Sunday, January 6, 2008

Sermon of Fr. Gerard for The Epiphany

(Website Editor’s note: Because of the lack of opportunity to teach the instructions on confirmation, Fr. Gerard gave general instruction for Confirmation in his sermon today)

Because of the lack of opportunity to conduct the proper classes for confirmation, I wanted take this opportunity to go over what the preparation has to say about confirmation.

Confirmation is the sacrament through which the Holy Ghost comes to us in a special way and enables us to profess our faith as strong and perfect Christians and soldiers of Jesus Christ. The affects of Confirmation are mainly four:
1. an increase in sanctifying grace, which we received in baptism.
2. The strengthening of our faith
3. The gifts of the Holy Ghost in a special manner
4. An everlasting mark imprinted on our souls.

Confirmation, like baptism and Holy Orders can only be received once and if there is some doubt about its administration the first time and a person receives confirmation again they are not re-confirmed, but rather, confirmed under condition. If the first confirmation was invalid then this one would give the sacrament to the person who had not received it.

There are seven gifts of the Holy Ghost:
1. Wisdom gives us a delight in the things of God and directs our whole life and all our actions to his honor and glory.
2. Understanding enables us to know more clearly the mysteries of faith. This is how the saints came to be able to explain the mysteries of faith. It is such a beautiful language, the gift of understanding.
3. Counsel warns us of the deceits of the devil and of their dangers to our salvation and helps us to choose the right way, especially when matters are difficult.
4. Fortitude strengthens us to do the will of God in all things, even when it means, like the martyrs, suffering for our faith.
5. Knowledge enables us to discover the will of God in all things.
6. Piety is the gift, which makes us love God as our Father and obey him because we love him not because we are afraid of him like a slave.
7. Fear of the Lord fills us with the dread of sin and so it inspires us to avoid sin and displeasing our Heavenly Father.

The exact time at which confirmation was instituted is not known but it is certain that Christ instituted this sacrament and instructed His Apostles in its use at some time before His Ascension into heaven. When Christ was about to leave the earth, he promised the guidance of the Holy Ghost, the third person in the blessed trinity, the spirit of truth, whom he would send to teach them all things. He said: “You will receive the power of the Holy Ghost coming upon you.” Our Lord kept his promise. Ten days after his Ascension he sent the Holy Ghost down upon the Apostles in the form of tongues of fire, as it is described in the Acts of the Apostles, and they were filled with the Holy Ghost and began to speak in various tongues according as the Holy Ghost gave them to speak.

The Apostles were truly confirmed, that is to say strengthened by the Descent of the Holy Ghost, their understanding was fully penetrated with the whole and entire doctrine of divine faith, as Our Lord said that he brought to them all what he had told them, their minds clearly grasped the divine truths and their will was entirely under his sway. So that they fearlessly preached the Gospel to the whole world and from this point they were confirmed in grace so that they did not go against God’s will in any serious matter.

The affects of the Descent of the Holy Ghost upon the early Christians were a special assistance to enable them to undergo grave afflictions and severe trials on account of their new faith, even to suffer martyrdom in many cases as a witness to their faith. Our Lord told the Apostles to confer the Holy Ghost by the imposition of hands on all who were properly disposed to receive the sacrament of confirmation. He said: “As the Father sent me, I also send you.” And the Church still practices the ancient custom of imposing hands to call down the Holy Ghost to those who have been baptized. The Church still possesses and dispenses the graces of the Holy Ghost in a special sacrament by the imposition of hands, through the ministry of bishops, to the faithful after baptism and this sacrament is confirmation.

Confirmation is a sacrament of the new law instituted by Our Lord Jesus Christ, which strengthens the divine life within us and gives to those who were baptized the Holy Ghost with all those gifts in a special manner. We receive the Holy Ghost and the theological virtues and gifts of the Holy Ghost in baptism and confirmation keeps them in a special way. The sacrament is called confirmation because it strengthens and perfects the new life, which the grace of Jesus Christ bestows in baptism, some of the fathers of the Church called the sacrament of confirmation by various names such as the imposition of hands, the sacrament of Holy Chrism, The Seal of Our Lord, the Spiritual Seal and the sign by which the Holy Ghost is received. Confirmation is a true sacrament because it has all the conditions required for a sacrament. It is an outward sign instituted by Christ to give grace. The outward sign of confirmation is the visible action by which the sacrament is administered and consists of matter and form, which signifies the grace to be conferred. The matter of the sacrament of confirmation consists in the laying on of the bishop’s hands and anointing with Chrism. The form consists in the sacred words pronounced by the bishop, which expresses the receiving of the Holy Ghost and the sealing of the soul in Jesus Christ. Holy Chrism is composed of olive oil and fragrant balsam, blessed by the bishop on Holy Thursday. The oil signifies the inward strength conferred upon the soul by the Holy Ghost. Balsam is an extract of a root that grows in the dry ground and it is mixed with oil when it is consecrated by the bishop, that is when Holy Chrism is consecrated, to signify that he who is to be confirmed receives the grace to keep himself free from sinful corruption and to send forth the sweet order of a holy life. When the bishop consecrates the Chrism on Holy Thursday he says the following prayer: “May God grant this virtue to the Chrism of the Holy Ghost that by the sanctification infused by Chrism the corruption of the first birth may be absorbed, the holy temple of each one may breathe the lovely order of an innocent life.”

