Having reflected last time upon the origins and some key historical truths regarding confirmation, we turn our attention to the rite of confirmation and its effects.
Acknowledging again that the history of confirmation is difficult to fully trace, the essential elements to the rite of confirmation that have been handed down over the life of the Church are the laying on of hands and the anointing with the chrism oil on the forehead of the candidate while speaking the person’s name and the words “Be sealed with the gift of the Holy Spirit.” Thus, the “matter” (or perceivable part) of the sacrament is the anointing with chrism oil with the laying on of the hand (while anointing the person) and the form is the words that accompany these acts. It is noteworthy that the oil must always be blessed by a bishop – which takes place at the annual Chrism Mass.
Within the confirmation rite, each candidate is presented by name and each person (though as a group) makes a renewal of their baptismal promises and profession of faith prior to being confirmed. Immediately after each one is anointed, the minister offers them individually a sign of peace with the words “Peace be with you,” reminiscent of Jesus’ words to the apostles on the first Easter evening. Most often, the ritual for confirmation is carried out within the offering of Mass, which can often be a Mass whose specific prayers and Scripture passages pertain directly to confirmation and the Holy Spirit.
As for the ritual effects of this sacrament, it is primarily understood as a deepening or completing of baptism – through the increase of the Holy Spirit within the recipient. As with baptism, confirmation places an “indelible mark” upon the soul of the recipient, binding them ever more closely to Christ and granting them an increase of grace. These effects manifest themselves in each one who is confirmed as the receiving special strength to witness to Christ and to defend the truth of the faith. It likewise more fully unties them to the Trinity and in the eternal communion for which God made us.
While the next installment will speak more directly of the recipients of this sacrament, it is worth considering here under the proper effects of the sacrament that the custom of giving confirmation at different age levels has various pros and cons – based on the openness of those who receive it and their capacity to respond to what is given. For example, minding the call to witness to and defend the faith, it seems fitting that one be more mature when receiving confirmation – so as to both fully understand what it is to defend the faith and to have the necessary knowledge of the faith to live it and defend it effectively. However, there are also pros to receiving this sacrament at an earlier age (even as young as age 8 in some places) as the sacrament is first and above all a source of divine life within the souls of those who receive it (that is, a source of grace), that God may dwell within them to aid each one by His presence all the more as they grow and learn to acquire the faith. Given these variances, what is important for us to keep in mind above all is that confirmation, as a sacrament, is primarily a gift of God to us for the sake of our salvation, and not something earned or done for God’s sake. With that in mind, we will look next time at the recipients and ministers of confirmation from that starting point of it being a gift of God – and not just any gift, but the Holy Spirit himself – that aids us in receiving salvation.
For further reading: In the Catechism of the Catholic Church, the paragraphs 1293-1305 speak of details of the rite of confirmation and the graces received.