When the Paraclete cometh, whom I will send you from the Father, the spirit of truth, who proceedeth from the Father, he shall give testimony of me. -- JOHN xv. 26.
INTRODUCTION. The promise of our Lord in today's Gospel to send the Holy Ghost was verified in the case of the Apostles on Pentecost Sunday, when they received the grace of strength to bear testimony to Christ and His teachings. A similar grace is conferred on each of the faithful through the Sacrament of Confirmation.
I. Confirmation is a Sacrament, 1. The phrase to confirm means to strengthen. 2. The unanimous testimony of the Fathers and tradition affirm that Confirmation is a Sacrament. 3. Confirmation has all the requisites of a Sacrament: (a) it was instituted by Christ, as we know from tradition; (b) it is an outward sign and confers grace, as we shall see below. 4. Confirmation differs from Baptism: (a) it confers a different grace; (b) it has a different sign; (c) it serves a different need of the soul. Through Baptism we are made the children of God, through Confirmation we become the soldiers of God.
II. The outward sign of Confirmation, 1. The matter of Confirmation is chrism, a mixture of olive oil and balm blessed by the Bishop. This matter most appropriately signifies the effects of the Sacrament,--the oil expresses the plenitude of divine grace which is poured out, the balsam signifies the sweet odor of virtue and preservation from the corruption of sin. 2. The form of this Sacrament is the words pronounced by the Bishop, -- "I sign thee with the sign of the cross," etc. These words indicate the cause of the Sacrament, namely, the divine power, and the two effects of the Sacrament, which are spiritual strength and an indelible character. 3. The matter and form of this Sacrament are administered by the Bishop as the ordinary minister in conformity with the teaching of Scripture and tradition.
III. The inward grace of Confirmation, 1. Confirmation perfects the grace of Baptism. Baptism gives spiritual birth; Confirmation confers spiritual growth and maturity, and strengthens the soul against external assaults, as we see in the case of the Apostles after the day of Pentecost. This strengthening of the soul is symbolized by the slight blow on the cheek given by the Bishop. 2. Confirmation imprints on the soul the indelible character of a soldier of Jesus Christ, and hence this Sacrament cannot be repeated.
EXHORTATION, 1. On account of the dignity and utility of the Sacrament of Confirmation the faithful should be anxious to receive it, and to receive it with great piety and devotion. 2. Although this Sacrament is not absolutely necessary for salvation, no one may neglect it, if there be an opportunity of receiving it. Pastors are obliged to see that those under their care are confirmed (Code, can. 787).
Catechism of the Council of Trent, Part II
The Sacrament of Confirmation
Urgent Necessity of Explaining the Sacrament of Confirmation in these days
If ever there was a time that demanded the assiduity of the pastor in explaining the Sacrament of Confirmation it is doubtless the present, when there are found in the Church of God many by whom it is altogether omitted, while very few study to derive from it the fruit of divine grace which its worthy reception imparts. That this divine blessing, therefore, may not seem through their fault and to the serious injury of their immortal souls to have been conferred in vain, the faithful are to be instructed on Whitsunday, and on such other days as the pastor shall deem convenient, regarding the nature, efficacy, and dignity of this Sacrament, so as to make them sensible that not only is it not to be neglected, but that it is to be approached with the greatest reverence and devotion.
WHY CALLED CONFIRMATION
To begin, therefore, with its name, the pastor will inform the faithful that this Sacrament is called Confirmation because if no obstacle is opposed to its efficacy, the person who receives it -- when anointed with the sacred chrism by the hand of the Bishop, who accompanies the unction with these words: "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" -- is confirmed in strength by receiving new virtue, and becomes a perfect soldier of Christ (Conc. Aur. c. 3, and Flor.).
CONFIRMATION A SACRAMENT
That Confirmation has all the conditions of a true Sacrament has been at all times the doctrine of the Catholic Church, as Pope Melchiades (Epist. ad Episcop. Hispan. c. 2, ep. 4, near the end) and many other very holy and ancient pontiffs expressly declare. The truth of this doctrine St. Cement could not have confirmed in stronger terms than when he said: "All should hasten without delay to be born again to God, and then to be sealed by the Bishop, that is, to receive the sevenfold gift of the Holy Ghost. For, as we have learned from St. Peter and as the other Apostles taught in obedience to the command of our Lord, he who contumeliously and not from necessity, but voluntarily, neglects to receive this Sacrament, cannot possibly become a perfect Christian (The decrees of these Popes are found in de consecrat. dist. 5.)." This same doctrine has been confirmed, as may be seen in their decrees, by Popes Urban, Fabian, and Eusebius, pontiffs who, animated with the same spirit, shed their blood for the name of Christ. It is also fortified by the unanimous testimony of the Fathers, among whom Denis the Areopagite, Bishop of Athens, teaching how to consecrate and make use of the holy ointment, says: "The priest clothes the person baptized with a garment emblematic of his purity, in order to conduct him to the Bishop; and the Bishop signing him with the holy and divine ointment, makes him partaker of the most holy communion (S. Dionysius de Eccles. Hierar. c. 2)." Of such importance does Eusebius of Caesarea deem this Sacrament that he hesitates not to say that the heretic Novatus could not receive the Holy Ghost, because, having received Baptism, he was not, when visited by severe illness, sealed with the sign of chrism (Lib. 6, histor. cap. 43). On this subject we might adduce testimonies the most conclusive from St. Ambrose in his book on the Initiated (Lib. de iis qui myst. initiantur. c. 7, lib. 2, c. 104), and from St. Augustine in his works against the epistles of the Donatist Petilian. So convinced were they that no doubt could exist as to the reality of this Sacrament that they not only taught the doctrine, but confirmed its truth by many passages of Scripture, the one applying to it these words of the Apostle: "Grieve not the Holy Spirit of God: whereby you are sealed unto the day of redemption (Eph. iv. 2)"; the other, these words of the Psalmist: "like the precious ointment on the head, that ran down upon the beard . . . of Aaron (Ps. cxxxii. 2)," and also these words of the same Apostle: "The charity of God is poured forth in our hearts by the Holy Ghost, who is given to us (Rom. v. 5)."
