The Sacrament of Confirmation

What Confirmation is not

Some say that the sacrament is a confirmation of faith, a pledge of sorts to God, and a sign of adulthood in the Church.  The problem with this line of thinking is that it makes the sacrament something that we do to God where, in fact, sacraments are God’s actions to us.  Confirmation is not a celebration of what we do and God responds and it is not an event at which we confirm anything to God; it is about what God does and how we respond to God.

Confirmation was once a part of the baptismal ritual; it took place immediately after baptism, sealing in the Holy Spirit and anointing the new Christian with a threefold ministry as priest, prophet, and king.  The specific oil that is used is called chrism. It is only used in two sacraments: Confirmation and Holy Orders; both are sacraments in which the person is anointed for ministry. Therefore, Confirmation can be seen as an anointing for ministry, for work to build the kingdom of God, not graduation from church.

How did Confirmation become separated from Baptism?

Confirmation became separated from Baptism through a change in the social structure of ancient society.  In the ancient world it was the bishop who performed all the duties that you might see a parish priest do today.  The bishop was the one who celebrated Mass for the Christian community and led other rituals.  This still holds true today, as the bishop is the “ordinary minister” of the sacraments of a geographical area, but people are so spread out that it would make it difficult for the bishop to lead the entire community in one celebration, especially in areas with a large Christian population.  In the ancient world, the bishop led the only celebration of the Eucharist for that week.  Ancient people did not have a choice of which Mass to attend.

Much like American or Canadian society in the 1950s and 1960s, the ancient world experienced suburbanization.  People from other lands started moving in to the cities and the locals left the city to the rural areas because it was safer.  This was a major change as the ancient Roman Empire was an urban culture.  This left the Church with some new challenges in how to minister to the community.

Gradually bishops appointed presbyters to go live in the villages, preside over Eucharist, preach, and to keep in touch with the bishop so that he knew what was happening in the outlying communities.  However, not all parts of the Church had the same idea as to how initiation should be carried out.

The Eastern Church was concerned with maintaining the integrity of the rites of initiation. Their philosophy was that it was okay if the presbyter anointed the new Christians so that the whole ritual would be performed at once rather than doing each part a different time.

The Western Church, however, wanted to preserve the idea of initiation into a whole community, with recognition by its visible head. Therefore, the bishop was the only one who could perform the anointing. Sometimes this meant people would have to wait a few years to be anointed so that the bishop could come out to the town. This is how Confirmation became a separate sacrament from Baptism in the Western Church.

As you can imagine there was debate among the communities as to which was most important: preservation of the rite or the importance of initiation into a community and recognition by its visible head. Both sides are legitimate and are both recognized as valid by the Catholic Church. However, in the Latin rite (or the Roman Catholic Church), most often Confirmation is not celebrated at the same time as Baptism.

Ratramnus of Corbie, a ninth century monk French monk argued in favor of the position of the Western Church. He said that it has to be the bishop that confirms because the bishop ordains (Holy Orders) and Confirmation is the ordination of the laity. He also said that it is the sacramental celebration of the priesthood of the people of God and the universal priesthood of the faithful.

In the Western, or Latin Church at the Papacy of Pope Pius XII, (1939-1958) some priests, by special indult (permission), were given authority to confirm under special circumstances, and in what are now former Spanish and Portuguese colonies, priests were allowed from the early 1600s to confirm infants at the time of baptism due to the long distances that they would have to travel in order to serve the people, and may not be able to return, or have an episcopal (bishop) visit before children died, due to high infant mortality.  The Church always wanting to have assure that we all are able to receive any and all graces we need on our journey to heaven has provided exceptions to some places when the needs of the souls were different due to unusual circumstances.

Confirmation is a sacrament that is misunderstood and underestimated. The Catholic Church would benefit from a more developed theology of Confirmation that helps young people understand the importance of this sacrament and not to look at it as an end to religious education, but the end of the beginning of a life in service to God

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. (Ref. Catechism of the Catholic Church 1285).

CHOOSING A SPONSOR

Canon Law, which is the law of the Church, requires you to have a sponsor for Confirmation. In ancient times, a sponsor literally walked with the candidate through a lengthy preparation period before the candidate was accepted into the Church. Today a sponsor is a person who will also walk with you in preparation for Confirmation. The person you choose will be a mentor, guide, and coach, helping you with questions you have about your faith and the Church. Therefore, the sponsor’s role is not just an honorary one. The person you choose must be willing to participate in your preparation process.

Specifically, the Church requires the following of sponsors:

A sponsor for the Sacrament of Confirmation must be at least sixteen years of age or older, be a Catholic who has been confirmed and has already received the Sacrament of the Holy Eucharist, leads a life in harmony with the faith, and not be bound by any canonical penalty imposed or declared. Finally the sponsor cannot be the father or mother of the candidate (Canon Law Number 892, 893, and 894).

The church encourages candidates to choose one of their Baptismal godparents as their sponsors because the Confirmation sponsor continues the godparents’ role of helping young people fulfill their baptismal promises. A proxy may fill in for a sponsor who is unable to attend Confirmation.

Prayer of the Candidate

O Holy Spirit, you have been with me and have counseled me ever since my Baptism. I thank you for this. Now that I am about to be confirmed in my faith, I ask your aid. Inspire me and my parents to choose a sponsor who will help me to prepare well for the Sacrament of Confirmation. Be with us as we weigh the different choices. I desire to live as a strong, faithful Christian. Lead us to the person who will be the best guide for me.

Prayer of the Parents

O Holy Spirit, You have entrusted (name) to us. Our role as parents is to guide and nurture (him/her) in every way. Give us grace to know who would be the best partner in carrying out our responsibility to guide and nourish (his/her) faith life.

  1. Under sponsor possibilities write the names of possible sponsors. Base your choices on the above requirements.
  2. Use the information to list the pros and cons of each choice in the respective column.
  3. Reflect on and discuss the pros and cons of each choice.
  4. Consult others.
  5. Choose the best sponsor.
Name Pro Con
_______________________ _______________________ _______________________
_______________________ _______________________ _______________________
_______________________ _______________________ _______________________

SACRAMENTAL SPONSOR CERTIFICATE

I, _____________________________________ am a registered member of the Roman Catholic Church Community of ____________________________________________in ____________________________________________ and have been asked to be a sponsor for ________________________________________ as he/she receives the Sacrament of Confirmation. In accepting this responsibility, I truthfully state the following:
(please circle)

Yes No I am at least (16) years of age.
Yes No I have received the Sacraments of Baptism and Confirmation in the Catholic Church. (Canon 874-3: be a Catholic who has been confirmed and has already received the Sacrament of the Most Holy Eucharist and leads a life in harmony with faith and the role to be undertaken).
Yes No I follow the precepts of the Catholic Church:

  1. Participate at Mass on Sundays and Holy Days
  2. Confess serious sins at least once a year
  3. Receive Communion during the Easter season
  4. Fast and abstain on the days appointed
  5. Help to provide for the needs of the Church
Yes No I am married
Yes No If married, I am married according to the rules of the Roman Catholic Church.

(After questions are answered, please complete the following)

________________________ ________________________
Signature of Sponsor Signature of Pastor/Administrator
   
________________________ ________________________
Date Date
   
________________________ Parish Seal:
Sponsor email address  
   
________________________  
Sponsor Phone Number