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Pentecost and Confirmation

By Jennifer Gregory Miller (bio - articles - email) | May 20, 2015

Restoring the order of the sacraments of initiation made the headlines again this week as Archbishop Aquila of Denver made an announcement that he will be implementing this change in his diocese. His pastoral letter Saints Among Us will be published on May 24.

Under the restored order, the sacraments of initiation will be conferred as follows: baptism, confirmation and Eucharist. While baptism will continue to take place at its normal time, confirmation will take place in the third grade, during the same ceremony as first Eucharist....

He explains the theological reasons for changing this order:

In the early Church, Christian initiation began with new life in Christ through baptism. This was followed by confirmation, which perfects the grace of baptism, fills us with the gifts of the Holy Spirit, and prepares us to receive Jesus in the Eucharist. In other words, the sacraments of initiation are “are bound up with the Eucharist and are oriented toward it” (Catechism, no. 1324). The Eucharist completes initiation and is the lifelong sacrament that nourishes and strengthens us to be authentic disciples.

Unfortunately, the current confirmation process is not consistently forming authentic, lifelong disciples of Jesus Christ. Instead, as Pope Francis said in a 2013 address to Italian young people, “what is this sacrament called? Confirmation… No! Its name has changed: the ‘sacrament of farewell.’”...

He also expands on how the graces of the sacrament will help the children in this secular age to become saints, which is what I touched on two weeks ago when Bishop Silva of Honolulu made the same changes. 

By imparting the graces of confirmation at an earlier age, it is my hope and conviction that children will be better prepared to live a life of authentic discipleship, even as society becomes more secular. My conviction comes from trust in Jesus Christ and the real, transformative power of the graces he pours out upon every person in the sacraments.

Archbishop Aquila is aiding his flock to become saints, the universal calling of all the faithful. He already made these changes in his previous diocese of Fargo. For further reading, the Catholic Culture library has his 2002 pastoral letter Send Forth Your Spirit and also the 2011 Hillenbrand Lecture entitled The Sacrament of Confirmation.

The Power of the Holy Spirit and Confirmation

The Easter season comes to close, not in a quiet way, but with wind and fire and water, as I wrote about last year for Pentecost. The Archbishop chose the Solemnity of Pentecost to make his announcement, because it was after the Holy Spirit descended on the Apostles that they were able to go forth and spread the Gospel to all the ends of the earth, just as these younger confirmed children will be able to do.

"The whole liturgical life of the Church revolves around the Eucharistic sacrifice and the sacraments" (The Catechism of the Catholic Church, 1113). At baptism we became members of the body of Christ. The Liturgical Year celebrates our family life in Christ. Just as we remember birthdays and anniversaries within our family, feasts throughout the Liturgical Year help us focus on our life in Christ through the sacraments. This Easter season I have been focusing on the sacraments of initiation, and the feast of Pentecost is no exception. Just as the Solemnity of Easter and the season bring a focus on the sacraments of Baptism and the Eucharist, Pentecost is a reminder of our personal reception of the Holy Spirit through the sacrament of Confirmation. 

Archbishop Aquila's announcement reinforces the idea that Pentecost is directly connected to the sacrament of Confirmation. Living the Liturgical Year means bringing the focal points of the feasts in a practical and familiar way to the family. As we prepare for Pentecost our family will be focusing on this sacrament, providing visual displays and symbolic foods to center discussion and prayer times on preparation and/or renewal of Confirmation. The discussions and visual reminders provide small ways to commemorate those in the family who have received Confirmation, and providing some awareness for our children who have yet to receive the sacrament. 

What is Confirmation?

Confirmation seems to be one of the most neglected sacraments (after Confession). The reception is not necessary for our salvation, but necessary to be full members of the Church. 

1285 ...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." (Catechism of the Catholic Church)

Confirmation is a special outpouring of the Holy Spirit, just as at Pentecost. Understanding the basics about Confirmation is the first step. What You Need to Know about Confirmation contains the basic points to start discussions at home, with the Catechism for further reading. 

