“Be sealed with the Gift of the Holy Spirit.” These are the words spoken by the bishop as he confirms with the Oil of Chrism.
When I preside at Confirmations, I like to greet the Confirmation candidates and their sponsors as they line up to enter the church in procession. Everyone is a little nervous and excited. They know this is an important moment. The candidates have completed their classes, service projects and retreats. They realize that they are making a commitment to live their faith in a more adult way. Their sponsors know that they have been chosen to set a good example of faith for those who are about to receive the sacrament. Everyone present is aware that something big is about to happen, and it has to do with the power of the Holy Spirit.
In the Confirmation ceremony, those who are about to receive the sacrament are reminded of the first Pentecost, when the Holy Spirit came upon the Apostles like a rush of wind and tongues of fire. The Apostles immediately went forth into the world proclaiming the Good News of Christ crucified and resurrected. The newly confirmed must do the same – they must go into the world to witness to Christ by the way they live their lives.
In the rite of Confirmation, at the time of the Laying on of Hands, the bishop says:
“Almighty God, Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who brought these your servants to new birth by water and the Holy Spirit, freeing them from sin: send upon them, O Lord, the Holy Spirit, the Paraclete; give them the spirit of wisdom and understanding, the spirit of counsel and fortitude, the spirit of knowledge and piety; fill them with the spirit of the fear of the Lord. Through Christ our Lord.” (From The Order of Confirmation.)
The seven gifts of the Holy Spirit – wisdom, understanding, counsel, fortitude, knowledge, piety and the fear of the Lord — are found in Isaiah 11:2-3. In the Hebrew text, there are six gifts, with the “fear of the Lord” being repeated. In the Greek Septuagint, the first time the “fear of the Lord” is mentioned, it is rendered “piety,” making the number of gifts seven, a number that signifies perfection in the Sacred Scriptures.
In the New Testament, we see the development of the understanding of the gifts of the Holy Spirit. Paul assures believers about the life-changing power of the Holy Spirit who dwells among them: “There are different kinds of spiritual gifts but the same Spirit.” (1 Corinthians 12:4) Because of the gift of the Holy Spirit, all faithful believers live in the love of God: “The love of God has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit that has been given to us.” (Romans 5:5b)
The first letter of John speaks about how the Spirit’s anointing brings believers to the truth: “His anointing teaches you about everything that is true and not false; just as it taught you, remain in him.” (1 John 2:27b) The Holy Spirit that makes the faithful aware that God remains in them, and is never far from them. (1 John 3:24)
Throughout the Church’s spiritual tradition, writers (including Justin Martyr, Origen, Gregory the Great and Augustine) commented on the gifts of the Holy Spirit. Some emphasized how these gifts were fully realized in Jesus Christ, the Son of God. Others saw a relationship between the gifts of the Holy Spirit and virtues. St. Thomas Aquinas, in his Summa Theologica, understood the gifts of the Holy Spirit as created dispositions, which allow a person to follow the promptings of the Holy Spirit. With these gifts in place, God acts not only externally but also within us. These descriptions of the gifts of the Holy Spirit summarize some of Aquinas’ thoughts:
Wisdom is that gift which helps us to perceive and evaluate dimensions of everyday life in relationship to our Creator and the Kingdom of God. Understanding is the ability to comprehend what we experience in life in terms of the divine, leading to more profound insights about the truths held by faith. Counsel builds an openness to the inspiration of the Holy Spirit in the process of discernment. Fortitude gives the courage needed to carry out tasks for the honor and glory of God. Knowledge helps believers to grasp the divine truths.Piety orients believers toward a devotion to God, personally and communally. Fear of the Lord is a profound reverence for God, and a desire never to offend him.
The gifts of the Holy Spirit guide each individual to walk in the ways of God, living a life of faith, discerning right from wrong, praying and worshipping God, courageously continuing the work of God and standing in awe of his boundless love. More than that, the Holy Spirit is at work in the hopes, dreams and shared activity of Church as it moves toward the fulfillment of God’s Kingdom. The seven-fold gift of the Holy Spirit is God working within our Church as we continue the works of Christ, extending his love and mercy and leading people to salvation.