It’s that time of the year again where you’ve either started attending or will soon attend someone’s reception of the Sacrament of Confirmation; maybe even your own! This Sunday, the Church lays down for us some of the key Readings that illuminate the ancient workings of this Sacrament as told by the Bible.
In our First Reading, we are told about how St Philip preaches the Gospel to a Samaritan town and how they accept and receive the Gospel told by St Philip “either because they had heard of the miracles he worked or because they saw them for themselves.” Now, we now from Acts 6:5 that this Philip was not the Apostle Philip and therefore could not minister the Sacrament of Confirmation whereby they would receive the Holy Spirit.
The Apostles were the first Bishops in the Church and, as has alway been the case except for special circumstances, this Sacrament is always conferred by a Bishop. Therefore, “When the apostles in Jerusalem heard that Samaria had accepted the word of God, they sent Peter and John to them, and they went down there, and prayed for the Samaritans to receive the Holy Spirit, for as yet He had not come down on any of them: they had only been baptised in the name of the Lord Jesus. Then they laid hands on them, and they received the Holy Spirit.”
There is much confusion surrounding the Sacrament of Confirmation. Most people, and I mean about ninety-five percent of the Catholic West, think that Confirmation is when a person decides for their own to be Catholic. They couldn’t choose for themselves at Baptism and so now, at Confirmation, they “confirm” the choice of their parents. This is incorrect; nowhere will you find that in any of the Church’s documents. It is possible, of course, that one who receives this Sacrament might interiorly decide this, but Confirmation is not necessary to do this. If you haven't done this yet, do it this Sunday, or do it now with the Sacrament of Confession or Mass because the reception of any Sacrament is your own “confirming” of this. The reception of any Sacrament is you making an oath to the New Covenant of Jesus.
One of the reasons for this confusion is the name of the Sacrament. People might ask themselves “Well, what are we confirming?” and the obvious answer is the one I’ve mentioned above. But the problem is that we are not the ones who do the confirming; God confirms us! The Catechism of the Catholic Church says,
Baptism, the Eucharist, and the Sacrament of Confirmation together constitute the “sacraments of Christian initiation,” whose unity must be safeguarded. It must be explained to the faithful that the reception of the Sacrament of Confirmation is necessary for the completion of baptismal grace. For “by the sacrament of Confirmation, [the baptised] are more perfectly bound to the Church and are enriched with a special strength of the Holy Spirit. Hence they are, as true witnesses of Christ, more strictly obliged to spread and defend the faith by word and deed.” (1285)
In the Eastern Church, as in Biblical times too (sometimes), the Sacrament of Confirmation is given to newborn babies along with their Baptism and First Holy Communion. This obviously shows that the Sacrament is not how one makes his or her personal choice to be Catholic because the choice was made for them at Baptism when they couldn’t make it themselves. The Eastern Catholic Church obviously points out how this cannot be the case.
Let’s read it again: “the Sacrament of Confirmation is necessary for the completion of baptismal grace. For ‘by the sacrament of Confirmation, [the baptised] are more perfectly bound to the Church and are enriched with a special strength of the Holy Spirit. Hence they are, as true witnesses of Christ, more strictly obliged to spread and defend the faith by word and deed,’” (CCC 1285).
This is why St Peter, in our Second Reading says, “Reverence the Lord Christ in your hearts, and always have your answer ready for people who ask you the reason for the hope that you all have.” This is exactly what the Catechism is talking about. We need to be ready to “spread and defend the faith by word and deed.”
This is what Jesus talks about too in our Gospel. “I shall ask the Father, and he will give you another Advocate to be with you for ever, that Spirit of truth whom the world can never receive since it neither sees nor knows Him; but you know Him, because He is with you, He is in you.”
Let us approach the Table of Word and Sacrament this Sunday, the sixth of Easter, to make our commitment to Jesus and His Bride, the Catholic Church. And let us approach with the confidence of a Son of God, because we have received His grace (the Holy Spirit) at Baptism, and some of us have received Him fully at the Sacrament of Confirmation, and let us nourish ourselves more deeply from the Table of the Lord so as to “spread and defend the faith by word and deed.”
See you next week on Seeking the Word!
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