Confirmation: The Sacrament of the Holy Spirit

Confirmation, together with Baptism and Eucharist, form the Sacraments of Initiation that are all intimately connected. In the Sacrament of Confirmation, the baptized person is “sealed with the gift of the Holy Spirit” and is strengthened for service to the Body of Christ.

The prophets of the Old Testament foretold that God’s Spirit would rest upon the Messiah to sustain his mission. Their prophecy was fulfilled when Jesus the Messiah was conceived by the Spirit and born of the Virgin Mary. The Holy Spirit descended on Jesus on the occasion of his baptism by John. Jesus’ entire mission occurred in communion with the Spirit. Before he died, Jesus promised that the Spirit would be given to the Apostles and to the entire Church. After his death, he was raised by the Father in the power of the Spirit.

The New Testament reports many manifestations of the Holy Spirit, two of which we note here. St. John’s Gospel describes an outpouring of the Spirit on Easter night when Jesus breathed on the Apostles and said, “Receive the holy Spirit” (Jn 20:22). St. Luke’s Acts of the Apostles gives another account of the sending of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost, fifty days after the Resurrection of Christ (cf. Acts 2). Filled with the Holy Spirit, the Apostles proclaimed God’s mighty deeds. Peter preached that this coming of the Spirit fulfilled the prophecy of Joel: “In the last days…I will pour out a portion of my spirit / upon all flesh” (Acts 2:17; cf. Jl 3:1).

Those who believed in the Apostles’ preaching were baptized and received the Holy Spirit through the laying on of hands. The Apostles baptized believers in water and the Spirit. Then they imparted the special gift of the Spirit through the laying on of hands. “The imposition of hands is rightly recognized by the Catholic tradition as the origin of the sacrament of Confirmation, which in a certain way perpetuates the grace of Pentecost in the Church” (CCC, no. 1288, citing Pope Paul VI, Divinae Consortium Naturae , no. 659). By the second century, Confirmation was also conferred by anoint- ing with holy oil, which came to be called sacred Chrism. “This anointing highlights the name ‘Christian,’ which means ‘anointed’ and derives from that of Christ himself whom God ‘anointed with the Holy Spirit’” (CCC, no. 1289, citing Acts 10:38).


Confirmation deepens our baptismal life that calls us to be missionary witnesses of Jesus Christ in our families, neighborhoods, society, and the world. Through Confirmation, our personal relationship with Christ is strengthened.We receive the message of faith in a deeper and more inten- sive manner with great emphasis given to the person of Jesus Christ, who asked the Father to give the Holy Spirit to the Church for building up the community in loving service.

The Holy Spirit bestows seven gifts—wisdom, understanding, knowledge, fortitude, counsel, piety, and fear of the Lord—to assist us in our mission and witness. The impact of these gifts accompanies us in the various stages of our spiritual development. As the confirmed, we walk with the seven gifts of the Holy Spirit. Wisdom enables us to see the world from God’s viewpoint, which can help us come to grasp the purpose and plan of God. It grants us the long- range view of history, examining the present in the light of the past and the mystery of the future. It saves us from the illusion that the spirit of the times is our only guide. The Spirit’s gift of knowledge directs us to a contemplation, or thoughtful reflection, of the mystery of God—Father, Son, and Holy Spirit—as well as of the mysteries of the Catholic faith. We are drawn to meditative prayer, where we allow God to lead us while we rest patiently in the divine presence.

The gift of understanding stimulates us to work on knowing our- selves as part of our growth in knowing God. It is what St. Augustine meant when he prayed, “That I may know You, may I know myself.” When the Spirit pours fortitude or courage into our hearts, we can trust that we will be prepared to stand up for Christ and the Gospel when challenged. As the gift of counsel or right judgment grows in us, we can sense the quiet teaching that the Spirit gives us about our moral lives and the training of our consciences.

The gift of piety or reverence is an act of respect for the Father who created us, for Jesus who saved us, and for the Spirit who is sanctifying us. We learn reverence for God and people from our parents and others who train us in virtue. The Spirit fills us with this gift at liturgy, which is a masterful school of reverence, as well as through popular devotions and piety.

Finally, the gift of fear of the Lord or wonder and awe in God’s presence can infuse honesty into our relationship with God, a frankness that places us in awe before the majesty of God. Yet the gift also imparts an attitude of grateful wonder that God loves us and that we can share in his life.

When we are responsive to the grace of Confirmation and the seven gifts of the Holy Spirit, we begin to bear the fruits of the Spirit. The tradition of the Church names twelve fruits of the Holy Spirit: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, generosity, gentleness, faithfulness, modesty, self-control, and chastity (cf. CCC, no. 1832; Gal 5:22).

Doctrinal Statements

Jesus promised the Apostles that he would send the Holy Spirit to them. At Pentecost that promise of Christ was fulfilled (cf. Jn 16:12- 15; Acts 2:1-47).

The effects of Confirmation include a permanent character, a perfec- tion of baptismal grace, an increase in the gifts and fruits of the Holy Spirit, a deepening of our identity as adopted sons and daughters of God, a closer bond to the Church and her mission, and helps for bearing witness.

In the Eastern Churches, Chrismation (Confirmation) is admin- istered immediately after Baptism, followed by participation in the Eucharist. This tradition emphasizes the unity of these three Sacraments of Initiation.

In the Western or Latin Church, Confirmation is administered after the age of reason is attained and is normally conferred by the bishop, signifying one’s bond with the Church and its apostolic origins.

The candidate for Confirmation in the Latin Church should be in the state of grace, be well prepared by prayer and catechesis, and be committed to the responsibilities entailed by the Sacrament.

This is the essential rite of Confirmation in the Western Church: The bishop confers Confirmation through the anointing with Chrism on the recipient’s forehead, which is done by the laying on of the hand, while saying the words “Be sealed with the gift of the Holy Spirit.”

In the Eastern Churches, after a prayer for the presence and action of the Holy Spirit, the priest anoints the forehead, eyes, nose, ears, lips, chest, back, hands, and feet of the candidate with Myron (holy oil). With each anointing, he says, “The seal of the gift of the Holy Spirit.”

The spiritual, indelible marks (or characters) received in the Sacraments of Baptism, Confirmation, and Holy Orders affirm a permanent relationship with God and indicate that these Sacraments may be received only once.

“When Confirmation is celebrated separately from Baptism, its connection with Baptism is expressed, among other ways, by the renewal of baptismal promises. The celebration of Confirmation during the Eucharist helps underline the unity of the Sacraments of Christian Initiation” (CCC, no. 1321).