One of the three sacraments of Christian initiation. In the Christian East, the sacrament is called "chrismation." Through this sacrament, Christians "are more perfectly bound to the Church and are enriched with a special strength of the Holy Spirit" (LG 11). The Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults explains the significance of confirmation in its relationship to baptism. "The conjunction of the two celebrations signifies the unity of the paschal mystery, the close link between the mission of the Son and the outpouring of the Holy Spirit, and the connection between the two sacraments through which the Son and the Holy Spirit come with the Father to those who are baptized" (215).
Confirmation is conferred at different occasions, depending on the circumstances. In all the Eastern churches, the presbyter who baptizes, also chrismates (confirms) in the same ceremony, whether the one being baptized is an infant or an adult. In the Latin church, confirmation follows baptism immediately only for adults and children of catechetical age, and in the extraordinary circumstance of an unbaptized infant in danger of death. Ordinarily, the confirmation of those baptized as infants is deferred to increase the preparedness of the child and accessibility of the bishop. If a baptized but unconfirmed Catholic is in danger of dying, a presbyter may confirm. When those baptized in another Christian community are received into the full communion of the Catholic Church, they receive Confirmation as well (unless they have already received a valid Confirmation; for example, in one of the Orthodox Churches).
Origins of the terms "confirm" and "Confirmation." The term "confirm" first came into usage in the fifth-century Gallic councils of Riez (CChr.SL 148:67–68), Orange (CChr.SL 148:78), and Arles III (CChr.SL 148:133). It pertained to a ritual performed by a bishop when another minister had baptized on a separate occasion. In practice, the bishop had been the primary minister of an elaborate rite of initiation. But when another minister baptized due to danger of the candidate's death or distance from the cathedral, the bishop would "confirm" the Baptism. If candidates formerly adhered to a heresy with inauthentic initiation, the bishop would "confirm" them, reconciling them with orthodox Christianity. The term originated as a juridical concern in documents written by bishops concerning the ministry of bishops.
An early homily expressed the difference between Baptism and Confirmation. Inserted into a seventh-century collection attributed to a pseudonymous "Eusebius Gallicanus" and thought by some to come from Faustus of Riez (c. 490), the work presumes a developed complex of prayer for the Holy Spirit, hand-laying, and anointing (CChr.SL 101:337–338). The combination of these elements makes a sixth-century date more plausible. This homily is the earliest elaborate explanation uniting "Confirmation" with "the descent of the Holy Spirit." By this time, the term "Confirmation" had backed into the baptismal ceremony to identify the anointing within that ritual that bishops were now frequently performing outside of Baptism.
New Testament. Theological and liturgical sources propose Acts of the Apostles 8:14–17 and 19:5–6 as evidence for the apostolic practice of Confirmation. In the first, Peter and John imposed hands on a group of previously baptized Christians in Samaria, and they received the Holy Spirit. In the second, Paul imposed hands on 12 new Christians in Ephesus, immediately after their Baptism, and the Holy Spirit came upon them. In this case, Luke explains that the group spoke in tongues and prophesied. In both stories, some kind of apostolic intervention was needed for a group whose formation was thought to be incomplete, resulting in an outpouring of the Holy Spirit as had happened on Pentecost. Hebrews 6:1–2 links instruction about baptisms (a peculiar use of the plural) with hand-laying, but the relationship among the terms in the list is not clear.
At the same time, other passages appear not to show hand-laying after Baptism. In Acts 10:47–48, hand-laying and the gift of the Holy Spirit actually precede Baptism. Many other reports of Baptism (Acts 2:38–42, 4:4, 8:12–13, 8:36–39; 9:18–19; and 22:16) make no reference to hand-laying for the gift of the Holy Spirit at all. Consequently, it is difficult to argue that the apostles regularly imposed hands on the baptized, much less anointed them.
The scriptures do refer to a symbolic anointing of Jesus Christ with the Holy Spirit (Acts 4:27 and 10:38). Hebrews 1:9 applies a psalm about a royal anointing to Jesus, and Jesus applies a text about a prophetic anointing to himself (Lk 4:18 citing Is 61:1). Paul tells of the anointing he and Timothy received, giving them the Spirit (2 Cor 1:21–22). John speaks of the anointing the Christian community received, enabling them to gain understanding (1 Jn 2:20 and 27). Although there is no re-cord of the physical anointing of Jesus or his followers, some scholars think that the custom of anointing Christians probably grew from the poetic language of these texts.
Early Church. Whatever the case may be, the ritual elaboration of Baptism came to include a prebaptismal anointing, sometimes with hand-laying. This was especially the case in the Syrian baptismal rites of the third and fourth centuries. The Syriac Didascalia apostolorum 16 (Corpus Scriptorum Christianorum Orientalium 401:156f), the Recognitions of Pseudo-Clement 3:67 (Patrologia Graeca 1:1311–12), the Acts of Judas Thomas (The Apocryphal Acts of the Apostles ed. William Wright. Amsterdam: Philo Press, 1968, pp. 166–167; 188–189; 258–259; 267–268; 289–290), the History of John Son of Zebedee (Wright, pp. 52–55), and Homily 12 of Aphrahat (Patrologia Syriaca 1:538) all indicate that the anointing preceded baptism. After the Council of Laodicea called for a postbaptismal anointing in canon 48 (Hefele, Histoire des Conciles 1:2,1021), the Syrian rites of initiation came more to resemble those in the West, as evidenced by the Apostolic Constitutions 3:16 (Funk 1:210–211), Theodore of Mopsuestia 2:17 (Studi e Testi 145:396–397), and the Testament of the Lord 2:8 (ed. Johannes Quasten. Florilegium Patristicum tam veteris quam medii aevi auctores complectens, 5:270).
