remain silent.” Is this not what has happened in our day? How could a nation with so many Christians living in its midst have so many confused and lost sheep?

If the Apostles could be so changed for their mission by the Holy Spirit, so can we. We are called to spread that faith handed down from the Apostles to our family, friends, co-workers and neighbors. And we must do so in season and out of season. In our Confirmation Christ unites us more firmly to himself and his Church, increases the gifts of the Holy Spirit within us and gives us special strength to live holy lives and to spread and defend the faith (cf CCC # 1303).

It is in Confirmation especially that Christ lays his hands upon us to strengthen us for this mission of evangelization. The task may seem daunting but this is exactly why Christ himself strengthens us so that we can truly say I can do all things in Christ, who strengthens me. (Phil 4:13)

This Blog Post is available as a PDF Document here: The Sacrament of Confirmation

Here’s a little video I put together for the youth on Confirmation. The Song says, “You should be a witness. Why don’t you testify? Stand up and be a witness for the Lord! Don’t be afraid to be a witness!”

39 Replies to “Clarifying Certain Misunderstandings About Confirmation”

  1. This is very good. Thank you. I think I had a sort of Pentecost when I was received into the Church…thus, my sincere conversion and energy for God’s work…

  2. Where I come from, Confirmation was always considered a Deal with God.
    It was the rite of passage from child to adult, and with it came all the duties and responsibilities of adult life.
    You could get married and start a family or join the army.

    These days, the secular powers of government ensures that no legal or judicial rights or responsibilities acompany Confirmation, as part of their general agenda to portray Faith as “a private and personal matter” and thus their aim at depriving The Church of power. It is their claim that society should be ruled by politicians and not The Clergy.

    Witch of course is utter nonsense.

    God started His Church to sheperd, govern and RULE, on His behalf, making, if possible, the entire world His Kingdome. Not His “democracy” as is the great hype these days, but His Kingdome.

    The Confirmation is as much as anything, a promise to take part in this project to bring all people under the thumb of God.

    1. So would you say that the Monsignor’s post helped you have a proper understanding of the Sacrament?

  3. The way you describe it (and please correct me if I am wrong), Confirmation is an even more important sacrament than is Communion. Baptism is the entrance into the Church, and the removal of Original sin, Confirmation bestoys the gift of the Holy Spirit, with its attendent charisms, while Communion (it seems to me) simply is the outward sign of what has already occured, ie the new Christian is now a member of the Fellowship of Christ and of his Church.

    Is that correct?

    1. The entire point of this Creation Project of God’s, the destination for which we were made, is to be one with God. One with Him in the entirety of our being, a loving communion of persons, in the likeness of the Triune God Himself.

      And since we are not mere physical beings, like a tree, and we are not only spiritual beings, like the angels, but are body and spirit — embodied souls or ensouled bodies — to be fully one with God means being one with Him spiritually and one with Him bodily. Our body one with His Body, our spirit one with His Spirit, in the totality of our being, and each of us one with Him and He one with us, such that we are all one with each other, a loving communion of a multiplicity of persons in One Being.

      As such, the Eucharist is rightly called “the source and summit of the Christian life.” CCC 1324 In its eschatological aspect, it looks forward to that “day” when the faithful will be one with the Lamb at the “wedding banquet” in the New Jerusalem. Baptism brings salvation for ourselves, Confirmation brings sanctification and calls us to the mission to bring salvation to other people as well, and the Eucharist brings true communion of the entire Body with He who is Love, Truth, and Life.

      1. You are right! I keep forgetting how good the body is, and focusing entirely on the spirit instead. I forget which heresy that is! My bad.
        Thanks a lot.

        1. Dear Shari, hi. You are thinking of gnosticism as well as albigensianism, the sub-heresy, if you will, of catharism. With dashes of the eastern exotica of manichaeism thrown in. Basically a bad, pestilent wind that came out of Persia and made it as far as Toulouse, wounding countless souls…who were then saved by Christ in all his hypostatic glory! Laudetur Iesus Christus!

  4. ‘Confirmation does not “complete Christian initiation” and “make me a full Catholic.”’

    What about for adult converts?

