We turn first to looking at the matter of the sacrament by first examining the laying on of hands. The laying on of hands is a gesture of prayer, meant to share and impart some power from one person to another and to ‘set them aside’ in some fundamental way. There are numerous examples of this gesture in scripture, to look at one in the Old Testament, we see Moses laying his hands on Joshua and in so doing appointing him his successor as the head of the people of Israel (Numbers 27:22-23), but this was not some gesture that Moses dreamed up, it was a command of God, “Take Joshua, the son of Nun, a man in whom is the spirit, and lay your hand upon him…” (Numbers 27:18). This laying on of hands is also something we hear of in the New Testament, for instance, when the first deacons are ordained we hear, “these they set before the apostles, and they prayed and laid hands on them” (Acts 6:6). We see, in these two examples, that the laying on of hands accomplishes two things the first is that it imparts something to the person who receives the imposition of hands and secondly, we see that those who have had hands imposed upon them are set aside, or drawn out, for some particular task. The connection with the Sacrament of Confirmation becomes obvious then – we see in confirmation that something is imparted to those who receive the sacrament (the Holy Spirit and His gifts) and they are set aside for some particular task (to bear witness to the world by word and deed).
The second aspect of the matter of the Sacrament of Confirmation is the use of oil, in this case Chrism Oil, which we discussed already in the context of baptism. In the Sacrament of Confirmation this oil is used to make the sign of the cross on the forehead of the one being confirmed and the words are prayed, “Be sealed with the gift of the Holy Spirit.” An anointing, as the Catechism points out (CCC #1293) both signifies and imprints a spiritual seal. As we discussed in baptism, anointing was done in a variety of circumstances and in the case of confirmation this oil is a sign of consecration and, in fact, consecrates the person who has received it in a new way.
The last aspect we will look at is the form of the sacrament, the consecratory prayer. In confirmation, this prayer is prayed while the laying on of hands is taking place, the prayer is this: “All-powerful God, Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, by water and the Holy Spirit you freed your sons and daughters from sin and gave them new life. Send your Holy Spirit upon them to be their helper and guide. Give them the spirit of wisdom and understanding, the spirit of right judgment and courage, the spirit of knowledge and reverence. Fill them with the spirit of wonder and awe in your presence. Through Christ our Lord. Amen.”
There are a couple of things to point out in this prayer of consecration, the first is to notice how the prayer references baptism at the beginning – this points out the clear tie between the two sacraments and how confirmation, in many ways, fulfills and completes what was begun in baptism and will culminate in the reception of the Eucharist. The second thing to note about the prayer of consecration is that it lists the gifts of the Holy Spirit, pointing out some of the effects that come about through reception of the Sacrament of Confirmation. In our next article we will take a look at those effects.
(This article is part of a series of articles on The Sacraments which will appear in the bulletin over the course of this year.)