02 April 2009

The theology of Confirmation

This evening His Excellency Bishop Lucas will administer the Sacrament of Confirmation here at St. Anthony of Padua parish.

It has recently been suggested that Confirmation is a Sacrament “in search of a theology.” Nothing could be further from the truth. The Second Vatican Council, in Lumen Gentium, taught:
By the sacrament of Confirmation, [the baptized] are more perfectly bound to the
Church and are enriched with a special strength of the Holy Spirit. Hence
they are, as true witnesses of Christ, more strictly obliged to spread and
defend the faith by word and deed (11; CCC 1285).

Confirmation is not in search of a theology; it has a perfectly good theology, and always has.

For too many years now catechists have told the young people under their formation that the Sacrament of Confirmation is the moment when they, the young people, accept the faith on their own since their parents accepted it for them at their Baptism. This is simply false; you will not find such a teaching in any document of the Church.

No Sacrament is given solely for the benefit of an individual. Even the Sacrament of Holy Orders is given not so much for the man who is to be ordained but for the benefit of the entire Church, which will benefit from his ministry. The Sacrament of Marriage is not so much about the love shared between the man and the woman as it is about the love that Christ has for his Bride, the Church. The Sacrament of Confirmation is not so much about the person confirmed, as it is about the faith that is being confirmed.

We accept the faith for ourselves every time we receive Holy Communion. When we say, “Amen,” to “the Body of Christ,” we give our assent not only to the Real Presence of Christ in the Eucharist, but to all that Church teaches. Every Sunday and holy day we accept the faith as our own when we recite the Creed. Every Easter Season and at every Baptism we renew our baptismal promises. Very often, the Faith is personally accepted long before the reception of the Sacrament of Confirmation.

We must remember that it is not the confirmand (the one who is confirmed) who confirms the faith, else my Confirmation would be meaningless, a conclusion I whole-heartedly reject. How could I, as a day-old infant, have accepted the faith for myself? Yet the Church does not confer Sacraments superficially so there must be something more to this Sacrament beyond an individual’s faith.

The ordinary minister of Confirmation is the Bishop for “the administration of this sacrament by them demonstrates clearly that its effect is to unite those who receive it more closely to the Church, to her apostolic origins, and to her mission of bearing witness to Christ” (CCC 1313). It is the Bishop – or, in his absence, the priest specifically delegated – who confirms that the faith entrusted to the person in Baptism is the faith of the Apostles, living and true; it matters not whether the person believes the faith or not. The faith itself is true.

The introduction to the Rite of Confirmation speaks of the dignity of the Sacrament:
This giving of the Holy Spirit conforms believers more perfectly to Christ and
strengthens them so that they may bear witness to Christ for the building up of
his body in faith and love. They are so marked with the character or seal
of the Lord that the sacrament of Confirmation cannot be repeated (2).

Perhaps another day I will address the age at which Confirmation is given.

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