CONFIRMATION: Sacrament of Mission


  1. Biblical and Historical Basis
    1. Biblical
      1. Christ’s anointing with Holy Spirit coming up after baptism in fulfillment of Is 61:1, anointing for battle & mission
      2. Acts 10:38 “I take it you know what has been reported all over Judea about Jesus of Nazareth, beginning in Galilee with the baptism John Preached, of the way God anointed him with the Holy Spirit and power. He went about doing good and healing.”
      3. Acts 8:14-17 and 19:5-7; Heb. 6:1-2
    2. Historical (see separate sheet)
      1. Jewish custom of proselyte baptism and then a seal of circumcision
      2. Secular Mediterranean custom of anointing (rubdown) after bath
  2. Difference between East & West: same pastoral problem, different solutions
    1. East: “chrismation emphasis on anointing rather than imposition of hands; ordinary minister is the priest, though the chrism blessed only by a bishop
    2. West: ordinary minister bishop, separation from baptism & time lag
    3. Eastern practice preserves integrity of initiation; West preserves connection with fullness of apostolic ministry CCC 1292
  3. Why do we need confirmation? Commissioning to worship, warfare, mission
    1. Fuller measure of the Holy Spirit for the sake of…
      1. Completion, ratification of baptismal grace, fullness of the HS CCC 1302. By confirmation, the faithful are “enriched by the gift of the HS and bound more perfectly to the Church.” CIC 879
      2. Emphasis on baptism is the gift of the Holy Spirit for salvation and personal sanctification. Emphasis on confirmation is gift of Holy Spirit for service to God in worship and to others in mission.
      3. Strengthening: 7 gifts of the HS Is. 11:2-3 (CCC 1299). “Special strength of the Holy Spirit to spread and defend the faith by word and action as true witnesses of Christ, to confess the name of Christ boldly.” CCC 1303.
      4. More than one in-filling with the HS: balloon imagery.
    2. Priesthood:
      1. Baptism & Confirmation form the basis of the common priesthood of church members. LG 11
      2. “In baptism the sign of the cross makes kings of all who are reborn in Christ, and the anointing of the Holy Spirit consecrates them priests. So, apart from the particular obligations of our ministry, any Christian who has the gifts of rational and of spiritual understanding knows he is a member of a kingly race and shares in the priestly office. For what could be more royal than a soul which by subjecting itself to God becomes ruler of its own body? Or what more priestly when it consecrates a pure conscience to God and offers on the altar of its heart the spotless sacrifice of its devotion?” St. Leo the Great (d. 461), Sermon 4.
      3. “For besides intimately linking them to His life and His mission, He also gives them a sharing in His priestly function of offering spiritual worship for the glory of God and the salvation of men. For this reason the laity, dedicated to Christ and anointed by the Holy Spirit, are marvelously called and wonderfully prepared so that ever more abun¬dant fruits of the Spirit may be produced in them. For all their works, prayers and apostolic endeavors, their ordinary married and family life, their daily occupations, their physical and mental relaxation, if carried out in the Spirit, and even the hardships of life, if patiently borne all these become spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ. Together with the offering of the Lord’s body, they are most fittingly offered in the celebration of the Eucharist. Thus, as those everywhere who adore in holy activity, the laity consecrate the world itself to God.” LG 34
    3. Participation in the Church’s Mission
      1. LG 11 through confirmation one is “more strictly obliged, as true wit¬nesses of Christ, to spread & defend the faith by word & by deed.” (CCC 1285) Great Commission, Mat 28:19
      2. Through confirmation, the faithful are “bound more perfectly to the Church” (CCC 1285, CIC 879). The Church is essentially mission¬ary until one participates in the apostolate, one is not joined fully to the Church. So confirmation entails a more complete incorporation into the Church.
      3. Sent by bishop, successor of apostles, commissions to the apost¬o¬late. He is the living link of the local Church to the Church’s apos¬tol¬ic foundation and mission. This is why even when he does not personally confirm, the minister must use chrism consecrated by a bishop. LG 33: “through baptism and confirmation, all are appointed to this apostolate.”