Confirmation, although said by Melchiades to have a most intimate connection with Baptism (epist. ad Episc. Hisp. towards the middle), is yet an entirely different Sacrament. The diversity of the grace which each Sacrament confers, and the diversity of the external sign employed to signify that grace, obviously constitute them different Sacraments. As by the grace of Baptism we are begotten to newness of life, and by that of Confirmation grow to full maturity, having "put away the things of a child (I Cor. xiii. II)," we can sufficiently comprehend that the same difference which exists in the natural order between birth and growth exists also in the supernatural between Baptism, which regenerates, and Confirmation, which imparts full growth and perfect spiritual strength. Again, if the new difficulties which the soul has to encounter demand the aid of a new and distinct Sacrament, it is obvious that as we have occasion for the grace of baptism to stamp upon the soul the impress of the true faith, so it is of the utmost advantage that a new grace fortify us with such intrepidity of soul that no danger, no dread of pains, tortures, death, should have power to deter us from the profession of the true faith. Hence, Pope Melchiades marks the difference between them with minute accuracy in these terms: "In Baptism," says he, "the Christian is enlisted into the service, in Confirmation he is equipped for battle; at the baptismal font the Holy Ghost imparts the plenitude of innocence, in confirmation the perfection of grace; in Baptism we are regenerated to life, after Baptism we are fortified for the combat; in Baptism we are cleansed, in Confirmation we are strengthened; regeneration saves by its own efficacy those who receive Baptism in peace, Confirmation arms and prepares for the conflict (Loco citato)." These are truths not only recorded by other Councils, but specially defined by the Council of Trent, and we are therefore no longer at liberty not only to dissent from but even to entertain the least doubt regarding them (Laod. can. 48, Meld. c. 6; Florence, Constance, Trent, sess. 7).
INSTITUTED BY CHRIST
But to impress the faithful with a deeper sense of the sanctity of this Sacrament the pastor will make known to them by whom it was instituted,--the importance of which knowledge with regard to all the Sacraments we have already pointed out. He will accordingly inform them that not only was it instituted by our Lord Jesus Christ, but as St. Fabian, Bishop of Rome, testifies, the chrism and the words used in its administration were also appointed by him, -- a fact of easy proof to those who believe confirmation to be a Sacrament, for all the sacred mysteries are beyond the power of man and could have been instituted by God alone (Epist. 2, in the beginning).
ITS MATTER IS CHRISM
We now come to treat of the component parts of this Sacrament, and, first, of its matter. The matter of Confirmation is chrism, a word borrowed from the Greek language, and which, although used by profane writers to designate any sort of ointment, is appropriated by ecclesiastical usage to signify ointment composed of oil and balsam, and solemnly consecrated by episcopal benediction. A mixture of oil and balsam, therefore, constitutes the matter of confirmation; and this mixture of different elements at once expresses the manifold graces of the Holy Ghost and the excellence of this Sacrament. That such is its matter the Church and her councils have uniformly taught; and the same doctrine has been handed down to us by St. Denis, and by many other Fathers of authority too great to be questioned, particularly by Pope Fabian (Epist. 3, ad Episc. Orient), who testifies that the Apostles received the composition of chrism from our Lord and transmitted it to us (See Aug. in Ps. 44).
PROPRIETY OF CHRISM AS ITS MATTER
To declare the effects of Confirmation no sacramental matter could have been more appropriate than chrism. Oil, by its nature unctuous and fluid, expresses the plenitude of divine grace which flows from Christ the head, through the Holy Ghost, and is poured out, "like the precious ointment on the head, that ran down upon the beard ... of Aaron, ... to the skirt of his garment (Ps. cxxxii. 2, 3)"; for God anointed Him with the oil of gladness above His fellows (John i. 16.), and "of his fulness we all have received (Pope St. Fabian, as above)." Balsam, too, the odor of which is most grateful, signifies that the faithful, made perfect by the grace of Confirmation, diffuse around them, by reason of their many virtues, such a sweet odor that they may truly say with the Apostle, "We are the good odor of Christ unto God (2 Cor. ii. 15)." Balsam has also the quality of preserving incorrupt whatever it embalms-- a quality well adapted to express the virtue of this Sacrament. Prepared by the heavenly grace infused in Confirmation, the souls of the faithful may be easily preserved from the corruption of sin.
