- THE CONFIRMATION. In ecumenical dialogue

Created: Monday, 23 June 2014 Last Updated: Tuesday, 23 September 2014

In ecumenical dialogue

1. In spite of the council renovation, the confirmation shows problems. For many people it is something that happened in the childhood. Almost nothing is recalled, perhaps some loose detail like the bishop slap. Serial confirmations continue: by ages, catechesis years, scholar courses. Delaying the age, the confirmation can be more personal and free, also more minority. It is not easy to have data about this aspect. General escape after the celebration is confirmed. In the ecumenical dialogue questions arise: Is it a sacrament more? Is it necessary?  Is it something that should divide the Christians? Is it not enough the meaning of the baptism?
2. History data. It took a lot of time, more than one millennium, to establish the confirmation like a sacrament different from the baptism. “During the first centuries, confirmation  generally constitutes a single celebration with the baptism, and with it conforms, according to Saint Cyprians expression, a double sacrament”.(Catechism of the Catholic Church, 1290). Later on things change. In the Western the fact of conferring the plenitude of baptism, what afterwards will be called confirmation, is reserved to the bishop. In the Eastern Church both sacraments are kept together: the same presbyter who baptizes delivers confirmation. They are two different traditions.
3. In the origin, Christian initiation culminated in two inseparable moments, normally celebrated one after the other, in the frame of the Christian community presided by the bishop. They are the Baptism and the Eucharist. The baptism is the sacrament of the faith:  “He who believes and is baptized will be saved” (Mk 16,16). The Eucharist is the food of the faith, “the bread of life” (Jn 6, 35) that feeds the community. That who embraces the Gospel is baptized. Peter proclaims it in the Pentecost day: “Each of you must repent and be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ, so that your sins may be forgiven and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit (Acts 2, 38).
4. Christian baptism is in the spirit: “He will baptize you with holy spirit” (Mk 1, 8). Nevertheless, this is not always lived. Paul meets in Ephesus with some disciples who had received only John´s baptism (Acts 19, 3). Paul baptizes them “in the name of the Lord Jesus”: “Paul laid his hands on them and the Holy Spirit came down upon them” (19, 5 – 6). Those baptized by Philip in Samaria “only in the name of the Lord Jesus”, need that Peter and John go and pray for them so that they receive the spirit: “then they laid the hands on them and they received the holy spirit” (Acts 8, 15 – 17)

5. We can acknowledge (in the spirit) that Jesus is the Lord (Paschal experience) and, nevertheless do not have enough strength to be his witnesses. This is what the disciples live before Pentecost. The Lord tells them: “You will receive the strength of the holy spirit who will come over you, and you will be my witnesses” (Jn 14, 26), “he will guide up to the whole truth” (16, 13; see Hb 6, 2)

6. Since the third century, baptismal initiation rites are developed. Around the rite of the water little by little appear de preliminary rites (hands imposition, oil unction, signal of the cross, blow of the minister over the future baptized, ect…) and rites of continuation, that repeat in a large portion those preceding them (hands laying, unction, signal of the cross, ect…). The rites that extend the rite of the water do not really add anything new to the meaning of the baptismal initiation (see Acts 8, 26-40). They only insist on certain aspects. Let us see the most important rites.

7. Hands laying is not a magic act. The gift of the spirit is a fruit of the apostolic service and of the prayer that hopes Jesus´ promise (Acts 1, 14). In the rituals the gifts of the spirit are mentioned: “spirit of wisdom and intelligence, spirit of counselling and strength, spirit of science and of fear of the Lord” (Is 11, 2). The passages of the Acts of the Apostles that present hands laying linked to the communication of the spirit are also mentioned” (Acts 8, 9 – 24; Acts 19, 1 – 7). Let us see this third century testimony: “The Lord, by the hands laying of the bishops in the baptism, has given testimony to everyone of you and he has allowed to hear his holy voice upon you: You are my son, I have procreated you” (Didascalia of the Apostles II, 32)