Confirmation is not, like baptism, absolutely necessary for salvation but all Catholics ought to receive it, if they have the opportunity, as it confers sacramental grace and enables them to become soldiers of Jesus Christ and stronger perfect Christians. It is a sin to neglect confirmation, especially in these evil days, when faith and morals are repressed by so many and such violent temptations. It would be a serious sin only to neglect it through contempt. The power to confirm resides in the bishops of the Church, who succeeding the Apostles are the ordinary ministers of confirmation. The extraordinary minister of confirmation is a priest who has received the power by a special delegation from the Apostolic See. By the decree of September 14, 1946, the pastor in his own territory may confirm all the faithful who are in danger of death from a serious illness, of which it is foreseen that they will die. When I was the pastor of St. Mary’s in Tacoma, I had the opportunity and privilege to bestow confirmation in this manner on two dying children. One was a child of about 7 years of age who was dying of a brain tumor. The other was a baby, who had been born prematurely and the doctors had exhausted every means to help him recuperate but they could see that he was not going to recover from whatever illness he had so they were going to disconnect all the additional life support that was being used so I was able to baptize that baby, after they disconnected the tubes and IVs and whatever else they were using to keep him alive. Then I had the ritual for confirmation in my ritual book and was able to give him confirmation before he died, which happened just shortly after I had finished giving him confirmation. The extraordinary minister must use the Holy Chrism, which was consecrated by the bishop. And before bestowing the sacrament he must announce that the bishop is the ordinary minister of the sacrament but through a special power or faculty from the Holy See to confer the sacrament, it is allowed to confer it on a dying person and the priest must used the same rite as the bishop.

Confirmation may be administered at anytime during the year, at any hour or in the evening if the bishop should arrange it so. The proper place of the ceremony is in the Church but the bishop, for a reasonable cause, may confer the sacrament in any becoming place. Anyone who has been baptized but not yet confirmed can receive the sacrament. In the early days of the Church, and even now in certain places, like the Eastern rites and in Latin American countries, even children or infants are confirmed. Ordinarily in the Latin rite, children are confirmed between the ages of 10 and 12. After the use of reason has been obtained, because as confirmation makes them strong in perfect Christians and soldiers of Jesus Christ, it is fitting that they be able to study their faith more in depth than is required just for the reception of Holy Communion. The conditions of receiving confirmation are these four:
1. A person must be baptized Catholic
2. He should be in a state of grace, free from all mortal sin
3. He should take a saint’s name, that is one different from his baptismal name
4. He should be well instructed in the principal doctrines of the faith.

The minimum knowledge for confirmation is to know the Lord’s prayer, the Hail Mary, the Apostle’s creed, The Commandments of God, The six precepts of the Church, The doctrine of the Sacraments and especially the nature and the affects of the sacrament of confirmation. To receive the sacrament worthily, one should make a worthy confession, if at all possible and spend some time in recollection or some time in spiritual preparation so as to be prepared to receive the Holy Ghost with his seven gifts. The graces which one receives at confirmation will be available throughout one’s life and so it is fitting that one should try to prepare carefully with an understanding so as to receive as much as those graces as possible. The sanctifying grace is always given through the sacraments but depending on a person’s deposition. The actual graces, which enable one to live one’s faith more perfectly and defend it courageously, are more or less depending on one’s deposition. The sacrament is not necessarily a requirement to be received while fasting. If one should present himself to receive confirmation knowing that he is in the state of mortal sin, he would commit a grave sin of sacrilege, although the sacrament would be received, he would not receive its graces until he made a good confession and received absolution. If a person was in need of confession for a serious sin and was at the communion rail to be confirmed, it would not be necessary to get up and leave as that would cause a commotion, one should make an act of perfect contrition so as to regain the state of sanctifying grace and mention that fact later in confession.