CHRISM, WHY CONSECRATED, AND BY BISHOPS ONLY
The chrism is consecrated with solemn ceremonies by the Bishop. That this its solemn consecration is in accordance with the instructions of our Lord, when at His last supper He Committed to His Apostles the manner of making chrism, we learn from Pope Fabian, a man eminently distinguished by his sanctity and by the glory of martyrdom (Pope St. Fabian, as above). Indeed, reason alone demonstrates the propriety of this consecration; for in most of the other Sacraments Christ so instituted the matter as to impart to it holiness. It was not only His will that water should constitute the matter of the Sacrament of Baptism when He said, "Unless a man be born again of water and the Holy Ghost, he cannot enter into the kingdom of God (John iii. 5)," but He also, at His own baptism, imparted to it the power of sanctifying. "The water of Baptism," says St. Chrysostom, "had it not been sanctified by contact with the body of our Lord, could not cleanse the sins of believers (Hom. 4, oper. imperf.; also de consec. dist. 4, c. Nunquid)." As therefore our Lord did not consecrate by using the matter of Confirmation, it becomes necessary to consecrate it by holy and devout prayer, which is the exclusive prerogative of Bishops, who are constituted the ordinary ministers of this Sacrament.
FORM OF THE SACRAMENT OF CONFIRMATION
The other component part of this Sacrament, that is to say, its form, comes next to be explained. The faithful are to be admonished that when receiving Confirmation they are, on hearing the words pronounced by the Bishop, earnestly to excite themselves to sentiments of piety, faith, and devotion, that on their part no obstacle may be opposed to the heavenly grace of the Sacrament. The form of Confirmation consists of these words:
"I SIGN THEE WITH THE SIGN OF THE CROSS, AND I CONFIRM THEE WITH THE CHRISM OF SALVATION, IN THE NAME OF THE FATHER, AND OF THE SON, AND OF THE HOLY GHOST."
Were we to acknowledge the incompetency of reason to establish the truth and strict propriety of this form, the authority of the Catholic Church, by which it has been at all times taught and recognized, would alone be sufficient to dispel all doubt on the subject; judging of it, however, by the standard of reason, we arrive at the same conclusion. The form of the Sacrament should embrace whatever is necessary to explain its nature and substance. With regard to the nature and substance of Confirmation there are three things that demand particular attention: the divine power, which, as a primary cause, operates in the Sacrament; the spiritual strength which it imparts to the faithful unto salvation; and lastly, the sign impressed on him who is to engage in the warfare of Christ. The words "in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost," with which the form closes, sufficiently declare the first; the second is comprised in the words, "I confirm thee with the chrism of salvation;" and the words, " I sign thee with the sign of the cross," with which the form opens, convey the third.
THE BISHOP IS ITS ORDINARY MINISTER
To whom principally is intrusted the administration of this Sacrament is a matter to which the pastor will also call the attention of the faithful. There are many, according to the Prophet, who run and yet are not sent; and hence the necessity of informing the faithful who are its true and legitimate ministers, in order that they may really receive the Sacrament and grace of Confirmation (C. of Trent, sess. 23, cl. 4, can. 7). That Bishops alone are the ordinary ministers of this Sacrament is the doctrine of Scripture. We read in the Acts of the Apostles that when Samaria had received the Gospel, Peter and John were sent to them and prayed for them, that they might receive the Holy Ghost; "for he was not as yet come upon any of them; but they were only baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus (Acts viii. 14, 16)." Here we find that he who administered Baptism, having only attained the degree of deacon, had no power to administer Confirmation; its administration was reserved to a more elevated order of the ministry, that is, to the Apostles alone. Whenever the sacred Scriptures speak of this Sacrament they convey to us the same truth. We have also the clearest testimony of the Fathers, and, as may be seen, in the decrees of Popes Urban, Eusebius, Damasus, Innocent, and Leo. In confirmation of the same doctrine, we may also add that St. Augustine loudly complains of the corrupt practice which prevailed in the churches of Egypt and Alexandria in his day, a practice according to which priests presumed to administer the Sacrament of Confirmation (That the Bishop is the ordinary minister of Confirmation is taught by Pope Urban).
PROPRIETY OF RESTRICTING CONFIRMATION TO BISHOPS
To illustrate the propriety of restricting the exercise of this function to the episcopal office the following comparison may be found not inappropriate. As in the construction of an edifice, the artisans, who are inferior agents, prepare and dispose mortar, lime, timber, and the other materials, while the completion of the work belongs to the architect, so in like manner should Confirmation, which is as it were the completion of the spiritual edifice, be administered by no other than episcopal hands.
