Paul II- General
the Holy Spirit
The Holy Spirit And the
Sacrament of Confirmation
John Paul II
September 30, 1998
1. In this second
year of preparation for the Jubilee of the Year 2000, a renewed
appreciation of the Holy Spirit’s presence focuses our attention
especially on the sacrament of Confirmation (cf. Tertio millennio
adveniente, n. 45). As the Catechism of the Catholic Church teaches,
“it perfects baptismal grace; it ... gives the Holy Spirit in order
to root us more deeply in the divine filiation, incorporate us more
firmly into Christ, strengthen our bond with the Church, associate
us more closely with her mission, and help us bear witness to the
Christian faith in words accompanied by deeds” (n. 1316).
In fact, the sacrament of Confirmation closely associates the
Christian with the anointing of Christ, whom “God annointed with the
Holy Spirit” (Acts 10:38). This anointing is recalled in the very
name “Christian”, which derives from that of “Christ”, the Greek
translation of the Hebrew term “messiah”, whose precise meaning is
“anointed”. Christ is the Messiah, the Anointed One of God.
Through the seal of the Spirit conferred by Confirmation, the
Christian attains his full identity and becomes aware of his mission
in the Church and the world. “Before this grace had been conferred
on you”, St Cyril of Jerusalem writes, “you were not sufficiently
worthy of this name, but were on the way to becoming Christians”
(Cat. Myst., III, 4: PG 33, 1092).
2. To understand all the riches of grace contained in the sacrament
of Confirmation, which forms an organic whole with Baptism and the
Eucharist as the “sacraments of Christian initiation”, it is
necessary to grasp its meaning in the light of salvation history.
In the Old Testament, the prophets proclaimed that the Spirit of God
would rest upon the promised Messiah (cf. Is 11:2) and, at the same
time, would be communicated to all the messianic people (cf. Ez
36:25-27; Jl 3:1-2). In the “fullness of time” Jesus was conceived
in the Virgin Mary’s womb through the power of the Holy Spirit (cf.
Lk 1:35). With the Spirit’s descent upon him at the time of his
baptism in the River Jordan, he is revealed as the promised Messiah,
the Son of God (cf. Mt 3:13-17; Jn 1:33-34). All his life was spent
in total communion with the Holy Spirit, whom he gives “not by
measure” (Jn 3:34) as the eschatological fulfilment of his mission,
as he had promised (cf. Lk 12:12; Jn 3:5-8; 7:37-39; 16:7-15; Acts
1:8). Jesus communicates the Spirit by “breathing” on the Apostles
the day of the Resurrection (cf. Jn 20:22) and later by the solemn,
amazing outpouring on the day of Pentecost (cf. Acts 2:1-4).
Thus the Apostles, filled with the Holy Spirit, begin to “proclaim
the mighty works of God” (cf. Acts 2:11). Those who believe in their
preaching and are baptized also receive “the gift of the Holy
Spirit” (Acts 2:38).
The distinction between Confirmation and Baptism is clearly
suggested in the Acts of the Apostles when Samaria is being
evangelized. It is Philip, one of the seven deacons, who preaches
the faith and baptizes. Then the Apostles Peter and John arrive and
lay their hands on the newly baptized so that they will receive the
Holy Spirit (Acts 8:5-17). Similarly in Ephesus, the Apostle Paul
lays his hands on a group of newly baptized and “the Holy Spirit
came on them” (Acts 19:6).
3. The sacrament of Confirmation “in a certain way perpetuates the
grace of Pentecost in the Church” (CCC, n. 1288). Baptism, which the
Christian tradition calls “the gateway to life in the Spirit”
(ibid., n. 1213), gives us a rebirth “of water and the Spirit” (cf.
Jn 3:5), enabling us to share sacramentally in Christ’s Death and
Resurrection (cf. Rom 6:1-11). Confirmation, in turn, makes us share
fully in the outpouring of the Holy Spirit by the risen Lord.
The unbreakable bond between the paschal mystery of Jesus Christ and
the outpouring of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost is expressed in the
close connection between the sacraments of Baptism and Confirmation.
This close bond can also be seen in the fact that in the early
centuries Confirmation generally comprised “one single celebration
with Baptism, forming with it a 'double sacrament', according to the
expression of St Cyprian” (CCC, n. 1290). This practice has been
preserved to the present day in the East, while in the West, for
many reasons, Confirmation came to be celebrated later and there is
normally an interval between the two sacraments.
Since apostolic times the full comunication of the gift of the Holy
Spirit to the baptized has been effectively signified by the laying
on of hands. An anointing with perfumed oil, called “chrism”, was
added very early, the better to express the gift of the Holy Spirit.
Indeed, through Confirmation Christians, consecrated by the
anointing in Baptism, share in the fullness of the Spirit with whom
Jesus is filled, so that their whole life will spread the “aroma of
Christ” (2 Cor 2:15).
4. The differences in the rite of Confirmation which evolved down
the centuries in the East and West, according to the different
spiritual sensitivities of the two traditions and in response to
various pastoral needs, express the richness of the sacrament and
its full meaning in Christian life.
In the East, this sacrament is called “Chrismation”, anointing with
“chrism” or “myron”. In the West, the term Confirmation suggests the
ratification of Baptism as a strengthening of grace through the seal
of the Holy Spirit. In the East, since the two sacraments are
joined, Chrismation is conferred by the same priest who administers
Baptism, although he performs the anointing with chrism consecrated
by the Bishop (cf. CCC, n. 1312). In the Latin rite, the ordinary
minister of Confirmation is the Bishop, who, for grave reasons, may
grant this faculty to priests delegated to administer it (cf. ibid.,
Thus, “the practice of the Eastern Churches gives greater emphasis
to the unity of Christian initiation. That of the Latin Church more
clearly expresses the communion of the new Christian with the Bishop
as guarantor and servant of the unity, catholicity and apostolicity
of his Church, and hence the connection with the apostolic origins
of Christ’s Church” (CCC, n. 1292).
5. From what we have said not only can we see the importance of
Confirmation as an organic part of the sacraments of Christian
initiation as a whole, but also its irreplaceable effectiveness for
the full maturation of Christian life. A decisive task of pastoral
ministry, to be intensified as part of the preparation for the
Jubilee, consists in very carefully training the baptized who are
preparing to receive Confirmation, and in introducing them to the
fascinating depths of the mystery it signifies and brings about. At
the same time, confirmands must be helped to rediscover with joyful
wonder the saving power of this gift of the Holy Spirit.
To the English-speaking pilgrims and visitors the Holy Father said:
I cordially welcome Cardinal Mahony and the American Bishops from
California on a visit “ad limina”.
I extend a special welcome to the new students of the Pontifical
Beda College. May this period of training here in Rome help you to
grow in the love of Christ and his Church. Upon all the
English-speaking pilgrims and visitors, especially those from
England, Denmark, Norway, Latvia, Australia, Japan and the United
States of America, I invoke the grace and peace of our Lord Jesus
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