Tag Archives: character

Confirmation, the Sacrament of Spirit, Strength, and Combat – November 15, 2015

“Now when the apostles at Jerusalem heard that Samaria had accepted the word of God, they sent Peter and John to them. The two went down and prayed for them that they might receive the Holy Spirit (for as yet the Spirit had not come upon any of them; they had only been baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus). Then Peter and John laid their hands on them, and they received the Holy Spirit.” (Acts 8:14-17)

Some question whether Confirmation is really a sacrament. Martin Luther retained the ceremonial aspect of it, but rejected its sacramentality, saying, “God knows nothing of it.” Even some modern Catholic thinkers have referred to it as “a sacrament in search of a theology.” After all, Christians receive the Holy Spirit in Baptism. Why then do we need a second anointing of the Holy Spirit in Confirmation? What is its purpose? Part of the criteria the Church used in delineating the seven sacraments was that each had to have been instituted by Christ Himself, as when He instituted the Eucharist at the Last Supper, and when He was baptized in the Jordan River. But, when and where in the Gospels did He institute the sacrament of Confirmation? Maybe its critics have a point. Yet, the Church has continually upheld Confirmation as a sacrament. In the 13th century, St.Thomas Aquinas took up this very question of the defense of Confirmation as a sacrament in his Summa Theologica (Summa, III, q.72). Later, the Church Council of Florence in 1439, and again, the Council of Trent in 1566 both affirmed the sacrament of Confirmation as one of the seven sacraments. These declarations have remained as the foundational Catholic understanding of Confirmation all the way up to modern times. As the Catechism now states, “Baptism, the Eucharist, and the sacrament of Confirmation together constitute the ‘sacraments of Christian initiation’.” (CCC 1285) Confirmation is one of the three sacraments in which the Christian is initiated into the Church. Baptism, Eucharist and Confirmation are a unity which complete our initiation. In the Eastern Orthodox Church, unlike the Latin Church, this unity is expressed by administering these three sacraments together, one after another, for initiation into the Church. In Roman Catholicism, however, they are spread out over time, generally speaking, beginning with Baptism, then later, Eucharist, and finally, upon entering adulthood, Confirmation. The reception of Confirmation completes and perfects the Baptismal grace. (CCC 1285) So, Baptism and Confirmation are two distinct sacraments, but linked together in the conferral of grace. As the passage (above) from the book of Acts demonstrates, the disciples in Samaria had already been baptized, but Peter and John came to lay hands on them so that they would receive the Holy Spirit. They were then, in fact, “confirmed” into the Church, received the Holy Spirit, and completed their Baptismal grace.

Confirmation is sometimes called “the sacrament of Christian maturity.” It is the sacrament that ushers the Baptized into the fullness of the Christian community, through the special strength of the Holy Spirit it identifies us more closely with the public mission and witness to Jesus Christ. Lumen Gentium says that, in Confirmation, those confirmed are “more perfectly bound to the Church,” so that, they are “obliged to spread and defend the faith, both by word and by deed, as true witnesses of Christ.” (LG, 11) The Confirmed are to share more completely in the mission of Christ and the fullness of the Holy Spirit, so as to give off “the aroma of Christ.” (CCC 1294) In his letter to the Corinthian Church, St.Paul calls the newly converted, and presumably newly Baptized, “infants in Christ.” (1 Cor.3:1) Baptism is our beginning point to the life in the Spirit. St.Thomas also compares Baptism as the point of our spiritual regeneration, and Confirmation as the point of our spiritual maturity. Baptism is our entrance, and Confirmation is our graduation. St.Thomas says of Confirmation that “man is perfected by Confirmation.” (Summa, III, q.65, a.3)  In Baptism, we become children of God, and in Confirmation, we become friends of God, sent into the world to give witness and carry on the mission of Christ.