A SPONSOR REQUIRED, AND WHY
In Confirmation, as in Baptism, a sponsor is required. If the gladiator who presents himself as a combatant has need of the skill and address of a master to direct him by what thrusts and passes he may, without endangering his own safety, overcome his antagonist, how much more necessary to the faithful is a guide and instructor when, sheathed as it were in the panoply of this Sacrament, they engage in the spiritual conflict, in which eternal salvation is to reward the success of the victor! Sponsors therefore are, with great propriety, required in the administration of this Sacrament also; and the same affinity which, as we have already shown, is contracted in Baptism, impeding the lawful marriage of the parties, is also contracted in Confirmation (C. of Trent. sess. 24, c. 2, de reform. matrim).
EFFECTS OF CONFIRMATION
The pastor will teach that in common with the other sacraments, Confirmation imparts new grace, unless some obstacle be opposed by the receiver. We have already shown that it is the property of these sacred and mystic signs at once to indicate and produce grace; and as we cannot imagine grace and sin to coexist in the soul, it follows, as a necessary consequence,
that it also remits sin.
Besides these properties, common alike to this and the other sacraments, it is the peculiar characteristic of Confirmation to perfect the grace of Baptism. Those who are initiated into the Christian religion share, as it were, the tenderness and infirmity of new-born infants; but they afterwards gather strength from the Sacrament of chrism to combat the assaults of the world, the flesh, and the devil, and are confirmed in faith to confess and glorify the name of our Lord Jesus Christ. From this last mentioned circumstance it arose, no doubt, that the Sacrament was distinguished by the name of Confirmation.
AN ERROR REFUTED
This its name is not, as some with equal ignorance and impiety have imagined, derived from a former custom that baptized persons, when grown to maturity, should present themselves before the Bishop to confirm their adherence to the faith of Christ which they had embraced in Baptism. According to such an opinion Confirmation would not seem to differ from catechetical instruction. Of such a practice no proof can be adduced, no vestige traced; and this sacrament is called Confirmation because by virtue of it God confirms in us what was commenced in Baptism, and conducts to the perfection of solid Christian virtue (C. of Trent 7, can. I, de confir).
Not only does this Sacrament confirm, it also increases, divine grace in the soul. "The Holy Ghost," says Melchiades, "who descends with salutary influence on the waters of Baptism, imparts the plenitude of grace to innocence; in Confirmation the same Holy Ghost gives an increase of divine grace, and not only an increase, but an increase after a wonderful manner (De cons. dist. 5, c. Spiritus. Euseb. Emus. hom. in die Pent). This extraordinary efficacy of Confirmation the Scriptures beautifully express by a metaphor. "Stay you in the city," says our Lord, speaking of this Sacrament, "till you be clothed with power from on high (Luke xxiv. 49)."
ITS EFFICACY ILLUSTRATED
To show the divine efficacy of this Sacrament (and this, no doubt, will have great influence on the minds of the faithful) the pastor has need only to explain the effects which it produced on the Apostles themselves. Before, and even at the very time of the passion, so weak and listless were they that no sooner was our Lord apprehended than they all fled (Matt. xxvi. 56); and Peter, who was destined to be the rock and foundation of the Church, and who had displayed an unshaken constancy and an intrepid spirit to be dismayed by the appearance of no danger (Matt. xxvi. 70, 72, 74), was so terrified at the voice of one weak woman as to deny once, and again, and a third time, that he was a disciple of Jesus Christ (John xx. 19), Even after the resurrection they remained, through fear of the Jews, shut up in a house, the doors being closed (John xx. 19). But how extraordinary the change! On the day of Pentecost, filled with the grace of the Holy Ghost, they fearlessly, and in defiance of all danger, proclaim the Gospel, not only through Judea, but throughout the world (Acts ii. I); they deem it the greatest happiness to be thought worthy to suffer contumely, chains, tortures, and crucifixion itself, for the name of Christ (Acts v. 41).
Confirmation has also the effect of impressing a character, and hence, as we said before with regard to Baptism, and as will be more fully explained in its proper place with regard to Orders, it is on no account to be administered a second time. If these things are frequently and accurately explained, it is almost impossible that the faithful, knowing the utility and dignity of this Sacrament, should not use every exertion to receive it with piety and devotion (On the non-repetition of Confirmation, see de consecratione, dist. 5, c. dictum. est, et cap. de hom. St. Thom. p.3 q. 72, art. 5).
ANOINTING OF THE FOREHEAD
The rites and ceremonies used in the administration of this Sacrament now remain to be glanced at. The advantages of this explanation the pastor will at once see by reverting to what we have already said on this subject in its proper place. The forehead of the person to be confirmed is anointed with sacred chrism; for in this Sacrament the Holy Spirit pours Himself into the souls of the faithful, and imparts to them increased strength and courage to enable them in the spiritual contest to fight manfully, and to resist successfully their most implacable foes. They are therefore told that henceforward they are not to be deterred by fear or shame -- feelings of which the countenance is the principal index -- from the open confession of the name of Christ (St. Thom. 3, p. q. 71, art. 9). Besides, the mark by which the Christian is distinguished from all others, as the soldier is distinguished by his peculiar military badges, should be impressed on the forehead, the most dignified and conspicuous part of the human form.
