THE PROMISE OF CHRIST- When our Blessed Lord was bidding His Apostles farewell, on the night of His betrayal, He promised that after He was taken from them, the Father would send the Holy Spirit to be their Guide and Comforter.
“And I will pray the Father, and he shall give you another Comforter, that he may abide with you forever; even the Spirit of truth” (St. John i~: 16-17).
“But the Comforter, which is the Holy Ghost, whom the Father will send in my name, he shall teach you all things, and bring all things to your remembrance, whatsoever I have said unto you (St. John 14:26). THE FULFILMENT- This promise of our Lord was first fulfilled on the Day of Pentecost, when the Apostles and other disciples were gathered together in the upper room at Jerusalem.
“And suddenly there came a sound from heaven as of a rushing mighty wind, and it filled all the house where they were Sitting. And there appeared unto them cloven tongues like as of fire, and it sat upon each of them. And they were all filled with the Holy Ghost” (Acts 2:2-4).
The promise was not intended only for the first disciples of our Lord, but for all who should afterwards believe on Him. Every one who was received into the Church through Holy Baptism must expect to receive, in some measure, the same wonderful gift, though not, of course, with the same miraculous manifestations. And so it came to pass. The first recorded instance is that of the new converts at Samaria, who were baptized by St. Philip.
“Now when the Apostles which were at Jerusalem heard that Samaria had received the word of God, they sent unto them Peter and John: Who, when they were come down, prayed for them, that they might receive the Holy Ghost: (For as yet he was fallen upon none of them: only they were baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus.) Then laid they their hands on them, and they received the Holy Ghost” (Acts 8:14-17).
Again, at Ephesus: “When they heard this, they were baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus. And when Paul had laid his hands upon them, the Holy Ghost came on them” (Acts 19:5-6).
These two instances show us how the Holy Spirit was given to those who were added to the Church after the Day of Pentecost. After Baptism, an Apostle placed his hands upon the head of the candidate, with prayer, and in answer to the petition the candidate received the gift of the Holy Spirit. This solemn rite or Sacrament was at first called the Laying on of Hands, and is still continued in all true branches of the Catholic Church under the name of Confirmation. The Apostles looked upon it as a matter of great importance, and insisted that every one who was baptized should also be confirmed. In the Epistle to the Hebrews it is spoken of as one of the “first principles of Christ.”
“Wherefore let us cease to speak of the first principles of Christ, and press on unto perfection; not laying again a foundation of repentance from dead works, and of faith toward God, of the teaching of baptisms, and of Laying on of Hands, and of resurrecdon of the dead, and of eternal judgment” (Hebrews 6:1-2, R. V.).
THE MINISTER OF CONFIRMATION- It will be noted from the incident at Samaria that although St. Philip the Evangelist baptized the new converts, he was not empowered to confirm them. That was done by the Apostles, who came from Jerusalem. And ever since, the right to administer Confirmation has belonged only to those who have succeeded the Apostles as the chief shepherds of the Church, that is, to the Bishops. Priests and Deacons cannot confirm.
In very recent years certain religious bodies have adopted a service which is called “Confirmation”; but this must not be confused with the Confirmation of the Bible, for it is not administered by Bishops, and is not intended as a means of conveying the gift of the Holy Spirit.
THE DIVINE GIFT
THE NAME- The original name for this Sacramental rite was the Laying on of Hands; but in course of time it came to be called Confirmation. This is a word which means to make firm, or to strengthen, through the gift of the Holy Spirit. As in olden times a man’s signature was confirmed or made sure by the seal which followed it; Confirmation was called the “seal of the Spirit.” THE WORK OF THE HOLY SPIRIT- It must not be thought that Confirmation is the only way in which the Holy Spirit blesses us. He is the life of the Church and is the divine agent in all of the Sacraments. In Holy Baptism it is the Spirit, who sanctifies the water “to the mystical washing away of sin,” who regenerates us and unites us with Christ in His mystical Body, the Church. It is the power of the Spirit which makes the bread and wine of the Holy Eucharist the Body and Blood of Christ. And so also, in Ordination, in Absolution, Holy Matrimony, and Unction of the Sick, it is the gracious power of the Holy Spirit which conveys the Divine Grace.
THE CONFIRMATION GIFT- But in Confirmation the Blessed Spirit comes to us, not merely to do some special thing or to bless us in some particular way, but to abide with us forever. He comes to guide and direct us throughout the whole journey of life, or for so long as we do not drive Him away. He comes to bless us in every way. It is for this reason that Confirmation is said to bestow upon us the “Seven-fold Gifts of the Spirit.” These seven gifts of Divine Grace are spoken of in the prayer which the Bishop offers immediately before the laying on of his hands: “The spirit of wisdom and understanding, the spirit of counsel and ghostly (spiritual) strength, the spirit of knowledge and true godliness,” and the spirit of “holy fear.” Seven is the number of perfection, and in these seven gifts of grace we have a perfect equipment for the great battle of life. GRIEVING THE SPIRIT- The Holy Spirit is not given us to make us good in spite of ourselves, but to help us to become better. It is very needful, therefore, that we should be diligent in fighting temptations and in striving to cultivate the graces and virtues of the Christian life. If we are careless of our duties and live ungodly lives, the wonderful gift which we have received will not benefit us. The Holy Spirit will become grieved and will gradually leave us to our evil ways. Our “latter state will be worse than the first.” This is the great danger of which St. Paul warns us: “Grieve not the Holy Spirit of God, in whom ye were sealed unto the day of redemption” (Ephesians 4:30).
