"In theory, there is no difference between theory and practice. But, in practice, there is"
(Jan L. A. van de Snepscheut; also attributed to Yogi Berra).
In the sacramental theology popular at the present time in the United States, Confirmation is supposed to be the sacrament that strengthens the Baptized members of Jesus' Body for ministry, just as the gift of the Holy Spirit on the day of Pentecost completed the formation of the apostles and empowered them to preach the gospel to all nations. In the Latin Rite in the United States, it is usually given later in life when the recipient is ready to make an adult decision to join the Body of Christ and remain in it forever.
In practice, a scandalously large number of U.S. students perceive the sacrament as graduation from the Church rather than an adult commitment to the Church. Their parents create the conditions under which the meaning of the sacrament is completely reversed by telling them, in effect, "AFTER you get Confirmed, then you may make an adult decision to leave the Church."
Students treat Confirmation as graduation from Church. They act as if there is nothing more to receive from the Church, and consequently move on to other things that they really care about.
- "The sacrament of confirmation is to be conferred on the faithful at about the age of discretion unless the conference of bishops has determined another age, or there is danger of death, or in the judgment of the minister a grave cause suggests otherwise."
Completion of Baptism
- CCC #1288
- "From that time on the apostles, in fulfillment of Christ's will, imparted to the newly baptized by the laying on of hands the gift of the Spirit that completes the grace of Baptism. For this reason in the Letter to the Hebrews the doctrine concerning Baptism and the laying on of hands is listed among the first elements of Christian instruction. The imposition of hands is rightly recognized by the Catholic tradition as the origin of the sacrament of Confirmation, which in a certain way perpetuates the grace of Pentecost in the Church" (Paul VI, Divinae consortium naturae, 659; cf. Acts 8:15-17; 19:5-6; Heb 6:2).
Separation of Confirmation from Baptism in the West
- In the first centuries Confirmation generally comprised one single celebration with Baptism, forming with it a "double sacrament," according to the expression of St. Cyprian. Among other reasons, the multiplication of infant baptisms all through the year, the increase of rural parishes, and the growth of dioceses often prevented the bishop from being present at all baptismal celebrations. In the West the desire to reserve the completion of Baptism to the bishop caused the temporal separation of the two sacraments. The East has kept them united, so that Confirmation is conferred by the priest who baptizes. But he can do so only with the "myron" [holy oil] consecrated by a bishop.
- A custom of the Roman Church facilitated the development of the Western practice: a double anointing with sacred chrism after Baptism. The first anointing of the neophyte on coming out of the baptismal bath was performed by the priest; it was completed by a second anointing on the forehead of the newly baptized by the bishop. The first anointing with sacred chrism, by the priest, has remained attached to the baptismal rite; it signifies the participation of the one baptized in the prophetic, priestly, and kingly offices of Christ. If Baptism is conferred on an adult, there is only one post-baptismal anointing, that of Confirmation.
- The practice of the Eastern Churches gives greater emphasis to the unity of Christian initiation. That of the Latin Church more clearly expresses the communion of the new Christian with the bishop as guarantor and servant of the unity, catholicity and apostolicity of his Church, and hence the connection with the apostolic origins of Christ's Church.