A similar shift may have occurred in Egypt, although the evidence from Origen (Commentariorum in epistolam B. Pauli ad Romanos, 5:8; 5:9, Patrologia Graeca 14:1038; 1047 and Homélies sur le Lévitique, 6:5, Patrologia Graeca 12:472), Didymus of Alexandria (De Trinitate, 2:15, Patrologia Graeca 39:719–720), and the Canons of Hippolytus (cf. Thomas M. Finn, Early Christian Baptism and the Catechumenate: Italy, North Africa, and Egypt [Collegeville, Minn. 1992] 6:221–223) is less conclusive.
Contemporaneous to these traditions, the Western churches developed a sequence of Baptism followed by anointing, which eventually became the norm. Tertullian (De baptismo 7:1 and 8:1 [SC 35:76]) and Cyprian (Epistola 37:9 [Corpus scriptorum ecclesiasticorum latinorum 3/2:784–785]) give the earliest testimony for this custom. It appears most elaborately in the Apostolic Tradition (21 [SC 11bis:78; 80; 86–91]) and the works of Ambrose, Cyril, Egeria, and Augustine, to name a few.
In his Ecclesiastical History, Eusebius tells of the ailing Novatus, who was baptized by a minister, but when he recovered he did not receive remaining rites, including the sealing of the bishop (6:43 [ed. Eduard Schwartz and Theodor Mommsen, Die griechischen christlichen Schriftsteller der ersten drei Jahrhunderte [Berlin, Leipzig 1903] 9:619–621]). Thus, as early as the third century, for a grave reason, bishops may have finished an incomplete initiation on a later occasion. Whether this can be interpreted as giving rise eventually to a ceremony called Confirmation referred to by the fifth-century Gallic councils cannot be resolved in the absence of further conclusive evidence.
Development. The celebration of Confirmation developed throughout the early Middle Ages. A letter from Pope Innocent I (401–417) to Decentius of Gubbio treated the custom of "consigning" those who were baptized to bestow the Holy Spirit (ed. Robert Cabié, Bibliothèque de la revue d'histoire ecclésiastique, [Louvain 1973] 58:22, 24). Innocent permitted presbyters to anoint those whom they baptized, but not on the forehead. The consigning of the forehead with chrism was reserved to bishops, in faithfulness—so he believed—to a tradition dating to the Acts of the Apostles. This letter influenced the decision in the West to restrict Confirmations to bishops, whereas the Eastern churches permitted presbyteral confirmation.
By the late sixth or seventh century, "confirming" appeared in a baptismal context in Ordo XI (Les Ordines Romani du Haut Moyen Âge, 2:445–447). After Baptism, the bishop confirmed with the invocation of the Holy Spirit and then anointed the candidates. This document, a description of the Roman initiations rites over which the bishop presided, thus borrowed the term that had formerly been applied to an anointing apart from Baptism, and used it to name the anointing that immediately followed Baptism by a bishop.
By the ninth century, orders and sacramentaries commonly described the initiation rites over which a bishop presided as moving from Baptism through Confirmation to Eucharist, all in the same ceremony, usually on Easter or Pentecost. See, for example, Ordo XXXB from southwest France c. 780 (Les Ordines Romani du Haut Moyen Âge, 3:473–474), the Frankish Gelasian Sacramentary of Gellone c. 790 to 800 (CChr.SL 159:100–101), the sacramentary of Autun c. 800 (CChr.SL 159B:70), and the Frankish Ordines XXVIII (Les Ordines Romani du Haut Moyen Âge, 3:407–409) and XXVIIIA c. 800 (Les Ordines Romani du Haut Moyen Âge, 3:423–424). The candidate's age was not a factor: All the baptized, infants and seniors, were confirmed and shared communion if the bishop presided. When he did not, the presbyter offered Communion, no matter the candidate's age, and Confirmation was deferred to a time when the bishop was available. As a result, even though the written documentation of the Middle Ages suggests that Confirmation followed Baptism and preceded sharing the Eucharist, in actual practice Confirmation probably commonly followed the baptismal Eucharist by some years.
During the same period, however, the Communion of infants began to disappear. And by the thirteenth century, the practice all but vanished in the West. The churches of the Christian East continued offering Confirmation and Communion to infants on the occasion of baptism.
