we learned about Pentecost and what it means to receive the Holy Spirit at Confirmation. We first receive the Holy Spirit at Baptism (in fact we receive the Holy Spirit with every Sacrament), but as we become more mature, we have more need (and ability) to use the Gifts of the Holy Spirit better.
That’s why the two Sacraments are celebrated separately: Baptism when we are infants, and then when we are older and we can act as mature Christians, Confirmation.
According to the Catechism of the Catholic Church,
“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 baptized] 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).”
Remember that Baptism is not just a rite of initiation, but it includes formation, so after we are baptised as infants, we have to go through a period of formation, (anywhere between 7 and 13 years), at which point we are ready to accept the Catholic faith on our own.
Don't Forget Formation
If an adult decides to become Catholic, it happens the other way around (as it did in the early Church): they go through a period of formation first, called the RCIA (Rite of Christian Initiation for Adults), for about a year, and then, at the Easter Vigil, they are baptised, confirmed and also receive the Eucharist for the first time. (If you’ve never been to an Easter Vigil, I highly recommend that you go, at least once in your life.)
For early Christians, baptism and confirmation were done at the same time. As the Church grew, people were not just becoming Christians as adults; whole households were being baptised, and parents wanted their infants to be baptised as soon as possible. Also, as the Church grew, bishops were no longer able to celebrate baptisms for everyone, so they delegated priests to do it. But bishops still wanted to be part of welcoming new members to the Church, so they reserved the celebration of Confirmation for themselves.
That’s why, generally, the bishops are still the ordinary ministers of the Sacrament of Confirmation.
Because one bishop could have jurisdiction for a very large geographical area, local priests would celebrate baptisms, and then the bishop would travel from town to town (as he could) in order to “confirm” that those baptisms were valid. Sometimes it would take bishops years to get to a particular town. This is why the confirmation of the bishop could sometimes take place many, many years after someone was baptised.
And so, we understand Confirmation to be about receiving the Spirit in a new way, and we see it as a completion of Baptism. It also has something very much to do with being a mature Christian. In this sense, it is the person being confirmed who confirms that they will live their faith as mature Christians. In another sense, it is the bishop who confirms that the person is on his or her way to becoming a mature Christian.
Unity of Baptism and Confirmation
The unity between Baptism and Confirmation can be explained better by looking at Scripture:
At the end of the Gospel of Matthew, Jesus commanded that we go tell all the world the good news, making disciples, baptising them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit. (Matthew 28:18-20). Baptism has always been a pre-requisite.
On another occasion, speaking with Nicodemus, who had asked him how someone could be re-born, Jesus said,
“Very truly I tell you, no one can enter the Kingdom of God without being born of water and spirit. What is born of the flesh is flesh. What is born of the spirit is spirit. Do not be astonished that I said to you, you must be born from above. The wind blows where it chooses and you hear the sound of it, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes. So it is with everyone who is born of the spirit.” (John 3:5-8)
And so, being born of water is important, but being born of the Spirit is as well.
Come back next week so we can look at what exactly happens at Confirmation.
This post is part 3 of a 5-part series on Confirmation. Read all of them:
Part 1, Part 2, Part 4, Part 5
Image: Cardinal Francis E. George, former archbishop of Chicago, blesses a boy during confirmation in 2014 at St. Clement Church in Chicago. (CNS photo/Karen Callaway, Catholic New World)
Every week, Deacon Pedro takes a particular topic apart, not so much to explore or explain the subject to its fullness, but rather to provide insights that will deepen our understanding of the subject. And don’t worry, at the end of the day he always puts the pieces back together. There are no limits to deaconstructing: Write to him and ask any questions about the faith or Church teaching: firstname.lastname@example.org