What is Confirmation?
Deacon Chris Yoder (email)
On Sunday, May 3, four adults and 28 youth received the sacrament of Confirmation. But what exactly is Confirmation?
Let’s start with the basics: how is someone confirmed? It all begins with Holy Baptism, which is the beginning of the Christian life, the beginning of a new life united with Jesus and his body, the Church.
Those who have been baptized are then brought—either immediately in the case of most adults or after a period of time in the case of infants (and some adults)—before the Bishop to receive Confirmation. The Bishop asks the confirmands (i.e., those who want to be confirmed) to reaffirm their renunciation of evil and to renew their commitment to Jesus Christ. Then, with the whole congregation, the confirmands confess the faith of the Church in the words of the Apostles’ Creed and renew the promises that they made—or were made in their name—in baptism. (For those who were baptized as infants, this is an especially significant moment of making their own the promises made on their behalf by their godparents.)
After renewing their baptismal vows, the confirmands kneel before the Bishop. The Bishop lays hands on the head of each confirmand and prays for them by name, asking for the strengthening of the Holy Spirit. The traditional prayer is: “Defend, O Lord, your servant with you heavenly grace, that he may continue yours for ever, and daily increase in your Holy Spirit more and more, until he comes to your everlasting kingdom” (Book of Common Prayer, p. 309). Sometimes the Bishop also anoints the confirmand using perfumed oil called “Chrism” that is reserved especially for this purpose and has been blessed by the Bishop.
That’s how Confirmation happens. But what does it mean? What’s it for?
Confirmation is for strengthening the life of the baptized by the gifts of the Holy Spirit and for promoting the unity of the Church. The bishop’s laying on of hands signifies our being brought into fellowship with Christians through time and all over the world, and the perfumed oil signifies the gift of the Holy Spirit.
Confirmation is the sacramental rite by which we receive a special gift of the Holy Spirit for development in grace. In Baptism, God gives us new life in Christ by the power of the Holy Spirit; in Confirmation, God strengthens us with the gifts of the Holy Spirit to continue to walk in newness of life and resist temptation. Early Christians loved to use military image: Baptism is like being enlisted in the army, and Confirmation is like receiving arms for battle.
The presence of the Bishop shows that Confirmation is also for uniting us more closely to the universal Church. Bishops are the successors to the apostles, and the Bishop lays on hands to signify the union of the confirmand with the Church, and her apostolic mission to witness to Christ.
Through Baptism and Confirmation, we are united by the Holy Spirit to the Lord Jesus in his Body, the church. Baptism is the beginning of life in Christ. Confirmation strengthens us by the Holy Spirit, by incorporating us more deeply into Christ and more closely into his Body, the church.