Also during the same period there arose a growing concern about the numbers of those who were never confirmed. Councils like that of Aix-la-Chapelle (836, canon2) (J. D. Mansi, Sacrorum Conciliorum nova et amplissima collectio [Florence-Venice 1757–98] 14:681) and documents like the False Decretals (Decretales pseudo-Isidorianae et capitula angilramni, ed. Paulus Hinschius [Leipzig 1863] 63–64; 146) stressed the importance of being confirmed, suggesting that many people were not participating in the ritual. In his collection of canons, Archbishop Ruotger of Trier (915–956) urged people to present their infants for Confirmation, before the children learned how to sin (canon 33, Pastor Bonus 52:61–72). This is perhaps the earliest reference to a preferred age for Confirmation.
The earliest preserved independent rites of Confirmation come just before the eleventh century (e.g. The Pontifical of Egbert [Surtees Society, Durham] 1853, 27:67). Others must have preceded because Confirmation was administered apart from Baptism for some time.
In 1274 the Second Council of Lyon listed Confirmation among the seven sacraments of the Church (DS 860). The ritual was appearing in written collections among the blessings that bishops gave, and its relation-ship to Baptism remained obscure. Although the early Church imposed hands, prayed for the gift of the Holy Spirit, and anointed in the baptismal rite, the later Church did so only if the bishop were present. The sole factor determining the occasion for the administration of Confirmation was not the age or readiness of the candidate, but the availability of the bishop to perform a ritual that had become associated with his ministry: conferring the Holy Spirit on the baptized.
Some minor developments continued, but the ceremony remained essentially the same throughout the remainder of its history. The subtle shifts that emerged related to three issues surrounding the sacrament: the minister, the age of the candidate, and its sequence with the first sharing of Communion.
Issues. Both in the origins and the development of Confirmation, its ministry in the West has always been associated with that of the bishop. In its origins, all the uses of the term referred to something a bishop did: anointing those previously baptized by another minister, anointing those moving from heterodox adherence to orthodox Christianity, and invoking the Spirit and anointing those whom they themselves baptized.
However, there are examples of occasions when presbyters confirmed, or when some communities judged anything beyond the presbyters' baptisms inessential. For example, the first Council of Toledo (400) forbade anyone but the bishop to make chrism, but permitted presbyters to use it (canon 20) (J. D. Mansi, Sacrorum Conciliorum nova et amplissima collectio 3:1002). The same canon's prohibition against deacons' using chrism suggests that some of them had been doing so. Innocent's letter (see above) restricted the ministry of consigning to bishops, again suggesting that other ministers had assumed this responsibility. Letter 9 of Pope Gelasius I (492–496) repeated the prohibition (Patrologia Latina [Paris 1878–90] 59:50). All these examples indicate that fifth-century presbyters in some communities imitated the bishop's Confirmation ministry.
In Gaul, the Council of Orange (441) permitted presbyters to sign heretics in danger of death. It also permitted any minister who baptized to also use chrism. The bishop would not do so again at Confirmation (canons 1–2) (CChr.SL 148:78). The Council of Epaone (517) repeated the permission for presbyters to confirm heretics (canon 16) (CChr.SL 148A:28), but the Second Council of Paris (573) reserved confirming to bishops (CChr.SL 148A:213).
In Italy, a sixth-century Life of St. Sylvester says presbyters anointed those they baptized in danger of death (Liber Pontificalis 1:171). Gregory the Great said presbyters should not anoint the forehead of the baptized with chrism (Letter 4:9) (CChr.SL 140:226). However, in 594 he permitted the presbyters of Sardinia to continue the same practice (Letter 4:26) (SL 140:245). But writing to the bishops of Sicily, he forbade deacons to consign (Letter 13:20) (SL 140:1021).
In Spain, the Second Council of Braga (572) forbade presbyters to anoint only if the bishop were present (canon 52) ("Concilium Bracarense secundum duodecim episcoporum," Claude W. Barlow, Papers and Monographs of the American Academy in Rome [New Haven, Conn. 1950] 12:137). The Second Council of Barcelona (599) assumed that presbyters anointed with chrism (canon 2) (Concilios Visigóticos, ed. José Vives, España Cristiana [Barcelona-Madrid 1963] 1:159). In 619, under Roman influence, the Second Council of Seville ruled that presbyters were neither permitted to sign foreheads with chrism, nor to impose hands and pray for the Holy Spirit (canon 7) (J. D. Mansi, Sacrorum Conciliorum nova et amplissima collectio 10:559). Ildephonse held that only bishops could anoint the newly baptized (Book on the Understanding of Baptism 128–9, 131, 136; Patrologia Latina 96:164–166, 168). Braulio of Saragossa (after 651), though, believed that presbyters could anoint (Epistula 2:3; Patrologia Latina 87:406–407).
In Great Britain, Bede says that Augustine asked the local converts to have their Baptism "completed" (Ecclesiastical History 2:2)—possibly an allusion to the bishop's Confirmation (Bede's Ecclesiastical History of the English People, ed. Bertram Colgrave and R. A. B. Mynors [Oxford 1969] 138). One plausible explanation is that the local community did not see the necessity of Confirmation after Baptism.
