One of our regular bloggers, Petrus, submitted the article below for discussion, following the news that Confirmation will be administered at the SSPX chapel in Edinburgh in the near future.
The fact that some adults (one that I know of personally) may ask for conditional Confirmation provides food for thought. Why would they? Petrus explains…
Is Confirmation the most underrated Sacrament in the modern Catholic Church?
The New Rite of Confirmation differs significantly from the Traditional Rite.
In many dioceses, the age for the reception of Confirmation has been lowered and the liturgy significantly stripped of ceremony. By lowering the age and lessening the ceremonies, the importance and value of Confirmation seems to have been lost on many Catholics. It is the only Sacrament of Initiation that the Society of St. Pius X routinely offer to confer conditionally.
What does the Church teach about Confirmation and why does the Society of St. Pius X have grave concerns concerning the new rite of Confirmation?
Holy Scripture tells us that Our Lord promised that He would send the Holy Ghost, a paraclete, or “helper”, to His disciples for the purpose of strengthening them in profession of Faith. Our Lord tells His disciples, “The Holy Ghost shall teach you in the same hour what you must say” (Luke chapter 12 verses 11-12).
In John’s Gospel chapter 14 Our Lord says, “And I will ask the Father, and He shall give you another Paraclete, that He may abide with you for ever.” In the Acts of the Apostles, Philip the Deacon converted Samaria and baptised the converts. However, it was the Apostles, the first bishops of the Church, who went to administer Confirmation. It is clear that the imparting of the Holy Ghost was to be the normal part of the Christian life. Thus, we can say with confidence that Confirmation is a Sacrament of the Church, instituted by Our Lord, administered by the bishop and through which we receive the Holy Ghost. The Church teaches that Confirmation is the Sacrament by which we receive the Holy Ghost in order to make us strong and perfect Christians and soldiers of Christ. We receive the gifts of the Holy Ghost and the fruits associated with these gifts.
The ordinary minister of Confirmation is a bishop, as we can see from the Acts of the Apostles, detailed above. However, in danger of death any priest can administer the Sacrament in extremis. The bishop administers Confirmation by praying that the Holy Ghost may come down upon those being confirmed, while laying his hands on them and making the Sign of the Cross on their forehead with the oil of Chrism. The use of the oil of Chrism is extremely important. When the great flood documented in the book of Geneses subsided, the dove released by Noah returned with an olive branch, the symbol of peace and plenty. Therefore, the oil of Chrism has olive oil as its base. Olive oil has long been used as a symbol of strengthening. It is said that Roman soldiers were anointed with olive oil prior to going into battle. Olive oil strengthens our souls and prepares us for spiritual warfare. Added to this olive oil is balsam, sweet smelling fragrance. This balsam heals and preserves our souls.
The primary effect of Confirmation is an increase of the divine life of grace in the soul and a more intimate union with Christ, through reception of the Holy Ghost. The sacramental grace has a strengthening effect which we receive directly from the Holy Ghost, just like the Apostles received on Pentecost Sunday. This increases the gifts of the Holy Ghost, which we originally received at Baptism. The Holy Ghost makes us soldiers of Christ, able to defend and promote our Faith and overcome difficulties of the world, the flesh and the devil.
For the Church, Confirmation is the perpetuation of Pentecost. It is the means through which She keeps alive the power of the Holy Ghost. Why, then, has the importance of Confirmation been downgraded in the modern Church? It is interesting that St. Vincent Ferrer (1350-1419) predicted that towards the end of time Confirmation would fall into disuse and that those who were not confirmed would succumb to believing in and obeying the Antichrist.
The Rite of Confirmation changed significantly in the aftermath of the Second Vatican Council. The bishops of the Society of St. Pius X now routinely offer Conditional Confirmation to those who were Confirmed in the New Rite of Confirmation. Why is there doubts regarding the validity of the New Rite? To understand this, we must consider what ensures the validity of the Sacraments. A valid Sacrament consists of valid matter and correct form. This is because a Sacrament is an outward sign (of an inward grace) – an external action. The rite consists of the performing of an action and the saying of words. Thus in Confirmation, the laying on of hands and anointing on the forehead with Chrism is the valid matter and the words spoken by the bishop while those actions are being performed make up the form.
It must be repeated that the ordinary minister of Confirmation is the bishop and this can normally only be delegated to a priest in extraordinary circumstances, usually danger of death. Since the Second Vatican Council, parish priests routinely administer the Sacrament of Confirmation in many parishes. As I have stated above, valid matter in the case of Confirmation is the laying on of hands and the anointing with Chrism. In the Traditional Rite of Confirmation, the bishop lays his hands on each individual person being confirmed. In the modern Rite, the bishop, or more usually the priest, stands and extends his hands over all the Confirmandi. Moreover, there is no guarantee that the oil of Chrism has olive oil as its base ingredient since the use of other types of oil has been sanctioned by the Vatican. In the Traditional Rite, the correct form that ensures the validity of the Sacrament is, “I sign thee with the Sign of the Cross, and I confirm thee with the chrism of salvation in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost. Amen.” In 1971, these words were changed to “Be sealed with gift of the Holy Spirit.” This change in the correct form is quite dramatic. Coupled with the routine use of priests to administer the Sacrament and doubts regarding the use of olive oil based chrism, this is surely enough to establish doubts regarding the validity of the Sacrament of Confirmation in the new rite.
Confirmation can only be administered once. When a Society of St. Pius X bishop administers Conditional Confirmation, similar to when Conditional Baptism is administered, the words, “If you are not Confirmed…” are added to the beginning of the correct form. It is important to stress that the Society of Saint Pius X makes no definitive judgement regarding the validity of the new rite. The existence of doubt should be enough for any Catholic who has been confirmed in the New Rite to seek Conditional Confirmation from a Traditional bishop and any Catholic who has still to receive the Sacrament of Confirmation should ensure they receive it in the Traditional Rite by a Traditional bishop.