Just like Baptism, Confirmation can only be received once, and leaves on our souls an indelible imprint, the seal of the Holy Spirit. This is something we discuss with our children -- that indelible mark always impressed me as a child. We cannot see it, but recalling that we are specially marked should inspire us to be witnesses to Christ. We should be different than those in the world, because spiritually we are different.

If we need tangible evidence of Confirmation, we just have to turn to the Acts of the Apostles. All through the Easter season the Mass readings from Acts share the workings of the Holy Spirit in the life of the early Church. We recall the Apostles, overcome with joy on Christ's resurrection, but still unable to leave the Upper Room until the Holy Spirit came upon them. It was only when the Holy Spirit endowed the graces that gave strength and courage to the Apostles. After that Pentecostal moment the Apostles were changed men, never to hide in fear again. 

The term "Soldiers of Christ" is another area of possible discussion. Fortified by the Holy Spirit and armed with His Gifts, we are part of God's Army, equipped to go out into the world like the Apostles and live and spread the Gospel.

Further discussion ideas can be found in this passage from Mary Reed Newland

Gifts and Fruits of the Holy Spirit

Two other focal points of the Holy Spirit and Confirmation are the Gifts and Fruits of the Holy Spirit. The Gifts are endowed at Baptism, but strengthened in a special way at Confirmation:

  • Wisdom
  • Understanding
  • Knowledge
  • Fortitude
  • Piety
  • Counsel
  • Fear of the Lord

These Gifts are freely given by the Holy Spirit. We cannot obtain these on our own. For young children, the description doesn't have to be elaborate, but simple awareness of the gifts and time to ponder. Maria Von Trapp provides some brief points to help meditate on these Gifts.

The other "list" regarding the Holy Spirit are the Fruits. When one cooperates with the graces of the Holy Spirit, there are observable behaviors or perfections in us, called the Twelve Fruits of the Holy Spirit:

  • Charity
  • Joy
  • Peace
  • Patience
  • Kindness
  • Goodness
  • Generosity
  • Gentleness
  • Faithfulness
  • Modesty
  • Self-control
  • Chastity

Home is where these should be first seen and practiced. In fact, many of these fruits are mentioned in the older Home Blessing at Epiphany

Let us pray. Bless, + O Lord, almighty God this home that it be the shelter of health, chastity, self-conquest, humility, goodness, mildness, obedience to the commandments, and thanksgiving to God the Father, Son, and Holy spirit. May blessing remain for all time upon this dwelling and them that live herein. Through Christ our Lord.

Visual Presentation with the Family Oratory

Providing visual reminders of Pentecost and the Sacrament of Confirmation is always helpful, especially with children. I have found several simple ideas that could be used at home.

First is a incorporating the prayer table or oratory such as suggested by The Little Oratory by Leila Lawler and David Clayton. This can be the central location for the focus on Pentecost. The Pentecost celebration for the Catechesis of the Good Shepherd can be recreated in small ways at home. The prayer table is decorated with the home Paschal candle, seven red candles in seven candlesticks, seven red cardstock cards with the name of each Gift of the Holy Spirit, the Bible and a red cloth on the prayer table. Different prayer cards can be made with quotes about the Holy Spirit: 

  • Wisdom 1:7: The Spirit of the Lord fills the whole world.
  • Galatians 5:22: The Fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control.
  • 2 Corinthians 13:14: The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, the love of God, and the communion of the Holy Spirit be with all of you.
  • Acts 1:8: You shall receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you.
  • Psalm 104:30: Lord, send out your spirit and renew the face of the earth.
  • Illustration of the Gifts of the Holy Spirit
  • Come Holy Spirit prayer
  • Veni Creator Spiritus

The family can come together and sing hymns and read one or two of these Scriptural passages and prayers, such as the beautiful prayer for Renewal of Confirmation.

