On the Sacrament of Confirmation and Its Liturgical Celebration
May 8, 2021

On the Sacrament of Confirmation and Its Liturgical Celebration

The Sacrament of Confirmation is bestowed on numerous children and adolescents during the weeks between Easter and Pentecost. And while each Sacrament reveals the transcendent, divine mystery of God’s own life—and for this reason is not entirely comprehensible—the Sacrament of Confirmation, along with its ritual celebration, brings a heightened sense of mystery—and misunderstanding. Knowledge isn’t everything—the smartest in the Church don’t necessarily receive more grace than others. Still, the more we know about Confirmation and its sacramental celebration, the more can we love it and benefit from the great graces it bestows. So: enjoy this issue’s Quiz on the sacrament of Confirmation and its liturgical celebration, and then go on to soak up its power in any celebrations you attend now or in the future.

1. Which of the following events is the most foundational institution of the sacrament of Confirmation?

a. Jesus’ baptism, followed by the descent of the Holy Spirit as he emerged from the water. (Matthew 3:16)
b. Jesus’ promise to send a new advocate. (John 16:17)
c. Jesus’ breathing the Holy Spirit upon the Apostles on the day after the Resurrection. (John 20-22)
d. Peter and John laying hands on the faithful in Samaria. (Acts 8:14-16)

2. True or False: In the Latin rite, Confirmation is conferred through the anointing with chrism on the forehead, which is done by the laying on of the hand, and through the words: “Be sealed with the Gift of the Holy Spirit.”

3. A confirmation sponsor differs from a baptismal godparent in which of the following ways?

a. A confirmation sponsor must be of the same sex as the candidate.
b. Two godparents may be a part of the baptismal rite, but only one sponsor is allowed for confirmation.
c. A parent cannot serve as a baptismal godparent but can serve as a confirmation sponsor.
d. A baptismal godparent must be an adult—18 years or older—but a confirmation sponsor need only be 16 years old.
e. All of the above.
f. None of the above.

4. True or False: The Church describes the Bishop as the “original” minister of Confirmation.

5. In the Latin dioceses of the United States, Confirmation is conferred:

a. Between the ages of 14-16.
b. Between the ages of 12-16.
c. Between the ages of 10-16.
d. Between the age of discretion and 16.

6. True or False: For the sake of liceity (lawfulness), a confirmation candidate must have a special confirmation name.

7. Confirmation does which of the following:

a. Increases and amplifies baptismal gifts.
b. Makes the recipient an adult in the Church.
c. Bestows the Gifts of the Holy Spirit for the first time.
d. Signals the end of faith formation.
e. All of the above.

8. If the sacrament of Confirmation is celebrated on a Sunday during the Easter Season:

a. Red vestments are worn and the readings of the given Sunday are used.
b. White vestments are worn and the readings are taken from the ritual Mass for the Rite of Confirmation.
c. The blessing and sprinkling of holy water takes the place of the Creed.
d. The Litany of the Saints replaces the Universal Prayer.
e. None of the above.

9. True or False: Similar to a priest’s authority to bless the Oil of the Sick if necessary, he may also consecrate the Sacred Chrism if he has received the faculty from his bishop to confirm.

10 .If a candidate for Confirmation receives the sacrament simply to appease parents and godparents, the sacrament is considered:

a. Illicit.
b. Invalid.
c. Unfruitful.
d. Unnecessary.
e. Valid, licit, and fruitful.

Readers’ Quiz Answers:

