“God chose you as first fruits to be saved through the sanctifying work of the spirit and through belief in the truth. He called you to this through the gospel that you might share in the glory of our lord jesus christ.” 2 Thessalonians 2:13-14
The Role of the Holy Spirit
The Holy Spirit has played a very important role throughout Salvation History. Jesus was conceived by the power of the Holy Spirit and when he was baptised the Holy Spirit came down upon him. From that moment onwards Jesus had the fullness of the Holy Spirit working within him and he promised many times that he would send us a helper who would reveal to us the Kingdom of God. On the day of Pentecost this prophecy was fulfilled and the apostles were filled with the Holy Spirit. When Peter preached to the crowds many people were converted and baptised. The apostles laid hands on the newly baptised to pass on to them the gift of the Holy Spirit as St Paul writes, “I remind you to fan into flame the gift of God, which is in you through the laying on of my hands. For the Spirit God gave us does not make us timid, but gives us power, love and self-discipline.” (2 Timothy 1:6-7)
Confirmation Completes our Baptism
The Sacraments of Confirmation, Baptism and First Holy Communion are together called the Sacraments of Christian Initiation. Confirmation is necessary to be fully initiated into the Church and it completes the grace that we received through our Baptism. In Acts Chapter 8 it describes how the apostles Peter and John laid hands on some of the early Christians, “When Peter and John arrived in Samaria, they prayed for the new believers there that they might receive the Holy Spirit, because the Holy Spirit had not yet come on any of them; they had simply been baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus. Then Peter and John placed their hands on them, and they received the Holy Spirit.” (Acts 8: 14 – 17).
The Origins of the Sacrament
Originally the Sacraments of Baptism and Confirmation were celebrated together. The Bishop, being the successor to the apostles would baptise and then confirm new Christians in the same ceremony. But it became increasingly more difficult for the Bishop to attend every baptism in his diocese so it was decided by the Western Church to split the two Sacraments with the priests or deacons administering the Sacrament of Baptism and the Bishop usually conferring the Sacrament of Confirmation at a later date.
Anointing with Oil
The Sacrament of Confirmation is conferred by an anointing with sacred oil called Chrism. In ancient times oil was a sign of abundance and joy and it symbolised cleaning, strength, beauty and healing. When a person is anointed with oil at Confirmation, it shows that they now have the fullness of the Holy Spirit within them and share completely in the mission of Jesus Christ and by this anointing they are also marked with the seal of the Holy Spirit. In the time of Christ soldiers were marked with their leader’s seal to show which side they were fighting on and slaves were marked with their master’s seal so that everyone knew who owned them. In the Sacrament of Confirmation God marks us with the seal of ownership, we now belong totally to God and we have been enrolled into his service for ever.
The Celebration of the Sacrament
When Confirmation is celebrated, those being confirmed are asked to renew their baptismal promises and to make a profession of faith. This is a link back to their Baptism when it was probably their parents who made the profession of faith for them. The bishop then extends his hands over the whole group being confirmed, and asks for an outpouring of the Spirit saying, “All-powerful God, Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, by water and the Holy Spirit you freed your sons and daughters from sin and gave them new life. Send your Holy Spirit upon them to be their helper and guide.” Following this the Bishop invites each of the Confirmands to approach him and he anoints them individually with chrism on their foreheads, saying, ‘Be sealed with the Gift of the Holy Spirit.’ The newly Confirmed then share the sign of peace with the Bishop signifying their union with him and with all the Church members.
The Effects of Confirmation
When we are confirmed we receive the full outpouring of the Holy Spirit just as the Apostles received it on the Day of Pentecost. It also increases the grace that we received at our baptism and helps us to better appreciate that God is our loving Father. We are united more closely with Christ and so it helps us to pray. We receive the fullness of the gifts of the Holy Spirit and are strengthened to go and spread the Gospel and to be true witnesses of Christ in our words and actions.
The Gifts of the Holy Spirit
At Confirmation we receive the seven fold gifts of the Spirit mentioned in Isaiah 11: wisdom, understanding, counsel, fortitude, knowledge, piety, and fear of the Lord. These gifts are qualities that develop in us when we are guided by the Holy Spirit in our lives. In his letters St Paul also mentions other gifts of the Spirit, sometimes called charisms, which may also be given to Christians. “Now to each one the manifestation of the Spirit is given for the common good. To one there is given through the Spirit a message of wisdom, to another a message of knowledge by means of the same Spirit, to another faith by the same Spirit, to another gifts of healing by that one Spirit, to another miraculous powers, to another prophecy, to another distinguishing between spirits, to another speaking in different kinds of tongues, and to still another the interpretation of tongues. All these are the work of one and the same Spirit, and he distributes them to each one, just as he determines.” (1 Corinthians 12: 7 – 11) These charisms, whether they are simple and humble or extraordinary are graces of the Holy Spirit which are given to build up the Church and the people of God and they should be used with humility and love under the direction of the Holy Spirit.
The Fruits of the Holy Spirit
The fruits of the Spirit are the attitudes that are formed in us as we are filled with the Holy Spirit. When people meet us they should notice these fruits in our lives. The tradition of the Church lists twelve fruits of the Spirit: charity, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, generosity, gentleness, faithfulness, modesty, self-control and chastity. When we are guided by the Holy Spirit we will be kinder, more loving and generous. We will also be more aware of the temptations of sin that are all around us and have the strength to fight against these.
It may be some time since we were Confirmed but we should be living the Sacrament daily by submitting our lives anew to God each morning. If we ask the Holy Spirit to be with us and guide our thoughts, words and deeds throughout the coming day he will lead us towards holiness and wholeness in our lives. Come Holy Spirit be our guide and our strength!
Written by June Palme