Paul II- General
the Holy Spirit
Anointing: Seal of the Gift
of the Holy Spirit
John Paul II
October 14, 1998
1. In the preceding
catechesis we reflected on the sacrament of Confirmation as the
fulfilment of baptismal grace. We will now examine the salvific
value and spiritual effect expressed by the sign of anointing, which
indicates the “seal of the gift of the Holy Spirit” (cf. Paul VI,
Apostolic Constitution Divinae consortium naturae, 15 August 1971;
L'Osservatore Romano English edition, 23 September 1971, p. 4).
Through this anointing, the confirmand fully receives that gift of
the Holy Spirit which he had already received in Baptism in an
initial and fundamental way. As the Catechism of the Catholic Church
explains, “a seal is a symbol of a person (cf. Gn 38:18; Song 8:6),
a sign of personal authority (cf. Gn 41:42), or ownership of an
object (cf. Dt 32:34) ...” (CCC, n. 1295). Jesus himself says that
“God the Father set his seal” on him (Jn 6:27). And so we
Christians, having been incorporated into the Body of Christ our
Lord by faith and Baptism, are marked by the seal of the Spirit when
we receive this anointing. The Apostle Paul explicitly teaches this
in speaking to the Christians of Corinth: “It is God who establishes
us with you in Christ, and has commissioned us; he has put his seal
upon us and given us his Spirit in our hearts as a guarantee” (2 Cor
1:21-22; cf. Eph 1:13-14; 4:30).
2. The seal of the Holy Spirit therefore signifies and brings about
the disciple’s total belonging to Jesus Christ, his being always at
the latter’s service in the Church, and at the same time it implies
the promise of divine protection in the trials he will have to
endure to witness to his faith in the world.
Jesus himself foretold this, shortly before his Passion: “They will
deliver you up to councils; and you will be beaten in synagogues;
and you will stand before governors and kings for my sake, to bear
testimony before them.... And when they bring you to trial and
deliver you up, do not be anxious beforehand what you are to say;
but say whatever is given you in that hour, for it is not you who
speak, but the Holy Spirit” (Mk 13:9, 11ff.).
A similar promise recurs in Revelation, in a vision that embraces
the Church’s entire history and sheds light on the dramatic
situation which the disciples of Christ are called to face in union
with their crucified and risen Lord. They are presented in the
evocative image of those whose foreheads have been marked with God’s
seal (cf. Rv 7:2-4).
3. By bringing baptismal grace to fulfilment, Confirmation unites us
more firmly to Jesus Christ and to his Body, the Church. This
sacrament also increases the gifts of the Holy Spirit in us, to give
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” (CCC,
n. 1303; cf. Council of Florence, DS 1319; Second Vatican Council,
Lumen gentium, nn. 11-12).
St Ambrose exhorts the confirmed in these vibrant words: “Recall
that you have received the spiritual seal, the Spirit of wisdom and
understanding, the Spirit of counsel and fortitude, the Spirit of
knowledge and piety, the Spirit of the fear of God. Guard what you
have received. God the Father has marked you with his sign, Christ
the Lord has confirmed you and has placed the Spirit in your hearts
as a pledge” (De Mysteriis, 7, 42; PL 16, 402-403).
The gift of the Spirit obliges us to bear witness to Jesus Christ
and to God the Father, and ensures that we have the ability and the
courage to do so. The Acts of the Apostles tell us clearly that the
Spirit was poured out upon the Apostles, so that they would become
“witnesses” (Acts 1:8; cf. Jn 15:26-27).
St Thomas Aquinas wonderfully summarizes the Church’s tradition,
saying that through Confirmation all the necessary help is
communicated to the baptized so that they can profess publicly and
in every circumstance the faith received in Baptism. “The fullness
of the Holy Spirit”, he explains, “is given ad robur spirituale (for
spiritual strength) which is appropriate to adulthood” (Summa
Theologiae, III, 72, 2). This maturity is obviously not to be
measured by human criteria, but from within the mysterious
relationship of each individual to Christ.
This teaching, rooted in Sacred Scripture and developed by sacred
Tradition, is expressed in the teaching of the Council of Trent,
which says that the sacrament of Confirmation is imprinted on the
soul like an “indelible spiritual mark”: the “character” (cf. DS
1609) which is precisely the sign Jesus Christ imprints on the
Christian with the seal of his Spirit.
4. This specific gift conferred by the sacrament of Confirmation
enables the faithful to exercise their “prophetic office” of bearing
witness to the faith. “The confirmed person”, St Thomas explains,
“receives the power to profess faith in Christ publicly and as it
were officially (quasi ex officio)” (cf. Summa Theologiae, III, 72,
5, ad. 2; CCC, n. 1305). Furthermore, the Second Vatican Council, in
explaining the sacred and organic nature of the priestly community
in Lumen gentium, stresses that “by the sacrament of Confirmation
they [the faithful] are more perfectly bound to the Church and
endowed with the special strength of the Holy Spirit. Hence they
are, as true witnesses of Christ, more strictly obliged to spread
the faith by word and deed” (n. 11).
The baptized who receive the sacrament of Confirmation with full and
mature awareness solemnly declare before the Church, with the
support of God’s grace, their readiness to let themselves be grasped
by the Spirit of God in an ever new and ever deeper way, to become
witnesses to Christ the Lord.
5. This readiness, thanks to the Spirit who penetrates and fills
their hearts, spurs them even to martyrdom, as we are shown by the
uninterrupted series of Christian witnesses who, from the dawn of
Christianity to our century, have not been afraid to sacrifice their
earthly lives for love of Jesus Christ. “Martyrdom”, says the
Catechism of the Catholic Church, “is the supreme witness given to
the truth of the faith: it means bearing witness even unto death.
The martyr bears witness to Christ who died and rose, to whom he is
united by charity” (CCC, n. 2473).
On the threshold of the third millennium, let us invoke the gift of
the Paraclete to revive the effectiveness of the grace of the
spiritual seal imprinted on us in the sacrament of Confirmation.
Animated by the Spirit, our lives will spread the “aroma of Christ”
(2 Cor 2:15) to the very ends of the earth.
To the English-speaking pilgrims and visitors the Holy Father said:
I warmly greet the members of the International Alliance of Catholic
Knights. I extend a special welcome to the Rissho Kosei-Kai
delegation from Japan. Upon all the English-speaking pilgrims and
visitors, especially those from England, Scotland, Sweden, Finland,
Australia, Indonesia, Myanmar, Japan and the United States of
America, I invoke the grace and peace of our Lord Jesus Christ.
At the end of the General Audience, after having greeted the young
people, the sick and the newlyweds, the Pope added:
I am thankful for the best wishes and prayers that have been offered
to me for the 20th anniversary of my election. I trust in the
spiritual support of the People of God in order faithfully to fulfil
my ministry. Praised be Jesus Christ.
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