Jesus promised that His Spirit would lead us to all truth, and we must take into account the veracity of His word in the Church seeing fit to establish the sacrament of Confirmation. The Spirit does not make mistakes. Confirmation, as with all the sacraments, contains an essential form to make the rite valid. The signs and symbols of the rite confer the grace they signify and signify the grace they confer. The catechumens are confirmed by the bishop by anointing their foreheads with a perfumed oil, a sacred chrism blessed by the bishop, and the laying on of hands by the bishop (just as Peter and John, as the first apostolic bishops, laid hands on the disciples of Samaria), and with the words “Be sealed with the Gift of the Holy Spirit.” (CCC 1300) The sign of anointing with the chrism imprints a spiritual seal upon our souls with the indelible mark of the Holy Spirit. (CCC 1304) For this reason, because it imparts a special character upon us, just as in Baptism, it is only given once. (CCC 1305) In ancient times, a seal was a symbol of a person, or the symbol of who that person belonged to, such as, soldiers marked with their leader’s seal, or slaves with their master’s seal. (CCC 1295) So too, now, Christians are confirmed with the mark of the Holy Spirit in order to seal us as His, consecrated to Christ. In the old mosaic covenant, an indelible mark was left on the body in circumcision, but now, in the new covenant, an indelible mark is left on the soul with the seal of the Holy Spirit. St.Paul speaks about this saying we are “marked with the seal of the promised Holy Spirit” (Eph.1:13), and “marked with a seal for the day of redemption.” (Eph. 4:30) To the Corinthians, he similarly says, “But it is God who establishes us with you in Christ and has anointed us, by putting His seal on us and giving us His Spirit in our hearts as a first installment.” (2 Cor.1:21-22) This idea of the seal of the Holy Spirit hearkens back to the Old Testament, where God prophesies through Ezekiel “I will put My spirit within you.” (Ez.36:27) The seal of the Holy Spirit is also promised to us as divine protection in the eschatological future, that is, at the end of the world. (CCC 1296) In Revelation, the angels of judgment are told, “Do not damage the earth or the sea or the trees, until we have marked the servants of our God with a seal on their foreheads.” (Rev. 7:3)

The effects of the sacrament of Confirmation are most commonly associated with the outpouring of the Holy Spirit upon the Apostles at Pentecost. (CCC 1302) As St.Luke describes the dramatic event in the book of Acts:

“When the day of Pentecost had come, they were all together in one place. And suddenly from heaven there came a sound like the rush of a violent wind, and it filled the entire house where they were sitting. Divided tongues, as of fire, appeared among them, and a tongue rested on each of them.  All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other languages, as the Spirit gave them ability.” (Acts 2:1-4)

The Holy Spirit came upon the Apostles in startling fashion with a rush of violent wind and tongues of fire. This is in fulfillment of Jesus’ command to “stay here in the city until you have been clothed with power from on high.” (Lk.24:49) In obedience, the Apostles had been persevering in prayer, hiding in the upper room for fear of persecution. However, once they were sealed with the power of the Holy Spirit “from on high,” they emerged from the upper room and began to preach powerfully and publicly to the crowds of people. St.Peter, in particular, is the first to fearlessly witness to the crowds about the crucified Jesus, the forgiveness of sins, and the gift of the Holy Spirit. He begins by quoting the prophet Joel:

‘In the last days it will be, God declares, that I will pour out my Spirit upon all flesh, and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, and your young men shall see visions, and your old men shall dream dreams.” (Acts 2:17; Joel 2:28)

The Holy Spirit had strengthened the Apostles and the disciples, who were now unafraid to proclaim and defend the faith publicly. The flinching Apostles became towering super-Apostles, for through these twelve men, Christianity spread throughout the whole world in the midst of, and in spite of, terrible persecutions and martyrdom. St.Thomas discusses the miraculous change in their behavior due to the Holy Spirit. He says, “whereas in Confirmation he receives power to do those things which pertain to the spiritual combat with the enemies of the Faith.” (III, q.72, a.5) Confirmation anoints us with the power for spiritual combat, and to persevere amidst the trials and tribulations of giving witness to Christ in a hostile world. Confirmation is the sacrament to strengthen us for combat.

Jesus Himself, in fact, did institute the sacrament of Confirmation, albeit not by bestowing it directly, but with the promise of a future fulfillment, for He could not give the Spirit until after His Resurrection and Ascension. (Summa, III, q.72) Jesus promises His Apostles beforehand, “Nevertheless I tell you the truth: it is to your advantage that I go away, for if I do not go away, the Advocate will not come to you; but if I go, I will send Him to you.” (Jn.16:7) Jesus promises that once He is gone He will send the Spirit of Truth (Jn.14:17), the Advocate (Jn.14:16), the Paraclete, the Comforter and Counselor, to clothe them with power “from on high.” And again, Jesus tells His Apostles, “I have said these things to you while I am still with you. But the Advocate, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in My name, will teach you everything, and remind you of all that I have said to you.” (Jn14:25-26) Jesus promises this, even though His Apostles had already been baptized, as implied in Him washing their feet and His saying to them “you are clean.” (Jn.13:10) Yet, Jesus promises more. He promises to clothe them with the power of Heaven, the Holy Spirit, which is ultimately fulfilled on that day of Pentecost.

