Confirmation: The Outpouring of the Holy Spirit as at Pentecost

Pope Francis administers the sacrament of confirmation to a young man during Mass at the Parish of San Cirillo Alessandrino in Rome Dec. 1.  (CNS photo/Paul Haring) (Dec. 2, 2013)

Pope Francis administers the sacrament of confirmation to a young man during Mass at the Parish of San Cirillo Alessandrino in Rome. (CNS photo/Paul Haring)

Celebrating the sacrament of Confirmation is among the most enjoyable tasks in the life of a bishop. It is a time to look forward. The parish gathers around the candidates, young and old, to welcome them into full membership in the Church. These people, filled with potential and hope, perhaps can sense how the grace of the Holy Spirit can help them lead holy lives and do great things as witnesses of Jesus in today’s world.

The bishop, knowing God’s power to transform lives, cannot help but be joyful because through Confirmation, he is anointing the next generation of the Church, and touching the future as he lays hands on their foreheads and anoints them with oil.

The roots of Confirmation reach back to the earliest days of the Church. We read in the Acts of the Apostles how the Apostles administered a second rite, distinct from Baptism, on believers: “Then they laid their hands on them and they received the Holy Spirit” (8:17).

Bishops as today’s successors to the Apostles continue to administer Confirmation, which is known as the sacrament of the Holy Spirit. In baptismal waters, a person receives new life – life in the Spirit. In the anointing of Confirmation, the same person receives the fullness of the Spirit. That is, Confirmation completes what the grace of Baptism began, bringing a deepening of grace in a special outpouring of the gifts of the Holy Spirit – wisdom, understanding, counsel, fortitude, knowledge, piety and fear of the Lord. Furthermore, the gifts seal the baptized person in union with Christ, imprinting on him or her an indelible spiritual mark as the Lord confirms that they are his witness (CCC 1303-04).

We receive the gifts of the Spirit in Confirmation particularly to help us proclaim God’s presence in our world and to announce his kingdom at work in us, and in our Church which offers the living presence of Jesus in today’s world. As an illustration of just how transformative these gifts of Spirit can be, recall how Peter and the other disciples were before they received the Spirit at Pentecost. Peter could be impetuous and the group remained cautious even after the risen Christ appeared to them. All of that changed on Pentecost. On that day – and for the rest of his days – Peter stood up and vigorously preached Christ in public (Acts 2:1-4, 14-41).

Similarly, the gifts have equipped Christians ever since for active participation in the witness, work and worship of the Church. Confirmation gives us the special strength we need to fulfill our calling from God to love and serve as Jesus did. The outpouring of the Spirit in Confirmation, as with the gift of the Spirit received by the Apostles in the upper room at the first Pentecost, is received only once, but the graces it confers are available to us every day, with the power to renew our hearts and even the face of the earth.

At one of his general audiences last year, Pope Francis noted how Confirmation “unites us more solidly to Christ. It completes our bonds with the Church.” He added that through the Holy Spirit, “Christ himself is present in us and takes form in our lives.”

One year earlier, our Holy Father administered the sacrament of Confirmation to 44 people from 22 different countries during a special Mass in Saint Peter’s Square marking the Year of Faith. About 70,000 young people from around the world who had been confirmed or who were preparing for Confirmation also attended the Mass, demonstrating by their presence how the Spirit is the great bond of unity in the Church.

The Holy Spirit brings “the new things of God. He comes to us and makes all things new; he changes us,” said Pope Francis. “The Holy Spirit is truly transforming us and through us, he also wants to transform the world in which we live. . . . Let us trust in God’s work. With him we can do great things.”

Those we confirm at our parishes have that same mission as they receive the gifts of the Holy Spirit – to go forth to bring to the world Jesus, who make all things new. In administering the sacrament of Confirmation to them, we bishops do indeed touch the future.