WHY ADMINISTERED AT PENTECOST
The festival of Pentecost was also chosen for its solemn administration because the Apostles were then strengthened and confirmed by the power of the Holy Ghost (Acts ii. 2, 4); and also to remind the faithful, by the recollection of that supernatural event, of the number and magnitude of the mysteries contained in that sacred unction.
THE GENTLE SLAP ON THE CHEEK
The person, when confirmed, receives a gentle slap on the cheek from the hand of the Bishop, to remind him that as a courageous champion he should be prepared to brave with unconquered resolution all adversities for the name of Christ.
THE KISS OF PEACE
Finally, he receives the kiss of peace, to give him to understand that he has been blessed with the fulness of divine grace, and with that peace "which surpasseth all understanding (Phil. iv. 7)."
These things will be found to contain a summary of the exposition to be given by the pastor on the Sacrament of Confirmation; but let them be delivered not so much in the cold language of formal instruction as in the burning accents of fervent piety, so as to penetrate into the minds and inflame the hearts of the faithful.
by the Right Rev. Alexander Macdonald, D.D.
By Baptism we are born into the kingdom of God. And as, in ithe natural order, the child must grow to manhood before he is fit to go out into the world and fight life's battle, so it is in the spiritual order. The kingdom of God on earth is the Church militant, whose members wage a spiritual warfare as soldiers under Christ, their captain. The child of God, therefore, to be an efficient member of the Church militant, must outgrow the weakness of childhood and attain to adult age -- "the measure of the age of the fulness of Christ" (Eph. iv. 13). Confirmation is the Sacrament which enables the child of God, by the grace of God's Holy Spirit, thus to grow into a strong and perfect Christian, a soldier of Jesus Christ. The name itself implies this, for to confirm is to make strong.
Like the other sacraments of the New Law, Confirmation consists of matter and form. The matter is the anointing with holy chrism and the laying on of the hands of a bishop. The laying on of hands alone is mentioned in the New Testament, but the anointing is vouched for by the tradition of the Church. "Thus, too, in our case," says Tertullian, speaking of this Sacrament, "the unction runs [down our flesh] carnally, but profits spiritually, in the same way as the act of Baptism itself, too, is carnal, in that we are plunged in water, the effect spiritual, in that we are freed from our sins" (De Baptismo, ch. vii). The words of the form are: "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."
The Bishop is the minister of Confirmation. A priest, however, may receive special power from the Pope to administer the Sacrament, using oil blessed by a bishop. The subject of Confirmation is any one who has been baptized and not yet confirmed; not yet confirmed, for this Sacrament, like Baptism, imprints on the soul an indelible character, and cannot therefore be given more than once. The candidate for Confirmation, according to the present discipline of the Church in the West, must have come to the use of reason and have some knowledge of Christian doctrine, more especially the principal mysteries of religion, the four great truths commonly spoken of as "the last things," and all that concerns this Sacrament, as well as the Sacrament of Penance, which is to be received before Confirmation. In the East children are confirmed immediately after Baptism.
The one who is to be confirmed should be in the state of grace, for Confirmation is a Sacrament of the living, and it would be sacrilege to receive it in the state of mortal sin. Still the Sacrament would be valid, and would imprint a character on the soul, but would confer no grace till pardon was first obtained for the sin.
A Sacrament is a sensible sign of grace instituted by our blessed Lord to sanctify and save souls. Three things there are thus in every Sacrament: a sensible sign, divine institution, the power of conferring grace. The sensible sign in the Sacrament of Confirmation consists in the laying on of the Bishop's hands with the anointing and the words of the form. But while a Sacrament is a sensible sign, not every sensible sign is a Sacrament. It must be divinely instituted, for no sensible sign can give grace unless it is divinely instituted for that purpose. Of this divine institution, in the case of Confirmation, there is proof at least implied in the Acts of the Apostles. There we read that the people of Samaria were won to Christ by the preaching of Philip and baptized. And when this became known to the apostles, Peter and John were sent thither, and they laid their hands on the newly baptized converts, who thereupon received the Holy Ghost.
Plainly this rite, which consisted in the laying on of apostolic hands with prayer, was a Sacrament, for it conferred grace--nay, the very author of grace, the Holy Spirit. It was not Holy Orders, which it outwardly resembled, in the laying on of hands, for orders are given to men only who are elected to the ministry, and the Christians of Samaria were not all of them called to the ministry, and there were among them women and children as well as men. It follows that here was a Sacrament distinct from Baptism and from Holy Orders, the special effect of which was to give the Holy Ghost. For so we read:
"Then they laid their hands upon them, and they received the Holy Ghost" (Acts viii. 17).
Confirmation produces a twofold effect: (1) It gives grace to make us strong and perfect Christians and soldiers of Jesus Christ; (2) it stamps upon the soul a character, which is like the putting on of a spiritual armor, with the livery of Our Lord and Master, to serve Him and do battle for Him and under His standard with the enemies that assail us on every side. Not that we become strong and perfect Christians all at once; not that we show from the first, or even after many years, such skill and courage in fighting the good fight as never to falter or suffer defeat. This Sacrament does not transform men all at once into saints and heroes, but it gives them grace to grow, if they will but correspond with the grace, until, as the apostle has it, they attain their full stature in Christ.
