Saturday, 3 May 2014,
Celebration of the Sacrament of Confirmation,
for Sunday of the Third Week of Easter, Readings
Domine, notas mihi facies vias vitae
1 Peter 1:17-21
Domine Iesu, aperi nobis Scripturas; fac cor nostrum
dum loqueris nobis. ardens
Permit me to address a word specifically to those of you who will be receiving the Sacrament of Confirmation in just a few minutes. Naturally, my words are not limited to the confirmands. I hope what I have to say will be a word of benefit to all those here present.
Your Confirmation today as young adults is an exceptional thing in the history of the Church. According to ancient tradition, as preserved yet today within the Byzantine Rite and not only, Confirmation came together with Baptism and the reception of one’s first Holy Communion. What we today call the Sacraments of Initiation into the Christian Life all once came as one together in the same celebration, whether you were an adult approaching the Church for the first time by way of a catechumenate which culminated in Easter Baptism or as a baby. The Roman Catholic Church eventually spread out these three Sacraments, Baptism, Confirmation and Eucharist over the early school years, including also the Sacrament of Penance for the forgiveness of sins. The idea was one of teaching children and gradually introducing them to the life of the sacraments.
Do not let anyone lead you astray, however, the teaching of the Church united, the teaching of the Church everywhere and in all times has been to place the accent on the efficacy, on the power of these sacraments in and of themselves: by water and the word we are born to new life, by the laying on of hands the Holy Spirit comes upon us to strengthen us, Jesus Himself feeds us in the Eucharist with His own Body and Blood. Of us it is required that we be well disposed according to our age and condition of life.
Because this reception of the sacraments in the Roman Catholic Church was so oriented as to teach us about the nature of our life in Christ, back when I was a child, everyone expected the bishop to give a kind of test or oral examination at Confirmation. I can remember we were sort of nervous and perhaps our teachers and parish priest were even more nervous that we would answer the bishop’s questions correctly. The worthy reception of the sacraments was most important and knowledge through study was what helped us to be well disposed. I made my first Confession and first Holy Communion before my seventh birthday and my Confirmation before I was ten. In recent years the tendency to place the reception of these sacraments early in primary school has changed for much the same reason, wanting to optimize the occasion for receiving each sacrament. In the recent past, they have generally pushed these sacraments further apart from each other and, in the case of Confirmation, until later in school, with the argument that more time and maturity is needed for a better preparation.
For some time, they talked about Confirmation as the sacrament of Christian maturity and placed the emphasis on the confirmand’s personal commitment in the sacrament. Fortunately, we are shifting back to the more fundamental notion of Confirmation as a strengthening of the gifts given in Baptism through a new gift of the Holy Spirit. Confirmation is not the moment of truth or some kind of coming of age ceremony; it is a gift of grace.
What would I wish for you people and for all gathered here today for this celebration of the Sacrament of Confirmation? Certainly, I pray that you will be strengthened in your faith by the grace of the outpouring of the Holy Spirit. There are things I want you to know and to hold dear in your lives: things about Who Jesus is, about what He taught, about how He suffered, died and was buried, rising again in glory so that we might share in His victory over sin now, and over death, being granted life with Him for all eternity.
The strengthening intended in the Sacrament of Confirmation is twofold: you are to be strengthened in your fight against sin and the Devil; you are to be strengthened in the great virtues of faith, hope and love, which lead us close to God. I hope that strengthening takes place in your lives through this sacrament and I hope it brings you the joy which comes from being strong in God’s presence.
As Roman Catholics we are very sober about all of this and wisely remain somewhat skeptical about whether feelings and emotion have anything to do with receiving the gifts of the Holy Spirit. Today’s first reading from the Acts of the Apostles is a great reminder that even though there were all kinds of signs and wonders attached to the first Pentecost, strong wind, tongues of fire, various languages, St. Peter’s teaching about Christ’s victory was central to that great event, as anyone can see from reading.
Like the disciples in today’s Gospel from St. Luke, their hearts burning as He explained the Scriptures to them along the way, I pray that your eyes too will be opened and you will recognize Him in the breaking of the bread.
Let today be that reminder which confirms you in the knowledge that you have been loved by God, He has ransomed you from death by the precious Blood of His Son, Who from the Right Hand of the Father sent forth the life-giving Spirit.