      4. “The participation of the lay faithful in the threefold mission of Christ as priest, prophet and pastor finds its source in the anointing of baptism, its further development in confirmation, and its realisa¬tion [sic] and dynamic sustenance in the holy Eucharist.” JP II, Christifideles Laici 14, cited in CF 1448.
    4. Spiritual warfare
      1. Christ’s baptism followed by temptation & public ministry
      2. Anoint breast in Byzantine liturgy: armor of salvation Eph. 6
      3. St. Bonaventure (d. 1274) called it the “sacrament of warriors”
  4. Symbolism of Chrism [Myron], perfumed oil (CCC 1293)
    1. OT Background: Ex 30:22-33. The anointing oil to anoint the sacred vessels and the priests. Fragrant. Cannot be used on a layman. Background for the sacred chrism used in baptism and confirmation.
      1. Shows the priestly, sacred character of the baptized (also share in kingly & prophetic anointings). Cf. Peter Chrysologus, W 57.
      2. 1 Pet. 1:5 “and like living stones be yourselves built into a spiritual house, to be a holy priesthood, to offer spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ.” (RSV)
      3. Until recently in the western church, confirmation had to be admin¬istered before first communion since only priests may enter the sanc¬tuary.
    2. Bishop must consecrate Chrism: in both East & West (CIC 880)
      1. Symbolizes com¬mun¬ion with fullness of apostolic ministry & origins of Church
      2. Communion with the local bishop was a criterion for full member¬ship in the early church as can be seen from the letter of St. Ignatius of Antioch (ca. 115 AD)
    3. Fragrant: Consecrates one to evangelize, CCC 1294 citing 2 Cor. 2:14-15 “diffuse the fragrance of his knowledge everywhere.”
    4. Athlete anointed with oil before athletic contest: limbers, strengthens.
    5. Oil of Gladness: symbolizes the HS, who is the Anointing. Is 61:1; Ps 133
    6. Seal: CCC 1295-6.
      1. Jn. 6: 27 “For on him [Jesus] has God the Father set his seal.” Here, the emphasis is upon Christ=s authority.
      2. Mark of ownership, total belonging to Christ, our enrollment in his service, promise of divine protection, soldier.
      3. Indelible (like a brand mark) & unrepeatable. Character.
  5. Who can be confirmed? Must be baptized & should be in the state of grace.
    1. In East, infants. Normally conferred with baptism.
    2. In Latin Church (CIC 889) age of reason (7 yrs.), except in case of danger of death. Normally must be able to renew baptismal promises. Current American policy for age not standardized – varies from diocese to diocese.
  6. Preparation for Confirmation (post-age of reason) CCC 1309-1310
    1. “Should aim at leading the Christian toward a more intimate union with Christ and a more lively familiarity with the HS his actions, his gifts, and his biddings in order to be more capable of assuming the apostolic responsibilities of Christian life.” More experiential than simply cognitive.
    2. Catechesis on 7 Gifts of Is. 11 & on charisms (Paul’s letters). Cyril of Jesus: “prepare your souls for the reception of the heavenly charisms.” FF, 18.
    3. Penance, more intense prayer. Docile yielding to HS.
    4. Sponsor: best if it is baptismal sponsor CIC 893.
    5. See Ed Peter’s article “Preparing Children for the Sacraments”, W 60a-63. Canon 889, #2 says suitably instructed. Temptation to stretch out prep for as long as possible.
  7. Minister and Venue of Confirmation
    1. In early church, the bishop was the ordinary minister
    2. Now in East ordinarily the priest (Latin rite kids can be confirmed with permission of their Latin Rite ordinary)
    3. In West ordinary minister is the bishop (except for adults converts, adult Christians entering into the full communion with the Church, anyone in danger of death). Priest can always do it validly if not licitly.
    4. Best venue is in Church, during Mass (CIC 881).
    5. One must note the important link between confirmation/chrismation and the bishop, even when he does not personally officiate. The chrism which he blesses is a sign of fullness of communion with the apostolic church and commissioning by a successor of the apostles to a share in the apostolic mission and priestly worship of the church.
