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Confirmation perfects baptismal grace

Catechesis by Pope John Paul II on the Church
General Audience, Wednesday 1 April 1992 - in Italian & Spanish  

"1. On the basis of the Council's text which says: "It is through the sacraments and the exercise of the virtues that the sacred nature and organic structure of the priestly community is brought into operation" (LG 11), in today's catechesis we will continue to develop this truth about the Church, focusing our attention on the sacrament of Confirmation. We read in Lumen Gentium: "They are more perfectly bound to the Church by the sacrament of Confirmation, and the Holy Spirit endows them with special strength so that they are more strictly obliged to spread and defend the faith, both by word and by deed, as true witnesses of Christ" (LG 11).

2. Early evidence of this sacrament appears in the Acts of the Apostles. There it says that the deacon Philip (a different person from the Apostle Philip), one of the seven men "filled with the Holy Spirit and wisdom" who were ordained by the apostles, had gone down to a town in Samaria to preach the Good News. "With one accord, the crowds paid attention to what was said by Philip when they heard it and saw the signs he was doing.... Once they began to believe Philip as he preached the Good News about the kingdom of God and the name of Jesus Christ, men and women alike were baptized.... Now when the apostles in Jerusalem heard that Samaria had accepted the word of God, they sent them Peter and John, who went down and prayed for them, that they might receive the Holy Spirit, for it had not yet fallen upon any of them; they had only been baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus. Then they laid hands on them and they received the Holy Spirit" (Acts 8:6-17). This episode shows us the connection which existed from the Church's earliest days between Baptism and an "imposition of hands," a new sacramental act to receive and confer the gift of the Holy Spirit. This rite is considered to be a completion of Baptism. It was thought to be so important that Peter and John were sent expressly from Jerusalem to Samaria for this purpose.

3. The role the apostles played in conferring the gift of the Holy Spirit is the origin of the role given to the bishop in the Latin rite of the Church. The rite consists in the imposition of hands, performed by the Church since the second century, as attested to by the Apostolic Tradition of Hippolytus of Rome (around the year 200), which speaks of a double rite: the anointing done by a presbyter before Baptism, followed by the imposition of the hand on the baptized, performed by a bishop who pours holy chrism on their heads. This shows the difference between the anointing at Baptism and that at Confirmation.

4. Over the Christian centuries different practices in the administration of Confirmation were followed in the East and West. In the Eastern Church Confirmation is conferred immediately after Baptism (Baptism is given with an anointing), while in the Western Church, in the case of infant Baptism, Confirmation is administered after the age of reason has been reached, or at a later time determined by the episcopal conference (cf. CIC, can. 891). In the East the minister of Confirmation is the priest who baptizes. In the West, the ordinary minister is the bishop, but there are also presbyters who receive the faculty to administer the sacrament. Moreover, in the East the essential rite consists in the anointing alone; in the West the anointing is done with the imposition of the hand [1] . In addition to these differences between the East and West there is also a variety of arrangements in the Western Church regarding the most appropriate age for Confirmation, depending on time, place or spiritual and cultural conditions. This is based on the freedom the Church maintains in determining the particular conditions for celebrating the sacramental rite.

5. The essential effect of the sacrament of Confirmation is to bring to perfection the gift of the Holy Spirit received in Baptism, so that the person who receives it is able to witness to Christ in speech and with his life. Baptism achieves purification and liberation from sin, and confers new life. Confirmation highlights the positive aspect of sanctification and the strength which the Holy Spirit gives the Christian for an authentically Christian life and effective witness.

6. As in Baptism, a special character is also impressed on the soul by the sacrament of Confirmation. It brings to perfection the baptismal consecration and is conferred by two ritual acts, the imposition of hands and the anointing. The ability to participate in worship, which was already received in Baptism, is strengthened by Confirmation. The universal priesthood is more deeply rooted in the person and can be exercised more effectively. The specific function of the character of Confirmation is to put into practice Christian witness and action, which St. Peter already pointed out as originating in the universal priesthood (cf. 1 Pet 2:11ff.). St. Thomas Aquinas explains that the confirmed give witness to the name of Christ and perform the acts of good Christians in the defense and spread of the faith, in virtue of the character's "special power" [2] , inasmuch as they are entrusted with a special function and mandate. It is a "participation in the priesthood of Christ on the part of the faithful who are called to the divine worship which in Christianity derives from Christ's priesthood" (Summa Theol., III, q. 63, a. 3). Public witness to Christ is also included in the universal priesthood of the faithful, to which they are called "almost ex officio" [3] .