  1. c. Jesus’ breathing the Holy Spirit upon the Apostles on the day after the Resurrection. The Catechism of the Catholic Church (CCC) states, “The mysteries of Christ’s life are the foundations of what he would henceforth dispense in the sacraments” (1115). That is to say, the words Jesus said (such as, “Receive the Holy Spirit”) and the actions he performed on earth (like sending the Spirit upon the apostles) established the sacraments. These same sacramental actions he performed in the flesh 2,000 years ago he continues to carry out through the Church and her sacraments, for “what was visible in our Savior has passed over into his sacraments” (St. Leo the Great, in CCC, 1115).
  2. True. Pope Paul VI indicates this very thing—the sacrament’s essential matter and form—in the Apostolic Constitution Divinae Consortium Naturae by which he promulgated the current Order of Confirmation. While at first the sacrament was celebrated with the words and only the laying on of the hands (see Hebrews 6:1-2), “very early, the better to signify the gift of the Holy Spirit, an anointing with perfumed oil (chrism) was added to the laying on of hands” (CCC, 1289). In the Extraordinary Form, the palm of the hand is laid flat upon the top of the recipient’s head; in the Ordinary Form, the anointing with the thumb itself constitutes the laying on of the hand. During the period of COVID precautions, the Holy See indicated that “the use by the minister of an instrument (gloves, cotton swab…) does not affect the validity of the Sacrament.” Confusingly, the Order for Confirmation contains an epicletic prayer prior to the anointing (and essential laying on of the hand) that is also titled, “The Laying on of the Hands,” a prayer that is introduced by the words “Dearly beloved, let us pray to God the Father…” (Order of Confirmation, 24). This first “laying on of the hands” is usually expressed by the bishop (and concelebrating priests) extending his hands over the candidates as a group while saying the prayer “Almighty God.” Paul VI explained that this initial “laying on of the hands” differs from the latter one that accompanies the actual anointing, “[b]ut the laying of hands over the elect, carried out with the prescribed prayer before the anointing with Chrism, even if it is not of the essence of the sacramental rite, is still to be regarded as very important, inasmuch as it contributes to the complete perfection of the rite and to a more thorough understanding of the Sacrament. It is evident that this prior laying on of hands differs from the later laying on of the hand in the anointing with Chrism on the forehead” (Apostolic Constitution for Confirmation).
  3. f. None of the above. Not only ought the confirmation sponsor be the same person as the baptismal godparent (Introduction, Order of Confirmation, 5; Canon 893 §2), the Latin word for what we call “godparent” and “sponsor” is in fact the same: patrinus. Looking in the Code of Canon Law concerning confirmation sponsors, Canon 893 simply refers back to “the conditions mentioned in can. 874,” that is, for baptismal godparents: “1) be designated by the one to be baptized, by the parents or the person who takes their place, or in their absence by the pastor or minister and have the aptitude and intention of fulfilling this function; 2) have completed the sixteenth year of age, unless the diocesan bishop has established another age, or the pastor or minister has granted an exception for a just cause; 3) be a Catholic who has been confirmed and has already received the most holy sacrament of the Eucharist and who leads a life of faith in keeping with the function to be taken on; 4) not be bound by any canonical penalty legitimately imposed or declared; 5) not be the father or mother of the one to be baptized.”
  4. True. The Second Vatican Council’s Dogmatic Constitution on the Church, Lumen Gentium (26), as well as the Catechism of the Catholic Church (1312), describe the bishop as the “original minister” of Confirmation. For the Latin Rite, the Code of Canon Law (Canon 882) and in the Order of Confirmation (Introduction, 7), describes the bishop as the “ordinary minister.” The different titles express the changing practice of conferring the sacrament over the ages in the East and the West. In the earliest centuries, the bishop conferred each of the three sacraments of initiation—Baptism, Confirmation, and the Eucharist. Hence, he was the original minister of the sacrament. As the number of the faithful increased, it was not possible for the bishop to preside at every initiation. Generally, the Eastern Churches continued to celebrate the three sacraments together, even if this meant that a priest (rather than the bishop) would celebrate them. In the West, the celebration of the initiation sacraments was separated over the early years of a Catholic’s life, but Confirmation was generally reserved to the bishop. For this reason, as the Catechism n. 1313 notes, the bishop is called the ordinary minister in the Latin Church (that is, a priest would be the “ordinary minister” in the Eastern rites).
  5. d. Between the age of discretion and 16. The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops have decreed by a complementary norm to Canon 891 that “the Sacrament of Confirmation in the Latin rite shall be conferred between the age of discretion and about sixteen years of age, within the limits determined by the diocesan bishop.” While recent (and current) practice sees most Catholic candidates confirmed in the middle-teen years, more bishops are restoring the sequence of the sacraments of initiation to their original order: Baptism, Confirmation, Eucharist. In these instances, it is most fitting for the bishop to confirm candidates at “the age of discretion” (around age seven) and give them their first Holy Communion at the same Mass. However, “if the candidates are not being admitted to first Holy Communion at this liturgical celebration…, Confirmation should be conferred outside Mass” (Introduction to the Order of Confirmation, 13).
  6. False. There exists no official document—Code of Canon Law, Order of Confirmation, etc.—that prescribes the use of a special name for Confirmation. Still, the practice has been a custom in the United States.
  7. a. Increases and amplifies baptismal gifts. Associated closely with the sacrament of Baptism, Confirmation adds more: “Confirmation perfects Baptismal grace; it is the sacrament which gives the Holy Spirit in order to root us more deeply in the divine filiation, incorporate us more firmly into Christ, strengthen our bond with the Church, associate us more closely with her mission, and help us bear witness to the Christian faith in words accompanied by deeds” (CCC, 1316).
  8. e. None of the above. The Ritual Mass for Confirmation, during which the bishop (or priest) would wear red or white (see General Instruction for the Roman Missal, 347; also Roman Missal: Ritual Mass for the Conferral of Confirmation), is not permitted on a Sunday during the Easter season, so the Mass (and readings) would be that of the Sunday with its proper color, which during Easter is white. Whichever Mass is used, the renewal of baptismal promises takes the place of the Creed (Roman Missal: Ritual Mass for the Conferral of Confirmation; Order of Confirmation within Mass, 31). The blessing and sprinkling with holy water is associated with the Penitential Act and has no bearing on the later use of the Creed or renewal of baptismal promises. In most cases when the Litany of the Saints is used at Mass, these replace the Universal Prayer, but the Litany is not called for at a Mass during which Confirmation is administered.
  9. False. It is the case that a priest can bless the Oil of the Sick “in case of necessity” (Canon 999), but “the chrism to be used in the sacrament of confirmation must be consecrated by a bishop even if a presbyter administers the sacrament” (Canon 880 §2).
  10. c. Unfruitful. The validity of a sacrament requires proper matter, form, and intention on the part of the minister, the intention “to do what the Church does” when administering the rite. But even if each of these is present, the sacrament of Confirmation will not be validly received if the recipient actively objects—one cannot be forced to receive Confirmation. Still, it may happen that the sacrament of Confirmation is received with a passive objection: that is, the recipient may participate in the rite but with imperfect desire or alternative motives. Presuming the rite is celebrated with proper matter (anointing with Sacred Chrism), form (“Be sealed with the gift of the Holy Spirit”), by a proper minister with the right intention, then the sacrament is valid, even for one whose presence is motivated by parental pressure. But the graces of the sacrament will be unfruitful until the obstacle (obex, in sacramental theology terms) is removed. When it is, then the graces objectively and validly given by the sacrament of Confirmation revivify and become active in the spiritual life of the recipient.

Adoremus Bulletin for May 2021: Vol. XXVI, no. 6