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Ask the Register: can a priest confirm?

Q. When is a priest allowed to administer the sacrament of Confirmation?

A. During his time on earth, Our Lord promised the outpouring of the Holy Spirit. He said, “And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Advocate to be with you always, the Spirit of truth” (John 14:16). The Holy Spirit was indeed sent upon the Apostles and Mary at Pentecost. The effects of receiving the Spirit were evident in the lives of the Apostles, as those who were once afraid, were later moved with great courage to preach the Gospel, even to those who would persecute them. The Lord has the same desire to send the fullness of the Holy Spirit upon us all.

The reality of Confirmation may be witnessed in the early Church. In the Acts of the Apostles, some had been baptized, but had not received the Holy Spirit (Acts 8:15-16). The Apostles imparted the Holy Spirit by the laying on of hands. Later, to greater symbolize the gift of the Holy Spirit, perfumed oil or chrism was included in the laying on of hands. The Eastern Rites of the Catholic Church call this sacrament Chrismation, and it is called Confirmation in the Latin Rite.

The original minister of Confirmation is the bishop. This goes back to the Apostles themselves. In the Latin Rite of the Church, the ordinary minister of Confirmation is the bishop. In the Eastern Rites, especially the

Byzantine Rites, the bishop remains the ordinary minister, but the priest is the usual minister.
The reason for this difference is that those Apostolic Rites have a different set of Canon Laws, where the priest who baptizes usually confers Confirmation immediately after Baptism, and then sometimes will give First Holy Communion. Even in this situation, there is a connection to the bishop because the bishop or patriarch is the one who consecrates the sacred chrism used by the priest. 

This practice in the Eastern Rite emphasizes the unity of the Sacraments of the Initiation.

In the Latin Rite, the bishop usually spends a lot of time administering Confirmation. This is a great pastoral responsibility of the bishop, as it allows him to visit the parishes in his diocese.

Nevertheless, there are instances that would allow for a priest to administer the sacrament of Confirmation, even in the Latin Rite. For instance, pastors, by the nature of their office, have the faculty to administer Confirmation on non-Catholics who come into the Church on the Easter Vigil, and he can obtain that faculty in other circumstances with the permission of the bishop.

Write to Ask the Register using our online form, or write to 3700 Sheridan Blvd., Suite 10, Lincoln NE 68506-6100. All questions are subject to editing. Editors decide which questions to publish. Personal questions cannot be answered. People with such questions are urged to take them to their nearest Catholic priest.

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