    1. As Msgr. Pope wrote, “The proper order of celebration is: Baptism, Confirmation, and Holy Communion.” Even for adult converts, this is the proper order. Thus, reception of Holy Communion (after reception of Baptism and Confirmation) completes one’s initiation into the Church. Even if an adult convert is already baptized, he/she would not receive Communion until after Confirmation.

    2. This is even true for adult converts, for whom the correct order is normally maintained. Although confirmation and first communion may occur at the same ceremony, we (I came through RCIA myself as a convert) are confirmed and only then receive communion. That they occur more or less back-to-back doesn’t change the order.

  5. Monsignor, you do not state your opinion on the proper age for receiving the Sacrament. Considering the Holy Father’s personal thanks to Bishop Aquila for “reordering” the Sacraments in Fargo, this is an issue on the minds of many with an interest in youth catechesis.

    For reasons you provide in this article, I would argue that the Sacrament of Confirmation is more appropriately conferred on older youth and adults rather than children.

    “Confirmation is the Christian’s Personal Pentecost.” Pentecost was not the first time the Apostles had received the Holy Spirit. Although not stated in Scripture, we can assume the Apostles were baptized (some even before Jesus). They also received the Holy Spirit directly from Jesus on the day of the Resurrection (Jn 20:22). Yet, despite having received the Holy Spirit, and having gotten very specific instructions from Jesus, they still did not know what their mission was. In Acts 1:6, we see them flunking their final exam (and one can only wonder about the look of exasperation that might have been on Jesus’ face). Even up to the last moment of Jesus’ time on earth, the Apostles did not know their role in continuing His work.

    “Confirmation strengthens and quickens our faith for witness and mission.” After nine days of praying together, the Apostles receive the Holy Spirit again, but this time they suddenly “get it”. They suddenly know what they are supposed to do and go do it immediately.

    According to Scripture, there was something different about how they received the Holy Spirit on Pentecost than how they received it at Baptism or directly from Jesus from himself. Something happened that made this reception more manifest and effective. I would offer that the initial shock of Jesus leaving once again (The Ascension) without establishing His kingdom caused the Apostles to reevaluate everything they had seen and been taught, and through prayer and grace they received a new and proper understanding. If this interpretation has any merit, I would think it provides an argument for a later reception of Confirmation rather than an earlier one.

    Lastly, upon the concept of the “proper order”, can we take any example from the order in which the Apostles received the Sacraments? Baptism, then Holy Eucharist, then Confirmation?

    1. It does appear that even the Apostles needed a significant period of preparation and growth in faith before they could cooperate with the power of the Holy Spirit, despite having received it (straight from Jesus) earlier.

      But then, they were different men. They were not clueless innocents as they were when baptised. Nor were they puzzled disciples as at the Last Supper. Nor were they in “critical care” as Msgr. put it as they were when Jesus came and basically celebrated the Eucharist with them again. Instead, the disciples were waiting in joyful anticipation, obedient to the Lord. They were “ready.”

      That does seem like a good reason to follow the Apostolic example of Baptism, Eucharist then Confirmation.

      1. rjfarel,

        as an eastern Christian (raised Orthodox, but now Melkite Greek Catholic) and raising children within this tradition, I don’t see how Msgr. Pope’s explanation would lead to the conclusion that it is better for older children. I was confirmed as an infant, as are my children (we all received the sacraments of initiation as infants at the same Liturgy, as is customary in the Eastern Churches). We have a similar understanding of the sacrament as the Roman Rite does, however, this has never impeded the efficacy of the sacrament when receiving it so young.

        As to when the sacrament was initiated, there are some Eastern Fathers (such as St. Ephrem the Syrian) who point to the descent of the dove at the Baptism of Christ as the first confirmation, while others point to Pentecost. The origins of the sacrament don’t seem as clear as others do.

        Finally, there is something to tradition. The fact that the Church has traditionally administered the sacraments in this order (baptism, confirmation, and holy communion) should bear significant weight when deciding why this may be good. She has, in her wisdom, seen the reception of the Eucharist as the summit of our return to Eden. We have been cleansed of original sin, the gates of Paradise have been opened back to us; our faces have been shined with the “oil of gladness” and we are now able to eat of the Tree of LIfe. Isn’t this the ultimate goal of the Christian life? To come back into communion? To be received back and partake of that which was taken away due to our own folly? It would make sense, then, that the height of the life in Christ be reserved for last.

