One of the trademarks of the seven sacraments is that they were all “instituted by Christ.” This is a fancy way of saying that Jesus began all of the seven sacraments, and they were not a later development of the Church. The Church has developed many forms of devotion over the centuries such as the Rosary and the different expressions of our liturgy. Even our frequency of the celebration of the seven sacraments has changed, but the sacraments themselves have been the same since the beginning.
Since we are studying the sacrament of Confirmation during December, I thought it would be helpful to look into the scriptural foundations of this sacrament of the Holy Spirit. Admittedly, Jesus’ institution of Confirmation is not as clear as his institution of baptism. However, the Church has always seen Jesus’ promise to send the Holy Spirit as the institution of Confirmation. He said, “I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Advocate, to be with you always, the Spirit of truth, which the world cannot accept, because it neither sees nor knows it.” This promise was fulfilled on the day of Pentecost, when the small but mighty Church received the gift of the Holy Spirit to be sent out on mission.
The Apostles clearly understood the necessity of administering Confirmation after a Christian was baptized. During a persecution of Christians in Jerusalem, Philip (one of the original seven deacons), found himself in Samaria and began to preach the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Great crowds of people were converted, and Philip the Deacon baptized many of them. However, when the Apostles heard about the success of Philip’s preaching, they sent Peter and John to pray that the new Christians would receive the Holy Spirit. We read in the Acts of the Apostles, “Peter and John went down and prayed for them, that they might receive the Holy Spirit, for it had not yet fallen upon any of them; they had only been baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus. Then they laid hands on them and they received the Holy Spirit” (Acts 8:15-17).
It’s a bit odd to think that these Christians were baptized in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, yet our scriptures say that they had not yet received the Holy Spirit! This needs to be properly understood, because we know that when we receive the gift of baptism, the Holy Trinity begins to dwell within us through the gift of sanctifying grace. Baptism is only a beginning, whereas Confirmation is a sacrament of Christian maturity and the gift of the fullness of the Holy Spirit. Christian life is all about growing in God’s love, and until we die, our goal should be to receive more and more of this love every day! Confirmation gives an increase of God’s love and a strengthening of his gifts within us so that we can more effectively practice our charisms to build up the Church and use the seven gifts of the Holy Spirit to grow in holiness. Let us lean on the strength of God, knowing that he has strengthened us in Confirmation!