The most common mistake people make about confirmation
The sacrament of confirmation is a celebration of Jesus’ promise to send the Holy Spirit to us: “You will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes upon you; and you will be my witnesses” (Acts 1:8; see also Lk 24:49).
Confirmation will NOT fill you with the Holy Spirit—because you are already full
Because the sacrament of confirmation is so closely identified with the sending of the Spirit, we sometimes get the mistaken impression the Spirit is not sent to us until we are confirmed. But that is not the case. When we speak about “sending” or “bestowing” the Spirit in confirmation, the church recognizes this is an ongoing process that was begun at baptism.
The church teaches that “the celebration of baptism has as its center and high point the baptismal washing and the invocation of the Holy Trinity” (RCIA 209).
And, “In accord with the ancient practice followed in the Roman liturgy, adults are not to be baptized without receiving Confirmation immediately afterward, unless some serious reason stands in the way. The conjunction of the two celebrations signifies the unity of the paschal mystery, the close link between the mission of the Son and the outpouring of the Holy Spirit, and the connection between the two sacraments through which the Son and the Holy Spirit come with the Father to those who are baptized” (RCIA 215).
The two most important things you need to know about confirmation
In order to reaffirm the close link between baptism and confirmation, when confirmation is celebrated separately from baptism, the confirmation liturgy begins with the renewal of baptismal promises (see CCC 1298). Indeed, the very name of the sacrament identifies its close link with baptism: “In the West, the term Confirmation suggests that this sacrament both confirms baptism and strengthens baptismal grace” (CCC 1289).
As we look more closely at the way the sacrament of confirmation is celebrated, keep in mind this dual nature of confirmation:
- Confirmation is not the first time we receive the Holy Spirit. It is a confirmation of the Spirit we received in baptism.
- Confirmation strengthens the grace we received in baptism.
No one will card you at confirmation
If you think about these two effects of the sacrament, you might see an inconsistency in the way we sometimes speak about the sacrament. Sometimes confirmation candidates will speak about “confirming their faith” or making “an adult commitment to faith.” A confirmation catechist might say to the parents, “Don’t pressure your child to be confirmed; it is his or her choice to celebrate the sacrament.”
These ideas are well-intentioned and understandable, but they do not accurately reflect what the church teaches about the sacrament of confirmation. If confirmation is a celebration of the Spirit we received in baptism, it has nothing to do with adulthood or psychological maturity. We are already filled with the Holy Spirit. Confirmation is a reaffirmation of that reality.
And, in that sense, a person doesn’t really choose to be confirmed. God has already chosen to “anoint” all the baptized with the Holy Spirit. There really isn’t a day or a time in our lives when we might choose to be or not to be filled with the Spirit. God has already made the choice and has chosen us. God has already filled us with the Holy Spirit. We can choose to celebrate God’s choice, or we can pretend it didn’t happen. But we cannot choose to effect or change a reality that already exists.
In the next session, we will look at the two ways the church celebrates the sacrament of confirmation.