The ceremonies of confirmation are as follows: the bishop about to confirm with his hand extended towards those who are to be confirmed prays that the Holy Ghost may descend upon them with his seven full gifts. He lays his hand upon each one, anointing them with Holy Chrism on the forehead with the sign of the Cross and pronouncing the sacramental words. He gently strikes each one on the cheek and finally gives all those who were just confirmed his blessing. The forehead is anointed with Chrism in the sign of the Cross to teach us that the sacrament of grace is given in virtue of the sacrifice of the Cross only to remind those confirmed that they must not be ashamed to profess boldly their faith in Christ Jesus crucified and that by this sacred auction the soul is sealed in the Holy Ghost with a spiritual everlasting mark, which enrolls those confirmed forever in the service of Christ. When the bishop anoints the person, he confirms he says: “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.” When he gives the blow on the cheek to those confirmed, he says: “Peace be to you.” This blow on the cheek signifies that by confirmation, each of those who receive it is strengthened to suffer, and if necessary, even to die for Christ.

Those who are to receive the sacrament of confirmation should come dressed in a white shirt, and girls or women with a white dress or at least a modest dress. They should have their foreheads neat and their hair arranged as to leave the forehead free to be anointed and if the young ladies or women use make up, they should not use it on their forehead. They should approach the altar rail in due reverence with hands joined before the breasts. Those who are to be confirmed as they kneel at the communion rail, they should have a card with the chosen name of the patron saint for confirmation, and also their baptismal and family name and the name of the sponsor. Those who are about to be confirmed should fervently ask for the gifts of the Holy Ghost, they should promise to live and die as faithful soldiers of Christ and they should be present from the beginning of the sacred rite and remain until the bishop has given benediction or blessing afterwards. The candidate for confirmation takes another name to the one received in baptism to remind him that he is to place himself under the protection of another patron saint, whom he chooses as his advocate toward God. That he is to follow the exemplary life of the new patron remaining steadfast unto death. The bishop gives a penance to those who have been confirmed and asks or tells them to say the Apostle’s creed, the Our Father and the Hail Mary. Normally this is done in the course of the ceremony also as a profession of faith for those who have been confirmed. Sponsors are taken in confirmation, as in baptism and these present the candidates to the bishop and undertake to see that the child is brought up in the Catholic Faith and in the practice of his religion.

Sponsors in confirmation must be practicing Catholics, they must have been confirmed and be able to fulfill their duties as spiritual guardians and they must be different from the baptismal sponsors. There should be one sponsor for each of the candidates, a Godfather for the boys and a Godmother for the girls. If there are not enough, then one or two sponsors may stand for all of the candidates. The sponsor is chosen by the candidate or by the candidate’s parents or guardians, or otherwise, by the bishop or parish priest. During confirmation, the sponsors accompany the candidates and present them to the bishop at the altar rail. While the candidate is being confirmed, they should physically touch the shoulder with their right hand standing immediately behind the candidate. After confirmation, the duties of sponsors are to take a permanent interest in their spiritual children and they should see that they receive a Christian education should the parents fail in this duty. Sponsors contract a spiritual relationship with the persons for whom they stood but this is no longer and impediment to marriage. Clerics or members of religious orders must not act as sponsors without special permission from their superior and the bishop.

The duties of parents, whose children are to be confirmed, are not to neglect to have their children receive this sacrament at the proper time. They must send their children regularly to the preparatory instructions, they should assist them in order to make a good confession, before receiving confirmation and after confirmation they must insist that their children receive the sacraments of penance and Holy Eucharist frequently as well as continue to study their faith. Just because one has been confirmed doesn’t meant that the need to study the faith is any less rather its even of greater importance so that one may fulfill his obligations as a Catholic and in professing and practicing the faith. Those who have been confirmed should thank God the Holy Ghost for the graces bestowed upon them and promise steadfastly to profess their faith and live up to it and also celebrate the anniversary date of their confirmation. The duties of the sponsors of confirmations are not simply a social duty but rather an important spiritual duty to see that their godchildren in confirmation are living up to their faith, that they are receiving the sacraments and they’re continuing to study their faith.

One of the great tragedies of Vatican II was that so many people who had been confirmed did not continue to study their faith and so they were taken by surprise with all the new changes in many cases and failed to recognize that a new religion was being imposed upon them and especially those who were later educated with the New Catechism and their parents often times failed to realize that the True Catholic Faith, the Traditional Catechism was not being taught and so in many instances the children were being indoctrinated into a new religion, the religion of Vatican II, instead of the traditional faith, which they themselves had learned in their Catechism classes as children. So this sacrament in our day is of even greater importance than it was before because the evils of society against faith and morals, the threat to the faith because of Vatican II and the emotional and mental persecution of misunderstanding on the part of others who say that their Catholics but follow the modern Vatican II religion makes the graces of this sacrament even more necessary than ever before.

And so hopefully this review of the instructions on confirmation will be helpful and a good reminder for all of us of the importance of studying our faith and of making use of the graces of the sacrament of confirmation.

In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Ghost, Amen.

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