All growth is from within. You cannot force it. It is a gradual, a slow process. It is so in the natural order, it is so in the spiritual order. But there is this difference between growth in the natural order and growth in the spiritual order, that the former is confined to the period between birth and adult age, while the latter extends over the whole of one's lifetime. Nay, as a rule spiritual growth is sturdiest and surest when the season of lusty youth is over and the life of man "is fallen into the sere, the yellow leaf." But whether it be in the morning of life or towards life's sunset that this growth takes place, it has ever its source in God's Holy Spirit, in the seven gifts which He bestows on the soul, and which exist in the soul, at least in germ, from the day of one's Confirmation. The fulness of these gifts was in Christ our Saviour, and of this fulness we all receive. "And there shall come forth a rod out of the root of Jesse," says the prophet, "and a flower shall rise up out of his root. And the spirit of the Lord shall rest upon him: the spirit of wisdom, and of understanding, the spirit of counsel, and of fortitude, the spirit of knowledge, and of godliness. And he shall be filled with the spirit of the fear of the Lord" (Is. xi. 1-3).
In these words of Isaias are set forth the seven gifts of the Holy Ghost, the seminal principles of which are sown in the soul by the Sacrament of Confirmation. The prophet gives them in
the order of their dignity, wisdom being first and fear last. We shall take them in the ascending order, beginning with holy fear. The fear of the Lord is, so to say, the first step in the ladder by which the soul slowly mounts up the steep of Christian perfection.
A good many Christians seem quite unable to get beyond this first step. They are content to keep themselves just within the territory of grace, and aspire to nothing higher. They linger in the valley below; they seek not to gain the distant heights. Others, again, pass most of their lives with one foot on this lowest rung of the ladder and the other on the earth. That is to say, the holy fear of God keeps urging them forward and prompting them to bring forth fruit worthy of penance, to seek the things that are above; but the force of evil habit, and the weight of their old sins, and the lust of worldly pleasures, bear them down to earth once more. These really have not the gift of holy fear at all. They received the seed of it into their souls on the day of their Confirmation, but they soon stifled and quenched it by sinful works.
Would that the whole world were filled with the fear of the Lord! All are in need of this gift: the good, that it may prompt them to walk steadily along in the way of God's holy commandments, the wicked, that they may turn from their evil ways.
The next gift is piety, or godliness. It perfects the former gift. It takes away the sting that lurks in all fear, however holy. It changes the feeling of awe with which we look on God into one of love and confidence. Fear makes us regard God as our master and judge; piety gathers us round Him as children round a father, and bids us cry out to Him, "Our Father who art in heaven." Of this sweet gift is born the spirit of prayer, as well as reverence for all things that are holy, with meek resignation under present trials, for such as bear these patiently here. It is a priceless gift. But, alas! sin with its malign breath often blasts it just as it is putting forth its first blossoms in the virgin soil of the yet innocent heart. Hence we so often see children disappoint the promise of their early years, and grow up wayward and bold, disrespectful to parents and superiors, without reverence for God and holy things.
The third gift is knowledge. It is not enough to have the fear of displeasing God and the wish to please Him, if we know not what is pleasing to Him and what displeasing. With this knowledge the third gift supplies us. The fear of that endless misery to which sin leads makes us turn away from sin; the hope of reward and the sweetness of that peace which dwells in the heavenly home, -- these draw us on. Yet powerful as these impulses are they would avail nothing if we knew not how to shun the devious ways of sin and keep our feet in the narrow way which leads to life.
But even this gift of knowledge is not enough. Many have known the way of life who have not walked therein. Like the pagan of old, they have seen the better course and approved it, but have followed the worse. The way that leads to life is long and difficult. It is, for the most part, a thorny path that lies through the wilderness of this world into the land of promise beyond the river of death, and we, poor, frail, fallen creatures that we are, are apt to falter and lose heart, to linger by the wayside, and to long once more for the flesh-pots of Egypt even though they be in the house of bondage. But our help is in the name of the Lord. His Holy Spirit is ever at hand to strengthen the feeble and help them over the hard places of the road. He brings the gift of fortitude. It is the fourth of His gifts. It turns weak and cowardly men into soldiers of Christ, who go forth to conquer their inveterate foes, the world, the flesh, and the devil. For they feel their youth and strength renewed, as did St. Paul when he cried out, "I can do all things in him who strengthened me."
And yet the battle is not to the strong. Prudence, too, is needed, and Christian prudence is the gift of counsel. It goes before the gift of fortitude. It points out what is to be done, and how it is to be done, and how much is to be done at a time. Emboldened by the gift of fortitude we might be tempted to undertake things that are beyond our strength, or unsuited to our state in life. Here the gift of counsel both curbs and guides us. Thus in a fit of fervor a person might make a vow to avoid all sins, even venial, only to learn by sad experience that this is next to impossible; or one might be so taken up with prayer and religious exercises as to neglect the duties of one's calling. This were piety, but ill-directed, lacking counsel.
