A lot of people think of Confirmation as some sort of graduation ceremony, during which a person moves on from one part of their life in Christ to another. And to some limited extent, that’s true, as every sacrament brings us deeper into relationship with God.
But something very specific is happening at Confirmation. When a person is confirmed, they are anointed with the oil of Chrism, and an anointing is a whole lot better than a graduation.
What is chrism? Holy chrism is a mixture of olive oil and balm, blessed by the bishop on Holy Thursday. Because chrism is blessed by the bishop, it’s a sign of the spiritual connection between the faithful and the shepherd of their souls. That connection stretches back in time to the very beginning of the Church, to the Apostles themselves. And it stretches forward in time, too, to the future and how confirmed people are meant to respond to others and to situations in the world. “Consecrated oil is always a sign of God’s mercy,” wrote Pope Benedict XVI. “So the meaning of priestly anointing always includes the mission to bring God’s mercy to those we serve. In the lamp of our lives, the oil of mercy should never run dry.”
So the oil is the first of what you might think of as the gifts offered to you and unwrapped at Confirmation. But there’s more! In the Book of Isaiah 11:2-3, seven specific gifts of the Holy Spirit are described, gifts that we receive at Confirmation, that include:
- Wisdom helps us recognize the importance of others and the importance of keeping God central in our lives.
- Understanding is the ability to comprehend the meaning of God's message.
- Knowledge is the ability to think about and explore God's revelation, and also to recognize there are mysteries of faith beyond us.
- Counsel is the ability to see the best way to follow God's plan when we have choices that relate to him.
- Fortitude is the courage to do what one knows is right.
- Piety helps us pray to God in true devotion.
- Fear of the Lord is the feeling of amazement before God, who is all-present, and whose friendship we do not want to lose.
“The Spirit himself is the most excellent ‘gift of God,’ and he in turn communicates various spiritual gifts to those who receive him,” writes Pope Francis. “The Church identifies seven gifts, a number which symbolizes fullness and completeness. These are the gifts we learn about when we prepare for the sacrament of Confirmation. They are also the gifts we call upon at Pentecost in the ancient prayer that is called the Sequence of the Holy Spirit."
Pauline Books and Media has a special book that gathers Pope Francis’ thoughts on each of these wonderful gifts of the Holy Spirit. It’s called Anointed (remember the oil of chrism with which the bishop anoints the person being confirmed?) and makes a beautiful confirmation gift, one that a young person will cherish and turn back to over and over.
Prayer of St. Bonaventure (a Franciscan bishop and Doctor of the Church who was born in 1221) for the gifts of the spirit:
We beg the all-merciful Father through thee, his only-begotten Son made man for our sake, crucified and glorified for us, to send upon us from his treasure-house the Spirit of sevenfold grace, who rested upon thee in all his fullness:
the spirit of wisdom, enabling us to relish the fruit of the tree of life, which is indeed thyself;
the gift of understanding: to enlighten our perceptions;
the gift of prudence, enabling us to follow in thy footsteps;
the gift of strength: to withstand our adversary’s onslaught;
the gift of knowledge: to distinguish good from evil by the light of thy holy teaching;
the gift of piety: to clothe ourselves with charity and mercy;
the gift of fear: to withdraw from all ill-doing and live quietly in awe of thy eternal majesty.
These are the things for which we petition. Grant them for the honor of thy holy name, to which, with the Father and the Holy Ghost, be all honor and glory, thanksgiving, renown, and lordship for ever and ever. Amen.