What Is Confirmation in the Catholic Church?
Growth is vital to human life; the body and mind must grow to stay alive. Catholics believe that the soul also needs to grow to maturity in the life of grace, just as the human body must grow through childhood, adolescence, and adulthood. Catholics believe the Sacrament of Confirmation is the supernatural equivalent of the growth process on the natural level. It builds on what was begun in Baptism and what was nourished in Holy Eucharist. It completes the process of initiation into the Christian community, and it matures the soul for the work ahead.
The Byzantine Church confirms (chrismates) at Baptism and gives Holy Eucharist as well, thus initiating the new Christian all at the same time.
So what occurs during a Catholic Confirmation? The Holy Spirit is first introduced to a Catholic the day that she's baptized, because the entire Holy Trinity — Father, Son, and Holy Spirit — are invoked at the ceremony. During Confirmation, God the Holy Spirit comes upon the person, accompanied by God the Father and God the Son, just as he did at Pentecost.
The Feast of Pentecost commemorates the descent of the Holy Spirit from heaven to earth upon the 12 apostles and the Virgin Mary, occurring 50 days after Easter and 10 days after Jesus' Ascension (Acts 2:1–4).
This sacrament is called Confirmation because the faith given in Baptism is now confirmed and made strong. Sometimes, those who benefit from Confirmation are referred to as soldiers of Christ. This isn't a military designation but a spiritual duty to fight the war between good and evil, light and darkness — a war between the human race and all the powers of hell.
Confirmation means accepting responsibility for your faith and destiny. Childhood is a time when you're told what to do, and you react positively to reward and negatively to punishment. Adulthood, even young adulthood, means that you must do what's right on your own, not for the recognition or reward but merely because it's the right thing to do. The focus is on the Holy Spirit, who confirmed the apostles on Pentecost (Acts 2:1–4) and gave them courage to practice their faith. Catholics believe that the same Holy Spirit confirms Catholics during the Sacrament of Confirmation and gives them the same gifts and fruits.
Traditionally, the twelve fruits of the Holy Spirit are charity, joy, peace, patience, benignity, goodness, long-suffering, mildness, faith, modesty, continency, and chastity. These are human qualities that can be activated by the Holy Spirit. The seven gifts of the Holy Spirit are wisdom, understanding, counsel, fortitude, knowledge, piety, and fear of the Lord. These gifts are supernatural graces given to the soul.
The ceremony may take place at Mass or outside of Mass, and the bishop wears red vestments to symbolize the red tongues of fire seen hovering over the heads of the apostles at Pentecost. The following occurs during the Sacrament of Confirmation:
Each individual to be confirmed comes forward with his sponsor.
At Baptism, Junior's mom and dad picked his godfather and godmother; for Confirmation, he picks his own sponsor. The same canonical requirements for being a godparent in Baptism apply for sponsors at Confirmation. The sponsor can be the godmother or godfather if they're still practicing Catholics, or he may choose someone else (other than his parents) who's over the age of 16, already confirmed, and in good standing with the Church. One sponsor is chosen for Confirmation. (Most people have two sponsors, one godparent of each gender, for Baptism.)
Each Catholic selects his own Confirmation name.
At Baptism, the name was chosen without the child's consent because the child was too little to make the selection alone. Now, in Confirmation, another name — in addition to the first and middle names — can be added, or the original baptismal name may be used. It must be a Christian name, though, such as one of the canonized saints of the Church or a hero from the Bible. You wouldn't want to pick a name like Cain, Judas, or Herod, for example, and no secular names would be appropriate.
The Catholic being confirmed stands or kneels before the bishop, and the sponsor lays one hand on the shoulder of the one being confirmed. The Confirmation name is spoken, and the bishop puts Chrism Oil on the person's forehead, says his name aloud, and then says, "Be sealed with the gift of the Holy Spirit." The person responds, "Amen." The bishop then says, "Peace be with you." And the person responds, "And with your spirit" or "And also with you."
Normally, only the bishop confirms the Catholics in his diocese. However, priests can be delegated to confirm adult converts from other religions when they're brought into full communion with the Roman Catholic Church at the Easter Vigil and they've attended the Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults (RCIA) program in the parish. Non-Catholics who are interested in the Catholic faith and converting to Catholicism attend RCIA classes.
Many Latin (Western) Catholics are baptized as infants, receive First Communion as children, and are confirmed as adolescents, but the Sacraments of Initiation are for any age. Adult converts who've never been baptized are baptized when they become Catholic; they're confirmed and receive their First Communion at the same Mass when they're baptized, or if they were baptized in a Protestant Church, they make a Profession of Faith, are confirmed, and receive Holy Eucharist at the Easter Vigil Mass — the night before Easter.