The Sacrament of Confirmation
Confirmation is the sacrament in which the Holy Ghost comes down upon baptized Catholics in order to make them strong and perfect Christians and soldiers of Jesus Christ.
Present practice and doctrine
In the Latin Rite, the sacrament is usually administered by the bishop. After some preliminary prayers, the bishop anoints the forehead of each with Holy Chrism saying: “I sign thee with the sign of the cross and confirm thee with the chrism of salvation, in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Ghost.” Finally, he gives each a slight blow on the cheek saying: “peace be with thee.” A prayer is added that the Holy Ghost may dwell in the hearts of those who have been confirmed, and the rite closes with the bishop's blessing.
The bishop alone is the ordinary minister of confirmation. This is expressly declared by the Council of Trent. A bishop confirms validly even those who are not his own subjects; but to confirm licitly in another diocese he must secure the permission of the bishop of that diocese. A simple priest may be the extraordinary minister of the sacrament under certain conditions, and with the necessary permission from the pope or from a bishop. In such cases, however, the priest cannot wear pontifical vestments, and he must use chrism blessed by a Catholic bishop.
Matter and form
The most generally accepted view is that the anointing and the Imposition of Hands conjointly are the matter. The “imposition,” however, is not that with which the rite begins but the laying on of hands which takes place in the act of anointing.
Confirmation can be conferred only on those who have already been baptized and have not yet been confirmed. As St. Thomas says:
Confirmation is to baptism what growth is to generation. Now it is clear that a man cannot advance to a perfect age unless he has first been born; in like manner, unless he has first been baptized he cannot receive the Sacrament of Confirmation.
Confirmation is a Sacrament of the Living, and accordingly, the recipient should be in the state of grace; for the Holy Ghost is not given for the purpose of taking away sin but of conferring additional grace. This condition, however, refers only to lawful reception; the sacrament is validly received even by those in mortal sin. In the early ages of the Church, confirmation was administered immediately after baptism. When, however, baptism came to be conferred by simple priests, the two ceremonies were separated in the Western Church. Further, when infant baptism became customary, confirmation was not administered until the child had attained the use of reason. This is the present practice, though there is considerable latitude as to the precise age. The Council of Trent says that the sacrament can be administered to all persons after baptism, but that this is not expedient before the use of reason; and adds that it is most fitting that the sacrament be deferred until the child is seven years old, “for Confirmation has not been instituted as necessary for salvation, but that by virtue thereof we might be found well armed and prepared when called upon to fight for the faith of Christ, and for this kind of conflict no one will consider children, who are still without the use of reason, to be qualified.”
- an increase of sanctifying grace
- a special sacramental grace consisting in the seven gifts of the Holy Ghost and notably in the strength and courage to confess boldly the name of Christ
- an indelible character by reason of which the sacrament cannot be received again
Regarding the obligation of receiving the sacrament, it is admitted that confirmation is not necessary as an indispensable means of salvation.
On the other hand, its reception is obligatory “for all those who are able to understand and fulfill the Commandments of God and of the Church.” As to the gravity of the obligation, some theologians hold that an unconfirmed person would commit mortal sin if he refused the sacrament. The importance of confirmation as a means of grace is so obvious that no earnest Catholic will neglect it, and in particular that Catholic parents will not fail to see that their children are confirmed.
The Church prescribes that a sponsor, or godparent, shall stand for the person confirmed. The sponsor should be at least fourteen years of age, of the same sex as the candidate, should have already received the Sacrament of Confirmation, and be well instructed in the Catholic Faith. From this office are excluded the father and mother of the candidate, members of a religious order (unless the candidate be a religious), public sinners, and those who are under public ban of interdict or excommunication. Except in case of necessity the baptismal godparent cannot serve as sponsor for the same person in confirmation.