Author’s Note: This the third part of a resource talk that I gave on a retreat in 2011; the topic for the talk, which is a combination of my personal testimony and Church teachings, was on “Signs and Sacraments.” The talk will be posted in four consecutive parts. The retreat that I gave the talk at focuses on “Community” and strengthening our community as a Church through our shared love and service of Christ.
I don’t know how many of you have been to an Easter Vigil service, but I hope you all go at some time in your life. Yes, it can be long, but it is the most beautiful liturgy I know. And, afterward, there’s usually a huge reception with lots of food. It’s a great way to break that Lenten fast!
But, in the liturgy of the Easter Vigil, the catechumens will be baptized, and then the candidates and catechumens will come forward before the priest to be confirmed. It’s really neat to go straight from the baptisms to the confirmations, because, according to the Catechism, “by the sacrament of Confirmation, [the baptized] are more perfectly bound to the Church and are enriched with a special strength of the Holy Spirit. Hence they are, as true witnesses of Christ, more strictly obliged to spread and defend the faith by word and deed.”(1285)
The two biggest signs of Confirmation are the laying on of hands and the chrism oil. Now, when I was confirmed four years ago, the Bishop was joking, “Gee! Wouldn’t that be cool if the Holy Spirit descended upon us tonight like it did on the disciples in the Upper Room? I bet more than a few heads would catch on fire with all of the hairspray we have in here!” Fortunately, that did not happen.
But, the laying on of hands is a sign of invocation. Has anyone seen people praying with their arms up like this? They’re invoking the Holy Spirit. Well, in Confirmation, the Bishop is doing the same thing, but in a more formal and sacramental way. He, as an apostolic successor, is invoking the Holy Spirit to descend upon the candidates and to seal them with the Gift of the Holy Spirit.
And at Confirmation, Sacred Chrism is used again. The Catechism says that the reason for the Sacred Chrism is to highlight “the name ‘Christian,’ which means ‘anointed’ and derives from that of Christ himself whom God ‘anointed with the Holy Spirit.’ The term Confirmation suggests that this sacrament both confirms and strengthens baptismal grace.” (1289)
And later in the Catechism, it adds, “It is fitting to consider the sign of anointing and what it signifies and imprints: a spiritual seal.” (1293) The Chrism seals in us the seeds of grace and spiritual gifts that were given to us through Baptism. Now, we are sent out, strengthened by this Seal of Anointing, to share in Christ’s mission of prayer and evangelization.