Several missals from the end of the seventh to the ninth centuries described the presbyter's role in the baptismal rites. Because they do not allude to the bishop's Confirmation at all, they suggest that the presbyter's role sufficed. These include the Ordo scrutiniorum (North Italian Services of the Eleventh Century; Recueil d'ordines du XI e siècle provenant de la haute-Italie, ed.C. Lambot [London 1931] 67:31, 34f); the Missale Gallicanum Vetus (ed. Leo Mohlberg, Rerum Ecclesiasticarum Documenta, Series maior: Fontes III [Rome 1958] 42 and 50); the Bobbio Missal (ed. E. A. Lowe [Suffolk 1991] 58 and 61:75); the Missale Gothicum (ed. Leo Cuthbert Mohlberg, Rerum Ecclesiasticarum Documenta, Series maior, Fontes V [Rome 1961] 54–67 passim); and the Stowe Missal (ed. George F. Warner [London 1906] 32/2:31–32).
The Spanish Liber ordinvm episcopal from 1072 has the presbyter anointing the baptized on the forehead with chrism, a practice accepted earlier in Spain's history (ed. Jose Janini [Stvdia Silensia XV 1991] 84 and 192).
Intensifying the ministerial question was the increasing difficulty bishops faced in fulfilling their responsibilities to confirm. Boniface (c. 680–c. 754) required bishops to visit their dioceses at least once a year to confirm ("Letter to Cuthbert" in Monumenta Germaniae Historica: Epistolae Merowingici et Karolini aevi [Berlin— ] 3/1:351). Charlemagne repeated the directive in 769 ("First Directive of Charlemagne" 7; Monumenta Germaniae Historica: Capitularia 1:45). So did the Council of Chelsea in 787 (canon 3) (Councils and Ecclesiastical Documents Relating to Great Britain and Ireland, 3:448–449). All these reminders, repeated in successive centuries, indicate that bishops found it difficult to confirm as they were expected.
Throughout the twentieth century, the occasions on which presbyters confirmed gradually increased. In 1929 Pope Pius XI gave Latin American bishops authority to appoint some priests to assist in the ministry of Confirmation (AAS 21  555). In 1947 the Sacred Congregation on the Propaganda of the Faith permitted bishops of mission territories to empower all their priests to confirm those they baptized (AAS 40:41). This began a practice still found in some places where Confirmation is made available to infants. In 1946, the Sacred Congregation on the Discipline of Sacraments gave presbyters permission to confirm infants and adults in danger of death (AAS 38 350–357 passim). After the Second Vatican Council, the Rite of Christian Initiation Adults (International Commission on English in the Liturgy and Bishops' Committee on the Liturgy, Chicago 1988) and the canon law of the church (Washington 1983) actually obliged presbyters to confirm when they baptized adults and children of catechetical age (Codex Iuris Canonicis c. 883 §2 and c. 885 §2). The revised Rite of Confirmation permitted certain priests to confirm when the number of those for the bishop to confirm was large (Vatican City 1973). Although the bishop is canonically the ordinary minister of the sacrament (Codex Iuris Canonicis c. 882), the occasions on which presbyters confirm have increased dramatically.
The history of the age of Confirmation demonstrates even broader variation. As already noted, early Church history demonstrates no association between the age of candidates for Confirmation and the occasion of its celebration. The occasion for Confirmation simply had to do with the availability of the bishop.
Later in the Middle Ages, theologians began to make a connection between childhood and Confirmation. The sacrament became interpreted as strengthening ("confirming") against the struggles of life. "We are reborn in baptism for life, and we are confirmed after baptism for the strife. In baptism we are washed; after baptism we are strengthened" (Gratian De cons. 5:2) (ed. Emil Friedberg [Graz 1955] 1:1413). Although the word entered ritual vocabulary to refer to the bishop's confirming (or affirming) of another's Baptism, the meaning shifted to strengthening those who now had some even limited experience in the spiritual life. Otto of Bamberg (after 1168) may have been the first to suggest confirming adolescents (Sermon to the Pomeranians) (Patrologia Latina 173:13580), but a younger age probably prevailed. With this interpretation of the meaning of the sacrament, its celebration began to be deferred more commonly from infancy.
Opinions about the age for Confirmation diversified by the thirteenth century. Those who preferred an age younger than seven included the Council of Worcester (1240) (J. D. Mansi, Sacrorum Conciliorum nova et amplissima collectio 23:527), Richard of Chichester (1246) (Concilia Magnae Britanniae et Hiberniae a synodo Verolamiensi a.d. CCCCXLVI ad Londinensem a.d. MDCCXVII, ed. David Wilkins, 1:688), the Council of Durham (1249) (Concilia Magnae Britanniae et Hiberniae a synodo Verolamiensi a.d. CCCCXLVI ad Londinensem a.d. MDCCXVII, ed. David Wilkins, 1737, 1:575–576), the Council of Arles (1260) (J. D., Sacrorum Conciliorum nova et amplissima collectio 23:1004–1005), the Synod of Exeter (1287) (Concilia Magnae Britanniae et Hiberniae a synodo Verolamiensi a.d. CCCCXLVI ad Londinensem a.d. MDCCXVII, ed. David Wilkins, 2:131–1320), the statutes of John of Liège (3:1) (J. D. Mansi, Sacrorum Conciliorum nova et amplissima collectio 24:889), and the Synod of Winchester (1308) (Concilia Magnae Britanniae et Hiberniae a synodo Verolamiensi a.d. CCCCXLVI ad Londinensem a.d. MDCCXVII, ed. David Wilkins, 2:293). The Synod of Cologne (1280) was the first to fix the age at seven years or older (J. D., Sacrorum Conciliorum nova et amplissima collectio 24:349). Others tolerated a later age. The Roman Catechism (1566) after the Council of Trent eventually said, "It is less profitable when [Confirmation] is done before children have the use of reason. If it seems that one should not wait for the age of twelve, it is certainly most fitting that this sacrament be deferred to age seven" (2:3) (ed. Petrus Rodriguez [Vatican City 1989] 230).
