Total Pageviews

Sunday, May 29, 2011

Confirmed in the faith

Today's liturgy present us with the elements of one of the Sacraments of Initiation, Confirmation.   In the first reading, taken from the Acts of the Apostles, Philip, the deacon (so as not to be confused with the Apostle Philip), goes to evangelize Samaria.  After Philip baptizes the converts, the Apostles (who remain in Jerusalem) learn of what has happened:

[14] Now when the apostles, who were in Jerusalem, had heard that Samaria had received the word of God, they sent unto them Peter and John. [15] Who, when they were come, prayed for them, that they might receive the Holy Ghost.

[16] For he was not as yet come upon any of them; but they were only baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus. [17]  Then they laid their hands upon them, and they received the Holy Ghost. 

This is very important.  Already, we see in this account, the rudimentary elements of the Sacrament of Confirmation.  Although Philip baptized the new converts, the neophytes needed to be confirmed in the faith, and, the ones who, by virtue of their office, could confer this confirmation were the Apostles, the first bishops.  Thus, Sts. Peter and John travel to Samaria, lay their hands upon the converts and impart the gift of the Holy Spirit on them.

From the earliest writings of the Church, namely, the Acts of the Apostles, we learn that the ordinary minister of confirmation is the bishop, who, is a successor to the Apostles.   Throughout the Acts of the Apostles, we see this action repeated several times.  St. Peter is commanded, in a vision, to visit Joppa, and baptize and lay his hands upon Cornelius' household.  Later on, St. Paul lays his hands upon the newly baptized and confers confirmation upon them.

In the Confirmation Rite, the bishop lays hands upon the confirmandi and annoints them with the oil of Chrism.  Perhaps this statement from the Catholic Bishops of England and Wales explains it best:

The whole rite has a twofold meaning. The laying of hands on the candidates by the bishop and the concelebrating priests is the biblical gesture by which the gift of the Holy Spirit is invoked. This is well adapted to the understanding of the Christian people. The anointing with chrism and the accompanying words express clearly the effects of the giving of the Holy Spirit. Signed with the perfumed oil, the baptised person receives the indelible character, the seal of the Lord, together with the gift of the Spirit, which conforms him more closely to Christ and gives bim the grace of spreading the Lord’s presence among men.

Oil bears a special significance  to this particular sacrament.  In some of St. Paul's epistles, he talks about how athletes use oil to strengthen them.  The fragrance of the essence of Chrism also calls to mind another Pauline image, as presented to us in the Apostle's Second Letter to the Corinthians:

 [14] Now thanks be to God, who always maketh us to triumph in Christ Jesus, and manifesteth the odour of his knowledge by us in every place. [15] For we are the good odour of Christ unto God, in them that are saved, and in them that perish.

Pope Benedict XVI makes this challenge to us, as well, when he writes, in the meditation for the 14th Station of the Cross:

Amid the decay of ideologies, our faith needs once more to be the fragrance which returns us to the path of life.

When we receive the Sacrament of Confirmation, I believe that we are not only confirmed in the Faith, but, we also have an obligatation to go out and share that Faith with others.  A priest friend of mine likes to quote St. Francis of Assisi:  "Preach the Gospel at all times, but use words only when necessary."  Evangelization is not just the duty of the bishops, priests and deacons.  It is also ours, as well. 

The Easter season is typically the time of the conferring the Sacrament of Confirmation and the reception of First Holy Communion.  I pray that the new confirmandi and those receiving Our Lord for the first time be strengthened in their Faith and grow in their love for Christ and His Church.

No comments:

Post a Comment