The Sacrament of Confirmation
The sacrament of confirmation is one of the seven sacraments of the Catholic Church. Confirmation is when an individual chooses to “confirm” the faith given to them at baptism. We become a Catholic at baptism but, particularly now that infant baptisms are the norm, we don’t truly choose and take responsibility for our faith until we are confirmed. We receive gifts and graces at baptism, but at confirmation these gifts are “stirred up” in us, becoming more active and effectual in our lives. As the Catechism states, “Baptism… is the beginning of new life; Confirmation… is its strengthening” (CCC 1275). The focus of confirmation is the Holy Spirit, as He is the one who bestows the gifts and charisms necessary for us to live out our vocations as Christians in the world. Although the Holy Spirit can move and do whatever He wants, choosing to be confirmed is a particular invitation to Him to enter and fill your life.
Individuals are confirmed at many different ages, but in the Latin Church and many other rites the sacrament is typically seen as a young adult rite of passage – being confirmed makes you an adult in the faith. When someone is baptized as an adult, they typically receive baptism and confirmation (and first communion) all at the same time. The Eastern Rite Catholic Churches confirm and give the Eucharist at baptism regardless of age.
Scriptural Basis of Confirmation
Although baptism is well documented in scripture, some argue that confirmation has no scriptural basis. Many Christian denominations do not believe the sacrament of confirmation should be necessary, since we receive the Holy Spirit at baptism. However, although the word “confirmation” is not scriptural, Acts 8:14-17 sets a very clear precedent for the sacrament:
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.
The Samaritans who are described in this passage willingly became Christians through baptism, but they had not yet received the Holy Spirit. That didn’t make their baptism invalid – if that were the case, surely Peter and John would have baptized them again. No, they were baptized Christians who needed an infilling of the Holy Spirit – just as we all do today.
What Happens at a Confirmation
Like any sacrament, confirmation requires necessary preparation. Someone is confirmed when they have been sufficiently formed in the faith and feel ready to enter into Catholic adulthood.
Those being confirmed, or confirmandi, are asked to choose a sponsor. This is similar to godparents at baptism, although a sponsor is the choice of the individual being confirmed, where typically (for infant baptisms) the individual’s parents select godparents. Your sponsor should be present for your confirmation, as they are committing to pray for and support you in your new life as a Catholic adult.
Confirmation is often celebrated by the local bishop, but in some cases the sacrament is conferred by the parish priest. At the confirmation, each confirmand will stand or kneel before the celebrant. Sponsors will place their hands on the head or shoulder. Like baptism, confirmation involves anointing with the Oil of Chrism, a blessed oil that is an ancient symbol of a Christian. The celebrant says “Be sealed with the gift of the Holy Spirit,” and the confirmand replies “Amen.” The celebrant then says “Peace be with you,” to which the confirmand replies “And with your spirit.”
Although it is not an official part of the rite of confirmation, in many countries it is traditional for confirmandi to choose a “confirmation name” – usually the name of a saint they admire or aspire to be like. Confirmation is a completion and perfection of baptism, where we are each called to be a new creation in Christ and the Holy Spirit – so a new name is a fitting symbol.
It is also customary to ask that saint for their intercession as you prepare for your confirmation (and then for the rest of your life!). After confirmation, your confirmation name becomes part of your name – you can use your confirmation name after your first and middle names and before your last name to demonstrate the permanence of your identity in Christ. Of course, confirmation does not involve a legal name change, so the confirmation name cannot be used in many legal or government situations, but it is a nice custom when appropriate.