At the same time, the age for the first sharing of Communion was accelerating. Infant Communion, once required at Baptism, had become forbidden. Opinions about the proper age for sharing Communion for the first time also varied widely, but most commonly ages ten to twelve were recommended during this period. Gradually, that age increased even more in some places, and it was not until the early twentieth century when first Communion reverted to about age seven with the publication of Quam singulari by the Sacred Congregation of the Discipline of the Sacraments in 1910 (AAS 2  577–583). Although the decree did not address the question of Confirmation directly, it created a situation which pastoral ministers instinctively questioned. It placed a profusion of sacraments at around age seven: Confession, Confirmation, and first Communion. And it left a void around the age of puberty, when the church had a transitional rite in the form of first Communion ceremonies, first organized in grassroots efforts in the seventeenth century.
Into that void moved Confirmation. The 1917 Code of Canon Law proposed seven years as the age of Confirmation and urged bishops to travel throughout their dioceses every five years, tacitly setting the normal age between seven and twelve (Rome 1917). In 1934 the Sacred Congregation of the Sacraments clarified that the occasions for younger Confirmation were danger of death and the inaccessibility of a bishop (AAS 27  16). In 1952 the Pontifical Commission for Authentically Interpreting the Canons of the Code ruled that no bishop could forbid Confirmation to those younger than ten (AAS 44 :496). By the second half of the twentieth century, however, many dioceses around the world began to defer the age of Confirmation until even later, although the universal age remains seven years or another age determined by the conference of bishops.
The advance in the age of Confirmation appears to come with a concern about catechetical formation. With the lowering of the age of First Communion the Church lost a sacramental celebration to accompany the maturing of Christians and the completion of school age catechesis. Confirmation, reinterpreted through the Middle Ages as a sacrament for strengthening, became popularly reinterpreted again as a sacrament of commitment to the church. Those who were baptized as infants were invited to profess the self-appropriation of their faith.
Rome has never endorsed this opinion and has even cautioned against it: "Although confirmation is sometimes called the 'sacrament of Christian maturity,' we must not confuse adult faith with the adult age of natural growth, nor forget that the baptismal grace is a grace of free unmerited election and does not need 'ratification' to become effective" (Catechism of the Catholic Church 1308.) In 1999 the Sacred Congregation for Divine Worship approved the appeal of the family of an eleven-yearold who requested Confirmation at an age younger than that established by the diocese (Notitiae 400–401 Nov.–Dec. 1999/11–12, 536–538). Still, the large number of those celebrating Confirmation in adolescent years has affected the popular mind to believe that this sacrament is now the rite of commitment to the Catholic Church.
A third issue that has shaped the history of the sacrament of Confirmation is its sequence with the first sharing of Communion. This concern began to surface only late in the twentieth century, but in retrospect it sheds light on how the sacrament was understood throughout its history.
Examples of concern about sequence before the nineteenth century are few. John Peckam in 1279 ("Constitutions of the Council of Lambeth: The Sacrament of Confirmation" Concilia Magnae Britanniae et Hiberniae a synodo Verolamiensi a.d. CCCCXLVI ad Londinensem a.d. MDCCXVII, ed. David Wilkins, 2:53), the fourteenth or fifteenth-century York Manual ([Durham 1875] 63:20–22), and the Salisbury Manual of 1543 (ed.A. Jeffries Collins [Chichester 1960] 43) expected Confirmation to precede Communion, probably to encourage the celebration of the former. The 1751 synodal constitutions of Saint-Paul-Trois-Châteaux, edited in Avignon (R. Levet, "L'âge de la confirmation dans la législation des diocèses de France depuis le Concile de Trente," La Maison-Dieu 54  124), preferred to have Confirmation follow first Communion, whereas the synodal statutes of Valence in France (1727) accepted no one for first Communion who had not been confirmed (ibid.,121).
