THE THREE SACRAMENTS OF INITIATION THE SACRAMENT ?· THE THREE SACRAMENTS OF INITIATION THE SACRAMENT…

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    THE THREE SACRAMENTS OF INITIATION

    THE SACRAMENT OF

    CONFIRMATION - the

    Seal of the Holy Spirit

    (Catechism of the Catholic Church 1285-1321)

    Introduction Baptism and Confirmation are two of the sacraments of initiation into the Church, the

    universal sacrament of salvation. In receiving these two sacraments, the candidate is

    drawn into visible unity with the Church (Baptism), and then that unity is deepened as

    we grow in maturity & responsibility (Confirmation). This, however, is simply the

    visible effect of the sacraments - this visible effect is important because it expresses

    the even more important invisible change that comes over us through the reception of

    Baptism & Confirmation. The Church is inseparably bound into Christ: this we are

    told by Christ himself. It follows that whoever is bound into visible unity with the

    Church, is also bound into the person of Christ himself. Thus, in receiving the

    sacraments of initiation into the Church (of which Baptism & Confirmation are two),

    we receive, as pure gift from God, the very person and life of Jesus Christ. Each of the

    seven sacraments achieves this in a different way and for a distinct function. Baptism

    & Confirmation were designed by God as the specific means of visibly incorporating

    the disciples of Christ into the new creation.

    1. Confirmation - the seal of the Holy Spirit for adult witness to Christ

    By the sacrament of Confirmation, [the baptised] are more perfectly bound to the Church and are enriched with a special strength of the Holy Spirit.

    Hence they are, as true witnesses of Christ, more strictly obliged to spread

    and defend the faith by word and deed. C.C.C. 1285, quoting the

    Introduction to the Rite of Confirmation in the Roman Ritual.

    Baptism makes us children of God: we are incorporated into Christ, who is God's

    Divine Son form all eternity. Adopted into Christ, we now share the divine nature and

    are truly called sons of God because we have been given a share in the Holy Spirit,

    the Spirit of divine Sonship. This is achieved by the gift of the Holy Spirit, poured out

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    on Christ, and now shared with us, putting us into Christ. Christ lived at every

    moment of His life in the fullness of the Holy Spirit:

    He was conceived of the Holy Spirit; his whole life and his whole mission are carried out in total communion with the Holy Spirit whom the Father gives

    him "without measure. C.C.C. 1286, quoting John 3:34.

    Baptism, then, makes us members of Christ in his body, the Church:

    For as many of you as were baptised into Christ have put on Christ. (Gal. 3:27)

    Confirmation is the sacrament that is necessary for the completion of Baptismal grace

    because it transforms us, God's adopted children, into adult witnesses of God (C.C.C.

    1285). It is the sacrament that marks a stage of spiritual maturity: our way of life

    changes as our understanding deepens. Just as children do not take responsibility for

    their own lives, for their feeding, security, education etc. but rely on adults to arrange

    this for them, so too, while we are spiritual children, our spiritual lives are more

    passive than active. We are trained in the mysteries of the faith, we are helped to

    develop and deepen our experience of Christian prayer through parents, friends,

    priests and others. In this stage, we are being fed, and it is others who take

    responsibility for feeding us. However, the time comes when we grow up sufficiently

    to take responsibility for our lives. As teenagers, we begin to decide for ourselves

    what we will eat, how we will work, whether we will apply ourselves, what we will

    read and learn. We take responsibility for the decisions we take: if we don't do the

    work we are expected to do, we are answerable for it - and may end up working

    through the night in order to meet a deadline. This marks a wholly different attitude

    within us: no more are we children with all things arranged for us - now we are more

    responsible for ourselves and are able to identify what we need to do. Most

    importantly, we have the maturity to organise this for ourselves. Confirmation marks

    this change and gives us the grace to make the same change in our lives of faith.

    NOTE, though, that Confirmation is not just a ceremony of passage, a liturgical way

    of saying Spiritually, I have come of age - it is the moment when God gives us the

    necessary gift which enables us to come of age. The gift of the Holy Spirit in

    Confirmation turns a child-like witness of the death and resurrection of the Lord into

    an adult and fully-activated witness: now we will be able to fulfil the commission of

    our Baptism which is to bear steadfast and convinced witness to Christ throughout the

    world. In Confirmation, God provides the strength and divine life that is necessary for

    us to be able to fulfil our baptismal calling - thus it is truly sacramental (an outward

    sign which conveys an inward grace to the soul through which the Father gives us his

    Son).

