Before Jesus ascended into heaven, he told his disciples to wait in Jerusalem so that they could be baptized by the Holy Spirit (Acts of the Apostles 1:5). When about 120 of Jesus’ disciples were gathered the Holy Spirit came in the form of wind and fire. Filled with the Holy Spirit, the disciples understood that God was anointing them for a special mission (Acts of the Apostles 2).
The early Christians made sure, then, that whenever they brought people into the Church, they would baptize them with water and then anoint them with oil. Why oil? Oil had been used in the Old Testaments to anoint priests, prophets, and kings. The early Christians realized that their community was “a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation” (1 Peter 2:9). Each new member was anointed with oil after being baptized with water.
In the early Church Baptism and Confirmation were celebrated in a single ceremony. It is still done this way in the churches of the East. In the Roman Catholic Church, the Church of the West, the two sacraments gradually separated. The Church in the West wanted the bishop to complete a person’s initiation. As the Church grew and the bishops ministered over ever larger territories, the bishop could not be present for every Baptism. So began the custom of gathering groups of baptized Catholics together later so that the bishop could confirm them all at one time. In the process over time the reception of the Eucharist came before the celebration of Confirmation.
In a number of dioceses the Sacrament of Confirmation is now celebrated before the reception of the Eucharist. This restored order returns the celebration of Confirmation to its original place after Baptism in the Sacraments of Initiation, with the Eucharist completing Christian initiation.
In the United States the designated age for Confirmation is between the ages of discretion and the age 16. In order to be confirmed a person
- must have reached the age of discretion, which is defined as about the age of seven;
- profess the Catholic faith and desire to receive the sacrament;
- be in a state of grace;
- be ready to live as a witness to Jesus Christ.
Receiving the Sacrament of Confirmation, the Christian’s relationship with God is made stronger. The Gifts of the Holy Spirit are strengthened: wisdom, understanding, counsel, fortitude, knowledge, piety, and fear of the Lord. In this way the Christian is equipped to become a better witness to Christ in the world.
A bishop is the usual celebrant of the Sacrament of Confirmation. During the celebration of Confirmation the bishop extends his hands over those to be confirmed and calls upon God: “Send your Holy Spirit upon them to be their helper and guide.” Then each person to be confirmed is anointed with chrism on the forehead as the bishop says, “Be sealed with the Gift of the Holy Spirit.”
In Confirmation the Christian becomes more closely united with Christ. With the strengthening of the Gifts of the Holy Spirit the Christian is able to accept new responsibilities for witnessing Jesus to the world.