By the nineteenth century opinions diverged, however. The councils of Tours (1849) (J. D. Mansi, Sacrorum Conciliorum nova et amplissima collectio 44:392), Avignon (1849) (J. D. Mansi, Sacrorum Conciliorum nova et amplissima collectio 43:745), Sens (1850) (J. D. Mansi, Sacrorum Conciliorum nova et amplissima collectio 44:230), Rouen (1850) (J. D. Mansi, Sacrorum Conciliorum nova et amplissima collectio 44:45), Auch (1851) (J. D. Mansi, Sacrorum Conciliorum nova et amplissima collectio 44:617–618), Prague V (1860) (J. D. Mansi, Sacrorum Conciliorum nova et amplissima collectio 48:269–270), Mende (1863) (R. Levet, "L'âge de la confirmation dans la législation des diocèses de France depuis le Concile de Trente," La Maison-Dieu 54 130), and Utrecht (1865) (J. D. Mansi, Sacrorum Conciliorum nova et amplissima collectio 48:706–707, 710) preferred Communion to take place before Confirmation for spiritual, traditional, and catechetical reasons. Rome, however, preferred the other sequence. In 1854 the Sacred Congregation of the Council reversed the sequence in La Réunion 9 Collectanea S. Congregationis de Propaganda Fide [Rome 1907] 588) and in 1873 the same decision was made for the province of Algiers in North Africa (R. Levet, "L'âge de la confirmation dans la législation des diocèses de France depuis le Concile de Trente," La Maison-Dieu 54  132). An 1897 letter of Pope Leo XIII commended the bishop of Marseilles who moved confirmation to a position before first communion (Codicis iuris canonici fontes, ed. Peter Gasparri, Rome 1925, 3:515–516). The 1899 statutes of Lyon and the 1902 statutes of Paris also acceded and placed Confirmation before Communion (R. Levet, "L'âge de la confirmation dans la législation des diocèses de France depuis le Concile de Trente," La Maison-Dieu 54 134). The 1913 Synod of Laval in France reversed its earlier custom and placed Confirmation before Communion (ibid. 136). The Statutes of Limoges changed to the same pattern in 1948 (ibid. 138). The Sacred Congregation on the Sacraments exchanged letters with the bishops of Spain in 1932 (AAS 24 :271–272), in which it became clear that seven years old was not just the minimum age for Confirmation, but the ideal age as well.
None of these decisions was influenced by an argument about Baptism. They all simply sought fidelity to a previous custom. The Church has a long history of Communion before Confirmation, but whenever Rome intervened, it preferred the other sequence.
Instrumental to the twentieth-century discussion of sequence is the Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults, which yokes the celebration and meaning of Confirmation to Baptism (215). In the East, Confirmation consecrates the baptized for sharing the Eucharist. The same is true for those baptized in other churches and ecclesial communities who celebrate the Rite of Reception into the Full Communion of the Catholic Church. Their Confirmation leads the way to eucharistic Communion.
Some, then, began to place the celebration of Confirmation before or with first Communion even for children. Although this was not unheard of in the past, the practice shows another development in the history of the sacrament. What developed was not the sequence Confirmation-before-First Communion, which has clear precedents, but that this sequence would be observed completely apart from the celebration of Baptism and on distinct occasions. The trend to honor the sequence of Confirmation-before-First Communion has merit, but it will only raise the question about why Confirmation should be deferred from Baptism at all.
Theology. Confirmation is a gift of the Holy Spirit that orients the baptized toward mission. An examination of the texts in the liturgy of Confirmation establishes this conclusion. The sacrament is administered with the words, "N., receive the gift of the Holy Spirit" (Rite of Confirmation, 27). Many of the liturgical texts remind the one being confirmed that this gift comes with an expectation, that it will be used for service to the church and the world (e.g. 22, 30 and 33).
The activity of the Holy Spirit is ritualized especially in the aforementioned text and its accompanying gestures. Pope Paul VI explicitly stated, "The sacrament of confirmation is conferred through the anointing with chrism on the forehead, which is done by the laying on of the hand, and through the words: ‘Accipe Signaculum Doni Spiritus Sancti"' (Apostolic Constitution). The work of the Holy Spirit is signified both in hand-laying and in anointing. The imposition of hands signifies the prayer for the descent of the Holy Spirit upon the candidates. The anointing signifies the sealing and staying power of the Spirit. It consecrates the candidate for exercising the challenge of the gospel.
Chrism, which may be consecrated only by a bishop, is traditionally a blend of olive oil and balsam, but today any plant oil and perfumed oil may be used. It is the oil used in the Baptism of children, Confirmation, presbyteral and episcopal ordination, and in the anointing of the altar and walls of a church. It carries with it the unifying ministry of the bishop.
In addition to its pneumatic purpose, Confirmation also unites the candidates more firmly to Christ (Catechism of the Catholic Church 1303). The very word "Christ" means "anointed one," and Confirmation gives the candidate a share in this anointing, and hence in the mission of Jesus to bring good news to the poor (Lk 4:18).
Confirmation also renders one's bond with the Church more perfect (Catechism of the Catholic Church 1303). That bond, established by Baptism, becomes stronger through this gift of the Holy Spirit. This sacrament more strongly obliges the candidates to spread their faith by word and deed (Lumen gentium 11).
Confirmation imparts a character like Baptism and Holy Orders. So effective is its power that it is celebrated only once (Catechism of the Catholic Church 1304–1305). Canonically, this sacrament carries certain privileges. Those who are unconfirmed may not serve as godparents (874/3), enter religious life (645/1), enter a seminary (241/2) or be ordained (1033). The sacrament of Confirmation is required for full Christian initiation (842/2).
