Confirmation

In describing the baptismal washing, which involved several ordained ministers, the early third-century Apostolic Tradition distinguished a first anointing administered by a priest from a second one administered by the bishop (nos. 21—2). Writing around the same time, Tertullian observed that this second, postbaptismal anointing was associated with a laying on of hands and an invocation of the Holy Spirit (De Baptismo, 7—8). The neophyte was thus 'confirmed' in the Spirit, something that the Western Church was to establish as a separate and subsequent rite. In early Christianity, however, there was only one unified ceremony of initiation presided over by the bishop, who reserved to himself the second anointing. He thus confirmed all that had just been done, and it was this that led to the name for a separate sacrament.

Some ancient witnesses report that the bishop anointed the baptized with holy chrism; others, such as Tertullian, mention the laying on of hands and invocation of the Spirit. While Eastern bishops reserved to themselves the blessing of the chrism but allowed priests to do the anointing in their stead, Western bishops insisted that the anointing with holy chrism was their exclusive right (DH 215; ND 1406). In both cases (the right to bless the chrism and the right to anoint with it) implied that only the bishop, as head of the local Church, can incorporate someone fully into it. Until the eighth century, bishops continued to anoint infants at their baptism. As Christianity moved into rural areas, it became increasingly difficult for bishops to attend all the baptisms. Easter Week, the week 'in albis' when adult neophytes dressed in white, offered the chance of approaching the bishop and receiving the second anointing. But with many people being baptized by pastors out in the countryside, such 'confirming' could be delayed until the bishop's next visitation. People baptized as infants might not have their baptism 'confirmed' until they were 6, 8, or 10 years old. Only after that did they receive Holy Communion.

During the first millennium, with some exceptions, the traditional order for the sacraments of initiation remained the same everywhere: baptism, confirmation, and Eucharist. But in Western Christianity, however, the delay between baptism and confirmation eventually led to the situation: baptism was conferred in early infancy;157 First Communion came at the age of reason; and confirmation, delayed until adolescence or early adulthood, became the sacrament of mature faith commitment. Any sense of the unified process of Christian initiation was widely lost.

When examining what 'perseverance in Christ' means, Augustine explained it as 'the gift of God' to cope with 'the peril of falling' that characterized our entire life (De Dono Perseverantiae, 1). Some theologians of the Middle Ages used Augustine's concept of perseverance to express the meaning of confirmation. Aquinas himself stated that 'in the sacrament of confirmation we receive the fullness of the Holy Spirit in order to be strengthened.against the infirmity of the soul' (ST III q. 65 a. 1). 'Confirmation is to baptism as growth is to birth,' he added (ST III q. 72 a. 6).

Moving beyond notions of perseverance, strength, and growth, Vatican II retrieved from ancient Christianity the ecclesial dimension of confirmation: through this sacrament the faithful 'are more perfectly bound to the Church' and 'are, as true witnesses of Christ, more strictly obliged to spread the faith by word and deed' (Lumen Gentium, 11). This sacrament

157 Martin Luther, who was born on 10 November 1483, was baptized the very next day, the Feast of St Martin of Tours—a typical Western example of baptism (but not confirmation and First Communion) following very quickly after birth.

constitutes in the Western Church a rite of passage for young adults who were baptized when they were babies. Confirmation comes at a time when they are expected to show themselves more mature and courageous witnesses. Hence many emphasize that confirmed Christians become 'soldiers of Christ' and enjoy maturity through 'the seven gifts of the Spirit': wisdom, understanding, counsel, fortitude, knowledge, piety, and the fear of the Lord. It might be better to highlight the communication of the divine Gift, the Holy Spirit in person. Already given in baptism, the Spirit now descends more fully upon those being confirmed. At the celebration of confirmation, the bishop or priest who presides over the liturgical ceremony accompanies the anointing with the words, 'Be sealed with the Gift of the Holy Spirit.' Through this transforming gift, or what John Paul II called this 'Person-gift (Dominum et Viviificantem, 23—3), the faithful enjoy the indwelling of the Spirit, bring Christ to the world, and await the day when they will attain the full inheritance: God's own glory (Eph. 1: 13—14). Even now confirmation draws believers into the witness that the Spirit gives to the Father. As Paul writes to the Romans: 'the Spirit bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God, and if children, then heirs—heirs of God and fellow heirs of Christ' (8: 16—17).

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