Fear, piety, and fortitude perfect the will; knowledge and counsel, the intellect, in the practical order--that is, they enable us to know what is to be done and what is to be avoided; and as regards what is to be done, when and how, and how much at a time. There is another gift to teach us what to believe, to give us an insight into the truths of religion, to shed such light upon the deep things of God, the mysteries of our faith, as may be vouchsafed to mortals in a world where these things are seen as through a glass, darkly. It is the gift of understanding. It is of a higher order than knowledge as counsel. I do not ask to see The distant scene,-- one step enough for me.
So the poet prayed, seeking, for the moment, but the "kindly light" of knowledge and counsel to guide his steps "amid the encircling gloom." Yet in the voyage of life there is need, ever and anon, of stronger light, to catch at least some passing glimpse of the distant scene. To hold his course on the trackless waste of waters the mariner must from time to time pause to take his bearings. He must lift his eyes to the heavenly bodies, the sun by day, the moon and stars by night. So we in crossing the ocean of life must raise eyes of faith to gaze upon the eternal truths, and from them seek light and guidance, else we may not hope to win the haven of eternal rest.
Lastly, there is a seventh gift that crowns the others, the blossom and perfection of all the rest, the talisman of victory to the soldier of Christ, the last round of the ladder by which the Christian mounts to heaven. It is the gift of wisdom. It is the good and perfect gift that cometh down from the Father of lights. It enables the one into whose soul it descends to see everything as God sees it, and to set its true value on everything. The wisdom of this world makes men prize the things of this world. The wisdom that is from above makes men fix their minds and hearts on the things that are above, where Christ sitteth at the right hand of the Father. And the wisdom of this world is foolishness with God. Men of the world deem it highest wisdom to possess themselves of the good things of this world. St. Paul, who was full of the wisdom that is from above, reckoned all these things as dross, nay, to use his own strong word, even as dung, that he might win Christ. He had been thoroughly drilled in the school of the Holy Ghost. He had been taught to know the true beatitudes, "Blessed are the poor in spirit," "Blessed are the merciful," "Blessed are the clean of heart," "Blessed are they who endure persecution for righteousness' sake." He had fathomed the meaning of the Master's words: "What shall it profit a man, if he gain the whole world, and suffer the loss of his soul?" It is a question of profit and loss, where the loss of all things earthly, even of life itself, for Christ's sweet sake, is supremest gain.
Confirmation is, in an altogether special sense, the Sacrament of the Holy Ghost. Baptism confers grace to sanctify the soul, but Confirmation confers the sanctifier of the soul, the Holy Spirit. Ever since the day of Pentecost this Holy Spirit has been in the world, performing His mission as Paraclete, ruling the Church as a whole, guiding it in the way of truth, and sanctifying its members. Creatures of the senses that we are, and tied down to the things of sense, we find it hard to bring home to ourselves this great truth of our faith, that we are living under the dispensation and personal guidance of the Holy Ghost. This Third Person of the blessed Trinity, who proceeds from the Father and the Son, who together with the Father and the Son is adored and glorified, who is the Lord and giver of life, is present in the world today, in the world-wide Church, as really and truly as the Second Person, Jesus Christ, Son of the Virgin Mary, was present nineteen hundred years ago on the earth, and is still present on our altars in the Adorable Sacrament. Our Lord Himself promised that when the Paraclete should come he should abide always with the Church. He is not the less really present for our being unable to see Him with our eyes and touch Him with our hands.
Our blessed Lord, when He was visibly present on earth, dwelt with Mary and Joseph in that lowly cottage at Nazareth. He still dwells, though unseen by eyes of flesh, in our churches, on our altars. But the Holy Spirit dwells not in a temple made with bands. "Know you not," says the apostle," that your bodies are the temple of the Holy Ghost?" Yes, this poor tenement of clay, which death one day will dissolve, is the dwelling-place of God's Holy Spirit.
And now here is a thing to think of and to take to heart: As often as a Christian sins mortally he turns God's Holy Spirit out of his temple. To turn even the meanest of men out of one's Own house without cause is shameful; to drive a man out of the house of which he is owner is open robbery. Judge, then, how heinous is mortal sin. He who is guilty of it drives God's Holy Spirit out of His dwelling-place. Let us not grieve the Holy Ghost; let us beware of quenching the Holy Ghost. Let us show due reverence to the temple in which He deigns to dwell, and treat in a befitting way this divine guest of our souls. So it will come to pass that when this house of our earthly dwelling is dissolved, He will receive us into His tabernacle--"a building of God, a house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens."
Instruction for Confirmation from Gate of Heaven, 1879
Confirmation is a Sacrament which gives us strength to perform our Christian duties, and persevere in the path which we have begun. Some will say that it is not absolutely necessary: but in this Sacrament we receive the Holy Ghost with all His gifts. Can we refuse it without danger? Look around and see the young who have fallen from the practice of their religious duties: who after years of fervor, are now years aloof from the sacraments. Ask whether they were confirmed, and you will find that they generally neglected or refused to prepare for this great Sacrament. The preparation for confirmation is first; to be in a state of grace. The Holy Spirit will not dwell in a soul defiled by sin. Second: To hunger and thirst after justice, that is to have, an earnest longing and desire of receiving the Holy Ghost and His coming as the Apostles did by retirement and prayer. As for your first Communion, endeavor to overcome some fault, or acquire some virtue to offer as a sacrifice to your God. During the period of preparation, repeat frequently the hymns in honor of the Holy Ghost, and excite your fervor by ejaculatory prayers. Come. O Holy Ghost replenish my heart and enkindle in it the fire of thy divine love.