The meaning of Confirmation has settled into three different categories: initiation, maturity, and reception to communion. The initiatory function of Confirmation is most clearly seen when it is celebrated in conjunction with Baptism during the Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults, Eastern baptismal rite, and the Baptism of infants in danger of death. It appears to be a maturity rite whenever it is separated from Baptism, no matter the candidate's age. Some preparation is required for its celebration, and the sacrament is deferred until the candidate is able to renew baptismal promises and is properly disposed for it (Codex Iuris Canonicis c. 889 §2). Confirmation is a reception into communion when it is celebrated by those baptized in other churches or ecclesial communities who are making their profession of faith and being received into the full communion of the Catholic Church.
Rite of Confirmation. The Rite of Confirmation was revised and promulgated in 1975. The publication includes a decree, the apostolic constitution, an introduction, and several chapters. The first chapter treats the rite of Confirmation within the Mass. The second treats the rite of Confirmation outside of the Mass. The third chapter considers Confirmation by a minister who is not a bishop. The fourth provides the service for confirming a person in danger of death. The final chapter contains texts for the celebration of the sacrament.
The sources for the ritual come from every period of Church history. The third-or fourth-century Apostolic Tradition provides for two post-baptismal anointings with chrism. The second, administered by the bishop before the Eucharist, is a major source for the development of the Confirmation rite. The fifth-century letter of Innocent to Decentius explicitly mentions signing the fore-head with a cross. The sixth-century Ordo XI and the eighth-century Gelasian Sacramentary (ed. Leo Cunibert Mohlberg, Rerum Ecclesiasticarum Documenta, Series maior, Fontes IV [Rome 1981]) compiled significant texts for the sacrament, including the ancient prayer for the sevenfold gift of the Spirit (451), with antecedents already in Ambrose (De mysteriis 7:42 [SC 25:121]; De sacramentis 3:2,8 [SC 25:82]). A prayer from the mid-tenth-century Reichenau Sacramentary, "Deus, qui apostolis tuis," (Patrologia Latina 138:957–958) endured through the Roman-Germanic Pontifical (Studi e Testi 227:388, ed. Cyrille Vogel and Reinhard Elze) and other versions of the rite. An adaptation of the prayer concludes the general intercessions of the 1975 rite (30).
In later years, further development of the rite occurred. Durand replaced hand-laying with an extension of hands over the group and introduced a gesture borrowed from the ceremony of making a knight: The bishop gave a light slap to the cheek of the candidate, signifying their readiness to bear trouble for the sake of the Gospel (Le Pontifical Romain au Moyen-Âge: Le Pontifical de Guillaume Durande, ed. Michel Andrieu, Studi e Testi 88, 3:333–335). Benedict XIV suggested placing the hand on the head of the candidate while anointing, thus blending hand-laying with sealing (Ex quo primum tempore, Bullarium, t. III [Prato 1847] 320). Paul VI changed the words that accompany the administration of the sacrament. Prior to the Second Vatican Council, the words were, "I consign and confirm you in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit." The new text more closely resembles that of the chrismation rite of the Christian Eastern and underscores the role of the Holy Spirit more than that of the bishop (Apostolic Constitution ).
The ritual unfolds very simply. After the Liturgy of the Word, the candidates are presented (Rite of Confirmation 21). In the homily, the bishop leads everyone to a deeper understanding of Confirmation (22). The renewal of baptismal promises follows, and the beginning of the third question is expanded into an independent question concerning belief in the Holy Spirit, "the Lord, the giver of life, who came upon the apostles at Pentecost and today is given… sacramentally in confirmation" (23). After silent prayer, the bishop and any priests present extend their hands over those to be confirmed (24) while the bishop sings the Confirmation prayer for the sevenfold gift of the Holy Spirit (25). Then the candidates are anointed on the forehead with chrism (26–29). General intercessions come next (30). If the Confirmation takes place at Mass, the Liturgy of the Eucharist follows (31–32). Blessings conclude the ceremony (33). The first two chapters of the Rite of Confirmation explain this ceremony inside and outside of the Mass.
The third chapter of the Rite of Confirmation considers the presidency of a minister who is not a bishop. However, it simply refers the reader to the earlier chapters. There is no difference in the ritual. Ordinarily, the minister of this rite (apart from Baptism) is a bishop, but he may appoint presbyters to lead it in his absence, or to join him in its celebration.
In danger of death, the scenario that the fourth chapter faces, the priest or bishop may follow the full rite, or a much abbreviated format involving only an imposition of hands, the prayer for the sevenfold gift of the Spirit, and the anointing with chrism. In extreme necessity, one may simply anoint and use the formula, "N., be sealed with the Gift of the Holy Spirit." The texts that fill the fifth chapter of the rite offer options for the antiphons, prayers, blessings, and readings.
To be confirmed one must not have been confirmed before, be prepared, be able to renew baptismal promises, and to desire the sacrament. The ideal sponsor is the baptismal godparent (Codex iuris canonicis c. 893 §2). Although no mention of the traditional practice "taking of a confirmation name" is found in the rite, this practice continues to thrive in many places.
