Confirmation Present Doctrine And Practice
A sacrament in which the Holy Ghost is given to those already baptized in
order to make them strong and perfect Christians and soldiers of Jesus
It has been variously designated: bebaiosis or confirmatio, a making fast or
sure; teleiosis or consummatio, a perfecting or completing, as expressing
its relation to baptism. With reference to its effect it is the
“Sacrament of the Holy Ghost”, the “Sacrament of the
Seal” (signaculum, sigillum, sphragis). From the external rite it is
known as the “imposition of hands” (epithesis cheiron), or as
“anointing with chrism” (unctio, chrismatio, chrisma, myron).
The names at present in use are, for the Western Church, confirmatio, and
for the Greek, to myron.
I. PRESENT PRACTICE AND DOCTRINE
In the Western Church the sacrament is usually administered by the bishop.
At the beginning of the ceremony there is a general imposition of hands, the
bishop meantime praying that the Holy Ghost may come down upon those who
have already been regenerated: “send forth upon them thy sevenfold
Spirit the Holy Paraclete.” He then anoints the forehead of each with
chrism saying: “I sign thee with the sign of the cross and confirm
thee with the chrism of salvation, in the name of the Father and of the Son
and of the Holy Ghost.” Finally, he gives each a slight blow on the
cheek saying: “peace be with thee”. A prayer is added that the
Holy Spirit may dwell in the hearts of those who have been confirmed, and
the rite closes with the bishop's blessing.
The Eastern Church omits the imposition of hands and the prayer at the
beginning, and accompanies the anointing with the words: “the sign
[or seal] of the gift of the Holy Ghost.” These several actions
symbolize the nature and purpose of the sacrament: the anointing signifies
the strength given for the spiritual conflict; the balsam contained in the
chrism, the fragrance of virtue and the good odor of Christ; the sign of the
cross on the forehead, the courage to confess Christ, before all men; the
imposition of hands and the blow on the cheek, enrollment in the service of
Christ which brings true peace to the soul. (Cf. St. Thomas, III:72:4).
The bishop alone is the ordinary minister of confirmation. This is
expressly declared by the Council of Trent (Sess. VII, De Conf., C. iii).
A bishop confirms validly even those who are not his own subjects; but to
confirm licitly in another diocese he must secure the permission of the
bishop of that diocese. Simple priests may be the extraordinary ministers
of the sacrament under certain conditions. In such cases, however, the
priest cannot wear pontifical vestments, and he is obliged to use chrism
blessed by a Catholic bishop. In the Greek Church, confirmation is given by
simple priests without special delegation, and their ministration is
accepted by the Western Church as valid. They must, however, use chrism
blessed by a patriarch.
Matter and Form
There has been much discussion among theologians as to what constitutes the
essential matter of this sacrament. Some, e.g. Aureolus and Petavius, held
that it consists in the imposition of hands. Others, with St. Thomas,
Bellarmine, and Maldonatus, maintain that it is the anointing with chrism.
According to a third opinion (Morinus, Tapper) either anointing or
imposition of hands suffices. Finally, the most generally accepted view is
that the anointing and the imposition of hands conjointly are the matter.
The “imposition”, however, is not that with which the rite
begins but the laying on of hands which takes place in the act of anointing.
As Peter the Lombard declares: Pontifex per impositionem manus confirmandos
ungit in fronte (IV Sent., dist. xxxiii, n. 1; cf. De Augustinis,
“De re sacramentaria”, 2d ed., Rome, 1889, I). The chrism
employed must be a mixture of olive oil and balsam consecrated by a bishop.
(For the manner of this consecration and for other details, historical and
liturgical, see CHRISM.) The difference regarding the form of the
sacrament, i.e. the words essential for confirmation, has been indicated
above in the description of the rite. The validity of both the Latin and
the Greek form is unquestionable. Additional details are given below in the
Confirmation can be conferred only on those who have already been baptized
and have not yet been confirmed. As St. Thomas says:
Confirmation is to baptism what growth is to generation. Now it is clear
that a man cannot advance to a perfect age unless he has first been born;
in like manner, unless he has first been baptized he cannot receive the
Sacrament of Confirmation (ST III:72:6).
They should also be in the state of grace; for the Holy Ghost is not given
for the purpose of taking away sin but of conferring additional grace. This
condition, however, refers only to lawful reception; the sacrament is
validly received even by those in mortal sin. In the early ages of the
Church, confirmation was part of the rite of initiation, and consequently
was administered immediately after baptism. When, however, baptism came to
be conferred by simple priests, the two ceremonies were separated in the
Western Church. Further, when infant baptism became customary, confirmation
was not administered until the child had attained the use of reason. This
is the present practice, though there is considerable latitude as to the
precise age. The Catechism of the Council of Trent says that the sacrament
can be administered to all persons after baptism, but that this is not
expedient before the use of reason; and adds that it is most fitting that
the sacrament be deferred until the child is seven years old,
“for Confirmation has not been instituted as necessary for salvation,
but that by virtue thereof we might be found well armed and prepared when
called upon to fight for the faith of Christ, and for this kind of conflict
no one will consider children, who are still without the use of reason, to
be qualified.” (Pt. II, ch. iii, 18.)
Such, in fact, is the general usage in the Western Church. Under certain
circumstances, however, as, for instance, danger of death, or when the
opportunity of receiving the sacrament is but rarely offered, even younger
children may be confirmed. In the Greek Church and in Spain, infants are
now, as in earlier times, confirmed immediately after baptism. Leo XIII,
writing 22 June, 1897, to the Bishop of Marseilles, commends most heartily
the practice of confirming children before their first communion as being
more in accord with the ancient usage of the Church.
an increase of sanctifying grace which makes the recipient a
a special sacramental grace consisting in the seven gifts of the Holy
Ghost and notably in the strength and courage to confess boldly the
name of Christ;
an indelible character by reason of which the sacrament cannot be
received again by the same person.
Regarding the obligation of receiving the sacrament, it is admitted that
confirmation is not necessary as an indispensable means of salvation
On the other hand, its reception is obligatory (necessitate præcepti)
“for all those who are able to understand and fulfill the Commandments
of God and of the Church. This is especially true of those who suffer
persecution on account of their religion or are exposed to grievous
temptations against faith or are in danger of death. The more serious the
danger so much greater is the need of protecting oneself”.
(Conc. Plen. Balt. II, n. 250.) As to the gravity of the obligation,
opinions differ, some theologians holding that an unconfirmed person would
commit mortal sin if he refused the sacrament, others that the sin would be
at most venial unless the refusal implied contempt for the sacrament.
Apart, however, from such controversies the importance of confirmation as a
means of grace is so obvious that no earnest Christian will neglect it, and
in particular that Christian parents will not fail to see that their
children are confirmed.
Written by T.B. Scannell. Transcribed by Charles Sweeney, S.J..
The Catholic Encyclopedia, Volume IV. Published 1908.
New York: Robert Appleton Company.
Nihil Obstat. Remy Lafort, Censor. Imprimatur.
+John M. Farley, Archbishop of New York