Catholic Activity: Confirmation Catechesis
Ideas for parents to teach their child about the sacrament of Confirmation. Includes discussions about Pentecost and the gifts of the Holy Spirit. Also has table and dessert ideas for the feast of Pentecost.
As a Baptism or a baptismal feast is the best occasion for beginning instruction about Baptism, so Pentecost is the best time to begin instruction about Confirmation.
For a long time we've made the mistake of thinking that little children are not interested in Confirmation. They ought to be. They are interested in all other phases of growing up.
"When I'm big, I'm going to be a policeman," they will say. And the next day it's a fireman, then a truck driver, then a priest, and one of ours has decided to be a bishop. They are going to be brave and strong, do good things, help all the people who are poor and suffering, buy their mothers the most beautiful presents in the world, and help their daddies with their work. And no matter what else they are going to be, secretly they are sure (for all the outward reservations) that of course they will be saints.
If you are going to be a saint, you need all the help you can get. Take the Apostles, for instance. They knew for certain they were destined for great things. Peter knew he was head of the Church. All of them together had been told by Our Lord, "Go forth and teach all nations." Even so, after He ascended into Heaven, they stood there on the hillside, lonely and afraid. And an angel came and said to them, "Men of Galilee, why do you stand looking up to Heaven?"
Why We Need the Holy Spirit It was a small uncertain group of people who went back to the Upper Room in Jerusalem. They were really afraid. Christ had made many enemies, and now He was gone. His enemies were their enemies. If they were to go out and try to convert people, they would certainly need help. But Our Lord had promised them help. He was very tender with them at His discourse at the Last Supper, calling them "little children," and telling them that although He would leave them, "I will not leave you orphans."
"I will ask the Father, and He will give you another Advocate to dwell with you forever, the Spirit of truth."
This Advocate was to be the Holy Spirit, who would comfort and strengthen them. When we remember that the Holy Spirit is God's love, so real it is spoken of as another Person, we can understand why the Apostles looked forward to His coming with such longing.
But this is confusing. We have taught our children that with Baptism they become the dwelling place of the Holy Trinity. Theologians hold that when the Holy Spirit enters the soul at Baptism, the soul receives its virtues of faith, hope, and charity, and its gifts of wisdom, understanding, counsel, fortitude, knowledge, piety, and fear of the Lord. Then why do we need another sacrament to bring the Holy Spirit?
It isn't too hard to explain. There is a parallel between being born into the life of the flesh as an infant and growing up to be a man; and being born into Divine life with Baptism, and growing up through Confirmation.
The little boy who says, "When I grow up I am going to be a policeman," knows he is not grown up yet. He is busy now learning about himself, how to feed himself, dress himself, tie his shoes, read his books, write his name. One day, he says, he will be grown up and be a policeman, and then he will help other people. He will help children cross the street when school is out. He will help people shopping on Saturdays to get their cars about safely. He will walk the street at night and guard the homes of the community.
The difference between the baptized child and the confirmed child is somewhat the same. When he is baptized he is born into the Mystical Body. According to Our Lord, he is "born again of water and the Holy Spirit." And the years following Baptism he learns to know and love God, what sin is, how to pray that he will save his soul. He learns about Christ in the Eucharist and receives Him often to help sanctify his soul. His world is still very small, even his spiritual world. It is all in terms of "me." From time to time he reaches out and puts his arms around the world, gives it his help with prayer and sacrifice, with daily work and play offered to God. Essentially, however, he is learning the place of himself in relation to God.
Growing Up Spiritually Confirmation marks his spiritual growing up. With Confirmation he is launched on the social aspect of his spiritual life, with which goes an even greater obligation to pursue his own sanctification. But self-sanctification is now dependent upon his relationship with all men. With Confirmation, he is equipped, by the strengthening in him of the gifts of the Holy Spirit, to look at the world with new eyes, to desire its conquest for Christ with new love. He sees more clearly (if he is helped to see by his parents and teachers) what it means to be a member of the Mystical Body. Like a cell in his own body, he is a cell in the Body of Christ. Each cell is important, a part of a whole. Without it, the whole would be less whole. If one cell is sick (in sin), the whole is less well. Now he begins to see that it is up to him, as well as to the other members of the Body, to work for the total health of the Body; not only that — but to work for the further growth of the Body.
Now the time of merely learning what he must do to save his own soul has come to an end. He must use what he knows, think of it in terms of everyone in the world, and want with all his heart to bring others to the knowledge of Christ. It is exciting, becoming a "soldier of Christ." It is a role filled with unknown challenge, invitations to unknown bravery. He needs much more strength than ever before to face the challenge, and the strength comes to him through the special anointing at the hands of his bishop in the sacrament of Confirmation.
There is an account in the Acts of the Apostles which tells of St. Peter and St. John, both bishops, confirming, in Samaria.