In the atrium, each child picks a Gift, thinking of what they need most, and ask the Holy Spirit to strengthen them in this area. Mary Reed Newland has a variation of decorating and drawing a Gift from a basket.

Twelve Fruit Salad

Gathering at Dinner

The dinner table can also be the showcase for ways to remind the family of Confirmation and Pentecost.

And finally one of my favorite ideas is from Monsignor Martin Hellriegel, a passionate leader of the Liturgical Movement. He recalled how his mother in Germany decorated for Pentecost:

Pentecost was another “red letter day” for our family. On all the big days of the Church’s year mother saw to it that father would wear his best suit, the long “Prince Albert” and the stove-pipe. Being a tall man of six feet and six inches, and now “headed” with an additional eight or ten inches, made him a majestic figure as he marched with his family to the parish High Mass. Only later on in life I realized the importance and binding power of these family processions to the “house of God.” On the eve of Pentecost mother prepared the table. In the center of the table: a large sun and, emanating from it, red streams (all cut from crepe paper) leading to the plate of each member. In the middle of the sun a blessed candle, the symbol of Christ “present wherever two or three are gathered in my name.” Around the foot of the candlestick seven fresh roses, expressing the sevenfold gift and the fragrance of that “other Paraclete” whom he sent “that he might abide with us forever” (p. 101-102 "Family Life, the Liturgical Year, and the Sacramentals" from The Family In Christ, National Liturgical Week, 1946).

Symbolic Foods

Providing foods that share the symbols of the Holy Spirit and Confirmation can be an invaluable tool for teaching about Pentecost. Incorporating strawberries (which are in season and in a small way resemble flames), flaming foods, birds that fly (pigeons, chicken especially the wings, Cornish hens) are some of the most popular ideas. A cake seems almost mandatory, to celebrate the birthday of the Church. The sidebar for Pentecost has a variety of suggestions, especially strawberry themed. Not included in the list are fresh strawberry ideas, like a strawberry tart, which allow display of the "flames" more readily.

My family's personal favorite is the Twelve Fruit Salad. Our family's favorite combination included: kiwi, watermelon, strawberry, blueberry, raspberry, blackberry, grape, apple, nectarine, peach, plum, cherry, as we are not too fond of melons beside watermelon. We like to serve over pound cake for the adults and add a dollop of whipped cream. Instead of birthday cake we have made allergy-safe cupcakes with tongues of fire. 

The symbolic foods provide visuals to discuss the sacrament of Confirmation and the feast of Pentecost, but they aren't necessary. Just sharing a meal together can be the stepping stone for deeper discussions and growth.

Celebrating the Holy Spirit

Restoring the order of the sacraments of initiation highlights the importance of Confirmation, so often neglected or misunderstood. Recalling the Holy Spirit coming down and strengthening the Apostles brings to mind our personal Pentecost of the sacrament of Confirmation. Of all the feasts of the Church Year, Pentecost is one that engages all the senses, making it easier to impart the truths of the Faith. Bringing symbols and visual aids can help us grow in our Faith of the mysteries of the sacrament and help us in our cooperation with the Holy Spirit. Without the help of the Holy Spirit, we cannot do our work to live and spread the Gospel.

Come, Holy Spirit, fill the hearts of thy Faithful;
and enkindle in them the fire of Thy love.
Send forth Thy Spirit and they shall be created,
and thou shalt renew the face of the earth.

Jennifer Gregory Miller is an experienced homemaker, home schooler, and authority on living the liturgical year. She is the primary developer of CatholicCulture.org's liturgical year section. See full bio.

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  • Posted by: Bernadette - May. 23, 2015 12:48 PM ET USA

    Wonderful! My son can use this in his Pentecost homilies. This year, as last, he has permission from our bishop to administer the Sacrament of Confirmation on several adults in his parish. This will give him some ideas, as well as "food" for thought!