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Confirmation perfects baptismal grace (Acts 8, 14-17)

Catechesis by Pope John Paul II on the History of Salvation
General Audience, Wednesday 30 September 1998 - in English, French, German, Italian, Portuguese & Spanish

"1. In this second year of preparation for the Jubilee of the Year 2000, a renewed appreciation of the Holy Spirit’s presence focuses our attention especially on the sacrament of Confirmation (cf. Tertio millennio adveniente, n. 45). As the Catechism of the Catholic Church teaches, “it perfects baptismal grace; it ... gives the Holy Spirit in order to root us more deeply in the divine filiation, incorporate us more firmly into Christ, strengthen our bond with the Church, associate us more closely with her mission, and help us bear witness to the Christian faith in words accompanied by deeds” (n. 1316).

In fact, the sacrament of Confirmation closely associates the Christian with the anointing of Christ, whom “God annointed with the Holy Spirit” (Acts 10:38). This anointing is recalled in the very name “Christian”, which derives from that of “Christ”, the Greek translation of the Hebrew term “messiah”, whose precise meaning is “anointed”. Christ is the Messiah, the Anointed One of God.

Through the seal of the Spirit conferred by Confirmation, the Christian attains his full identity and becomes aware of his mission in the Church and the world. “Before this grace had been conferred on you”, St Cyril of Jerusalem writes, “you were not sufficiently worthy of this name, but were on the way to becoming Christians” (Cat. Myst., III, 4: PG 33, 1092).

2. To understand all the riches of grace contained in the sacrament of Confirmation, which forms an organic whole with Baptism and the Eucharist as the “sacraments of Christian initiation”, it is necessary to grasp its meaning in the light of salvation history.

In the Old Testament, the prophets proclaimed that the Spirit of God would rest upon the promised Messiah (cf. Is 11:2) and, at the same time, would be communicated to all the messianic people (cf. Ez 36:25-27; Jl 3:1-2). In the “fullness of time” Jesus was conceived in the Virgin Mary’s womb through the power of the Holy Spirit (cf. Lk 1:35). With the Spirit’s descent upon him at the time of his baptism in the River Jordan, he is revealed as the promised Messiah, the Son of God (cf. Mt 3:13-17; Jn 1:33-34). All his life was spent in total communion with the Holy Spirit, whom he gives “not by measure” (Jn 3:34) as the eschatological fulfilment of his mission, as he had promised (cf. Lk 12:12; Jn 3:5-8; 7:37-39; 16:7-15; Acts 1:8). Jesus communicates the Spirit by “breathing” on the Apostles the day of the Resurrection (cf. Jn 20:22) and later by the solemn, amazing outpouring on the day of Pentecost (cf. Acts 2:1-4).

Thus the Apostles, filled with the Holy Spirit, begin to “proclaim the mighty works of God” (cf. Acts 2:11). Those who believe in their preaching and are baptized also receive “the gift of the Holy Spirit” (Acts 2:38).

The distinction between Confirmation and Baptism is clearly suggested in the Acts of the Apostles when Samaria is being evangelized. It is Philip, one of the seven deacons, who preaches the faith and baptizes. Then the Apostles Peter and John arrive and lay their hands on the newly baptized so that they will receive the Holy Spirit (Acts 8:5-17). Similarly in Ephesus, the Apostle Paul lays his hands on a group of newly baptized and “the Holy Spirit came on them” (Acts 19:6).

3. The sacrament of Confirmation “in a certain way perpetuates the grace of Pentecost in the Church” (CCC, n. 1288). Baptism, which the Christian tradition calls “the gateway to life in the Spirit” (ibid., n. 1213), gives us a rebirth “of water and the Spirit” (cf. Jn 3:5), enabling us to share sacramentally in Christ’s Death and Resurrection (cf. Rom 6:1-11). Confirmation, in turn, makes us share fully in the outpouring of the Holy Spirit by the risen Lord.

