Confirmation

Now when the apostles at Jerusalem heard that Samaria had received the word of God, they sent to them Peter and John, who came down and prayed for them that they might receive the Holy Spirit; for it had not yet fallen on any of them, but they had only been baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus. Then they laid their hands on them and they received the Holy Spirit. – Acts 8:14-17


The Rector periodically organizes classes to prepare young people and adults for the Sacrament of Confirmation, which is normally administered during the Bishop’s bi-annual visitation to the parish. Those who would like to be confirmed are invited to speak to the Rector so that the necessary preparations can be made.

 

Following is some historical background on the Sacrament of Confirmation, which may be helpful in answering certain questions, such as the age at which it is best administered.

 

In the early Church, the process of Christian Initiation comprised several distinct ritual actions: baptism with water, an anointing with oil (known as chrism), a laying-on-of-hands by the bishop, and first Holy Communion. In an era when most converts to the faith were adults, these four actions would likely all occur in the same service, usually the Great Vigil in the night hours of Easter Eve.

 

In subsequent centuries, infant baptism became the norm, and these four actions became separated. In the Western Church, baptism and the anointing with chrism were administered to infants a few days old; first Communion and the bishop’s laying-on-of-hands (Confirmation) were postponed to later years in the candidate’s life.

 

Meanwhile, in the Christian East, the anointing with oil blessed by the bishop (Chrismation) came to substitute for the bishop’s laying-on-of-hands and continued to be administered at the time of baptism, along with first Communion (given to infants in a tiny spoon).

 

For centuries, the standard Anglican practice was to make Confirmation the rite of admission to Holy Communion, administered in late childhood or early adolescence. Since the 1970s, however, the Episcopal Church has encouraged the “early Communion” of children, following the Eastern Orthodox example, and has emphasized Confirmation as the rite in which young adults make a mature profession of the Christian faith, taking upon themselves the promises made at baptism by their parents and sponsors. However, this understanding has generated misguided pressure to postpone Confirmation even further, to the late teens or early adult years.

 

Confirmation is so much more than just the opportunity to make a mature profession of baptismal faith. By receiving the bishop’s laying-on-of-hands, the candidates are brought into an explicit relationship with the Church in all times and places, which the bishop represents. Most importantly of all, Confirmation confers the grace of the strengthening of the gifts of the Holy Spirit given in baptism. The Latin root of the word Confirmation means precisely that: to “strengthen,” or, more colloquially, to “firm up.”

 

Thus understood, Confirmation can legitimately be administered to candidates at any age, from infants (as in Eastern Orthodox practice) to those well advanced in years. The only real restriction is that it is non-repeatable, and so can only be administered once.

 

A good age for Confirmation remains late childhood to early adolescence: from around ten to thirteen. Administered at this age, the grace of Confirmation spiritually fortifies the candidates to face the challenges of the teenage years that lie ahead. By this understanding, the eventual profession of a mature faith is not so much Confirmation’s prerequisite as its fruit. But, again, Confirmation can appropriately be administered at any age, as circumstances require.

 

Those baptized as adults should be confirmed as soon as possible after their Baptism; in some cases it may be possible to administer both Baptism and Confirmation in the same service. Adults transferring into the Episcopal Church from other Christian denominations should also receive Confirmation, unless already confirmed by a bishop in the apostolic succession (or chrismated in the Eastern Orthodox Church).