We do not know exactly when, during
His public life, Jesus instituted the sacrament of Confirmation.
This is one of the "many other things that Jesus did" which, as St.
John tells us, are not written down in the Gospels (see John 21:25).
However, it does happen that the Bible tells us about Confirmation.
Not under that name, of course. Aside from Baptism, our present
names for the sacraments were developed by the early theologians of
the Church; "Laying on of hands" was the earliest name for
Confirmation. This is the name which the Bible uses in the following
passage taken from the Acts of the Apostles:
"Now when the Apostles in Jerusalem heard that Samaria had received
the word of God, they sent to them Peter and John. On their arrival
they prayed for them, that they might receive the Holy Spirit; for
as yet He had not come upon any of them, but they had only been
baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus. Then they laid their hands
on them and they received the Holy Spirit. But when Simon [the
magician] saw that the Holy Spirit was given through the laying on
of the Apostles' hands, he offered them money, saying, 'Give me also
this power, so that anyone on whom I lay my hands may receive the
Holy Spirit'." (Acts 8:14-19)
The real significance of this passage
lies in what it tells us about the sacrament of Confirmation. It
tells us that while Confirmation is a complement to Baptism, a
completing of what was begun in Baptism, nevertheless Confirmation
is a sacrament distinct from Baptism.
The Samaritans already had been baptized, yet it still was necessary
for them to receive the "laying on of hands."
The passage also tells us the way in
which Confirmation was to be given: by the placing of the hand of
the one who confirms, upon the head of the one to be confirmed, with
a prayer that he may receive the Holy Spirit.
We are particularly interested in this
fact which the passage makes plain: the fact that it was the
Apostles—that is, the bishops—who did the confirming. Whoever it was
who had baptized the Samaritans very evidently did not have the
power to "lay hands" upon them and to impart to them the Holy
Spirit. Two of the Apostles, Peter and John, had to travel from
Jerusalem to Samaria in order to give the sacrament of Confirmation
to these new Christians.
The bishop was the original minister of Confirmation. Ordinarily,
the bishop still administers this sacrament so that there is a clear
link to the first outpouring of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost.
However bishops can also permit priests to administer this
sacrament, and in practice this is often done.
The Sacrament of
Grace for Fullness of Faith and Life
There is a close relationship between the sacraments of Baptism and
While Confirmation is a distinct and complete sacrament in its own
right, its purpose is to perfect in us that which was begun in
Baptism. We might say—in a sense—that we are baptized in order to be
Growing beyond a self-centered spirituality
We are born spiritually in the sacrament of Baptism. We become
sharers in the divine life of the most Blessed Trinity. We begin to
live a supernatural life. As we practice the virtues of faith and
hope and love and as we unite with Christ in His Church in offering
worship to God, we also grow in grace and goodness.
But at this stage our spiritual life, like the life of a child, is
largely self-centered. We tend to be preoccupied with the needs of
our own soul, with the effort to "be good." We cannot be wholly
self-centered, of course—not if we understand what it means to be a
member of Christ's Mystical Body, and not if we understand the
significance of the Mass.
But in general our religious life does revolve around self.
Living for others
Then we are confirmed.
We receive a special grace by which our faith is deepened and
strengthened, so that it will be strong enough not only for our own
needs but for the needs of others with whom we shall try to share
With the onset of adolescence a child begins to assume,
progressively more and more, the responsibilities of adulthood. They
begin to see their place in the total family picture and in the
community at large.
Similarly, the confirmed Christian begins to see more clearly (or
ought to) his responsibility to Christ for his neighbor. He becomes
deeply concerned (or ought to) with the welfare of
Christ-in-the-world—which is the Church—and the welfare of
It is in this sense that Confirmation is a spiritual "growing up."
In order that we may have such a concern for Church and neighbor, in
deed as well as in feeling, the sacrament of Confirmation gives us a
special grace and a special power.
Just as the "mark" or character of Baptism made us sharers with
Christ in His role of priest, giving us the power to participate
with Him in divine worship, so also the character of Confirmation
makes us sharers with Christ in His role of prophet or teacher.
We now participate with Him in the task of extending His kingdom, of
adding new souls to His Mystical Body. Our words and our works are
directed not merely to our own sanctification but also to the
purpose of making Christ's truths alive and real for those around
The Church teaches that Confirmation is the special outpouring of
the Holy Spirit. Its effects are to:
Root us more deeply in divine filiation.
Unites us more firmly to Christ.
Increases the gifts of the Holy Spirit in us.
Strengthens our bond with the Church.
Associates us more closely to her mission of bearing witness to
Helps us and more strictly obliges us to spread and defend the faith
by word and deed.
A generation ago,
we said that confirmed Catholics were "soldiers of Christ." This
indicates Confirmation's effects: it configures us for a full &
active mission of service to Christ.
Actively living our vocation
The confirmed Christian—whether we call them a spiritual soldier or
a spiritual adult—goes forth joyfully in the fulfillment of their
Strong in their faith and with an ardent love for souls which stems
from their love for Christ, they feel a continual concern for
others. They feel a restless discontent unless he or she is doing
something worthwhile for others—something to ease their burdens in
this life, and something to make more secure their promise of life
Their words and their actions proclaim to those around him: "Christ
lives, and He lives for you."
The grace to do this is the grace which Jesus promised to His
Apostles (and to us) when He said: "You shall receive power when the
Holy Spirit comes upon you, and you shall be witnesses for Me. . . .
even to the very ends of the earth" (Acts 1:8).
The Rite of
The essential part of the Confirmation rite is when the bishop or
priest places his or her hands upon the head of each individual.
The bishop traces the sign of the cross on the person's
forehead—having first dipped his thumb in the holy oil called
chrism—and says, "Be sealed with the Gifts of the Holy Spirit." The
newly confirmed person responds by saying, "Amen."
Chrism is one of the three kinds of holy oil which a bishop blesses
each year at his Mass on Holy Thursday. The other two kinds of holy
oil are the oil of catechumens (used in Baptism) and the oil of the
sick (used in Anointing of the Sick). The holy oils, all of them,
are composed of pure olive oil.
From ancient times, olive oil has been looked upon as a
strengthening substance; so much so that athletes were accustomed to
bathe in olive oil before taking part in athletic contests. The
significance of the holy oils used in the administration of the
sacraments is then very evident: the oil represents the
strengthening effect of God's grace.
Besides the distinct and special blessing which each holy oil
receives, chrism has another difference: balm has been mixed with
it. Balm is a fragrant substance procured from the balsam tree. In
the holy chrism it symbolizes the "sweet odor" of virtue; it tells
of the spiritual fragrance, the attractiveness that should
characterize the life of those who puts their Confirmation graces to