What is the purpose of confirmation in the Christian life?

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Confirmation is a sacrament that holds deep significance in the Christian life, serving as a bridge between the initial grace of baptism and the ongoing journey of faith. It is a rite of initiation in Christian churches, particularly those of Roman Catholic, Orthodox, Anglican, and some Protestant denominations, such as Lutheranism. Confirmation is seen as a sacrament of maturity and deepening of baptismal gifts.

Understanding Confirmation

To truly grasp the purpose of confirmation, we must first understand its origins and theological underpinnings. The roots of confirmation are found in the New Testament. Acts 8:14-17 describes how the apostles laid hands on baptized believers, praying that they might receive the Holy Spirit. This laying on of hands, which accompanies prayer, has evolved into the modern rite of confirmation.

In confirmation, the bishop or a delegated priest lays hands on the confirmands (those being confirmed) and anoints them with chrism (holy oil), while invoking the Holy Spirit. The essential rite includes the words, "Be sealed with the Gift of the Holy Spirit." This moment symbolizes the strengthening of the confirmand's bond with the Church and their commitment to live out their faith boldly and publicly.

Deepening of Baptismal Grace

One of the primary purposes of confirmation is to deepen the grace received at baptism. While baptism removes original sin and initiates us into Christ’s holy church, confirmation strengthens what is begun at baptism. It is not a new beginning, but a deepening of the Christian experience. It is akin to fueling the flame that was lit during baptism. The Catechism of the Catholic Church states that confirmation brings an increase and deepening of baptismal grace (CCC 1303).

This sacrament endows the believer with the seven gifts of the Holy Spirit: wisdom, understanding, counsel, fortitude, knowledge, piety, and fear of the Lord. These gifts are meant to mature the Christian for the practice of a more authentic witness to Christ in the world.

Commitment to the Church's Mission

Confirmation also signifies the confirmand’s commitment to the Church’s mission. By receiving the sacrament, the individual agrees to take on a more active role in the ecclesial community and to spread and defend the faith both by word and deed. It is a call to witness to one’s faith in Christ publicly and to serve others in the community of the Church.

The confirmed are thus expected to be more than passive participants in their faith; they are to be active proponents of the Gospel. In this way, confirmation has a communal dimension—it strengthens not only the individual but also the entire body of Christ.

The Role of the Holy Spirit

Central to the purpose of confirmation is the role of the Holy Spirit. In this sacrament, the Holy Spirit comes upon the person in a special way, equipping and empowering them for service to God and neighbor. This is not unlike the experience of the Apostles at Pentecost, where they were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak boldly as witnesses of Christ (Acts 2:1-4).

The Holy Spirit's action in confirmation is to fortify the Christian’s identity as God’s child and to empower them in their Christian walk. The Spirit brings gifts that enable the believer to carry out the mission entrusted to them by Christ. This empowerment is crucial for living out a life that is faithful to the Gospel and responsive to the needs of the world.

Personal Growth in Faith

On a more personal level, confirmation is about growth in faith. It is a sacrament that encourages personal reflection on one’s relationship with Christ and the Church. Through preparation for confirmation, the believer is called to a deeper study of the faith, a more thorough engagement with the Christian community, and a more committed prayer life.

This growth is not meant to be static but dynamic. It involves an ongoing transformation by which the confirmed continually seeks to conform their life more closely to Christ. This transformative aspect of confirmation is what makes it a vital step in the spiritual maturation of a Christian.

Ecumenical Perspectives

While the understanding and practice of confirmation can vary among different Christian denominations, its essential purpose remains similar—to affirm and strengthen the believer’s commitment to Christ and His Church. In many Protestant traditions, such as Anglicanism and Methodism, confirmation is viewed as a mature, public reaffirmation of the vows made at baptism.

In Summary

The sacrament of confirmation plays a crucial role in the Christian life. It is not merely a rite of passage but a powerful encounter with the Holy Spirit that deepens baptismal grace, fortifies the believers in their Christian identity and mission, and nurtures personal growth in faith. Through confirmation, Christians are equipped to live out their calling more fully, serving God and neighbor with the gifts bestowed upon them by the Holy Spirit. In this way, confirmation contributes to the unfolding of the believer’s lifelong journey of faith, a journey marked by an ever-deeper communion with Christ and a vigorous participation in His Church.

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