This sacrament is called in the Eastern Tradition mystery of Chrismation, and in the Western Tradition sacrament of Confirmation. The word “Chrismation” comes from the Greek word “chrisma”, which is the holy oil by which the newly baptized is anointed. The word “Confirmation” expresses the idea that this mystery confirms the Christian in the grace he received at Baptism.
1. From Baptism to Chrismation
In all its rites, Christianity relates men and women to God, and gives them the means to achieve the union with God, which leads them to the fullness of their humanity. Christianity, in its anthropology, which means in its view of what is human, does not consider the human being as an isolated being that comes from nothing and goes to nowhere. Its view is profoundly theological: we come from God’s love and we go to union with God.
Created in God’s image and likeness, men and women have sinned and, by their sin, the divine image in them has been marred, but not lost. What was lost is God’s likeness, which is God’s holiness. Baptism, by incorporating them into Christ’s Body, restores in them the purity of God’s image, it transforms their being. But to act in holiness according to this new being, they need a divine power. This power is given to them by the mystery of Chrismation, which is the sacrament of the Holy Spirit, who restores in them God’s likeness.
2. The Seal of the Gift of the Holy Spirit
In the Byzantine rite, the priest rests his hand on the head of the one to be confirmed, and recites the following prayer, which enumerates the effects of this holy mystery: “Blessed are you, O Lord God Almighty,… who now again have been pleased to cause the rebirth of your servant (handmaid) newly enlightened through water and the Spirit, and have granted to him (her) the remission of sins both voluntary and involuntary. Therefore, O Master and most merciful King of all, grant to him (her) the seal of the gift of your holy, almighty, and adorable Spirit, and the communion of the holy Body and the precious Blood of your Christ. Keep him (her) in your holiness, strengthen him (her) in the true faith. Deliver him (her) from the evil one and from all his cunning, and through a salutary fear of you, preserve his (her) soul in purity and righteousness, so that he (she) may please you in every word and every deed, and thus may become a child and heir to your heavenly Kingdom.”
Notice that the effects of this mystery concern the deeds of the baptized: to be kept in “holiness”, “purity”, “righteousness”, and to please God “in every word and deed.”
The same effects are expressed by the anointing that follows the prayer: the priest anoints the candidate with the Holy Chrism making with it the sign of the cross on the forehead, the eyes, the nostrils, the mouth, the ears, the chest, the hands, and the feet, saying each time: “The seal of the gift of the Holy Spirit.”
St. Cyril of Jerusalem explains the significance of this anointing on the different members of the body: “You were anointed first upon the forehead to rid you of the shame which the first human transgressor bore about with him everywhere, so you may ‘reflect as in a glass the splendor of the Lord,’ Then upon the ears, to receive ears quick to hear the divine mysteries, the ears of which Isaiah said, ‘The Lord gave me also an ear to her,’ and the Lord Jesus in the Gospels, ‘He who has ears to hear, let him hear.’ Then upon the nostrils, so that scenting the divine oil, you may say,’ We are the incense offered by Crist to God, in the case of those who are on the way to salvation.’ Then on the breast, so that, ‘putting on the breastplate of justice, you may be able to withstand the wiles of the Devil.’ For as Christ after His Baptism and the visitation of the Holy Spirit went forth and overthrew the adversary, so must you after holy Baptism and the mystical Chrism, clad in the armor of the Holy Spirit, stand firm against the forces of the Enemy and overthrow them, saying: ‘I can do all things in the Christ who strengthens me’
St. Cyril explains that the action of the Holy Spirit is due to his presence in the Holy Chrism: “Beware of supposing that his ointment is mere ointment. Just as after the invocation of the Holy Spirit the Eucharistic bread is no longer ordinary bread, but the Body of Christ, so this holy oil, in conjunction with the invocation, is no longer simple or common oil, but becomes the gracious gift of Christ and the Holy Spirit, producing the advent of his deity. With this ointment your forehead and sense organs are sacramentally anointed, in such wise that while your body is anointed with visible oil, your soul is sanctified by the holy, quickening Spirit.
3. The Pentecost of the Christian: His participation in the Triple Ministry of Christ
The mystery of Chrismation is the Pentecost of the Christian. At the feast of the Pentecost, the Apostles were filled with the Holy Spirit, and started their mission of building the Church, the Body of Christ, by preaching the Gospel and bearing witness to the risen Lord. By his Chrismation, the Christian is also filled with the Holy Spirit, not only for his own sanctification but also for his participation in the Church’s mission.
Bye his incorporation into Christ’s Body by Baptism, the Christian already participates in the triple office of Christ, as King and as priest and as prophet. The Holy Spirit in the mystery of Chrismation, gives him the power to fulfill this triple ministry in all his deeds, and to cooperate to the spiritualization of the world.
The Christian participates first in Christ’s royal ministry by spreading in the world the Kingdom of God. “For the Lord wishes to spreads his Kingdom by means of the laity also, a Kingdom of truth and life, a Kingdom of holiness and grace, a Kingdom of justice, love and peace… The faithful, therefore must learn the deepest meaning and the value of all creation, and how to relate it to the praise of God. They must assist one another to live holier lives even in their daily occupations. In this way the world is permeated by the spirit of Christ and more effectively achieves its purpose in justice, charity and peace. The laity have the principal role in the universal fulfillment of this purpose.” Vatican Council II, Lumen Gentium 36, 2-3
Secondly the Christian participates in Christ’s priestly ministry by offering himself in union with the sacrifice of Christ: “I appeal to you therefore, brothers and sisters, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship. Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your minds, so that you may discern what is the will of God – what is good and acceptable and perfect” (Romans 12: 1-2).
The Second Vatican Council explaining the effects of Chrismation, and its relationship to the Baptism, says: “Incorporated into the Church through Baptism, the faithful are consecrated by the baptismal character to the exercise of the cult of the Christian religion. Reborn as children of God, they must confess before men the faith which they have received from God through the Church. Bound more intimately to the Church by the sacrament of confirmation they are endowed by the Holy Spirit with special spread and defend the faith both by word and by deed as true witnesses of Christ.” Vatican Council II, Lumen Gentium 11, 1.
Thirdly the Christian participates in Christ’s prophetic ministry. The prophet is not necessarily someone who predicts the events of the future, but first someone who perceives God’s plan for the world, and knows how to read his will through the events of the present. In Caesar’s kingdom the prophet sees what must be done to establish God’s Kingdom. The face of this world must be renewed and changed to be filled with the Spirit of Christ. And each and every Christian is called to cooperate in this work.
“Christ, the great prophet, who proclaimed the Kingdom of his Father by the testimony of his life and the power of his words, continually fulfills his prophetic office until his full glory is revealed. He does this not only through the hierarchy who teach in his name and with his authority, but also through the laity. For that very purpose he made them his witnesses and gave them understanding of the faith and the grace of speech, so that the power of the Gospel might shine forth in their daily social and family life. They show themselves to be children of the promise, if, strong in faith and in hope, they make the most of the present time, and with patience await the glory that is to come. Let them not, then, hide this hope in the depths of their hearts, but even in the framework of secular life let them express it by a continual turning toward God and by wrestling ‘against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers of this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places’ (Ephesians 6:12). Vatican Council II, Lumen Gentium, 35.