The Human Responsibility
GIFTS AND RESPONSIBILITIES-God never gives man a gift without a corresponding responsibility. With the gift of reason He demands that we shall be reasonable, that is, guided by reason. And so with the gift of Confirmation He asks of us a solemn renewal of the vow which we took, or was taken in our name, at Baptism. The faithful keeping of this vow means the living of a Christlike life, which is the end for which the grace of Confirmation is given. RENUNCIATION- In the first part of the Baptismal vow we renounce or solemnly declare our independence of everything that is contrary to the Christian life: the temptations of the world, the flesh, and the devil. This means that no worldly honor or advantage, no pleasure of any kind, nor any prompting of the evil one, shall ever be allowed to come between us and our Holy Religion. It is the greatest thing in our lives, and everything that opposes it or interferes with it must be given up. FAITH- Secondly, we promise to believe “all the articles of the Christian Faith,” the teaching of Holy Church. We make this promise of belief, not because we happen to like the particular doctrines which the Church teaches, nor because we fully understand them, but because they were revealed by our Lord Jesus Christ. The Apostles’ and Nicene Creeds are summaries which the Church has made of the most important parts of the divine revelation. They are to be held and believed, therefore, as the very truth of God. OBEDIENCE- In addition to renouncing the evil and believing the truth, we also promise to obey: to “keep God’s holy Will and Commandments, and walk in the same all the days of my life.” God’s “Will and Commandments” are revealed to us in Holy Scripture and in Holy Church. First of all, there are the Ten Commandments to be kept. But this is not all. It is also God’s Will and Commandment that we should be diligent in attending the services of the Church, in receiving the Sacraments, in giving generously to the support of our religion and to the needs of the poor. To worship God in His Church every Lord’s Day is a fundamental Christian duty. To fail in it wilfully is a grievous sin. COMING OF AGE- In this respect, then, Confirmation is much like our coming of age. We are American citizens from the time of our birth, but at the age of eighteen every young person takes full possession of the duties and responsibilities of citizenship. So at the time of our Confirmation, which is much earlier, we take upon ourselves the full duties of our Christian citizenship, as set forth in the threefold vow of Holy Baptism. ADMISSION TO HOLY COMMUNION- Confirmation also admits us to the further privilege of receiving the Blessed Sacrament of the Body and Blood of Christ. Heretofore we have taken part in the offering of the great Eucharistic memorial by reverently joining in the prayers, but from now on we share more fully in the holy sacrifice by partaking of the Holy Gifts which are offered. This Sacrament is the never-failing food of the soul which enables us to keep the Christian vow.
THE PREPARATION REQUIRED
THE MIND- The preparation which every one is required to make before coming to Confirmation is twofold, a preparation of the mind and of the heart. It is the duty of the candidate to be instructed in the principles and requirements of Christ’s religion. A convenient summary of the most important matters is found in the Church Catechism, which all children are required to memorize. Adults must also study it diligently, but need not memorize it.
There are also many “other things which a Christian ought to know and believe to his soul’s health.” He should know something of the history of the Catholic Church, to which he owes allegiance, and should be well instructed in her hallowed ways and teachings. This little manual is intended to give an elementary knowledge of these things, but those who are able should read other books which treat of the subject in greater detail. THE HEART- Most important of all is the preparation of the heart and soul. In coming to God at any time we sh9uld come in the attitude of faith, of penitence, and obedience; and this is especially important when we expect to receive favors and gifts from Him in the Holy Sacraments.
First of all we must have faith; which means not only to accept the Catholic “Faith” as the truth of God, but also to accept God Himself in the person of His Son Jesus Christ-to put our whole trust and confidence in Him as our Lord and Redeemer. He alone can help us in the great battle of life, can save us from our sins and give us the sure reward of eternal life.
We must come also as penitents. Before Confirmation every candidate should kneel down in God’s presence and make a careful examination of his whole life, past and present. If this is done conscientiously it will reveal many sins of thought, word, and deed, which have never been truly repented of nor confessed to Almighty God. They have simply been slurred over and forgotten. But God never forgets. We must examine ourselves, therefore, and make an humble and detailed confession of every wrong thing that we can remember. If we so desire we can make our confession through God’s Minister, who will help us with such “godly counsel and advice as may tend to the quieting of” our conscience, and will give us, in God’s name, the gift of Absolution (directions may be found in a devotional manual). But in any case, whether through His Minister or not, we must humbly confess ourselves to Almighty God, and ask to be forgiven.
And lastly, we must come to Confirmation in the attitude of obedience. We must have a sincere desire to conform ourselves to God’s will in every way, especially in the things in which we have hitherto failed. We must resolve to sin no more, and to live a straightforward, consistent Christian life.
If we receive the divine gift of Confirmation with such a preparation as this, it will be a blessing indeed.