If you ask most people about what the Sacrament of Confirmation is all about, they will definitely say that it is an opportunity for people to make their own commitment to God, which is a commitment that was made for them by their parents and godparents at their baptism.
You’ll just hear this kind of explanation from everybody, including bishops, little children, and everyone in between.
Though, that’s not entirely wrong (surely, most people are baptized as infants, and most people are confirmed many years later), but that’s not what confirmation is really about.
At most, it’s just a case of the different ages when baptism and confirmation are usually celebrated, but the age difference isn’t always present.
However, some people receive these two sacraments together. For example, when an adult convert to Catholicism, they’re baptized and confirmed on the same day, and according to the eastern rites of the Catholic Church, infants receive baptism and confirmation together as well. Consequently, there isn’t usually a large gap between baptism and confirmation, so there has to be something more to this sacrament.
To find out what that something more really is, let’s take a x look at the Scriptural roots of the sacrament and see what those roots can teach us. Though the Bible doesn’t say much about it, but the little it says sheds tremendous light on the purpose of confirmation and it can help us to understand it much better.
Specifically, let’s take a look at two passages in the Acts of the Apostles which describe a post-baptismal reception of the Holy Spirit, which is a rite that we recognize today as the roots of the sacrament of confirmation:
In the book of (Acts 8:14-17), “Now when the apostles at Jerusalem heard that Samaria had received the word of God, they sent to Peter and John, who came down and prayed for them that they might receive the Holy Spirit; for it had not yet fallen on any of them, but they had only been baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus. Then they laid their hands on them and they received the Holy Spirit”.
(Acts 19:5-7) went on to explain, “On hearing this, they were baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus. And when Paul had laid his hands upon them, the Holy Spirit came on them; and they spoke with tongues and prophesied. There were about twelve of them in all”.
Was there really prophecy at the Pentecost? You would understand more on this, we need to know about biblical prophecy. Whenever we think of prophecy today, we normally think of telling the future, but that’s not necessarily what a prophet does in the Bible.
Though, that might be part of it, but there’s more to it than just that.
According to the Bible, a prophet is someone who speaks on behalf of God, someone who communicates the will of God to the people, and when we look at it this perspective, we can see clearly that there was prophecy at Pentecost.
Because, after the Holy Spirit came upon the disciples, Peter preached the Gospel in the first recorded Christian sermon. He went on to speak about what God had done in Jesus Christ and how God wanted people to respond to this good news, and that’s what prophecy is all about.
So once more, we see that what initially looked like a difference between Pentecost and the second confirmation passage is in fact another similarity: people prophesied at both events.
A Mini Pentecost
Once we understand all of this, we can clearly see that in fact Luke is modeling this second confirmation passage on the events of Pentecost, which means that when Paul laid his hands on these people and they received the Holy Spirit, this event was however seen as a mini Pentecost.
Cause, everything that happened to them also happened at Pentecost, so their reception of the Holy Spirit reflected that of Pentecost as well. Similarly, as the Catechism of the Catholic Church puts it in her teaching about confirmation, they received “the special outpouring of the Holy Spirit as once granted to the apostles on the day of Pentecost” (CCC 1302).
So this leaves us with one final question: what was Pentecost all about? To answer that, we really need to go back to the first few verses of Acts, where Jesus tells his Apostles what they should expect after he ascends into heaven. He says to them, “But you shall receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you shall be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria and to the end of the earth” (Acts 1:8).
The Apostles did receive the Holy Spirit at Pentecost so as to empower them to be a witness to Jesus and spread the Gospel, in the same way, that’s also the special gift that people received when Paul and the Apostles lay their hands on them.
And that’s what confirmation is all about as well. It’s not just an opportunity to make our own commitment to God (although that is definitely part of it). But, this sacrament has its own purpose, one that has nothing to do with whether we made our baptismal commitment on our own or it was made for us by others.
When we are confirmed, we get to experience our own mini Pentecost, and we also receive a special gift of the Holy Spirit which completes the grace we were given at baptism and it strengthens us to witness to Jesus Christ and spread the Gospel.
Cause, as the Catechism puts it, confirmation gives us “a special strength of the Holy Spirit to spread and defend the faith by word and action as true witnesses of Christ, to confess the name of Christ boldly, and never to be ashamed of the Cross” (Catechism of the Catholic Church 1303).