Preparatory Prayer before Confirmation
O God of infinite goodness! Who were graciously pleased at my baptism to make me Thy child, receive my fervent thanksgiving for all the favors bestowed on me from my birth to this moment, particularly for my being now ranked among those who are to be peculiarly consecrated to Thee by the Sacrament of Confirmation. Alas! my God, I am far from possessing those sentiments of faith, love, humility, and fervor which should now animate my soul; but it will be easy for Thee to grant them to me. I most sincerely detest every sin of my life, and every fault, or even imperfect inclination which may be an obstacle to the graces Thou desirest to bestow on Thy unworthy child. Do thou deign to purify me from every stain, by applying to my soul the infinite merits of Thy Death and Passion. I purpose most sincerely to serve Thee with fidelity from this day forward; but I feel that I am too weak to execute my resolution, if left to myself; therefore, I conjure Thee to impart to me Thy Holy Spirit, that, like the Apostles, I may be endued with strength from on high, and inspired with courage and resolution to prove myself in reality Thy follower. I desire to receive this most precious favor; but do Thou render this desire still more ardent and accept, on my behalf, the fervent desires which animated the heart of Thy blessed Mother and the Apostles previous to the descent of the Holy Ghost, and let their perfect dispositions in every other respect atone and supply for my deficiencies.
Prayer to the Holy Ghost
O Heavenly Spirit! Whom I earnestly desire to receive in the Sacrament of Confirmation, mercifully deign to descend on me with all Thy gifts and graces. O eternal Light! O infinite Charity! O uncreated Wisdom, Who replenishest the hearts of the faithful, and kindlest in them the fire of Thy love!
O holy Spirit! Who didst inspire the prophets, Who presidest over the Church, Who convertest sinners, and sanctifiest millions that listen to Thy inspirations, despise not my youth, my ignorance, and weakness. In a moment Thou canst enlighten the darkest understanding, and soften the hardest heart. O! come then into my heart; come, heavenly Spirit; and do not delay.
O sacred Virgin! Spouse of the Holy Ghost, Whose pure soul was the chosen tabernacle of that heavenly Spirit, and who above all creatures were plentifully enriched with his choicest gifts and graces, intercede for me, and by Thy powerful prayers prepare me for the happiness I so sincerely desire.
Glorious Apostles! who received the plentitude of the Divine Spirit, obtain for me by your prayers a share in the perfect dispositions, which prepared you to receive that consolatory Spirit.
A Prayer after Confirmation
Is it possible, O my good and merciful Creator, that Thou hast so far overlooked my misery and unworthiness, as to make my soul the tabernacle of Thy Holy Spirit! Can I believe that I am now honored with the presence and enriched with the gifts and graces of the Holy Ghost? Yes, I firmly hope that Thou hast not been deaf to my petitions; I hope I am now in possession of that sacred gift I so ardently desired. O my God! accept the praises of Thy Angels and Saints in thanksgiving for Thy unbounded mercies in my regard. May the blessed Mother of Thy Divine Son, and the glorious choir of Apostles, thank Thee for me. May the Cross of Jesus Christ, with which my forehead has been signed, defend me from all my enemies, and save me at the last day. May the inward unction of sanctifying grace, figured by the chrism with which I have been anointed, penetrate my soul, soften my heart, strengthen my will, and consecrate my whole being to Thy service.
O heavenly Spirit! third person of the Adorable Trinity! Whom I have received, and most fervently adore, deign to take eternal possession of my soul; create and maintain therein the purity and sanctity which becomes Thy temple. O Spirit of Wisdom! preside over all my thoughts, words, and actions, from this hour to the moment of my death. Spirit of Understanding! enlighten and teach me. Spirit of Counsel! direct my youth and inexperience. Spirit of Fortitude! strengthen my weakness. Spirit of Knowledge! instruct my ignorance. Spirit of Piety! make me fervent in good works. Spirit of Fear! restrain me from all evil. Let all my works be fruits of Charity! Infuse into my heart the joy of a good conscience, and teach me to delight in the service of God, and to despise the false joys of the world. Give me grace to preserve Peace with God, my neighbor, and myself:--give me Patience to bear with all the ills of this life;--make me persevere in the service of God, and enable me to act on all occasions with Goodness, Benignity, Mildness and Fidelity. Let the heavenly virtues of Modesty and Purity adorn the temple Thou hast chosen for Thy abode. O Spirit of Purity! by Thy all-powerful grace preserve my soul from the misfortune of sin, which for all eternity will be distinguished by the double title and sacred character of a Christian by Baptism, and a soldier of Jesus Christ by the Sacrament of Confirmation. Amen.