The unbreakable bond between the paschal mystery of Jesus Christ and the outpouring of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost is expressed in the close connection between the sacraments of Baptism and Confirmation. This close bond can also be seen in the fact that in the early centuries Confirmation generally comprised “one single celebration with Baptism, forming with it a 'double sacrament', according to the expression of St Cyprian” (CCC, n. 1290). This practice has been preserved to the present day in the East, while in the West, for many reasons, Confirmation came to be celebrated later and there is normally an interval between the two sacraments.

Since apostolic times the full comunication of the gift of the Holy Spirit to the baptized has been effectively signified by the laying on of hands. An anointing with perfumed oil, called “chrism”, was added very early, the better to express the gift of the Holy Spirit. Indeed, through Confirmation Christians, consecrated by the anointing in Baptism, share in the fullness of the Spirit with whom Jesus is filled, so that their whole life will spread the “aroma of Christ” (2 Cor 2:15).

4. The differences in the rite of Confirmation which evolved down the centuries in the East and West, according to the different spiritual sensitivities of the two traditions and in response to various pastoral needs, express the richness of the sacrament and its full meaning in Christian life.

In the East, this sacrament is called “Chrismation”, anointing with “chrism” or “myron”. In the West, the term Confirmation suggests the ratification of Baptism as a strengthening of grace through the seal of the Holy Spirit. In the East, since the two sacraments are joined, Chrismation is conferred by the same priest who administers Baptism, although he performs the anointing with chrism consecrated by the Bishop (cf. CCC, n. 1312). In the Latin rite, the ordinary minister of Confirmation is the Bishop, who, for grave reasons, may grant this faculty to priests delegated to administer it (cf. ibid., n. 1313).

Thus, “the practice of the Eastern Churches gives greater emphasis to the unity of Christian initiation. That of the Latin Church more clearly expresses the communion of the new Christian with the Bishop as guarantor and servant of the unity, catholicity and apostolicity of his Church, and hence the connection with the apostolic origins of Christ’s Church” (CCC, n. 1292).

5. From what we have said not only can we see the importance of Confirmation as an organic part of the sacraments of Christian initiation as a whole, but also its irreplaceable effectiveness for the full maturation of Christian life. A decisive task of pastoral ministry, to be intensified as part of the preparation for the Jubilee, consists in very carefully training the baptized who are preparing to receive Confirmation, and in introducing them to the fascinating depths of the mystery it signifies and brings about. At the same time, confirmands must be helped to rediscover with joyful wonder the saving power of this gift of the Holy Spirit.

After the Catechesis, Papa Giovanni Paolo II greeted the pilgrims in various languages:

Je salue les pèlerins francophones présents à cette audience, en particulier le groupe de séminaristes de Caen et les jeunes lycéens de Paris. J’accorde à tous de grand cœur la Bénédiction apostolique.

I cordially welcome Card. Mahony and american Bishops from California on “visita ad Limina”. I extend a special welcome to the new students of the Pontifical Beda College. May this period of training here in Rome help you to grow in the love of Christ and his Church. Upon all the English-speaking pilgrims and visitors, especially those from England, Denmark, Norway, Latvia, Australia, Japan and the United States of America, I invoke the grace and peace of our Lord Jesus Christ.

Mit diesen Gedanken grüße ich die Pilger und Besucher, die aus den Ländern deutscher Sprache nach Rom gekommen sind. Unter ihnen heiße ich die Teilnehmer an der 19. Pilgerfahrt „Rom im Rollstuhl”, die Katholische Kaufmanns-Vereinigung aus Bamberg sowie die zahlreichen Jugendlichen besonders willkommen. Euch allen, Euren lieben Angehörigen daheim und allen, die mit uns über Radio Vatikan und das Fernsehen verbunden sind, erteile ich von Herzen den Apostolischen Segen.

Saludo a los peregrinos de lengua española, especialmente a los que han venido de España, México, la República Dominicana, Chile y Argentina, así como de otros países de Latinoamérica. Animo a todos a ser coherentes con la fuerza del Espíritu Santo que han recibido, a la vez que les imparto de corazón la Bendición Apostólica.

