Each spring, Bishop Mark Rivituso receives letters from candidates seeking to be confirmed in the Church. The Confirmation candidates typically share a little bit about themselves, their families and sponsors, and more importantly, why they want to receive the sacrament of confirmation.
Almost “every one of them mentions in some way that they want to be close to God and they want to be strengthened in their faith,” Bishop Rivituso said. Some will mention that they want to be a help to others and make a difference with their lives. They also want to live like Jesus to others, he added.
Those are excellent priorities to have as disciples of Jesus, Bishop Rivituso said. But he added that in living a life of faith, we must rely on the presence of the Holy Spirit.
“I like to say that this is a personal Pentecost for them,” Bishop Rivituso said of the sacrament of confirmation. “Like the first Pentecost, you’re receiving the same powerful, loving gift of the Holy Spirit in your life. It should be as impactful in your life as it was for the first disciples.”
The letters are a great source of joy for Bishop Rivituso, who has confirmed thousands of young people over the years, first as an archdiocesan vicar general and as an auxiliary bishop for the past five years.
Confirmation is one of the three sacraments of initiation in the Church, along with baptism and first Communion. It is often referred to as the “sacrament of maturity,” as it completes the process of initiation into the Christian community, and it matures the soul for the work ahead. The Church teaches that confirmation is necessary because it enriches the person with the strength of the Holy Spirit to build up the Church and to be witnesses of Christ to others.
In the Archdiocese of St. Louis, confirmation is generally offered in seventh or eighth grade, with a year of formation leading up to the big day. The sacrament typically is conferred within the context of Mass. The rite of confirmation includes three key parts: the renewal of baptismal vows, the laying on of hands by the bishop and anointing with the sacred chrism oil.
The renewal of baptismal promises is a reminder that as Christians, we have essentially “died” to our own lives and begin our new life in Christ in the Church. Through confirmation, Catholics realize the fullness of the promises that were first given in baptism.
“St. Elizabeth Ann Seton once wrote to her sisters saying, ‘What is our life? It’s a continuation of the life of Christ in all of our lives,’” Bishop Rivituso said. “The maturity factor is that I am choosing this now on my own, and that I am going to listen and act upon the call of baptism. My life is not about me; it’s about living a life of Jesus.”
Those being confirmed should look to their sponsor as well as the patron saint chosen for a confirmation name as sources of inspiration in living a Christian life, Bishop Rivituso said. Candidates are encouraged to foster a relationship with those saints through prayer and to seek relationships with role models here on earth — such as the confirmation sponsor — in living a Christian life.
Bishop Rivituso has seen a great depth of meaning to the patron saints that are chosen. “There was one girl who wrote to me and said, ‘I chose St. Lucy, because I have difficulty with my eyesight.’” Another candidate mentioned mental illness exists in her family, and she chose St. Dymphna, adding she was inspired to help others with mental illness.
A joy-filled occasion
Service through the spiritual and corporal works of mercy is an important component of confirmation preparation. Eighth-graders at Holy Cross Academy and its sponsoring parishes attending the Parish School of Religion spend time reflecting on their service — a requirement of confirmation preparation — within the context of the works of mercy. Fifty-one students from Holy Cross Academy and PSR will be among those to be confirmed May 15 at the Cathedral Basilica of Saint Louis.
Candidates write reflections on their service, answering questions such as: What did you do? Was it a corporal or spiritual work of mercy? Did you see Christ in anyone? Have you talked to Jesus about it or prayed about it?
“It’s really to get them thinking about it,” said Ann Kelly, who teaches seventh- and eighth-grade religion at Holy Cross Academy. “Works of mercy are not hard to do. But we want them after confirmation to be able to do it all the time.”
The service hours are akin to an apprenticeship in learning how to become a disciple of Christ. “The whole point is learning how to do this in our daily lives,” Kelly said. “That’s why they get their sponsor. Because they’re seeing someone who is already living a life of Christ and they are like an apprentice, where they’re learning how to live that life of Christ.”
The faith community plays an important part in a person’s faith development, said eighth-grader Elli Casey. “Being part of your community, like going to a soup kitchen or helping out with the fish fry — it’s about helping your community because you share the same faith.”
Tommy Knickman served at his parish’s fish fry and made cards for a charitable organization as part of his service. “I feel like it’s what Jesus wanted people to do,” he said. “He wanted people to help others, especially with the poor, the sick and the suffering. It makes you feel good knowing you’re helping others and knowing how happy they are.”