Other churches. A rite of confirmation exists in several other Christian denominations. Most do not regard it as a sacrament as the Catholic Church does. The Anglican communion reserves the administration of confirmation to a bishop. Other communities do not. Some offer variations on the theme of confirmation, calling the ceremony an "affirmation of baptism," and providing multiple opportunities for its celebration. The Eastern Churches generally keep Confirmation with Baptism in all instances. The Latin Rite recognizes the validity of all the Confirmations of the Eastern Churches, both Catholic and Orthodox.
Bibliography: m. hauke, Die Firmung: Geschichtliche Entfaltung und theologischer Sinn (Paderborn 1999). p. turner, Confirmation: The Baby in Solomon's Court (Mahwah, N.J. 1993); Ages of Initiation: The First Two Christian Millennia (Collegeville, Minn. 2000). c. fabris, Il Presbitero ministro della Cresima? Studio giuridico teologico pastorale (Padua 1997). gerald austin, The Rite of Confirmation: Anointing with the Spirit (New York 1985). a. kavanagh, Confirmation: Origins and Reform (New York 1988). p. caspani, La pertinenza teologica della nozione di iniziazione cristiana (Milan 1999).
For many Christians, confirmation is one of the three rites of initiation which incorporate an individual into the Body of Christ–that is, membership in the Christian Church (Acts 8:15–16). The other two are baptism and Eucharist. The purpose of confirmation is to confer the presence of the Holy Spirit into the life of the child or adult. The practice of administering confirmation immediately after infant baptism was of ancient origin. Throughout the early church, and still today in the Eastern churches, infants received the three sacrament of baptism, confirmation, and the Eucharist within a few minutes of each other, and in that order. This tradition emphasized the innocence and equality of children with adults, in the eyes of the Church, by granting them full participation in the liturgy. Children did not have to prove their worthiness to receive the sacraments by mastering the catechism or by testifying to their belief in Christian dogma when they attained the age of discretion (i.e., seven). The early Church identified full participation with the spiritual maturity conferred by baptismal regeneration. Membership in the Church was spiritual. It had nothing to do with age or intellectual and physical maturity. Confirmation as an episcopal rite was characterized by the laying on of hands and chrismation, which involved the application of chrism, a consecrated oil. The bishop anointed the forehead with chrism and recited these words: "Be sealed with the gift of the Holy Spirit."
Throughout its early history, the Catholic Church did not assign any definite age for the reception of confirmation. Beginning in 1563, however, the Council of Trent determined that twelve was the ideal age for conferring confirmation, and that no child under the age of seven should be admitted to that sacrament. The year 1563 was thus a watershed in the history of sacramental theology. With a simple decree, confirmation became one part of a trilogy of sacraments (confirmation, penance, and Eucharist) that was henceforth identified with the age of discretion. It is reasonable, therefore, to expect that many practicing Catholics starting in the late sixteenth century received penance and the Eucharist before they received confirmation at the age of twelve. In effect, the Council of Trent admitted that the order of the sacraments could be altered and that the change reflected its changing attitude toward children. Instead of associating confirmation with infancy, Trent saw it as the sacrament of discretion. Candidates for confirmation were now expected to display a measure of spiritual maturity. They were asked to profess publicly their own commitment to Christ and to his Church, fortified by the seven gifts of the Holy Spirit: wisdom, understanding, knowledge, counsel, fortitude, purity, and fear of the Lord. Trent's decision to postpone confirmation until prepuberty may have been influenced partly by the views of sixteenth-century reformers. For most Protestant reformers, spiritual readiness was equated with physical maturity. Their rites of confirmation and the Eucharist became in effect twin rites of puberty–a public acknowledgment that the physically mature Christian was also spiritually mature and morally responsible.
Martin Luther rejected the idea that confirmation was a true sacrament and referred to it as a "sacramental ceremony." He saw it as a preparation for the reception of the Eucharist and as a sign of the remission of sins. For Protestants and the Orthodox, confirmation always precedes the conferral of the Eucharist, but for most Roman Catholics, it does not. The age at which confirmation is conferred on children varies among Christian denominations today, but it is most often conferred during adolescence.
See also: Catholicism; Christian Thought, Early; Communion, First; Protestant Reformation .
DeMolen, Richard L. 1975. "Childhood and the Sacraments in the Sixteenth Century." Archiv fuer Reformationsgeschichte 66: 49–71.
Marsh, Thomas A. 1984. Gift of Community: Baptism and Confirmation. Wilmington, DE: M. Glazier.
Marsh, Thomas A. 1990. "Confirmation." In The New Dictionary of Sacramental Worship, ed. Peter E. Fink. Collegeville, MN: The Liturgical Press.
Whitaker, Edward C. 1970. Documents of the Baptismal Liturgy, rev. ed. London: S.P.C.K.
Richard L. DeMolen
con·fir·ma·tion / ˌkänfərˈmāshən/ • n. 1. the action of confirming something or the state of being confirmed.2. (in the Christian Church) the rite at which a baptized person, esp. one baptized as an infant, affirms Christian belief and is admitted as a full member of the church. ∎ the Jewish ceremony of bar mitzvah or bat mitzvah.