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Home » Archives » May 2005 » Question of the Week: What is confirmation?

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05/06/2005: "Question of the Week: What is confirmation?"

Since this past weeks Sunday readings made such a direct reference to confirmation, I figured discussing what confirmation is would be wise.

One of the best ways to tell if someone over 50 was educated in a Catholic elementary school is if you ask them out of the blue "Quick! Name the seven sacraments!" and they answer:

"Mother Angelica they are Baptism, Confirmation, Eucharist, Marriage, Ordination, Confession, and Annointing of the Sick (Last Rites), ma'am."

It'll sound a little like Forrest Gump's response to his drill Sergeant's question "Gump! What's your sole purpose in this army?"

"To do whatever you tell me, drill sergeant!"

(By the way, I just love the sergeant's response. He swears at Gump like he hated the answer, then pauses and says "You're a genius! That's the most outstanding answer I've ever heard! You must have a *** I.Q. of 160!" Speaking of which, I should make a favorite movie quotes page.)

Anyway, the point of this humorous aside is that every good Catholic (even those supposedly beat with rulers by dictator nuns) should know that there are seven Sacraments. Sacraments, simply defined, are rituals by which we receive graces from God. Baptism is the easiest example for most of us to understand because of our familiarity with it. It is not just the fact that we pour water on someone's head (or dunk them in the water) that does it, it requires the active participation and faith of the person being baptized, but somehow those actions of their own right cause God to give us a certain grace that would be more difficult to receive otherwise. So the Sacraments are special actions by which we can receive that grace. An important note is that they are not the only way to receive grace. We receive them by praying (obviously) and we could receive them by building a house or going for a hike. But the Sacraments were instituted by God for the purpose of giving us a ritual to receive specific graces.

Four of the seven Sacraments are once in a lifetime rituals: Baptism, Confirmation, Marriage and Ordination (each one can only be done once, but you could be ordained as more than one thing (priest then bishop). These Sacraments give graces that are tranformational in nature. They help a person to grow into a new life, one deeper commited to Christ. Simply stated these four Sacraments give the following graces:

Baptism -> removes the stain of original sin.
Confirmation -> more perfectly binds us to the Church.
Marriage -> makes us one with our spouse.
Ordination -> gives us the grace to serve God in that ministry.

So Confirmation is, in a sense, the completion of our Christian initiation. It binds us to the Church so that we can serve it. Remember that Christ gave the Holy Spirit to the Church. And it is by Confirmation that we "receive" the Holy Spirit.

I put quotes around receive because I don't want to imply that the Holy Spirit is not in/around us before our Confirmation. God, particularly in the Holy Spirit, is omnipresent. He is everywhere including in those who do not recognize or acknowlege His presence. But when we are confirmed we "receive" it. We receive it in the sense that we are bound to the Church and the special connection to God that all who belong to His Church recognize the presence of the Holy Spirit in one's life. To use another word, the word used during the Confirmation rite, we are sealed by the Holy Spirit.

As you can see, Confirmation is not as simple a theological concept as Baptism. I think it is because it is not one of two things, an obvious beginning or an obvious transformation. It is more like a coming of age. It is a completion, or sealing, of saying you are now a full member of the Church and you now receive the gift that flows through the Church in its fullness, the Holy Spirit.



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