Confirmation is the completion of or “confirming” of baptismal grace through the full outpouring of the Holy Spirit upon the recipient. This sacrament is given through the anointing on the forehead with “chrism,” or the holy oil used by the Church in her sacraments that symbolizes and confers the Holy Spirit. Who then is the proper recipient of confirmation and who properly administers this sacrament? It is these questions that we answer here.
For the administering of the sacrament, canon 822 in the Code of Canon Law says that the “ordinary” (or usual) minister of confirmation is a bishop – with priests being able to confer confirmation only with proper “faculty” or delegation from one with authority to give such delegation – such as the bishop himself or an administrator of a diocese in times when there is no bishop. If there is a danger of immediate death, the law provides for any priest to be able to offer the sacrament to the one who is dying. More will be said on administering the sacrament below.
As for who is the proper recipient, we begin by remembering that the Code of Canon Law always presents the lowest threshold. Thus, canon 889 §1 says “Every baptized person not yet confirmed and only such a person is capable of receiving confirmation.” This basic definition of who receives confirmation plainly expresses that young children – even infants – can receive confirmation simply in virtue of having received baptism. However, in typical practice – and by actual mandate of the rest of canon 889 and canon 890 – the baptized person is usually given formation prior to receiving confirmation, including such topics as the effects of the sacrament and how one is to respond to the graces given. However, it is important for us to acknowledge that confirmation can be given without any formation in immediate danger of death – as it is the receiving of the grace of the Holy Spirit that is of primary importance in this sacrament. Finally, it is also worth noting that canon 891 says confirmation is to be conferred around the “age of discretion,” unless another age is established by the conference of bishops – or by a diocesan bishop himself. While this topic of the age for receiving confirmation will be more directly treated in the next installment, know that canon law proposes elementary school age children are right recipients.
Given these basic details of the recipient and minister, it is particularly important to note one further detail in canon law: in canon 885 §1 it is stated that “The diocesan bishop is obliged to take care that the sacrament of confirmation is conferred on subjects who properly and reasonably seek it.” (emphasis added). Like all sacraments, confirmation is not automatic; it must be rightly requested. In practice, those seeking to be confirmed each year are instructed to write a letter to the bishop to ask for confirmation. It is important to emphasize that this act of requesting confirmation, if for no other reason, expresses that this sacrament (and all the sacraments) are not earned rewards, but gifts given by God through the Church. Yes, each student writes to the bishop requesting confirmation so as to express a right disposition to receive it – including that they are aware of what it is as a gift of the Holy Spirit and that they will accept the call to live by the grace of confirmation – allowing the Holy Spirit to lead them and strengthen them in life.
In the next installment, we will consider some perspectives on what is the right age to receive confirmation.
For further reading: In the Catechism of the Catholic Church, the paragraphs 1306 – 1314 offer teaching on recipients and ministers of confirmation.