        Just some thoughts. 🙂

    2. Regarding the order of the sacraments, it’s worth recalling that the first true Gentiles to enter the Church received Confirmation first, then Baptism, then the Holy Eucharist (see Acts 10:44-48). We assume that the Apostles received Baptism first, but Scripture is silent on the matter; there is no clear evidence as to when their baptism took place. They could very well have received the sacraments in the order of Holy Eucharist, Baptism, Confirmation. In the case of Cornelius and his household (Acts 10), and the Apostles, the order was detemined more by their unique circumstances than anything else. However, the Church’s reflection on the order of these sacraments over the ages has clearly shown the wisdom of them being received in the order of Baptism, Confirmation, and Holy Eucharist.

      The current practice of late confirmation (i.e., high school age) in most dioceses in the US is contrary what is widely known about the development of children. Near the time of fifth or sixth grade, they enter into a new level of spiritual warfare. If we believe that Confirmation gives us the weapons that enables of to be soldiers of Christ, then it is absurd to fail to equip the army until three, four, or more years after they have entered the battle!

  6. This article makes me realize how little I know about Confirmation and appreciate my own Confirmation more. Thank you, Monsignor.

  7. Does one receive the gift of faith whether one consciously wants it or not? Whether one is really thinking about it or not? Does one receive the gift and strengthening of faith and the Holy Spirit even when one is simply going through the confirmation process because they are expected to by their parents, the Church, etc.?

    In other words, if they do are not actually professing the faith for themselves, do they get faith “thrust” upon them whether they want it or not? Does the confirmands own faith or receptivity have anything to do with it at all? These are the questions I have as I read this article.

  8. The old Baltimore catechism said :

    166 Q. What is Confirmation?
    A. Confirmation is a Sacrament through which we receive the Holy Ghost to make us strong and perfect Christians and soldiers of Jesus Christ.

    In Baptism we are made Christians, but we are not very strong in our faith till the Holy Ghost comes in Confirmation. You remember how timid the Apostles were before the coming of the Holy Ghost, and how firm and determined in their faith they were afterwards; and how fearlessly they preached even to those who crucified Our Lord. “Soldiers,” because we must fight for our salvation against our three enemies, the devil, the world, and the flesh. Our Lord is our great leader in this warfare, and we must follow Him and fight as He directs. A soldier that fights as he pleases and not as his general commands, will surely be beaten.

    That statement has the virtue of being true, simple ( passes the seven year old test) and is easy to remember.
    The problem with lots of modernist….er… I mean modern theology is that it is almost never clear, simple, and not even always true. I would also note that this definition is such that the sacrament can be received with spiritual benefit at any age, Since the Holy Spirit is given as a gift, it makes little sense in my eyes to delay it, especially to the teenage years, when it is a good bet that some of the older teenagers would not be in the state of grace. My middle son is currently being confirmed, I can tell you for a fact that a significant number of his fellow students doubt the existence of God and are going through the motions because their parents make them do this sort of thing. It is making my son rather cynical about the whole business, something I know he needs to avoid, but when a good 20-30% of you class thinks the whole thing is nonsense and the adults in charge are fine with that, 9 or are too clueless to know this is the case, it is hard to take all this Holy Spirit business seriously. This does not seem to be fertile ground for the sacrament. Some of these teens are involved in activities that would classically be described as mortal sins, ( yes I know, we have no idea about the state of their soul, full consent and sufficient reflection and all that…) I also acknowledge some teenagers will go through a period of agnosticism and that this will lead to a more mature faith, ( maybe, maybe, it may just as easily lead to a more hardened atheism later.. ) But regardless it would seem that if the sacrament truly has a spiritual effect which we claim to believe, giving it earlier may mean more teenagers have the strength to resist things like loss of faith and various sinful behaviors when they are teens.

    1. To be fair, the Q and the A up to the the first period are the Baltimore. The next paragraph is a commentary. I too like the memorable simplicity of the B. C., especially for children, but I must say that, as we go along, much more is needed than that one sentence. There is just more to Confirmation than one sentence can say.

