Just as Baptism gives new life, Eucharist nourishes life, and Reconciliation restores life when it is broken, Confirmation strengthens that life by the gifts of the Holy Spirit (cf. CCC 1285). It is about strengthening what God has given, and continues to give, to his sons and daughters (cf. CCC 1302-1303).
The Sacrament of Confirmation is not the Catholic equivalent to the Jewish bar mitzvah. Confirmation is not a “coming of age” celebration. True, most young people are just beginning to pass into early adulthood when they receive the sacrament. But Confirmation is not about coming of age. Reception of the Sacrament of Confirmation does not mark the end of formal religious education. We never outgrow a need for a deeper knowledge and appreciation of our faith.
The Sacrament of Confirmation is not a rite of passage, nor a graduation from religion class, nor a ratification of a personal faith choice. Rather, it’s all about what God is doing for his beloved daughters and sons.
And what is God doing? Strengthening the divine life which he gave at Baptism, nourishing us in the Eucharist, and reconciling with us in Penance. Why? So that the individual can better defend and witness to the faith through the gifts and workings of the Holy Spirit. And there are—and will be—many situations where we are called upon to defend and witness to our faith. And we need all the help we can get!
Why was a slap on the cheek by the confirming bishop part of the celebration of the Sacrament of Confirmation?
A part of the theology of the sacrament is that one takes on more adult responsibilities for the faith and becomes a “soldier for Christ” when confirmed. Any good soldier must be willing to suffer the bruises and scars of battle. The slap on the cheek was a symbolic gesture intended to remind us of the fact that we may have to endure suffering for our faith. The Sacrament of Confirmation strengthens us making us willing to accept those responsibilities and, if necessary, suffer and die for the faith.
What role does the Holy Spirit play in the Sacrament of Confirmation?
In the Sacrament of Confirmation, the Holy Spirit completes the grace of baptism and offers the newly confirmed strength as a true witness of Christ. Thus, the newly confirmed is “more strictly obliged to spread and defend the faith by word and deed” (cf. CCC, 1285). Thus, the Holy Spirit completes what was begun at baptism.
Would it be better to confirm people when they are adults and can make their own choices?
Canon law states that, except when there is a danger of death, anyone who is baptized and has the use of reason, is properly instructed and disposed, and is able to renew their baptismal commitment, is able to be confirmed. The same code states that the proper age for reception of the sacrament is at the age of reason, unless the episcopal conference decides differently (cf. CIC, can. 891).
Perhaps the requirement that one be “properly disposed” is the key to when the sacrament is received. Proper disposition refers to the recipient’s willingness to cooperate with the gifts of the sacrament, which can happen at almost any age. But nowhere is the sacrament described as a ratification of the recipient’s choice or decision about the faith.
Rather, it is the gifts of the Spirit offered to give the recipient the courage and strength to witness and serve—two responsibilities implied in baptism—which are the grace and focus of the sacrament.
Thus, it is important not to view the Sacrament of Confirmation as a rite of passage, a ratification of a personal choice, or a graduation from religious instruction. Rather, it is to be viewed, as are all of the sacraments, as a distinctive working of God in a person’s life.
How does this sacrament benefit us in our adult lives as Catholics?
The Sacrament of Confirmation helps a person remain faithful to his or her baptismal commitment to witness to Christ and to serve others. The gifts of the Holy Spirit associated with Confirmation are strengths (or virtues) that Christian living requires if it is to be fruitful and complete. Thus wisdom, understanding, knowledge, counsel, fortitude, piety, and fear of the Lord, are divine aids to Christian living without which fulfilling one’s baptismal calling would be far more difficult, if not impossible.
Perhaps we don’t recognize these qualities as gifts of strength because they have become a part of our Christian living and appear quite natural—a fact that affirms how closely the Holy Spirit works with us.