7. The grace conferred by the sacrament of Confirmation is more specifically a gift of strength. The Council says that through "the sacrament of Confirmation...the Holy Spirit endows them [the baptized] with special strength" (LG 11). This gift corresponds to the need for greater zeal in facing the "spiritual battle" of faith and charity [4] , in order to resist temptation and give to the world the witness of Christian word and deed with courage, fervor and perseverance. In the sacrament, the Holy Spirit confers this zeal. Jesus noted the danger of being ashamed to profess the faith: "Whoever is ashamed of me and of my words, the Son of Man will be ashamed of when he comes in his glory and in the glory of the Father and of the holy angels" (Lk 9:26; cf. Mk 8:38). Being ashamed of Christ is often expressed in those forms of "human respect" by which one hides one's own faith and agrees to compromises which are unacceptable for someone who wants to be Christ's true disciple. How many people, even Christians, make compromises today! Through the sacrament of Confirmation, the Holy Spirit fills the individual with the courage to profess his faith in Christ. According to the Council text which we began with, professing this faith means "to spread the faith by word and deed" as consistent and faithful witnesses.

8. Since the Middle Ages, theology, which developed in a context of generous commitment of "spiritual combat" for Christ, has not hesitated to highlight the strength given by Confirmation to Christians who are called "to serve as soldiers for God." Theology continues to see in this sacrament the value of sacrifice and consecration which is included in its origin from the "fullness of Christ's grace" (cf. Summa Theol., III. q. 72, a. 1, ad 4). St. Thomas Aquinas explains the fact that Confirmation is distinguished from Baptism and comes after: "The sacrament of Confirmation is, as it were, the final completion of the sacrament of Baptism, in the sense that by Baptism (according to St. Paul) the Christian is built up into a spiritual dwelling (cf. 1 Cor 3:9), and is written like a spiritual letter (cf. 2 Cor 3:2-3); whereas by the sacrament of Confirmation, like a house already built, he is consecrated as a temple of the Holy Spirit, and as a letter already written, is signed with the sign of the cross" (Summa Theol., III, q. 72, a. 11).

9. As is known, there are pastoral problems regarding Confirmation, especially concerning the appropriate age for receiving this sacrament. There has been a recent tendency to delay the time of conferral until the age of fifteen to eighteen, so that the recipient's personality may be more mature and he can consciously make a more serious and stable commitment to Christian life and witness. Others prefer a younger age. In any case, there must be hope that there will be a thorough preparation for this sacrament, which will allow those who receive it to renew their baptismal promises with full awareness of the gifts they are receiving and the obligations they are assuming. Without a long and serious preparation, they run the risk of reducing the sacrament to a mere formality or external ritual, or even losing sight of the essential sacramental aspect by insisting exclusively on the moral commitment involved.

10. I will conclude by recalling that Confirmation is the sacrament capable of inspiring and supporting the commitment of the faithful who want to devote themselves to Christian witness in society. I hope that all young Christians--especially with the help that comes from the grace of Confirmation--will merit the acknowledgment given by the Apostle John: "I write to you, young men, because you are strong and the Word of God remains in you, and you have conquered the evil one" (1 Jn 2:14).

[1]   cf. can. 880
[2]   cf. Summa Theol., III, q. 72, a. 5, in c. and ad 1
[3]   Summa Theol., III, q. 72, a. 5, ad 2
[4]   cf. Summa Theol. III, q. 72, a. 5"

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

Ai pellegrini di espressione tedesca

Liebe Schwestern und Brüder!

Mit dieser kurzen Betrachtung grübe ich alle deutschsprachigen Pilger und Besucher sehr herzlich. Mein besonderer Grub gilt der Gruppe des Weltverbandes der mund- und fubmalenden Künstler, den Pilgern des Behindertenverbandes Meiningen sowie den Mitgliedern des Chores aus Ternitz. Euch allen wünsche ich, dab Ihr mit Hilfe der Firmgnade ein christliches Zeugnis in der Welt ablegt und dab für Euch gilt, was der heilige Johannes in seinem Brief geschrieben hat: ”Ich schreibe euch, . . . dab ihr stark seid, dab das Wort Gottes in euch bleibt und dab ihr den Bösen besiegt habt“. Dazu erteile ich Euch, Euren Lieben zu Hause sowie den mit uns über Radio Vatikan und das Fernsehen verbundenen Gläubigen von Herzen meinen Apostolischen Segen.

Ai fedeli di lingua francese

Chers Frères et Sœurs,

Je salue très cordialement les pèlerins de langue française présents à cette audience, en particulier les chrétiens de la paroisse de Va nier. J’encourage aussi les jeunes, notamment les élèves du Centre “Madeleine Daniélou” et du Collège Saint-Marie de Neuilly, dont certains reçoivent le sacrement de confirmation, à découvrir davantage le Christ, pour l’aimer et le suivre. Je souhaite que le Carême soit, pour tous, un temps de conversion pour revenir au Seigneur et pour vous préparer à vivre le mystère de Pâques. Avec ma Bénédiction Apostolique.

