con·fir·ma·tion

A rite administered to baptized persons, in some churches as a sacrament for confirming and strengthening the recipient in the Christian faith.

A Step in the Right Direction

By Claudia Mathis
Sun staff writer

Last year, 3,710 diocesan young people received the sacrament of confirmation, one of the seven sacraments instituted by Christ for the conferral of sanctifying grace and the strengthening of the union between individual souls and God.

According to the Catechism of the Catholic Church, “It is evident from its celebration that the effect of the sacrament of Confirmation is the special outpouring of the Holy Spirit as once granted to the apostles on the day of Pentecost. From this fact, confirmation brings an increase and deepening of baptismal grace: it roots us more deeply in the divine filiation which makes us cry, ‘Abba! Father!’ (Romans 8:15); it unites us more firmly to Christ; it increases the gifts of the Holy spirit in us; it renders our bond with the church more perfect; it gives us a special strength of the Holy spirit to spread and defend the faith by word and action as true witnesses of Christ, to confess the name of Christ boldly, and never to be ashamed of the Cross.”

During the third and fourth centuries, concern for the integrity of the Gospel in a time of persecution led to the development of a lengthy catechumenal process culminating in the Easter Vigil in which catechumens professed their faith and were baptized. They were presented to the bishop who confirmed them with the ritual laying on of hands and anointing. After this, they completed their  initiation by sharing in the Eucharist.

With the end of persecution and the growth of the church, the catechumenate fell into disuse. In the East, the unity of the sacraments was preserved. Presbyters baptized, confirmed and admitted infants to Eucharist. In the West, presbyters baptized infants, but bishops retained their prerogative to confirm. Distance and growing administrative concerns prevented the bishop from getting around his diocese to confirm. The completion of initiation — confirmation and Eucharist  — was delayed.

Later, confirmation and Eucharist were delayed until the age of discretion when children could ratify the profession of faith which had been made in their name.

In 1215, the Fourth Lateran Council officially defined and set the number of sacraments at seven. In 1910, Pope Pius X lowered the age for reception of First Eucharist. In practice, this effectively reversed the order of the sacraments of initiation.

Vatican II called for the restoration of the RCIA for adults. The Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults, introduced in the U.S. in 1974 and mandated in 1988, restores the order and the unity of the sacraments of initiation for adults. The RCIA also provides an adaption for use in the Christian initiation of unbaptized children who have reached catechetical age, and restores the order and unity of the sacraments of initiation for them.

As far as the proper age for confirmation, in the Diocese of Syracuse, it is celebrated during adolescence within the context of a total youth ministry process. Celebrating at that time affords the parish a significant opportunity to foster the faith of the adolescents.

The decision to seek confirmation should be based on a person’s readiness to assume the responsibilities expected of a confirmed Catholic and that person’s willingness to participate in the parish/high school faith formation program. During faith formation, the sharing of faith stories and personal integration of Catholic teachings is emphasized.

Julie Hess has participated in the confirmation readiness program at Holy Family Church in Syracuse for the last year. “I feel like it’s helped me become closer to God,” said Julie. “Our teacher helps us to grow by leading us in discussions about what our faith means to us.”

Joseph Sessler, a senior at Bishop Grimes Junior/Senior High School in Syracuse, received the sacrament of confirmation in May 2007. As a long-time student of Catholic schools, he said that what he learned reinforced the knowledge he had gained while attending Catholic schools.

The mission of the church calls all Catholics to service. Opportunities are provided during the confirmation preparation for the adolescents to be involved in service.

As the time draws closer to the confirmation celebration, the candidates plan the liturgy with the appropriate parish personnel. In addition, each candidate is requested to write to the bishop, stating his/her readiness for the sacrament and how they have prepared for it. Also, the candidates as a group may prepare a letter to be included in the celebration of the sacrament.

The celebration of the sacrament takes place ideally when the candidate is in the eleventh or twelfth grade, with tenth grade being the earliest time to receive it. Ordinarily, each candidate for confirmation is accompanied by a sponsor, a person who has served as a friend and mentor during the preparation process.

Confirmation is usually celebrated in the context of Mass. After the readings, the candidates are presented to the bishop by their pastor or catechist. The bishop gives a brief homily on the meaning of the sacrament. He then asks the candidates to renew their baptismal promises; to reject Satan, his works and his empty promises and to express their belief in the faith defined in the Aostle’s Creed.

