“Be sealed with the gift of the Holy Spirit.” With these words a bishop makes the sign of the cross with chrism oil on the forehead of the confirmand. Just before that, he extends his hands and prays for the outpouring of the gifts of the Holy Spirit: the spirit of wisdom, understanding, counsel, fortitude, knowledge, piety, and fear of the Lord. Who wouldn’t want these gifts? Who wouldn’t want them for our children?
If you were confirmed at a young age, like I was, you may not have had the opportunity to have a deep appreciation of the sacrament. We don’t experience the celebration of confirmation on a regular basis, as we do Eucharist, and so we may not remember the beautiful ritual, rich in meaning. Usually, it is celebrated during a Mass, with the confirmation ritual taking place after the homily.
During the rite, the candidates are asked to renew their baptismal vows, that were professed for them, at their Baptism. Then, the bishop, (the usual minister of confirmation) extends his hands over the confirmands and prays that they will receive the Holy Spirit. He prays for the outpouring of the gifts of the Spirit prophesied in the Book of Isaiah (11:2-3) about the coming of the Messiah.
We hope these gifts, in the virtuous lives of the confirmands, will strengthen the Church and serve the needs of justice and peace for humanity.
Next, the confirmand comes forward with his or her sponsor, who places a hand on the confirmand’s shoulder. Each one is individually presented to the bishop with their confirmation name. The bishop anoints the candidate’s forehead with the sacred Chrism oil, the same oil used in Baptism, reminding us of the Holy Spirit active in our lives.
The timing of the celebration of this sacrament varies in different dioceses. In this archdiocese, it is usually the junior year of high school. Our priests, youth ministers and families process the meaning of this sacrament in many profound ways. Diocesan and parish leaders witness faith through catechetical sessions, retreats, mission trips, and prayer opportunities. Baptism begins a journey. Confirmation blesses that journey, and emphasizes that whatever life brings, the Holy Spirit always will be with us. As parents, we want our children to have every benefit in life. A robust faith formation, supported by church and family is one of those priceless advantages that promises optimal spiritual maturation and results in a resilient faith.
Confirmation deepens the life we are given in baptism and calls us to share faith in Jesus Christ through loving service. It completes baptismal grace, and is about learning to recognize the voice of the Holy Spirit, listening to it and acting on it.
Dr. Kathie Amidei is a wife, mother, grandmother, and Pastoral Associate at St. Anthony on the Lake Parish in Pewaukee, as well as a consultant for the Archdiocese of Milwaukee.