Baptism, the Eucharist, and the sacrament of Confirmation together constitute the “sacraments of Christian initiation,” whose unity must be safeguarded. It must be explained to the faithful that the reception of the sacrament of Confirmation is necessary for the completion of baptismal grace. For “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.” (CCC 1285)
As with every sacrament, Confirmation does not merely symbolize a spiritual reality – it actually effects what it signifies. In Confirmation, our senses are fully engaged: We see the bishop’s hand raise in the anointing. The candidate feels and smells the chrism or sacramental oil and hears the bishop proclaim, “Be sealed with the Gift of the Holy Spirit.” What we physically see, hear, feel, and smell in Confirmation is an anointing, a sealing with the Holy Spirit. These visible elements are not merely symbolic: Working through what is visible and sensory, the same Holy Spirit who was poured out upon the apostles at Pentecost makes a home in the newly confirmed person’s soul.
The Catechism of the Catholic Church lists five effects of this outpouring (CCC 1303):
- It affirms our identity as children of God (“divine filiation”).
- It unites us more firmly to Christ.
- It increases in us the Gifts of the Holy Spirit.
- It strengthens our bond with the Church.
- It strengthens us to spread and defend the faith by our words and actions, to be fearless witnesses to Christ and the power of the cross.