Amados peregrinos de língua portuguesa, uma saudação amiga de boas- vindas para todos, com menção especial do Coro Feminino de Brasília e restantes grupos brasileiros! Deste nosso encontro, levai a certeza do meu afecto e apreço pela fé e delicadeza demonstradas nesta vossa presença. Deus vos pague com abundantes graças e as melhores prosperidades cristãs, que imploro sobre vós e vossas famílias, ao dar-vos a Bênção Apostólica.

Traduzione italiana del saluto in lingua neerlandese

Adesso vorrei porgere il benvenuto ai pellegrini, provenienti dai Paesi Bassi e dal Belgio.

Carissimi fratelli e sorelle, auguro che il vostro pellegrinaggio alle tombe degli Apostoli accresca il vostro amore ed il vostro impegno per la Chiesa di Dio.

Di cuore imparto la Benedizione Apostolica.

Sia lodato Gesù Cristo!

Traduzione italiana del saluto in lingua ceca

Un cordiale benvenuto ai pellegrini di Uherské Hradište!

Lunedì scorso la Chiesa Ceca ha festeggiato il suo Patrono, San Venceslao. Egli non era attaccato alle sue origini nobiliari terrene, ma si gloriava della sua provenienza celeste, della chiamata alla perfezione conferitagli nel Battesimo. Rimanete anche voi fedeli alla sua eredità.

Di cuore vi benedico!

Traduzione italiana del saluto in lingua slovacca

Cordialmente saluto i pellegrini slovacchi da Topol’cany, Zilina e Michalovce.

Cari fratelli e sorelle, apparteniamo tutti a una grande famiglia, la Chiesa. Ciascuno deve impegnarsi per la sua unità, santità e diffusione nel mondo. Abbiate nel cuore l’amore per la Chiesa e per i suoi rappresentanti, e così potrete contribuire al progresso della vostra patria.

Con amore a tutti i presenti ed anche a coloro che sono in Slovacchia impartisco la mia benedizione apostolica.

Sia lodato Gesù Cristo!

Traduzione italiana del saluto in lingua lituana

Sono lieto di poter salutare i pellegrini giunti dalla Lituania.

Cari Fratelli e Sorelle, vi auguro di cuore che questo viaggio apra una nuova prospettiva alla vostra fede, vi avvicini a Cristo, unica fonte di speranza nel mondo. Che la sua grazia operi in ciascuno una vera conversione e la volontà d’impegnarsi sulla via della giustizia, della solidarietà e della carità.

Con questi voti benedico voi insieme a tutti i vostri cari in Patria.

Sia lodato Gesù Cristo!

Traduzione italiana del saluto in lingua romena

Rivolgo un cordiale benvenuto al gruppo di pellegrini provenienti dalla Romania.

Carissimi, la visita ai Santuari mariani di Lourdes e di Fatima, come pure il pellegrinaggio alle tombe degli Apostoli e dei martiri romani vi siano di stimolo per un sempre più generoso impegno di testimonianza cristiana nella vostra Patria.

Con questo auspicio di cuore benedico voi e le vostre famiglie.

* * *

Rivolgo ora un cordiale saluto ai pellegrini di lingua italiana e in particolare ai membri dell'Associazione Nazionale delle Fonderie, che in questi giorni celebrano a Roma il loro Congresso per ricordare il cinquantesimo anniversario di fondazione. Carissimi, nell'esprimere di cuore la mia gratitudine per la vostra presenza, auspico che quest'incontro rafforzi il vostro impegno di testimonianza cristiana nel mondo del lavoro.

Rivolgo ora uno speciale saluto ai giovani, agli ammalati e agli sposi novelli.

Cari giovani, ascoltate Cristo, parola di verità, e accogliete con prontezza il suo disegno sulla vostra vita. Voi, cari ammalati, sentite Gesù accanto a voi e testimoniate con la vostra speranza la forza vivificante della sua Croce. Voi, cari sposi novelli, con la grazia del sacramento da poco ricevuto, irrobustite di giorno in giorno il vostro amore e camminate sulla via della santità.

A tutti la mia benedizione.

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