  8. Sacraments of Initiation & Baptism of the Holy Spirit (Fanning the Flame)[1]
    1. “Baptism of HS” as experienced by participants in Charismatic Renewal
      1. Gal 3:2-5 AHave you had such remarkable experiences [speaking about receiving the HS] all to no purpose? . . . Is it because you observe the law or because you have faith in what you heard that God lavishes the Spirit on you and works wonders in our [email protected] [NAB]
      2. LG 12 “It is not only through the sacraments and Church ministries that the same Holy Spirit sanctifies and leads the People of God and enriches it with virtues. Allotting His gifts Ato everyone according as he [email protected] (1 Cor. 12:11), He distributes special graces among the faith¬ful of every rank. . . . These charismatic gifts, whether they be the most outstanding or the more simple and widely diffused, are to be received with thanksgiving and consolation, for they are exceedingly suitable and useful for the needs of the Church”
      3. Characterized by experience of:
        1. Joy. See Hilary of Poitiers, FF 16f. “We who have been reborn through the sacrament of baptism experience intense joy [maximum gaudium] when we feel within us the first stirring of the Holy Spirit.”
        2. 7 gifts of HS (Is. 11)
        3. Hunger for prayer, Scripture, Eucharist
        4. Charisms of praise & adoration
        5. Charisms of service (humble & extraordinary)
      4. “Personal appropriation of sacramental initiation.” FF, 13.
      5. “Later experiential appropriation of the graces of baptism conferred in infancy.” FF, 21
      6. In NT & patristic age, this apparently was the normal experience of baptism-confirmation for those above the age of reason
    2. Thesis:
      1. We need to integrate this back into normal sacramental life, especially for adult initiates & teen confirmands. Not a matter of private piety.
      2. “This life in the Holy Spirit is not, therefore, one spirituality among others in the church. It is the spirituality of the church.” FF, 15.
    3. Pastoral Need to “Fan into Flame” earlier gifts (2 Tim. 1:6)
      1. Need to reawaken Christian initiation in experience. See Syrian Fathers in FF 19f. Two baptisms, the second consisting in “the true experience of the knowledge of the Spirit.”
      2. Philoxenus: since giving also involves receiving, a conscious act of the will required to properly experience full benefit of the gift.
      3. Charisms are necessities, not ornaments.
      4. HS can never be totally appropriated, but must be sought repeatedly through prayer (Acts 4:23-31, 2 Tim 1:6)
      5. Symptoms of this Need: Weakened Community
        1. Drop in Church attendance
        2. Divorce, breakdown of family
        3. Defections to Asects
      6. Caveats: FF 21
        1. Welcome experience of HS; don=t seek after it excessively
        2. Grace is not always or even usually perceptible to senses
        3. Charity primary. 1 Cor. 13
    4. Metropolitan Ignatios of Latakia, Uppsala WCC, 1968:
      1. “Without the Holy Spirit, God is far away, Christ stays in the past, the Gospel is a dead letter, the Church is simply an organization, authority a matter of domination, mission a matter of propaganda, the liturgy no more than an evocation, Christian living a slave morality.”
      2. “But in the Holy Spirit: the cosmos is resurrected and groans with the birth-pangs of the kingdom, the risen Christ is there, the Gospel is the power of life, the church shows forth life of the Trinity, authority is a liberating service, mission is a Pentecost, the liturgy is both memorial and anticipation, human action is deified.” (FF, 27)

[1]For more biblical and patristic evidence on the experience of the spirit by those receiving baptism and confirmation, see Kilian McDonnell and George T. Montague, Christian Initiation and Baptism in the Holy Spirit: Evidence from the First Eight Centuries (Collegeville, MN: Liturgical Press, 1991).


Dr. Marcellino D’Ambrosio (aka “Dr. Italy”) is based in Dallas, TX. For more information on his resources on Confirmation and other topics, visit or call 1.800.803.0118. You can also follow Dr. D’Ambrosio at or on twitter @DrItaly.

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