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Catholic Apologetics

Chapter 14 -- Confirmation


We saw in the last chapter that baptism confers entrance into the Body of Christ, forgiveness of sins and infusion of the Holy Spirit. But, let's look a little closer at the infusion of the Holy Spirit.

Jesus Received the Holy Spirit

Isa 11:1-3 - But a shoot shall sprout from the stump of Jesse, and from his roots a bud shall blossom. The spirit of the LORD shall rest upon him: a spirit of wisdom and of understanding, a spirit of counsel and of strength, a spirit of knowledge and of fear of the LORD, and his delight shall be the fear of the LORD.

Isaiah prophesized that Jesus (the shoot that sprouted from the stump of Jesse) would receive the spirit of the Lord and all its gifts.

Mt 3:16-17 - After Jesus was baptized, he came up from the water and behold, the heavens were opened (for him), and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove (and) coming upon him. And a voice came from the heavens, saying, "This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased."

Matthew recorded that, as foretold by Isaiah, the Holy Spirit descended like a dove and rested on Jesus immediately after He was baptized.

John 1:30-34 - He is the one of whom I said, 'A man is coming after me who ranks ahead of me because he existed before me.' I did not know him, but the reason why I came baptizing with water was that he might be made known to Israel." John testified further, saying, "I saw the Spirit come down like a dove from the sky and remain upon him. I did not know him, but the one who sent me to baptize with water told me, 'On whomever you see the Spirit come down and remain, he is the one who will baptize with the Holy Spirit.' Now I have seen and testified that he is the Son of God."

Likewise, John the Baptist saw the Spirit come down like a dove and rest on Jesus.

Jesus, the second person of the Trinity, received the Holy Spirit in a perfect demonstration for us to imitate. After Jesus received the fullness of the Holy Spirit, He began His public ministry. In the same light, He prepared his Apostles and disciples.

The Apostles Received the Holy Spirit

John 16:7-15 - But I tell you the truth, it is better for you that I go. For if I do not go, the Advocate will not come to you. But if I go, I will send him to you. And when he comes he will convict the world in regard to sin and righteousness and condemnation: sin, because they do not believe in me; righteousness, because I am going to the Father and you will no longer see me; condemnation, because the ruler of this world has been condemned. "I have much more to tell you, but you cannot bear it now. But when he comes, the Spirit of truth, he will guide you to all truth. He will not speak on his own, but he will speak what he hears, and will declare to you the things that are coming. He will glorify me, because he will take from what is mine and declare it to you. Everything that the Father has is mine; for this reason I told you that he will take from what is mine and declare it to you.

When Jesus spoke these words, the Apostles were already baptized; they learned all that Jesus taught them over the years; they witnessed great signs and wonders; they experienced the risen Lord. But, there was still something missing. They were not quite fully matured as Christians. They had the head knowledge and the grace of God, but there was one more gift they were to receive to bring them into the fullness of the faith. Jesus stated when the Holy Spirit comes, He would guide them to all truth, even that which they could not yet bear.

John 7:37-39 - On the last and greatest day of the feast, Jesus stood up and exclaimed, "Let anyone who thirsts come to me and drink. Whoever believes in me, as scripture says: 'Rivers of living water will flow from within him.'" He said this in reference to the Spirit that those who came to believe in him were to receive. There was, of course, no Spirit yet, because Jesus had not yet been glorified.

Jesus described the fullness of the Holy Spirit as rivers of living water flowing within. It was not described as a trickle, or even a stream, but a fully flowing river.

Acts 1:8 - But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, throughout Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth."

The Holy Spirit would fill the Apostles to overflowing with the love of God. They would fearlessly witness the good news to the world.

John 20: 21-23 - (Jesus) said to them again, "Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, so I send you." And when he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them, "Receive the holy Spirit. Whose sins you forgive are forgiven them, and whose sins you retain are retained."

John describes when the Apostles received the Holy Spirit. Jesus breathed on them, as if a wind, and they received.

Acts 2: 1-4 - When the time for Pentecost was fulfilled, they were all in one place together. And suddenly there came from the sky a noise like a strong driving wind, and it filled the entire house in which they were. Then there appeared to them tongues as of fire, which parted and came to rest on each one of them. And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in different tongues, as the Spirit enabled them to proclaim.

Luke recorded in Acts the day of Pentecost. With a mighty wind, they received the Spirit. They received the fullness of the Spirit. This was manifested when they spoke in different tongues as the Spirit enabled them. They were zealous for the Lord and proclaimed in loud voices, so much so that bystanders thought them drunk.

