Catholic Diocese of Spokane, Washington
Official News Magazine of the Diocese of Spokane
P.O. Box 1453, Spokane WA 99210
(509) 358-7340; FAX: (509) 358-7302
Heart speaks to heart!
’Tis the season … for Confirmation
by John Fencik, for the Inland Register
(From the April 21, 2016 edition of the Inland Register)
During this Easter season we find Bishop Daly and Bishop Skylstad (Bishop Emeritus of the Spokane Diocese) celebrating the Sacrament of Confirmation for the youth and adults of our diocese. In this beautiful liturgical rite, we celebrate the anointing with Sacred Chrism, and the outpouring of the Holy Spirit on those confirmed – completing the Sacraments of Initiation. Yet since the end of Vatican II, as one travels our country, one will find many theologies for this sacrament and even the ages when it is conferred. Why has this happened? Which meaning of Confirmation should prevail? This last question may be very difficult to answer.
Since the Constantinian revolution (313 A.D.) when the Church was recognized as a legal religion in the Roman Empire, Confirmation began a long and arduous journey seeking a theology – and there have been many attempts to so “define” it. It has even had many names, including Mystical Chrism (St. Cyril of Jerusalem), Sanctification by Chrism (St. Leo the Great), Laying On of the Hand (Innocent III), The Holy Chrism of Confirmation (Trent ), Rite of Confirmation (Vatican II). The Eastern Rite calls it the Rite of Chrismation and it is generally celebrated in infancy, along with Baptism and First Eucharist. In the Roman Church, for numerous reasons, the anointing of Confirmation was separated from Baptism, to be administered at a later time by the bishop. Today, there have been attempts to re-order the Sacraments of Initiation. Yet even in proper order, Confirmation in the West signifies one’s “communion … with the bishop as the guarantor and servant of unity, catholicity, and apostolicity of his Church, and hence the connection with the apostolic origins of Christ’s Church” (Catechism of the Catholic Church (CCC), 1292).
Perhaps the best answer to that question of “theology” might be to keep it simple. We know that our Lord promised to send the Spirit to the disciples and the Church. This he did “on Easter Sunday, and then more strikingly at Pentecost” (CCC 1287). In Lumen Gentium it states that in 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). How true that was for Mary and the Apostles gathered on Pentecost when the Spirit rushed in like a strong wind and tongues of fire appeared above each of them. We recall that following the Crucifixion, they huddled in fear – even questioning reports of Jesus being alive. This fear had to be replaced with courage to rightly see their true identity as “apostles” – sent to the world with the Gospel message! It was this “anointing” of the Spirit and fire that obliterated that fear and enabled them to see that they were “Christ-people” – later called Christians. It was the same Spirit that transfigured them into true missionaries, whose lives were now intimately tied to Jesus as Lord and Redeemer.
Confirmation is intimately linked to Baptism and the Eucharist. In the gift of the Holy Spirit, one is “confirmed” in one’s true identity. We often identify ourselves by family name, nationality, teams we support (Go Zags!), our profession, or our vocation. Yet in our Baptism, we have been claimed for Christ and given our true and eternal identity: “N., the Christian community welcomes you with great joy. In its name I claim you for Christ our Savior by the sign of his cross.” We are rightly and firstly called “Christian” – our true identity, “confirmed” and strengthened by the sevenfold gifts of the Holy Spirit.
Let us pray for all those receiving Confirmation this Easter season. May they see in symbol and sign their identity in Christ and seek to draw others to a more intimate encounter with him.
(John Fencik is director of Catholic Funeral and Cemetery Services of Spokane.)
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