While confirmation is the last among the sacraments of initiation, it means that you’re now a full member of the Church, said Thomas Kessler. “It’s a final step in your faith, but a new beginning,” he said. “It comes with responsibilities, like going to Mass every Sunday and going to confession. So you sort of become an adult in the Church. Baptism and first Communion are preparing you for what Catholic life will be like once you’re confirmed. That’s why we have religion class or PSR, to help you learn about why your faith is so important.”
Confirmation also points us to another sacrament — the Eucharist, the source and summit of the Catholic faith — which the confirmed will continue to receive as a source of spiritual nourishment throughout their lives.
Patrick Hopfinger, who chose St. Luke as his confirmation saint, said he was inspired by the evangelist for his dedication to following St. Paul throughout the Middle East to share Jesus’ message with others. “He’s also a symbol of loyalty, because he even went to Rome with St. Paul when Paul was imprisoned,” Patrick said. “Even after Paul’s death, he continued to spread the Good News.”
Living the fruits of the sacrament
Confirmation is not a one-and-done sacrament; rather, it’s an ongoing invitation for us to allow the Holy Spirit to work in our lives as we strive to live as Jesus for others, Bishop Rivituso said.
Confirmation entails living out the fruits of the sacrament, Bishop Rivituso said. “We need to remember to pray every day, ‘Come, Holy Spirit,’” he said. “In order to become more like Jesus, we need the Helper to help us. The graces of confirmation, the fruits of the sacrament, help us to strive every day to become more like Him.”
There is a communal aspect to the sacrament, with those who are fully initiated into the Church supporting one another in that mission to live as disciples and share the Gospel message. “We are all called to be the beauty of Christ in the world,” he said. “In the midst of all of the chaos, woundedness and suffering, people need to experience the beauty of Jesus.”
>> Confirmation: A sacrament of initiation
Baptism, the Eucharist, and the sacrament of confirmation together constitute the “sacraments of Christian initiation,” whose unity must be safeguarded. It must be explained to the faithful that the reception of the sacrament of confirmation is necessary for the completion of baptismal grace. For “by the sacrament of confirmation, (the baptized) are more perfectly bound to the Church and are enriched with a special strength of the Holy Spirit. Hence they are, as true witnesses of Christ, more strictly obliged to spread and defend the faith by word and deed” (Catechism of the Catholic Church, 1285).
>> Anointing and laying on of hands
“From that time on the apostles, in fulfillment of Christ’s will, imparted to the newly baptized by the laying on of hands the gift of the Spirit that completes the grace of baptism. For this reason in the Letter to the Hebrews the doctrine concerning baptism and the laying on of hands is listed among the first elements of Christian instruction. The imposition of hands is rightly recognized by the Catholic tradition as the origin of the sacrament of confirmation, which in a certain way perpetuates the grace of Pentecost in the Church.
“Very early, the better to signify the gift of the Holy Spirit, an anointing with perfumed oil (chrism) was added to the laying on of hands. This anointing highlights the name ‘Christian,’ which means ‘anointed’ and derives from that of Christ Himself whom God ‘anointed with the Holy Spirit.’ This rite of anointing has continued ever since, in both East and West. For this reason the Eastern Churches call this sacrament Chrismation, anointing with chrism, or myron which means ‘chrism.’ In the West, the term Confirmation suggests that this sacrament both confirms and strengthens baptismal grace” (CCC 1288-1289).
>> Signs of confirmation
The bishop extends his hands over the confirmandi, saying this prayer:
“All-powerful God, Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, by water and the Holy Spirit you freed your sons and daughters from sin and gave them new life. Send your Holy Spirit upon them to be their Helper and Guide. Give them the spirit of wisdom and understanding, the spirit of right judgment and courage, the spirit of knowledge and reverence. Fill them with the spirit of wonder and awe in your presence. Through Christ our Lord.”
- Blessing with the chrism oil
Afterward, each candidate, with their confirmation sponsor, approaches the bishop, who makes the sign of the cross on the person’s forehead with the chrism oil, while saying: “Be sealed with the Gift of the Holy Spirit.” There also is an exchange in which the bishop says, “Peace be with you.” The person responds: “And with your spirit.”
The sacred chrism (sacrum chrisma) that is used for confirmation is a sacramental, a blessed substance. It is one of three types of holy oil, along with the oil of the catechumens (oleum catechumenorum) and the oil of the sick (oleum infirmorum) that are blessed by the bishop at the annual chrism Mass and distributed to the parishes throughout the archdiocese.