(SNR) - The Church will celebrate Pentecost on Sunday, May 19, but in a sense, every Confirmation is a celebration of Pentecost.
Pentecost is the birth of the Church. In Acts 2, Saint Luke recounts the descent of the Holy Spirit upon the Apostles 50 days after the Resurrection of Christ (Pentecost means "fifty"). He describes the sound of a "violent wind" filling the house in which the Apostles were meeting, followed by "tongues as of fire," which separated and came to rest upon the head of each Apostle.
Thus filled with the Holy Spirit, the Apostles were especially equipped to do the work that Jesus had given them to do – to "Go… make disciples of all nations; baptize them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teach them to observe all the commands I gave you." (Matthew 28:19-20)
As the Catechism of the Catholic Church notes in article #1288, the sacrament of Confirmation "in a certain way perpetuates the grace of Pentecost in the Church."
Blessed John Paul II explained during his General Audience on September 30, 1998, "Baptism… gives us a rebirth ‘of water and the Spirit’ enabling us to share sacramentally in Christ’s Death and Resurrection (cf. Rom 6: 1-11). Confirmation, in turn, makes us share fully in the outpouring of the Holy Spirit by the risen Lord."
When a person has received all three of the sacraments of Christian initiation – Baptism, the Holy Eucharist and Confirmation – they have received what the Catechism calls, "the completion of baptismal grace… Hence they are, as true witnesses of Christ, more strictly obliged to spread and defend the faith by word and deed." (CCC1285)
Confirmation has been practiced since the earliest days of the Church. In Acts 8:14ff, converts from Samaria were baptized by Philip the Deacon and then sent to the Apostles Peter and John, who prayed for them and laid hands on them so they could receive the Holy Spirit.
Likewise in Acts 19, Saint Paul came across followers of John the Baptist in Ephesus who had not yet been baptized in the name of Christ, nor confirmed. When Paul remedied the situation by bestowing both sacraments upon them, they immediately showed evidence that the Holy Spirit had come upon them to equip them to serve Christ and His Church.
In the Latin Rite, the Sacrament of Confirmation is most often administered by the Bishop to children of an age "between the age of discretion and about 16 years of age" (Canon 891), as determined appropriate by the local bishop. In some dioceses, the bishops have the youth wait until their 16th year to be confirmed, while others grant the reception of this important Sacrament much younger. The Diocese of Lincoln currently offers Confirmation to children in the fifth or sixth grade.
Each confirmation candidate, or confirmand, comes to the Rite of Confirmation with a sponsor. According to Canon Law, the sponsors must be confirmed Catholics of at least 14 years of age and should be somebody other than the confirmand’s parents or godparents.
It is still customary for confirmation candidates to take the name of a patron saint. This tradition encourages confirmands to develop his or her reliance on the Communion of Saints.
The Rite of Confirmation includes the renewal of baptismal promises, giving each candidate the opportunity to confirm the vows that his or her parents and godparent spoke on his or her behalf years earlier.
Then, the bishop lays his hands on each confirmand and anoints his or her forehead with sacred chrism, a custom found as early as the second century.
In the book, "God and the Word: Believing and Living in our Time," which records several interviews with Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI when he was Prefect of the Congregation of the Doctrine of Faith, then-Cardinal Ratzinger explained, "The laying on of hands is the sign of being sheltered and protected by God and the sign of the presence of the Spirit. The anointing unites us with the Anointed One himself, who is Christ, and becomes a sign of the Holy Spirit, who inspired and lived in Christ."
U.S. Catholics confirmed more than 40 years ago might recall this laying on of hands and anointing was followed by a gentle tap on the cheek with the bishop enjoining, "Peace be with you." This "slap" was meant to symbolize the hardships that a confirmed Catholic would face as a soldier for Christ. It was no longer mentioned as part of the confirmation rite when the United States Council of Catholic Bishops revised it in 1971.
Cardinal Ratzinger, in "God and the World," explained why many Catholics consider Confirmation to be the "coming-of-age sacrament."
"…[T]he confirmed Christian is now a fully active and responsible member of the Church," he told interviewer Peter Seewald. Confirmation, he said, "means to turn us away from what is merely exterior, from preoccupation with success and achievement, and says to us, you have an inward aspect. Let the inner man, as St. Paul puts it, grow strong within you."
For more information about Confirmation, consult your parish priest or refer to the Catechism of the Catholic Church, beginning at article 1285.