Ai pellegrini di espressione inglese

Dear Brothers and Sisters,

I wish to greet those taking part in the Eightieth Course of the Nato Defense College. Dear friends: may your studies make you increasingly aware of the urgent need for solidarity and generous cooperation between the peoples of all nations for the sake of peace in the world. My warm welcome also goes to the participants in the "Siloam" programme of Dominican spirituality. Upon all the English-speaking pilgrims and visitors, especially those from Ireland, the Philippines and the United States of America, I cordially invoke God’s abundant blessings.

Ai visitatori giapponesi

Sia lodato Gesù Cristo!

Direttissimi pellegrini provenienti da Tokyo, durante la sosta in Terra Santa, sicuramente avete percorso la via dolorosa di Gesù, nostro Signore. Si avvicina la Settimana Santa, durante la quale saremo invitati a percorrere nuovamente la “Via Crucis” del nostro Salvatore. Maria, la Madre di Gesù e nostra, ci accompagni in questo cammino.

Vi imparto di cuore la Benedizione Apostolica.

Sia lodato Gesù Cristo!

Ai pellegrini di lingua spagnola

Amadísimos hermanos y hermanas,

Saludo ahora muy cordialmente a todos los peregrinos y visitantes provenientes de los diversos países de América Latina y de España.

En particular, a las Religiosas Escolapias y a los grupos de estu diantes de Madrid y Barcelona, así como a los Señores Profesores de la Universidad Autónoma de Nuevo León, Monterrey (México).

Mi cordial bienvenida a los profesores y alumnos, altos Oficiales del Quincuagésimo Curso de Promoción de la Escuela Superior del Aire de España que, junto con algunos familiares, han querido participar en este encuentro para testimoniar su adhesión y cercanía al Sucesor de Pedro y su condición de hijos de la Iglesia.

A todos imparto con gran afecto la Bendición Apostólica.

Ai fedeli di lingua portoghese

Queridos irmãos e irmãs,

Caros amigos, exorto-vos a reviver a força do Sacramento do Crisma neste tempo da Quaresma, por uma renovada abertura aos dons do Espírito Santo que vos iluminem e fortaleçam na defesa e propagação da fé cristã no meio da sociedade. Sobre todos vós, particularmente os peregrinos brasileiros vindos de Minas Gerais, Rio de Janeiro, Santa Catarina, São Paulo, Ceará e Rio Grande do Sul, e sobre quantos por bem encontrais no vosso dia-a-dia, derrame o Senhor as Suas melhores bênçãos, pela intercessão da Virgem Maria.

Ai fedeli polacchi

Pozdrawiam pielgrzymów z Polski. Przede wszystkim bardzo serdecznie pozdrawiam księży biskupów Juliana Groblickiego z Krakowa i Jana Wosińskiego z Płocka, a także pielgrzymkę międzyparafialna z Bielska-Białej, pielgrzymkę z parafii św. Kazimierza z Wrześni, grupę turystyczno-pielgrzymkową młodzieży i nauczycieli Liceum Ogólnokształcącego im. Jana III Sobieskiego z Oławy, grupy: nauczycieli i studentów studium nauczycielskiego z Sosnowca i nauczycieli akademickich ze Śląska, grupy turystyczne: z Warszawy i Białegostoku, z Poznania, z Krakowa - “Raptour”, “Orbis holiday inn” oraz pielgrzymów indywidualnych z kraju i z emigracji.

Ai pellegrini di lingua italiana

Nel porgere il benvenuto ai pellegrini di lingua italiana, saluto anzitutto i Soci del Lions Club di Trani Host, che hanno voluto partecipare a questa Udienza per dare un coronamento spirituale al 75° anniversario della loro vita associativa. Vi sia di stimolo tale ricorrenza per proseguire con generosa abnegazione la vostra attività a servizio dei sofferenti e degli ultimi.

Mi è gradito salutare anche i Membri del coro “Coste Bianche” di Negrar (Verona), che con dedizione animano le celebrazioni liturgiche e i momenti di ritrovo sociale: perseverate nel vostro nobile impegno, che tanto contribuisce a sensibilizzare gli animi ai valori cristiani ed umani.

Ai giovani, agli ammalati e agli sposi novelli

Un saluto particolare, infine, ai Giovani, agli Ammalati e agli Sposi novelli. Carissimi, seguendo l’itinerario spirituale della Quaresima, vissuto con fedeltà alla sequela del Signore Gesù, ci stiamo avvicinando ai piedi del Calvario, luogo della suprema manifestazione di amore di Gesù per noi. Desidero incoraggiarvi a non cedere nelle difficoltà alle tentazioni della rinuncia, dell’abbandono, della fuga. Stringetevi, invece, a Cristo, Fratello e Redentore, con la sicura certezza che nessuna esistenza, a Lui affidata, andrà persa e che dall’albero della Croce spunterà la gemma immarcescibile della nuova vita. Volentieri imparto a tutti l’Apostolica Benedizione.

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