    2. The Old Testament The coming of the Son of God, the One filled with the Holy Spirit, is not in itself the

    completion of God's plan. The prophets, especially Joel, tell of a day to come when

    the promised spirit, which gave the Prophets their unique power and strength, would

    be poured out not simply on individuals, but on the whole people. The growth and

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    spread of sin in the human family in the Old Testament occurs at the same time as the

    shrinking of the number of those inspired by the Spirit. This should come as no

    surprise: the effect of sin is drawing away from union with the Father, which is

    achieved by the indwelling of the Holy Spirit - in effect, the more we sin, the weaker

    the influence of the Spirit on man and the further we drift from him. This is detectable

    in many ways in the Old Testament, but most clearly at the start of the first book of

    Samuel:

    Now the boy Samuel was ministering to the Lord under Eli. And the word of the Lord was rare in those days; there was no frequent vision. (1 Sam. 3:1)

    This occurs at a time when Israel is losing its way - after the conquest of the Promised

    Land, the people sway this way and that, obedient to the Law of Moses only when

    their lives were in peril at the hands of pagan nations. The further they wander from

    God, the more infrequent and rare the communication between Israel and God. By the

    time of Samuel, the people have become deaf to the Word of God, insensitive to the

    call to personal holiness, ignorant of the Law of Moses, unwilling to suffer the

    demands of personal self-sacrifice, which is unavoidable for the humble and contrite.

    Israel wants to be just like the other nations, who have not had the benefit of the

    revelations of God's love through Abraham, Moses and the Law. It is no wonder that

    in an environment that is so opposed to everything that God is working for, there

    should be almost no experience of the presence of God in the whole land.

    However, God is not willing to leave the people in this state. The people are not ready

    for the gift of the Spirit, so until that time, and to help them prepare themselves, God

    sends those whom he has anointed with the Holy Spirit to lead and teach the people:

    these are the Prophets and Kings of Israel. These men and women were given a share

    of the gift of the Spirit - through the Holy Spirit God guided the people (as we recite

    in the Creed each Sunday We believe in the Holy Spirit ... He has spoken through the

    prophets). Yet this is only a temporary state: God is preparing Israel for the fullness

    of the gift of the Holy Spirit, which he will give when they are ready. The prophet

    Isaiah records God's promise of a time when the Spirit of God will be given not to the

    few but to all who believe in him - Jew and Gentile. He writes of the time when the

    Spirit is poured upon us from on high (Is. 32:15) I will pour my Spirit upon your

    descendants, and my blessing on your offspring. (Is. 44:3).

    These prophesies come to a climax in the prophet Joel, who is more explicit than the

    others in the matter of Gods plan to give his Holy Spirit to all the nations. He records

    God's promise that the last age, when God will bring to completion the work of

    salvation and will vindicate his chosen people by leading them out of their slavery to

    sin, will be characterised by the unprecedented outpouring of the Spirit on each and

    every member of the nation of Israel and on all who put their trust in God:

    And it shall come to pass afterward, that I will pour out my spirit on all flesh; your sons and your daughters will prophesy, your old men shall dream

    dreams, and your young men shall see visions. Even upon the menservants and

    the maidservants in those days I will pour out my spirit. (Joel 2:28-29)

    By this sign, the culmination of history will be known and the last days will have

    begun. All peoples will prophesy as Moses and Isaiah did, will proclaim God's Word

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    as Jeremiah, Ezekiel, Jonah and Amos did. In the last age, all peoples will be

    prophets, not just the chosen few, because the Holy Spirit, who leads human beings to

    prophesy, will not just be given but poured out (the meaning is that of a massive

    wave, of superabundance) on those who wait on God's mercy. For the Early Church,

    St. Paul and in the unbroken teaching of the Catholic Church, this prophecy has been

    fulfilled by Christ, and is being fulfilled in our own days. St. Paul shows us this in his

    own letters when he refers to the gift of the Spirit:

    We can boast about our sufferings. These sufferings bring patience, as we know, and patience brings perseverance, and perseverance brings hope, and

    this hope is not deceptive, because the love of God has been poured into our

    hearts by the Holy Spirit which has been given to us. (Romans 5:4-5)