  9. Catechism of Trent

    “To begin with the name, it should be taught that this Sacrament is called by the Church Confirmation because, if there is no obstacle to the efficacy of the Sacrament, a baptised person, when anointed with the sacred chrism by the Bishop, with the accompanying solemn words: I sign thee with the sign of the cross, and confirm thee with the chrism of salvation, in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost, becomes stronger with the strength of a new power, and thus begins to be a perfect soldier of Christ. ”

    “Hence Pope Melchiades accurately evolves the difference between them, writing as follows: In Baptism man is enlisted into the service, in Confirmation he is equipped for battle; at the baptismal font the Holy Ghost imparts fullness to accomplish innocence, but in Confirmation he ministers perfection to grace; in Baptism we are regenerated unto life, after Baptism we are fortified for the combat; in Baptism we are cleansed, after Baptism we are strengthened; regeneration of itself saves those who receive Baptism in time of peace, Confirmation arms and makes ready for conflicts. These are truths not only already recorded by other Councils, but specially defined by the holy Council of Trent; so that we are therefore no longer at liberty not only to think otherwise, but even to entertain the least doubt concerning them. “

    1. Miles Christi tu es! They were just phasing out the strike on the cheek when I was confirmed. I miss this aspect of the sacrament. As a youngster it meant a lot to me.

  10. From a book called Theology & Sanity by Frank Sheed I read this: “A man is re-born by Baptism, by which he gets a place in the Kingdom; for his growing out of childhood there is Confirmation, by which he gets a function in the Kingdom.” Is this not a correct way to think about Confirmation?

    1. No, I don’t think it is correct. It’s not harmful, but it really isn’t a well rooted theology of the sacrament which is routinely given to infants in the East and generally prescribed for 7 years olds in the West. It would seem that as we have gotten out of giving the sacrament in the proper order (before Communion) and at later and later ages we have fallen into this kind of thinking. But maturity (which happens at many different level to people at different ages is not the essential point of the sacrament. Strengthening is. Further, as I noted in an answer to a question above, the Catechism cautions against such a notion in # 1308 – Again, the catechism states: Although Confirmation is sometimes called the “sacrament of Christian maturity,” we must not confuse adult faith with the adult age of natural growth, nor forget that the baptismal grace is a grace of free, unmerited election and does not need “ratification” to become effective. St. Thomas reminds us of this: Age of body does not determine age of soul. Even in childhood man can attain spiritual maturity: as the book of Wisdom says: “For old age is not honored for length of time, or measured by number of years. “Many children, through the strength of the Holy Spirit they have received, have bravely fought for Christ even to the shedding of their blood. Hence while acknowledging that some call it a “sacrament of maturity” the Catechism cautions and reiterates maturity and ratification etc are not necessary for this sacrament.

      1. Below is basically what I tell my Confirmation Students. Our RE director is OK with it, but please let me know what might be a better way to phrase the Confimation portiion. Thanks for the help.

        Just as we are born into physical life we are born again into the spiritual life of Christ in baptism. By the way, if you are a baptized Catholic and someone were to ask you “Are you born again?” The answer is unequivocally “Yes”. Although we can sin afterwards, Catholics are “born again” at baptism. This is the reality.

        At some point in our physical life we are considered an adult by the rest of society. In the United States we are legal adults at age 18. This happens regardless of how we feel about it or how mature we may think we are. With Confirmation we are considered adults in the Church with the same basic mission to go forth and preach the good news, whether we like it or not or whether we think we are mature enough or not.

        Sacraments of Vocation (Marriage, Holy Orders):
        As we grow and mature we discern some duty within society; some type of job/career or perhaps raising a family. In the spiritual life there are vocations and certain sacraments to help us advance the Kingdom of God.

        As we live, we continuously need physical sustenance (food/water) for our physical journey. Jesus gave himself as our spiritual food; our daily bread (body/blood) for our spiritual journey.

        As we go through life we experience sickness and injury which require healing. Many never experience serious injury or disease, but no one gets through life without the slightest sniffle, cough, bruise or cut. With no healing it gets worse and worse to the point of death. What these things do to the body, sin does to the soul, thus the need for spiritual healing.

