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Confirmation completes baptismal grace

By Brian Pizzalato

 

Our heavenly Father gives us his own divine life in baptism, infusing his divine nature into our human nature. What a beautiful gift! He also says to us: “Wait a second. I’m not finished yet. I have more for you.” That’s not a direct quote from Scripture, but it will do.

 

We could easily think God is done with us after baptism. If we understand what happens to us in baptism, we might be tempted to say to God: “You have got to be kidding me. There is more?” Our Father would respond by saying, “Yes, I have another gift for you – the sacrament of confirmation.”

 

It may sound odd to say, but our God is a God of more. Jesus tells us, “…I came so that they might have life and have it more abundantly” (John 10:10).

 

“…Confirmation is necessary for the completion of baptismal grace” (“Catechism of the Catholic Church” #1285). Like the other sacraments, the sacrament of confirmation did not appear in a New Testament vacuum. The Father has prepared us to understand the New by teaching us through the Old Testament. We will turn to the New Testament fulfillment in the next column.

 

First we must understand the essential elements of the sacrament of confirmation. Confirmation is for the baptized person, and it is administered with the anointing of oil, the laying on of hands, and the words, “Be sealed with the Gift of the Holy Spirit” (CCC, 1300).

 

In the Old Testament, God anoints people with the Spirit so they can fulfill a mission. From the beginning, God desired all humanity to share in the fullness of the Spirit. God breathed into man’s nostrils the breath of life (cf. Gen. 2:7).

 

Adam and Eve were given natural and supernatural life. Adam’s mission was to pass this gift of divine life on to all humanity by fulfilling his role as priest, prophet and king. However, Adam forfeited supernatural life through the fall.

 

But God will not leave us to our own devises. He promises to send a redeemer (cf. Gen. 3:15). The whole of the Old Testament is God fathering his people in such a way as to prepare them for the redeemer and the gift of divine life, the fullness of the Spirit.

 

In the Old Testament, priests and kings were anointed, typically by a prophet, for special service to God, and thus a sign of their consecration. St. Cyril of Jerusalem speaks to the matter of priestly anointing: “When Moses imparted to his brother [Aaron] the divine commandment, in constituting him high priest, having washed him with water, he anointed him” (cf. Exodus 40:12-15). First there is a washing with water, then the anointing with oil for a priestly mission. (cf. Leviticus 8:5-13).

 

The Psalmist connects Aaron’s anointing with brotherly communion. “How good it is, how pleasant, where the people dwell as one! Like precious ointment on the head, running down upon the beard, upon the beard of Aaron, upon the collar of his robe” (133:1-2). The anointing for special service to the people of God is meant to bring about unity among those same people.

 

St. Cyril of Jerusalem also points out that “…the High Priest, in establishing Solomon as king, anointed him after washing him in the Gihon” (cf. 1 Kings 1:38-39) Again we see a washing, then anointing for a special service to God, namely to be king.

 

The future Messiah, which in Hebrew means “anointed one,” and all of humanity is meant to receive the fullness of the Spirit. Isaiah puts these words on the lips a the future Messiah, “The spirit of the Lord is upon me, because the Lord has anointed me; he has sent me to bring glad tidings to the lowly, to heal the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives and release to the prisoners…to give them the oil of gladness in place of mourning…” (61:1, 3b).

 

The Christ, which in Greek means “anointed one,” wants to give the oil of gladness to those who have received the good news. “The fullness of the Spirit was not to remain uniquely the Messiah’s, but was to be communicated to the whole messianic people” (CCC #1287). The Old Testament prepares all of humanity to be Christians, anointed ones, to share in the anointing of the Christ.

 

In the Old Testament, we discover that being anointed symbolizes the coming of the Holy Spirit. In 1 Samuel, we read about the prophet Samuel going to the house of Jesse to discover which one of Jesse’s sons God will choose to be the new king. The youngest son of Jesse was out performing his duties as a shepherd before he came before Samuel. “And the Lord said, ‘Arise, anoint him; for this is he.’ Then Samuel took the horn of oil, and anointed him in the midst of his brothers; and the Spirit of the Lord came mightily upon David from that day forward” (16:12b-13a).

 

In the next column we will see that the Spirit of the Lord will come mightily upon the Messiah, and that this Spirit, this holy anointing, is meant to come mightily upon each and every one of us, so that we “might have life and have it more abundantly” (John 10:10). 

 

Printed with permission from the Northern Cross, Diocese of Duluth, Minnesota.

 

Brian Pizzalato is the Director of Catechesis, R.C.I.A. & Lay Apostolate for the Diocese of Duluth. He is also a faculty member of the Theology and Philosophy departments of the Maryvale Institute, Birmingham, England. He writes a monthly catechetical article for The Northern Cross, of the Diocese of Duluth, and is a contributing author to the Association for Catechumenal Ministry's R.C.I.A. Participants Book. Brian is currently authoring the regular series, "Catechesis and Contemporary Culture," in The Sower, published by the Maryvale Institute and is also in the process of writing the Philosophy of Religion course book for the B.A. in Philosophy and the Catholic Tradition program at the Maryvale Institute.

 

Brian holds an M.A. in Theology and Christian Ministry with a Catechetics specialization and an M.A. in Philosophy from Franciscan University of Steubenville, Ohio.

 

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July 23, 2014

Wednesday of the Sixteenth Week in Ordinary Time

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Mt 13:1-9

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First Reading:: Jer 1:1, 4-10
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