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It's to be expected that non-Catholics are void of any understanding regarding the sacrament of confirmation. But when fellow Catholics are at a loss to explain what confirmation is and what it does, I'm just a wee bit perplexed. Unfortunately, that seems to be the case, so we'll focus this week on one of the most exciting aspects of Catholicism.
Confirmation, according to Vatican II, is the sacrament instituted by Christ that makes baptized persons "more perfectly bound to the Church" and enriches them with a special strength of the Holy Spirit. Hence, confirmed persons as true witnesses of Christ are "more strictly obliged to spread and defend the faith, both by word and by deed."
Confirmation increases sanctifying grace, thus making us more holy. It increases within us supernaturally infused virtues, thus making us stronger in doing good. It further gives us an increase of the seven gifts of the Holy Spirit (wisdom, understanding, counsel, fortitude, knowledge, piety and fear of the Lord). Confirmation also imprints on each soul an indelible spiritual character and, for this reason, can't be repeated. Best of all, it enables us to courageously profess our faith, even under the threat of death. Indeed, without confirmation, there would be far fewer martyrs in the Church's glorious history.
At the time of Emperor Gallienus (AD 264), a Roman soldier named Marinus was about to be promoted to a high rank when some jealous fellow soldiers denounced him as a Christian. The emperor asked him if the charge was true. Marius admitted he was a Christian, so the emperor promised his promotion would stand if he gave up the Christian faith; otherwise, he must die. He gave Marinus just three hours to decide.
Marinus went to the bishop, who had only recently baptized him. The bishop then and there laid his hands on Marinus in the sacrament of confirmation to strengthen him with the Holy Spirit. Afterward, he put before him a sword and a book of the Gospels, and said, "Make your choice." Without hesitation, Marinus chose the Gospels, then went back to meet his martyrdom and heavenly reward.
This true story aptly demonstrates the power of confirmation. But many non-Catholics claim it's an invention of the Catholic Church because it's not mentioned in the Bible. Well, actually it is. Although it's not called confirmation in the Bible, we clearly see it in use by the Apostles in the book of Acts.
Christ promised that those who believed in Him would receive the Holy Spirit (John 7:37–39; 14:16; 15:26; 16:7). The Apostles were filled with the Holy Spirit on Pentecost (Acts 2:4), and St. Peter declared the Pentecostal gift was intended for all Christians (Acts 2:38).
The Apostles imparted the Holy Spirit by the laying on of hands, a sacramental rite distinct from baptism as the Samaritans, whom Peter and John confirmed, had already been baptized by Philip (Acts 7:14, 18). Saints Paul and John make frequent references to confirmation (cf. II Corinthians 1:21-22; Ephesians 1:13; Titus 3:5; I John 2:20,27). The Apostles certainly wouldn't have confirmed the faithful by a distinct rite after baptism unless they had received it from Christ.
The ordinary minister of confirmation is the local bishop, but priests may also confirm (when duly authorized by the bishop) under certain circumstances. For example, in case of an emergency, such as impending death or in institutional situations (prisons, hospitals).
The sacrament of confirmation gives us several serious but delightful obligations. Many people believe that once they're confirmed they've done all they need to do and have learned all they need to learn. That couldn't be further from the truth. The fact is, we're obliged to study the faith in preparation for receiving confirmation; and, once confirmed, to continue our studies for the rest of our lives. After all, how can you "spread and defend the Faith by word and deed" unless you continue to study the Catholic faith?
That doesn't mean you have to become some sort of Catholic scholar, but continued study is required. I'm one who prefers to advance my studies by reading books, but others do perfectly well by reading good Catholic periodicals, or even online articles like this. Still, others continue their studies by using videos, podcasts and recordings of good homilies and talks.
One of the biggest obligations we have as recipients of confirmation is that we're to evangelize everyone. Prior to Vatican II, evangelization was left largely to the efforts of priests and religious sisters. Vatican II reminded us that all Catholics are obligated to evangelize.
Evangelization doesn't mean we have to stand on street corners and preach to every passerby. Neither does it mean we have to corner folks whom we know and hammer away at them. It does mean sharing the Faith when the Holy Spirit opens doors for you.
When talking about religion, the way to keep the conversation calm is to be calm yourself. It's been my experience that when people aren't calm, it's because they aren't sure of their subject. The best way to remain calm and collected during such discussions is to know what you're talking about, and that's done by studying our Faith.