On their arrival they prayed for them, that they might receive the Holy Spirit; for as yet he had not come upon 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.It is easy to understand what a difference this special coming of the Holy Spirit implies if we picture the Apostles before Pentecost. They had been baptized. They had even been ordained. Peter was not only a bishop, but the first Pope. But they had not been confirmed. Seeing the difference between their fear and their zeal as a matter of Confirmation can be the beginning of not only a child's interest in Confirmation, but his desire for it.
Read from the Acts it is a very exciting story, which tells of their nine days' prayer, the sound of the great wind, the tongues of fire as a sign of the Holy Spirit. Suddenly, fear was gone. Love was with them. And their knowledge was multiplied miraculously. Not only were they eager to preach the word of Christ, but they knew many new languages in which to preach it.
St. Peter rushed out and there on the streets of Jerusalem preached with such enthusiasm that some thought he was drunk. When he was done, he had made three thousand converts.
Never before had they been so inebriated with their love, so fearless in their desire. They had loved Him before, but not like this. The night of His passion they fell asleep in the garden. Later all but one ran away. Peter lied that he did not know Him, even cursed that he should be thought His friend. Only one stood at the foot of the Cross. One of them would not believe that He had risen from the dead until he saw His wounds. They were not more fearful than the rest of men, but it was a terrible bravery He demanded. They were the bravest men He could find. It was dangerous even to be His friend, and they had walked and lived with Him openly for three years. But what He asked of them in the end was the impossible. It was asking them to walk to certain death. They wanted to — but they were so afraid.
We are like that. We want to defend the Faith. We want to explain the doctrine. We want to go out and convert people and bring them to new happiness in Christ. But it takes such courage. We are used to being "tolerant" — "not interfering" — "respecting the opinions of others." All these things we know are good. Yet with our knowledge of Christ, the riches of grace, the joy of being a member of His Church, the certainty of salvation through perseverance in the Faith, we ought to see that even the opinions we "respect," if they are error, need to be replaced by truth.
If we see our children licking up poisonous fly spray, we are not so respectful of their opinions that we allow them to continue. If we see them eating nothing but their dessert and leaving their meat and vegetables, we take effective measures against this regimen. We want our children to be whole and healthy, wise and holy; so we give them all our love and help and knowledge and understanding. We are obliged to feel the same way about the souls of our brothers in the world. We cannot want this enough, nor work for it enough, without the strength that comes with Confirmation.
Not all this can be adapted at once for small children. It is hard for them to understand such things as their role in the Mystical Body of Christ when they are only five years old. But when the Church celebrates with such joy the Feast of Pentecost (which St. Augustine called the Nativity of the Holy Spirit), we can use this day every year, and the many days of the Pentecostal season, to prepare their hearts and minds and souls for Confirmation.
All children say, "I can't wait till I grow up." If we understand Confirmation and are on fire with gratitude for it, we can help them experience the same impatience wanting the sacrament of spiritual growing up. Then when the time has come to receive It, preparation is more than a sum of well-memorized catechism lessons. It is the climax of years of loving the story of the Apostles and understanding that with this sacrament they also will be ready to be apostles for Christ.
The Gifts of the Holy Spirit In what ways must they use this new strength? We cannot know how to use the gifts of the Holy Spirit if we do not understand them. Somehow we must make this simple enough for children.
The first gift is Fear of the Lord. There is a phrase in the Act of Contrition which helps children to understand this gift. "O my God, I am heartily sorry for having offended Thee, because I read the loss of Heaven and the pains of Hell, but most of all because I have offended Thee, my God, Who art all good and deserving of all my love."
Fear of the Lord is part of love of the Lord, because He is great and good and created us, not because He needed us, but because He wanted us. There is a difference between being good for the love of God, and being good because we are afraid of Hell. When we know we possess such a gift as this, we can pray harder for the grace to love Him more, and to love goodness for the sake of pleasing Him. As we grow in the use of this gift, we understand that fear means awe and wonder at His omnipotence, not just terror at the thought of His judgments.
Then, the gift of Piety. This also has to do with loving God. Often people who are "pious" are so sour about it that they give children an active distaste for any and all piety, and children are quick to single them out and label them as pious frauds. One of the definitions of piety, much more to the point, is loyal devotion. The gift of Piety helps us to be loyal and devoted to the three Persons of the Blessed Trinity, to the Mother of God, the saints, our guardian angel, the other angels, the souls in Purgatory, our parents, relatives, and friends, our enemies (remembering their worth in the eyes of God), our Church and country, Pope and President, and so on. We must have a sense of reverence about all the things God made, about the blessings He has given us. The gift of Piety has a special bearing on how we obey our parents. St. Francis of Assisi is an example of one who overflowed with the gift of Piety, having such love for all God's creatures, even His animals, that he called them his brothers and sisters.