This is the birth of the active Church, the Church militant. From there, the Church spread through the ancient world, first to Jew, and then, soon after, to Gentile, and all the way up till today, to all nations, universally across the globe. Yet, the Holy Spirit did not continue to anoint the disciples in such a dramatic, miraculous and visible fashion as at Pentecost. From that point on, the Apostles begin to invoke and confer the Holy Spirit through the imposition of hands, or the laying on of hands. This is truly the birth of the sacrament of Confirmation. As Acts says, “Then Peter and John laid their hands on them, and they received the Holy Spirit.” (Acts 8:14-17) St.Paul and the other bishops of the apostolic Church also conferred the Holy Spirit upon the Baptized through the imposition of hands. As St.Paul’s letter says, “For this reason I remind you to rekindle the gift of God that is within you through the laying on of my hands.” (2 Tim. 1:6) We see this again in Acts, “When Paul had laid his hands on them, the Holy Spirit came upon them, and they spoke in tongues and prophesied.” (Acts, 19:6) The “laying on of hands” is similarly mentioned in other places throughout the New Testament, such as in the letter to the Hebrews. (Heb.6:2) It was an integral part to the early, apostolic Church. It was part of The Way. The laying on of hands is the sacrament of Confirmation. It remains part of our way today. Confirmation is an extraordinary and charismatic conferral of grace, that completes our Baptism, unites us more closely with Christ, confers an indelible character upon our souls, gives us a special permanent status within the Church, strengthens our faith to engage in spiritual combat and to be able to publicly and boldly defend it. (CCC 1303) In short, it perfects the character we receive (in Baptism) as part of the common priesthood of the faithful. (CCC 1305) Our initiation is complete. Our status and our service in the common priesthood of the faithful are officially consecrated to God through the power of the Holy Spirit. With the winds of the Spirit in our hearts and the tongues of fire in our minds, we are ready now, ready to leave the safe confines of the upper room and witness to Christ in the public marketplace.

Baptism, Initiation into the Common Priesthood – October 15, 2015

“Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything that I have commanded you. And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age.” (Mt.28:19-20)

“Baptism imprints on the soul an indelible spiritual sign, the character, which consecrates the baptized person for Christian worship.” (CCC 1280)

The sacrament of Baptism initiates us into the mystery of Christ. It is the essential rite to eternal life, and the beginning point of the whole Christian experience. (CCC 1213) In Baptism, God first demonstrates His self-communication to us. It imprints His indelible mark upon our souls configuring us to the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ. The character of Christ is irrevocably sealed upon our minds and souls, configuring us to a new and eternal spiritual reality. (CCC 1272) It transforms who we are. A permanent ontological change takes place to our very being. Just as a material object or person is visibly sealed with a mark, defining who or what it is, or whose property it might be, so too, in Baptism, God marks our immaterial souls invisibly and permanently, claiming us as His own. It sets us apart. It can only be done once, and nothing can undo it. It is a necessary transformation. Jesus attests to it, saying, “Very truly, I tell you, no one can enter the kingdom of God without being born of water and Spirit.” (Jn.3:5) Baptismal water is a graced sign, a real symbol, which efficaciously applies the invisible grace it signifies. It does in reality, the sign it points to. We are washed of Original Sin, purified of all of our sins, and regenerated to eternal life. It consecrates us into the sacramental character of Christ’s paschal mystery, impressing upon us His saving grace of the Cross. (SC, 6) We are sealed with Christ’s imprimatur, conforming us to the God-man. (2 Cor. 1:21-22) He alone conquered sin, and death itself, so that by faith and grace, we too, who are flesh and blood mortals, may partake in His supernatural life. Baptism is necessary because Christ alone overcame death. We need His divine life in us, so we too will rise to eternal life. Baptism anticipates our own resurrection. Through it, we are grafted into communion with the Easter mysteries. The mystery of Christ becomes alive to us, and in us. Christ in His life, and in His Passion and suffering, and all that He was in His eternal and divine humanity, begins to unfold and live out in our individual lives. When we are immersed into the water, we are brought into His death, and rising from the water, we are brought into His life and resurrection. (Rom. 6:3-4) As the Catechism says, “It signifies and actually brings about death to sin and entry into the life of the Most Holy Trinity through configuration to the Paschal mystery of Christ.” (CCC 1239) We are made into a new living, Trinitarian reality; spiritually reordered towards the Father, configured to the Son, and filled with the Holy Spirit. We become adopted children of God, by faith and grace; baptized into the Son of God, we are made partakers in the divine nature by proxy, as He is in reality.