        1. It seems that the template in use is that the sacraments mirror spiritually some aspect of the body: eg birth, need for food, recovery from injury etc. And while I appreciate this template and make some use of it, one can speak more appropriately of the sacrament of confirmation as strengthening (as it’s name suggests) or quickening the faith rather than use words like adult, which is not a term the catechism uses. Hence we all need to grow in strength, and this is a life long thing that has nothing to do with being an adult per se. I am still growing and seeing my faith strengthened at age 50 and I am sure my confirmation has a lot to do with this as it’s power in seminal form bears fruit in on-going maturity and strength. Hence, I would advise using the concept of growth, a life long need, rather than “adult” which is a kind of definitional difficulty. I will simply say again, it is a very strange thing to say to a 7th grader, you are now an adult, even stranger to say to a 7 year old (for many are confirmed at that age), stranger still to say it of an infant in the Eastern Church who has just been chrismated. Confirmation surely begins a process of maturation and strengthening, but at age 50 I will not tell you that I am wholly mature and that all is complete. God is still working to unfold and bring to completion the work he began in me.

          1. Msgr.,
            I updated the above. How is this?

            We experience growth in our physical life. In the United States we are given more “power” and responsibility, like the right to vote, at age 18. This happens regardless of how we feel about it or how mature we may think we are. Confirmation begins a process of maturation and strengthening. We experience growth to go forth and preach the good news and we have the responsibility to do so, whether we like it or not; whether we think we are mature enough or not.

      2. Ben’s quote from Frank Sheed occurs in the context of the correspondence between man’s spiritual life (i.e., the life provided by sanctifying grace) and man’s natural, bodily life. In the paragraph containing the quote he writes: “Observe too how precisely this particular system of sacraments corresponds with the shape of man’s natural life” (p. 301, 1993 edition). Hence, he is using man’s natural development as an analogy for man’s spiritual development. Physical maturity is a process that brings about a strengthening of both the body and the mind (1 Cor 13:11). Similarly, Confirmation brings about strengthening in man’s spiritual life. The point Sheed is making is that there is a correspondence between the physical maturing of the body and the spiritual maturing of the soul, just as there is a correspondence between physical birth and being re-born in baptism. But he is in no way saying there is a necessary link between the timing of the spiritual strengthening of Confirmation and the physical strengthening or maturing of the body. Rather, his point is that spiritual maturity is conferred on the one who is Confirmed, regardless of his age. This is in accord with the Catechism of the Council of Trent (“In Baptism man is enlisted into the service, in Confirmation he is equipped for battle”) and is in harmony with CCC 1308 that cautions against linking “adult faith with the adult age of natural growth.” I think that what Sheed is saying is a correct way to think about Confirmation when the quote is seen in its full context.

  11. When I was the CCD director I used to tell a minister, a rabbi and a priest walk into a bar joke. They get drinks and the conversation at the table turned to their rat problems in their church/synagogue. The minister tried poison, but the rats were still there. The rabbi hired an exterminator, but they still had rats. The priest said they tried both of those but still had rats until he found another solution and now there are no more rats. The minister and rabbi asked how he did it. The priest replied: “We confirmed all the rats and we never saw them again.”

  12. I read your posts on confirmation of the young and not delaying Baptism, and wasn’t going to reply until I just found out that my 10 month old granddaughter had to be taken to the emergency room with 105 degree fever. All is well, but your posts really sunk in. Without emergency rooms and modern medicine, infant mortality becomes a very real threat…and the seriousness of the sacraments of initiation being administered as soon as possible suddenly became equally real to me.

  13. When I was doing youth ministry I was put in charge of the Confirmation program. So, I began like any good catechist would, I started searching for a book. What I found was that even the more orthodox publishers did not offer anything with solid theology about the sacrament of Confirmation. They were just a collection of teachings about various topics of which the publishers thought those of Confirmation should be catechized without any focus on the sacrament. Then, when it came to the lesson or two on Confirmation, the theology was confused. So, I wrote my own program. I am very heartened to see the clear thinking laid out in this blog, but am not sure that it has spread to the publishers as is yet. So, I would encourage other responsible for catechesis to write their own materials. It is a lot of work but it causes you to think more clearly about the sacrament and you can tailor it to your particular situation. So the benefits out weight the cost. What continues to concern me is the confusion about Confirmation by the clergy, even bishops. I now prepare college students for Confirmation but you let a priest or bishop give a homily to them about the sacrament and it leaves them scratching their head. What can be done to better catechize the clergy?

