Bishop Robert Barron, in his series on the sacraments, says that“Easter is to Pentecost as Baptism is to Confirmation. The latter is the fulfillment of the first and are deeply tied together. Confirmation strengthens what was given to us in Baptism.”
Both Pentecost and Confirmation make demands on our soul to go forth and spread the good news of salvation. We don’t just receive this grace passively, the grace in both events calls us to pick up our cross and follow Jesus.
But we are not sent out without training and reinforcements. Through Confirmation, we receive from the Holy Spirit seven gifts: Wisdom, Knowledge, Understanding, Counsel, Fortitude, Piety and Fear of the Lord. It is up to us to use and build upon these gifts for the rest of our lives.
The gift of Wisdom allows us to see the bigger picture of salvation. In a sense it helps us get beyond the trials of life to see how God’s work extends outside our narrow perspective.
Knowledge and Understanding calls us to commit to a lifetime of learning our faith and expressing it to others. Unfortunately, most Catholics stop their study after Confirmation, going through life with just an elementary understanding of Catholic teaching. When they are challenged by the secular world, they crumble.
Counsel is knowing how to make moral decisions. With Wisdom, Knowledge and Understanding, we can then discern God’s will for us.
It is not easy to evangelize, especially in our highly secularized world that is often hostile to religion in general and Catholicism in particular. Fortitude gives us the strength and resolve to persevere, despite criticism and even persecution.
Piety is not cloying, holier-than-thou posturing, but as Bishop Barron puts it, it is “Justice,” giving to God his due — namely our obedience, prayers, devotion and sacrifice.
Finally, Fear of the Lord is often misunderstood in modern terms as being afraid of God. It is giving God our deepest reverence and respect. It is seeing the face of God in everything and loving him back with gratitude and humility.
Like Baptism, Confirmation is a sacrament of initiation, but while Baptism welcomes a soul into the communion of the faithful, Confirmation is a sacrament that sends the soul out into the world to evangelize. We often say that once confirmed, the soul becomes a soldier of Christ in the Church militant (the Church on Earth).
Despite pandemic restrictions, the Diocese of Orange is entering its second Confirmation season by adapting this important sacrament to temporary obstacles.
According to Catherine Ord, youth ministry programs coordinator for the Diocese, each parish has its own challenges regarding Confirmation formation and the final Confirmation Mass and ceremony. The pandemic has unleashed a lot of creativity to adapt formation to parish needs. “Some parishes have had to lay off staff who would have been in charge of the Confirmation program, others have kept staff on a limited bases and still others are relying on volunteers,” Ord said. “Planning and celebrating Confirmation is left to each parish. The process varies widely.”
One of the changes is the Bishop has “validated” pastors to confirm their candidates, much like it is done during the Easter vigil. However, by request, one of the bishops will preside at a parish confirmation.
Since parishes administer the sacrament of Confirmation, students in Catholic high schools are still required to participate in their parish’s Confirmation formation process.
Formation for Confirmation requires two years of study. Typically, students and their adult sponsors begin the process their freshman year of high school and are confirmed the end of their sophomore year. Students can’t begin before 9th grade and some start a bit later. However, if students cannot complete the formation by the end of their senior year, they are enrolled in the adult Confirmation class.
Depending on staffing availability, some parishes do their entire formation process via Zoom, while others have a hybrid program. They often include family activities to reinforce the teaching.
Choosing a saint’s name or “heavenly sponsor” is a way of enlisting the support of the holy souls and to call upon their intersession throughout life.
The Church militant needs its soldiers of Christ more than ever, which is why it is so important to complete the two years of formation to learn about the Church and one’s responsibility as a Catholic, but to also commit to lifelong learning and defending the faith.
In today’s militantly secular world, it takes a lot of courage and grace to speak up for one’s religious convictions. Confirmation gives the grace and the tools to take on the world.