Then there is the gift of Fortitude. Children are afraid of many things, pain, embarrassment, being lost, much more. To tell them they must practice fortitude may only make them secretly afraid that they are cowards. Talk is cheap. Suppose that down deep inside you are afraid you may lie rather than take a punishment, run away rather than defend your brother, keep silent when your brown-skinned friend is called a "nigger." What good does it do to have the gift of Fortitude if it doesn't change you into a daring-do? But Fortitude does not guarantee courage tailor-made. It reminds us that Jesus said, "Without Me you can do nothing." Then it explains, "But with Me, you can do all things." Fortitude teaches us to ask for the grace to do the things that need doing, little things as well as big. If we use this gift in all the challenges every day, we will be ready when later on God asks heroic things of us.
The gift of Knowledge is easily misunderstood. It might seem to apply to how well a child knows his geography, his arithmetic, his spelling, and his history. No parent would permit a child to think these things do not matter. But it matters more that we do God's will. The gift of Knowledge refers to learning the things we must learn in order to do God's will. It helps us to discover how we are to serve Him on this earth. For instance, a boy who likes science and studies well will learn much about the physical universe. If he is to be an intelligent scientist, he must know that God is the creator of the universe and that it is subject to Him. Scientists are morally bound to use their knowledge of the universe to do God's will.
Then there is the gift of Counsel. The advanced catechism says that the gift of Counsel "warns of the deceits of the devil and the dangers to salvation." One of the neatest deceits of the devil is to point out that we all "have our rights." Within the law, we may insist on them. Which is true. The law defines what is right and wrong. But sticking stubbornly to the letter of the law rarely makes saints of people. Counsel is the gift that helps us to know what course of action is more perfect, and to follow it. For instance, the Church teaches that to receive the sacraments of Penance and Holy Eucharist once a year, between the first Sunday of Lent and Trinity Sunday, satisfies the obligation for the year. But it is certainly the least we can do, and sticking to the letter of this law is not going to help us grow in perfection.
Children respond to the gift of Counsel when they take their many small voluntary steps toward perfection. The child who goes without dessert (when it has been portioned out equally among himself and his brothers) because baby has spilled his and will not be comforted unless he has more, is doing more than is asked of him. He is making an unnecessary self-sacrifice our of love for his baby brother; in this he responds to the gift of Counsel.
The gift of Understanding helps us to know more clearly the mysteries of the Faith. The mystery of the Eucharist is an example. It is sufficient if a child knows that bread and wine, consecrated, look the same but are truly the Body and Blood of Christ. But we can help him understand some of its mystery by pointing out how the crushed wheat and grapes that make the bread and wine are symbols of the crushing Passion of Christ, in order that He may become the sacrificial Victim. The symbolism of the water used at Baptism, the sacrament that washes the soul free of sin, is another aid to understanding more clearly this mystery of the Faith.
Lastly, the gift of Wisdom. "Fear of the Lord is the beginning of Wisdom." This gift is like all the others together, working in us as long as we are in the state of grace. The gift of Wisdom accounts for the soul's instinctive hunger for God. It is truly a gift and has nothing to do with schooling or books or diplomas. Even the smallest child, baptized, filled with grace and shining faith, loving God and wanting to be a saint, is a witness of the gift of Wisdom. Many of the child saints could not read or write, but they had the gift of Wisdom. With it, they were illuminated by grace, they understood and believed truths which the most learned sages have sometimes resisted. It should be our greatest comfort as parents, seeing so many differences in our children, to realize that each one possesses this gift and may use it in his own way to give honor and glory to God. Quick children, slow children, alert, clumsy, talented, plodding, whole, deformed — whatever our children are — they all receive from the Holy Spirit the gift of Wisdom. There is no one who cannot use it, only those who will not.
The Confirmation Rite The bishop is the usual minister of Confirmation, although under special circumstances certain priests may also confirm. We should take particular pains to acquaint our children with their bishop, if not in person, at least with his picture in the newspaper, and to teach them to pray for him every day. Our relationship to our bishop is that of child to father, and the bishop at the head of his diocese, with the people under him, is a miniature of the Mystical Body.
All these things can well be learned before it is time for Confirmation. On the Feast of Pentecost, a lovely family dinner at a table decorated with red ribbons in honor of the Holy Spirit and a cake with tiny sugar doves, a lighted candle to remind us of the tongues of fire, will help the children enjoy the lesson of Pentecost and respond to the graces of the feast.
There is another common occasion for recalling Pentecost and Confirmation: the Third Glorious Mystery of the Rosary. Our Peter is only five, but when it is his turn to lead a decade he always asks for this one. "My best one," he calls it. He explains that the Apostles were afraid until the coming of the tongues of fire, then they were brave and full of the Holy Spirit and they went out to do Christ's work.
"What first feast was it, Peter?"
"And like what sacrament?"
We will not see tongues of fire, nor hear the sound of a great wind, but when the bishop anoints our children with the Holy Chrism and strikes them lightly on the cheeks as a token of persecutions to which they may be exposed for the Faith, we will know that the time of their real growing up has begun.
Activity Source: We and Our Children by Mary Reed Newland, Image Books, 1961