The bishop asks everyone present to join him in silent prayer for the candidates, and then extends his hands over them, asking God to grant them the Holy Spirit as Helper and Guide and to fill them with the Spirit’s gifts.

One by one the candidates come forward with their sponsors. Calling each one by name, he traces a cross on their forehead with the chrism (oil) he blessed on Holy Thursday, saying, “Be sealed with the Gift of the Spirit,” and offers a sign of peace.

The General Intercessions follow, and all take part in the Liturgy of the Eucharist.

Bishops James Moynihan and Thomas Costello of the Syracuse Diocese are the recipients of the letters written by the confirmation candidates every year. Bishop Costello said he’s been reading the letters for the past 30 years. “Some of them are fascinating and many if them are moving,” said Bishop Costello. He remembered receiving a letter from a young woman who revealed to him that while she was on her pre-confirmation retreat she came to the realization that she was an alcoholic. “The day she wrote the letter was her 109th day of abstinence,” explained Bishop Costello. “When you get a letter like that you have to find that person. I didn’t have to look. She read the class letter at her parish. So, to her parishioners she announced that she was an alcoholic — isn’t that amazing?”

Bishop Costello recalled another striking experience. “When I arrived at the church for the confirmation celebration and I was vesting, I noticed among the confirmation candidates, a girl wearing a bandana on her head,” said Bishop Costello. “She had cancer and was totally blind. It was amazing to see the way the other kids responded to her. They made sure she was where she was supposed to be when she was supposed to be there. It was really a beautiful sight.”

Bishop Costello said that at the beginning of the special service he wasn’t sure how to respond to the reality of her illness. “In the course of my homily, I suddenly found myself in conversation with her,” Bishop Costello said. “I asked, ‘It’s not always easy to do what the Lord asks of us, is it?’ and directed it right to her. We diologued for two or three minutes.”

Bishop Costello said that after her confirmation in the spring, he followed her progress. “She had two desires,” said Bishop Costello. “One was to be confirmed with her class and the other was to live through another summer. She died on the 21st of September.”

Bishop Costello views the sacrament of confirmation as an affirmation of the baptism commitment.

Bishop Costello said there is a trend for parishes to  combine their confirmation classes with those of neighboring parishes. Also, many parishes in the surrounding Syracuse area have scheduled their confirmation ceremonies together with other parishes for the upcoming months at the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception in Syracuse. Bishop Costello thinks the change is beneficial to the confirmation participants. “They are encouraged when they see the large number of kids, thinking that it is a decent thing to do,” said Bishop Costello.

Michael Hurn and Amber Wieszczynski, parishioners at Blessed Sacrament Church in Syracuse, will be confirmed on May 13. For Michael, a sophomore at Solvay High School in Syracuse, his participation in the preparation to receive the sacrament has been profound. “It’s been very helpful,” said Michael. “I’ve learned a lot more about God and life in general.”

Michael said he has learned to look beyond his own personal needs to the needs of others. He explained how his confirmation group is currently holding a fund raiser for an individual who is in need.

“I’ve been brought closer to God,” said Michael. “My relationship with God has changed — I view Him differently now. I used to think of Him as one who was there for me only if I needed Him in times of trouble. Now I see Him as a more loving and caring father figure. I realize that I can talk to Him and share what I need to. As an altar server, I used to struggle with wanting to serve, but now I don’t because I know God wants me to do it and I know I am serving Him. I know that after I make my confirmation I’ll be making more decisions about how I would like to serve. I think I’d like to be a Eucharistic minister.”

Amber, a sophomore at Henninger High School in Syracuse, shares the same sentiments concerning her relationship with God. “The preparation has taken my faith a step further — I feel closer to God,” said Amber. “Now I understand more about my faith. I enjoy going to church — I like the serenity about Mass. I realize I have somewhere to turn to.”

Amber explained how her grandfather, Guy Pagano, serving as her sponsor, has helped her to understand her faith by answering any questions she might have.

“This experience has made me feel more humble,” said Amber. “I used to think about me in the here and now. Now I think about how my actions will affect the big picture. I’ve been thinking about serving as a lector after I’ve been confirmed.”             

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