Confirmation is not about maturity, it is about initiation.
‘God’s love has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit, who has been given to us.” (Romans 5:5)
I invite you to recall something of the journey you probably made towards the day of your child’s Confirmation. You brought your child to the church to be baptised and started a journey of faith with them. In the presence of the priest and the Christian community, you promised to “keep the flame of faith alive in their hearts” (Rite of Baptism). You promised “to be the first teachers of your child in the ways of faith” and the priest prayed that you would be “the best of teachers”. Godparents promised to support you in this vital role. Ever since then, you have been responsible for forming your child in faith by providing a Christian atmosphere in your home, teaching your child to pray, telling them about Jesus and bringing them to Mass.
Many people within the community have helped to prepare the candidates for Confirmation: parents, sponsors, priests, teachers, parish pastoral workers and the parish have been preparing the candidates and praying for them. The parish community is where the young people have absorbed faith through the various rituals celebrated over the years. The school community has journeyed with the children up to this point and it is a big day of celebration for them also.
Confirmation is not about maturity, it is about initiation. The average age for celebrating Confirmation in Ireland is 12 years. Parents would say that most young people of that age are not fully mature by the date of their Confirmation. Vatican II revised the Rite of Confirmation giving special attention to the Sacraments of Initiation. The revision shows the unity of Christian initiation affirming the link between Baptism, Confirmation, and Eucharist. Normally, the Sacrament of Confirmation takes place during the celebration of the Eucharist emphasising the unity of the three sacraments of Christian initiation.
In many parishes a Service of Light is held a couple of weeks before the Confirmation ceremony. It is a low key ceremony, often taking place in the evening, but it is very moving for parents. During this ritual, parents light their child’s baptismal candle and pass it to their son or daughter symbolising that their child will take on more responsibility for their own faith journey. The role of parent does not end here. They will always support their child in faith, praying for them and guiding them in ways of love, truth and justice.
The Confirmation ceremony is in four parts: Presentation of the Candidates; Renewal of Baptismal Promises; The Laying on of Hands; Anointing with Chrism. The bishop is the original minister of Confirmation. In certain circumstances he may delegate the parish priest or another priest as an extraordinary minister of the sacrament. After the Gospel the parish priest will present the candidates for Confirmation. In some places and depending on numbers, the names of the candidates are read out. Twelve years earlier the child was presented for baptism by being carried into the church by their parents. Now the candidates are asked to present themselves to the Christian community. After a homily by the bishop, the young people are asked to stand to renew the promises made for them at Baptism by their parents and godparents. In this way they are committing themselves anew to following Christ. They make a declaration of faith in God, Jesus, the Holy Spirit and the Church.
The bishop begins the ceremony by asking everyone to pray for the candidates. After this prayer the bishop and extends hands invoking the Holy Spirit on the candidates. Then the candidates approach the bishop accompanied by their sponsor. The sponsor places a hand on the child’s right shoulder. When celebrating the sacrament, the bishop normally wears a cope in addition to the alb and stole, as well as the mitre and holds his pastoral staff with his left hand while anointing the candidates with his right hand. The bishop calls each individual by their baptismal name and traces the Sign of the Cross with chrism on the child’s forehead saying the words ‘Be sealed with the Gift of the Holy Spirit’. Then the bishop offers the sign of peace. After the sacrament is conferred, Mass continues and the newly confirmed receive the Eucharist.
In the final blessing the bishop asks Christ to bless the newly confirmed and give them courage to profess the true faith. The prayer highlights the implications for a life lived in Christ. The prayer challenges parents also. Conformity to Christ leads to witness. Your child will understand the significance of their Confirmation day by the way you prepare and enter fully into the celebration with them. Conversion to Christ is a gradual process that takes a lifetime and Confirmation is a sacramental milestone along the way.
*Rosemary Lavelle is Pastoral Coordinator at the Office for Evangelisation and Ecumenism in the Archdiocese of Dublin.