C is for Confirmation
Confirmation, for many of us, was an opportunity to speak for ourselves the promises made at our Baptism. It was also the time when we received serious instruction in the Christian faith, to prepare us for our adult discipleship in Christ. We made our public declaration of faith; the Church had given us teaching in it, and they prayed for us publicly at the service. The climax of the service was being presented to the Bishop, who laid his hands on our heads and prayed, “Defend, O Lord, this thy servant with thy heavenly grace, that he may continue thine for ever; and daily increase in thy Holy Spirit more and more; until he come into thy everlasting kingdom. Amen.”
However in recent years, in all the Churches, the practice has become more mixed. Fewer people are baptised as infants, and so quite a few adults are baptised and confirmed at the same service. Obviously, they are making the Baptismal vows themselves, so there is no repetition. Also, they would, as adults, be receiving instruction in the faith as candidates for baptism. So why confirmation? Isn’t baptism enough? And now that some people are admitted to communion as children, some feel that confirmation has been diminished still further.
The truth is that, in the Orthodox, Roman Catholic, Anglican and Reformed Churches, there have always been various understandings of what Confirmation means: who should administer it (priest or bishop), how old the candidates should be, and whether it is a part of Baptism. When Jesus was baptized in the River Jordan, the Spirit descended on him as he came up out of the water. However, in the New Testament, there are many instances (in the Book of Acts) of people “receiving the Holy Spirit” or the “Seal of the Spirit” on a different occasion from their baptism.
The laying on of hands by the Bishop was the outward sign of this, as was anointing. So confirmation goes on being seen in different ways over the centuries.
In our own church now, it is administered to those aged eleven and above who wish to profess the faith for themselves, and to do so before the Bishop, their Father in God. He now says the ancient confirmation prayer over them alt, not one by one. It is a prayer for their strengthening and protection as Christians. As in baptism, there is anointing with oil, to “seal” them with the Spirit.
Unlike Baptism and the Eucharist, which were given to us by the Lord himself, confirmation is one of the five sacraments which have had to be worked out and worked on by the Church as its understanding has changed. The other four are marriage, ordination, anointing (or unction) and confession. We will come to these later on.
Seven Sacraments - Confirmation II