8. The unction has the same meaning than the hands laying. In the Old Testament kings and priests are anointed (1 Wis 16, 13; Lv 8, 12), but not the prophets (1 R 19, 19).Some testimonies of the fourth century: “You have become anointed when you have received the symbolic mark of the holy spirit” (Cyril of Jerusalem, mistagogical Catechesis, III, 1, 5). “You shall end (the baptism) sealing with the oil. The oil is the seal of the compromises” (Apostolic Constitutions, Syria)

9. The signal of  the cross or signation refers to Christ, to whom God anointed with the strength of the spirit and to whom they killed hanging him on a trunk (Acts 10, 38 – 39). The strength of the spirit is required to assume the cross: “Those baptized in the Church are presented to the chiefs of the Church… in order to be completed by the signal of the Lord”, says Saint Cyprian in the third century (Letter 73, 9). Fourth century roman liturgy (Gelasius Sacrament) accompanies the signal of the cross over the forehead (made, then, at the same time that the anointment) with the formula: “Signal of Christ for eternal lives”

10. From the third century on, children baptism becomes widespread. Then the bishop cannot preside over all the baptismal celebrations. Two solutions are presented. In the Eastern, at least since the fourth century, the priest carries out the whole initiation. In the Western (fifth and sixth centuries) the baptismal initiation rites are separated in two celebrations. The priest administers the water baptism and carries out some later rites. The bishop participates when it is possible for him in the frame of a new celebration with these rites: hands laying, new anointment (over the forehead of the baptized) and signation. This second celebration is called confirmation from the fifth century on. Additionally, anointment and signation are joined in a single rite. We then about consignation and, later on, of chrismation.

11. In the twelfth century Roman Pontifical appears by first time the formula that, later on, became common: “I mark you with the signal of the cross and I confirm you with the chrism of the salvation.” Florence Council (1439) specifies the confirmation effect: “Holy Spirit is given to the Christians, like he was given to the Apostles in Pentecost, to give them strength and to confess with courage the name of Christ”. In the Western, the confirmation ordinary minister is the bishop. Nevertheless, Trent’s Council  (1547) does not condemn the practice of the Eastern Churches. For the reformed Church the confirmation is not an autonomous sacrament, it is a baptism ratification and it is related to the rite of hands´ imposition.

12. Council Vatican II introduces the confirmation as follows: the baptized “are connected more closely to the Church, they are rewarded with a special strength from the Holy Spirit, and in this way they oblige themselves to spread and defend the faith, with their word and their works, like Christ´s true witnesses” (LG 11; see SC 71). In the new Confirmation Ritual (1971) Paul VI confirms the practice of the chrismation, through the anointment on the forehead, made with the hands laying, and with the words “By means of this signal let you receive the Gift of the Holy Spirit” (DCN)

13. Christian initiation is developed in a process with several steps: First evangelization, catechumenate or catechesis, baptism, confirmation, Eucharist. If the baptism is the threshold, the confirmation and the Eucharist are its culmination. The initiated is a believer to whom to understand that the spirit of God and of Christ is also the spirit of the Church, is given. Council Vatican II orders the restoration of the catechumenate of adults, “divided is several degrees” (SC 64), what is expressed in the Adults Christian Initiation Ritual. (1972)

14. During the first centuries, the initiation means integration in the community, but the grace recognized in other contexts is also recognized. It is Peter’s experience in Cornelius´ home (Acts 10). The gift of the spirit unifies and differentiates. It is a true challenge, unity and diversity. The initiation cannot be a simple absorption, annexation that uniforms. The communion is pluralist. From the beginning on, spirit’s language is expressed in several languages , “God´s wonders” (Acts 2, 4. 11)
            *         Dialogue about the confirmation: is it something that should divide the Christians?, is it necessary to revise the tradition in the light of the Scriptures?