    1. The absolute best resource for learning what Confirmation is all about is to go read all the homilies and messages and addresses that Pope Benedict makes to young people, as for World Youth Day or his various travels. A great many of these speak of Confirmation specifically.

      In trying to figure out the difference between Baptism and Confirmation, given the Catechism’s statement that it completes Baptism and brings an increase and deepening of baptismal grace (which confusingly and erroneously leads one to conclude that they are essentially the same thing and wonder why Jesus didn’t just combine the two), it was not until I read Pope Benedict’s message for WYD 2008 and his homilies there that it all clicked, most especially in tying it to what Jesus said just before the Ascension, “You will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you;
      and you will be my witnesses” (Acts 1:8).

      1. Blessed John Paul II’s writings on the Holy Spirit are quite helpful too.

        The problem is that, notwithstanding the grace that is imparted, Confirmation is like the gift that is left under the Christmas tree, or like the gift that is opened, but then stuck in the back of the closet because the recipient does not know what it is or what to do with it. As such, it is the same as never having received the gift at all.

        In order to fully accept the gift of grace in the Sacrament, and to thereafter actually use those graces (since grace does not turn us into puppets, rather it is necessary that we actually cooperate with grace for it to be effective), and to then fulfill the duty and obligation that is imposed upon receiving Confirmation, it is essential and necessary that the recipient be adequately prepared, which means fully explaining what Confirmation is all about. It took Jesus close to three years to adequately prepare the Apostles, and they were full adults who had the benefit of receiving the teaching from the Lord Himself, rather than the lowly servants who are catechists (no matter how knowledgeable they are).

  14. Thanks for this good post. Confirmation is wildly misunderstood today.
    You could say that Confirmation is the Sacrament of Reason. Confirmation acts with our Reason, giving us grace to use our reason for making the right choices, and arming ourselves better against temptation.
    I believe that this is how the terms of ‘adult’ got confused with Confirmation. Since this particular Sacrament acts on us when we reach the age of reason, somehow this term got manipulated into ‘oh its about becoming an adult’.

    It makes sense to arm the infant with Confirmation right after Baptism, as this arms the warrior with the ‘weapons’ BEFORE battle, not after he is already wounded in adolescence with a lifetime of bad habits.
    For the argument that parishes give about Confirmation and using it as a carrot to keep kids coming to Religious Education and Mass, ‘well if we give Confirmation too early, we won’t see the kids ever in Church again”, think instead of spiritual terms. If the soul is armed early, it is far more likely that that soul will be converted more effectively and already will be coming to Mass and educate themselves because of the very powerful grace of the Sacrament of Confirmation, thus sticking with their Faith because of early ‘inoculation’ against sin and bad habits.

    Sacraments given early can have an effect later, after the requirements are fulfilled. So Confirmation given at Baptism will lay quietly until the age of reason kicks in. Waiting until ‘average’ age 7 or 12 or whatever, does not allow for those who might reach the age of reason earlier – some may attain this at 3 or 4!
    We renew our Baptismal purity every time we confess our mortal sins – so in effect, while we are in mortal sin, the effects of Baptism can lay quietly until we restore ourselves. Same for those who may marry unworthily ‘in the Church’ – when a marriage is put aright with a former spouse’s death or an annulment, the Sacrament of Marriage that one previously received will kick in with all its graces and effects.

    After Baptism [without which we cannot receive any of the other Sacraments], the Eucharist is the most important because we are physically receiving the very Body and Blood of Christ, a closeness that otherwise we won’t achieve this side of heaven.

  15. Fr. Pope,
    Consider this in regard to number three.

    You are not taking into account how faith is imputed on the infant from parents and God parents. When we say that the confirmed are able to “speak for themselves”, it signifies that they are no longer dependent on an imputed faith. Adults never have their faith imputed. The child with imputed faith is merely obedient to the faith of the parents and God parents. Secondly, when we are anointed with chrism (the very meaning of Christian is to be anointed) we become perfect Christians in that we complete the initiation that gives us the name, “anointed ones”.

    1. except that conformation does not complete Christian initiation, Holy Communion does. The proper and ancient order of the Sacraments of initiation are Baptism, Confirmation and Holy Communion.

      Further, as Catholics we do not speak of faith or righteous as being “imputed” (that is Protestant terminology).

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