Essays/Articles and Scriptural Studies

Sacramental Character of Confirmation

For this week's column, we will consider the sacramental character bestowed in the Sacrament of Confirmation. The three sacraments of Baptism, Confirmation, and Holy Orders each imprint upon the soul of the recipient a permanent mark or character. As we saw two weeks ago, baptismal character is ordered to divine worship: God empowers His adopted children to participate in the Eucharist, enabling them to offer him the true worship in Christ which He has commanded (cf. Lk. 22:19-20, Jn. 4 and 6). The sacramental character of Confirmation is distinct from that of Baptism, although it strengthens baptismal character.

Catechesis on Confirmation often highlights the bestowal of the Seven Gifts of the Holy Spirit, and this is certainly warranted. The Holy Spirit does indeed bestow an increase of these gifts [these gifts are already present in Baptism, cf. Catechism of the Catholic Church nos. 1266, 1303]. What catechesis for Confirmation must stress perhaps even more than the Seven Gifts themselves, however, is the sacramental character upon which the mature exercise of these gifts depends, for this is what makes Confirmation a necessary part of Christian Initiation. 

The following excerpts from the Catechism nos. 1294, 1296, 1302-5 summarize the Church’s teaching on this subject (my comments follow in brackets):

1294 “.....By Confirmation Christians, that is, those who are anointed, share more completely in the mission of Jesus Christ and the fullness of the Holy Spirit with which He is filled, so that their lives may give off ‘the aroma of Christ.’” [This stresses the further configuration of the baptized to Christ as members of his Mystical Body. This is an immensely powerful and humbling truth worthy of frequent meditation].

1296 “.....This seal of the Holy Spirit marks our total belonging to Christ, our enrollment in His service for ever, as well as the promise of divine protection in the great eschatological trial” [The line “enrollment in His service forever” gets to the heart of sacramental character, as we see in what follows].

1302 “It is evident from its celebration that the effect of the sacrament of Confirmation is the special outpouring of the Holy Spirit as once granted to the apostles on the day of Pentecost.” [This is precisely why the Votive Mass of the Holy Spirit is often used for Confirmation, the Collect of which links the present celebration to the day of Pentecost itself].

1303 “From this fact, Confirmation brings an increase and deepening of baptismal grace…..[and] it 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” [Herein, and in the following two paragraphs, we see the definition of the sacramental character of Confirmation. It is a movement of the Spirit which equips each individual Christian with special grace for carrying out the Church’s divine mission, even through suffering, and even to the point blood-martyrdom, if necessary].

1304 “Like Baptism which it completes, Confirmation is given only once, for it too imprints on the soul an indelible spiritual mark, the ‘character,’ which is the sign that Jesus Christ has marked a Christian with the seal of his Spirit by clothing him with power from on high so that he may be his witness.” [The Greek word for “witness” is µαρτυρία, from which we get our English word “martyr”]. 

1305 “This ‘character’ perfects the common priesthood of the faithful, received in Baptism, and ‘the confirmed person receives the power to profess faith in Christ publicly and as it were officially (quasi ex officio).’” [The sacramental character enables Christians to be martyrs for Christ in what they say and do, at all times and in every situation. Therefore, it is inherently contradictory for those who are confirmed to take a “day off” from their vocation to bear witness to him. The Christian must always be an icon of his King. The encouraging and ennobling truth is that those marked with the seal of the Holy Spirit have an immense reservoir of divine grace from which to draw in order to grow stronger in love for Christ and his Church]. 

(David Allen)

Mr. David Allen, M.T.S., is the lay Pastoral Associate for our parish of Mary Immaculate of Lourdes.


About Our Parish

Mary Immaculate of Lourdes is Newton and Needham Massachusetts's oldest Roman Catholic Parish. Founded as Saint Mary's Parish in 1870 it was renamed "Mary Immaculate of Lourdes" when the new Church was dedicated on Thanksgiving Day, 1910. In addition to being a regular territorial parish of the Archdiocese of Boston it is also a "Mission Parish" since 2007 with a special apostolate for the Traditional Latin Mass (1962 Missal).

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