    For St. Paul, the prophesy of Joel is complete since the promised outpouring of the

    Holy Spirit is being witnessed by him in the showering of the Spirit through the

    laying on of hands in what we have come to call Confirmation. The Spirit is being

    given by God not solely to the faithful of Israel but to all the nations - to all who turn

    to God in faith by calling on the name of Christ. This is the meaning of the very word

    Catholic it refers to the universal call of God to all peoples, not just to the people

    of Israel. Thus the Church is not bound by country, ethnicity, language, race or

    region: Christ did not establish a Church of Germany, or a Church of Ukraine but a

    Catholic or universal Church. Thus even the Gentiles are being granted this gift, and

    the presence of the same Holy Spirit in Jew and Gentile, in slave and in free, in

    woman and in man, creates out of the division and chaos of our human world a new

    unity, based not on nationalism, hatred of foreigners, greed or empire-building but on

    a common faith:

    Do all you can to preserve the unity of the Spirit by the peace that binds you together. There is one body, one Spirit, just as you were all called into one and

    the same hope when you were called. There is one Lord, one faith, one

    Baptism, and one God who is Father of all, over all, through all, and within

    all. (Ephesians 4:3-6)

    The letter to the Ephesians is really one long meditation on the mystery of the effect

    of Baptism and Confirmation: St. Paul keeps referring in the letter to the mystery

    which has been revealed - the mystery he means is the gift of the Holy Spirit to Israel

    and to all the nations:

    "It means that pagans now share the same inheritance, that they are parts of the same body, and that the same promise has been made to them, in Christ

    Jesus, through the Gospel." (Ephesians 3:1-11)

    In Ephesians, St. Paul is addressing a Gentile group of disciples of Christ. These are

    not Jews (like the apostles and the Church in Jerusalem) but Greeks, Romans, natives

    of Asia Minor etc. He writes to tell them that they have been brought into the arena of

    Gods Holy Spirit, which until now the Jews had thought was reserved exclusively for

    them. BUT notice St. Pauls emphasis he doesnt say that they have now been

    included simply because the Jews had their chance and missed it and someone has to

    take their place (salvation by default!) but that it had always been Gods goal to open

    salvation to all nations of the earth. He has planned from the very beginning what was

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    happening at that time the spread of true faith in Christ beyond the ethnic

    boundaries of Israel to the pagan nations of the earth:

    Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places, even as he chose

    us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and

    blameless before him. He destined us in love to be his sons through Jesus

    Christ, according to the purpose of his will, to the praise of his glorious grace

    which he freely bestowed on us in the Beloved. (Eph. 1:3-6)

    SO whats all this got to do with Baptism or Confirmation? Well how was it that

    these pagan Gentiles were given to be included in the Covenant promises of God to

    Israel? Did they just say I believe and that was enough? What did they have to do to

    be saved? This is exactly what the converts of the day of Pentecost asked St. Peter

    after they had heard him preach. His reply still stands today:

    Now when they heard this they were cut to the heart, and said to Peter and the rest of the apostles, Brethren, what shall we do? And Peter said to them,

    Repent, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for

    the forgiveness of your sins; and you shall receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. For the promise is to you and to your children and to all that are far off,

    every one whom the Lord our God calls to him. (Acts 2:37-39)

    It is through the gift of Baptism that we become sharers in the promises made by God

    to Israel, and as we saw last time, this is exactly how we become his sons through

    Jesus Christ as St. Paul wrote above to the Ephesians. But what of Confirmation?

    This is what St. Peter means when he speaks of and you shall receive the gift of the

    Holy Spirit. It is not just there in the Acts of the Apostles St. Paul assumes you are

    aware of all this in the letter to the Ephesians. He writes, immediately after the

    passage I quoted above in which he speaks of baptism:

    For he has made known to us in all wisdom and insight the mystery of his will, according to his purpose which he set forth in Christ as a plan for the

    fullness of time, to unite all things in him, things in heaven and things on

    earth. In him, according to the purpose of him who accomplishes all things

    according to the counsel of his will, we who first hoped in Christ have been

    destined and appointed to live for the praise of his glory. In him you also,

    who have heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation, and have

    believed in him, were sealed with the promised Holy Spirit, which is the

    guarantee of o...

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