Acts 2:14-18 - Then Peter stood up with the Eleven, raised his voice, and proclaimed to them, "You who are Jews, indeed all of you staying in Jerusalem. Let this be known to you, and listen to my words. These people are not drunk, as you suppose, for it is only nine o'clock in the morning. No, this is what was spoken through the prophet Joel: 'It will come to pass in the last days,' God says, 'that I will pour out a portion of my spirit upon all flesh. Your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, your young men shall see visions, your old men shall dream dreams. Indeed, upon my servants and my handmaids I will pour out a portion of my spirit in those days, and they shall prophesy.

Here are the verses from Joel that Peter referenced:

Joel 3:1-2 - Then afterward I will pour out my spirit upon all mankind. Your sons and daughters shall prophesy, your old men shall dream dreams, your young men shall see visions; even upon the servants and the handmaids, in those days, I will pour out my spirit.

Peter said, the Word of God said, the pouring out of the Spirit witnessed at Pentecost was precisely the pouring out foretold by Joel. God has, and does, and will pour out His spirit, like a river of living water.

We Receive the Holy Spirit

Those who saw the Apostles and disciples at the first Pentecost were swayed by Peter's words. They wanted to receive this same spirit.

Acts 2: 38-39 - Peter (said) to them, "Repent and be baptized, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins; and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. For the promise is made to you and to your children and to all those far off, whomever the Lord our God will call."

Baptism Alone or a Separate Sacrament?

It would appear from a simple reading of the above verses that baptism alone would give them the gifts of the Holy Spirit. But then we read:

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

Here, the Samarians were baptized, but the Holy Spirit had not yet fallen on any of them. This suggests baptism alone is not enough. Peter and John had to lay hands and pray for them before the Spirit came. Here is a similar incident:

Acts 19: 1-6 - While Apollos was in Corinth, Paul traveled through the interior of the country and came (down) to Ephesus where he found some disciples. He said to them, "Did you receive the holy Spirit when you became believers?" They answered him, "We have never even heard that there is a Holy Spirit." He said, "How were you baptized?" They replied, "With the baptism of John." Paul then said, "John baptized with a baptism of repentance, telling the people to believe in the one who was to come after him, that is, in Jesus." When they heard this, they were baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus. And when Paul laid (his) hands on them, the Holy Spirit came upon them, and they spoke in tongues and prophesied.

Here, again, Paul had to lay hands before the Spirit descended on any of them. When they confessed they never heard of the Holy Spirit, Paul knew something was wrong. If they were baptized in the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit, they would have heard about the Holy Spirit. That's why Paul asked them how they were baptized. Notice also that the baptism from John the Baptist was insufficient. They had to be baptized again in the Trinitarian fashion.

We saw from the last chapter that baptism does infuse the recipient with the Holy Spirit, but we see from the verses above that the fullness of the Spirit is not realized until the laying of hands and anointing by those ordained by Christ. These two separate acts, baptism and anointing of the Spirit, is why the Church considers there to be two separate sacraments: baptism and confirmation.

If the bishop (in direct line of apostolic succession) performs the baptism, he can coincidentally confer confirmation as well. The bishops of the Eastern rites bless oil and pass it to the priest, who is then able to perform a simultaneous baptism/confirmation. The Latin rites allow a priest to perform the baptism, but the bishop normally anoints and lays hands in a separate setting to complete confirmation. As always, emergencies call for alternate methods, and the priest, or in dire emergency, any baptized person with the requisite intent can perform both baptism and confirmation.

Advance to Maturity

Heb 6:1-6 - Therefore, let us leave behind the basic teaching about Christ and advance to maturity, without laying the foundation all over again: repentance from dead works and faith in God, instruction about baptisms and laying on of hands, resurrection of the dead and eternal judgment. And we shall do this, if only God permits. For it is impossible in the case of those who have once been enlightened and tasted the heavenly gift and shared in the holy Spirit and tasted the good word of God and the powers of the age to come, and then have fallen away, to bring them to repentance again, since they are recrucifying the Son of God for themselves and holding him up to contempt.

Confirmation is an advance to maturity.

Parting Comment

CCC 1316 - Confirmation perfects Baptismal grace; it is the sacrament which gives the Holy Spirit in order to root us more deeply in the divine filiation, incorporate us more firmly into Christ, strengthen our bond with the Church, associate us more closely with her mission, and help us bear witness to the Christian faith in words accompanied by deeds.

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