We are indeed remade into this new holy status as children of God, and temples of the Holy Spirit, and co-heirs with Christ. It makes us, first and foremost, Christian, and members of the Church, the Body of Christ, and gains us access to divine grace in the rest of the sacraments. It is our foundation for the supernatural life. But, it is also the first moment of a lifelong phenomenon of conversion. Baptism is more than just a single event, or a static state; it transforms us in such a way that we are perpetually drawn deeper into the living reality of Christ. It allows us to engage in the sacramental life and realize the mysteries of Christ in our being. It establishes a new dynamic in our consciousness, where our everyday circumstances are reinterpreted and contextualized within the divine humanity of Christ. Our humanity is elevated and divinized. We are afforded special offices. One of these is our incorporation into the common priesthood of the faithful, the baptized, and the ordinary. With a sacred chrism, the oil consecrated by the bishop, the newly baptized is anointed into Christ as “priest, prophet, and king.” (CCC 1241) We become sharers in Christ’s one eternal priesthood. As Lumen Gentium, the Dogmatic Constitution of the Church, says, “The baptized, by regeneration and the anointing of the Holy Spirit, are consecrated as a spiritual house and a holy priesthood.” (LG, 10) Even as Christ is the one true and eternal Mediator between God and man, He still graciously saw fit that we should also participate, to varying degrees, in His priestly office. As part of our baptismal right and dignity, we can exercise that priestly office by virtue of our association in Christ’s life, passion, and redemptive sacrifice.

But, what are our priestly functions? Scripture and the Church say we are to make spiritual sacrifices. We are to offer up interiorly all of our actions, words, deeds, suffering, successes, and all that we do, for the glory of God and for the intercession of souls. The magisterium teaches that the baptized should “present themselves as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God.” (LG, 10 ) Every common thing in our ordinary existence can be extended towards God as a sacrifice in our common priesthood. We can offer up everything, including our prayers, sacrifices, fasting, bodily weaknesses, illness, even patiently enduring the things that annoy us, or nearly anything that may otherwise seem useless and worthless in the eyes of the world. God’s eternal priesthood is mediated in the implements of our material world. Our physical operations can have spiritual significance. We can exercise our priesthood, in such a way, that we can, in effect, “sacramentalize” all that we do. That is, we spiritualize our activity through faith and with the intention of offering reparation to God. This is how we become living sacrifices. As the magisterium explains, we can “exercise that priesthood in receiving the sacraments, in prayer and thanksgiving, in the witness of a holy life, and by self-denial and active charity.” (LG, 10) By ourselves, a branch separated from the vine, our actions have no spiritual power. But, united with Christ, in the power of the Holy Spirit, our actions can be spiritually efficacious for reparation of our sins and the sins of others. This is our role in the communion of saints. We are mediators. Through initiation in Baptism and the imprinting of Christ’s priestly seal upon us, we become priests. We can use our willful intention to please God, in a particular activity, invoke the anointing of the Holy Spirit, and raise that up as a form of worship. So, we can, for illustration, use our being hungry on any given afternoon, or say, being stuck behind a slow driver in our morning commute, to invoke the Holy Spirit, and offer these annoyances up to God for the sanctification of souls. These are just two minor examples, but the possibilities are nearly endless. St.Paul explains these spiritual sacrifices. He says, I am now rejoicing in my sufferings for your sake, and in my flesh I am completing what is lacking in Christ’s afflictions for the sake of his body, that is, the church.” (Col.1:24) Christ deemed us worthy to take part in His priestly ministry, and left for us a portion of the redemption to offer up to the Father. He made us a living Church, actively carrying on His mission. Christ’s presence and power remain hidden now sacramentally, just as it did in His life then when He walked the earth.  Some people today see just bread and wine, and not the body and blood of Christ, as before they saw just the carpenter’s son, and not the Son of God.  Christ continues His priestly mediation for the world today through us. In this vein, St.Paul is dutifully acting out his priestly character. He offers intercession and mediation for the Church, through his own sufferings, in unity with the sufferings of Christ. We are called to do the same. Christ has deputized us. He appointed us His priests. It is our role to live as mediators and intercessors here on earth in imitation of Him. We are to stand in the breach for those entrusted to us.  Baptism is everything, but it’s also just the beginning.