In the Old Testament, the Father sent forth a special anointing of the Holy Spirit on particular people to help them fulfill a special mission. This can be seen in relation to priests, prophets and kings.
Throughout the Old Testament, the Father promised to send forth the Spirit upon the long-awaited redeemer, thus making him the Messiah (anointed one). God the Father fulfilled this promise by sending the Son and anointing him with the promised Spirit.
Jesus, the Messiah, promised to send forth the Spirit upon the people of God. He does so through baptism and then through a special anointing with the Holy Spirit in confirmation. He does this so that we might fulfill a special mission by sharing intimately in his priestly, prophetic and kingly ministry.
What else happens when someone in confirmed? What do the outward signs of anointing with oil, laying on of hands and the bishop or priest saying “Be sealed with the Gift of the Holy Spirit” signify? What are some of the other interior effects of confirmation?
“It is evident from its celebration that the effect of the sacrament of Confirmation is the special outpouring of the Holy Spirit as once granted to the apostles on the day of Pentecost” (“Catechism of the Catholic Church,” 1302). On Pentecost, the Holy Spirit was “…manifested, given, and communicated as a divine person: of his fullness, Christ, the Lord, pours out the Spirit in abundance” (CCC, 731). So, confirmation is a continuance of Pentecost.
On Pentecost the Father and the Son send the Holy Spirit, in form of fire, to rest upon those gathered in the upper room. With this anointing of the Holy Spirit, the church is thus definitively established to share in the life and mission of the persons of the Trinity. “The mission of Christ and the Holy Spirit is brought to completion in the Church, which is the Body of Christ and the Temple of the Holy Spirit” (CCC, 737).
Confirmation strengthens, deepens, increases and matures baptismal grace in the very depths of a person’s being and existence. Baptism allows us a share in Trinitarian life. Through baptism we become adopted sons and daughters of the heavenly Father.
Confirmation “roots us more deeply in the divine filiation which makes us cry, ‘Abba! Father!’” (CCC 1303, cf. Romans 8:15). It also “unites us more firmly to Christ…” and “it increases the gifts of the Holy Spirit in us” (CCC 1303).
From this we see that the effects of confirmation are very Trinitarian. First, our relationship as sons and daughters of the Father is more deeply rooted in us. Second, our unity with the Son/Messiah is made more firm in us. Third, the Holy Spirit, whose temple we are, increases his gifts in us.
In relation to this we must understand that confirmation “…renders our bond with the Church more perfect” (CCC, 1303). So, confirmation roots us more deeply in our relationship with the persons of the Trinity, but it also renders our bond with the church Christ established more perfect. This means we too share in the life and mission of the church, who is the body of Christ.
From the event of Pentecost we can understand what this means. What did the disciples do upon the reception of the Holy Spirit? They went forth and boldly proclaimed the Gospel, which led people to repentance, to baptism, “…to the teaching of the apostles and to the communal life, to the breaking of the bread and to the prayers” (Acts 2:42). So confirmation, “…gives us (as it did the apostles) a special strength of the Holy Spirit to spread and defend the faith by word and action as true witnesses of Christ, to confess the name of Christ more boldly, and never be ashamed of the Cross” (CCC, 1303).
After confirmation we have a duty, out of love for Christ, the church and all of humanity, “to spread and defend the faith by word an action.” The grace of the sacrament does not necessarily make it easy, but it does make it possible.
Many are under the mistaken notion that they should keep the faith to themselves. However, Christ tells us something very different when he says, “Go, therefore, and make disciples of all nations…teaching them to observe all I have commanded you” (Matthew 28:19-20).
Unfortunately, we live in a culture that is often hostile to Christianity, one that tells us religion should be a purely private affair. The challenge for us is whether we are going to obey Christ or the culture. Do we love Christ, and the men and women we come into contact with everyday, enough to share with them what the second person of the Trinity died to give them and us? Are we willing to imitate Christ in his suffering and death as a result of his proclamation of the Good News? Remember, Christ also faced a culture which was hostile.
During the first few centuries of the church, many holy men and women lived and proclaimed the Gospel in a hostile culture. Many, more than can be numbered, offered their lives so that we might one day know and love Christ. Many died by crucifixion, burning or by being torn apart by beasts in the Roman arenas, for boldly professing their faith and not worshipping the false gods of Roman culture. Are we willing to die for Christ? Are we willing to boldly profess the faith and not worship the false gods of money, sex, power, convenience and comfort?
If we have learned anything from Christ, we must recognize that he taught us that love means sacrifice. We also know that Christ doesn’t command us to do anything without also giving us the help to accomplish what he commands. In this case he provides us with none other than one of the seven sacraments he sacrificed his life to give us.