Patricia Bronikowski, an eighth-grader from Aiken, has been very busy for the past two years.
In addition to her usual responsibilities of school, family and fun, she spent a lot of time researching saints, learning about the gifts of the Holy Spirit, and performing service projects.
Like hundreds of other kids her age, she was preparing for her confirmation, which took place April 20 at St. Mary Help of Christians Church.
Confirmation is an annual ritual that lifts youth into a new role in the Church and it is a significant milestone in their lives.
What is confirmation?
Confirmation is considered one of the sacraments of initiation, along with baptism and holy Communion.
Why get confirmed?
The Catechism of the Catholic Church stresses the importance of the sacrament. In paragraph 1302, it says the effect “is the special outpouring of the Holy Spirit as once granted to the apostles on the day of Pentecost.”
Further, in 1303 it states that confirmation brings “an increase and deepening of baptismal grace” in five ways:
“It roots us more deeply in the divine filiation …; it unites us more firmly with Christ; it increases the gifts of the Holy Spirit in us; it renders our bond with the Church more perfect; it gives us a special strength of the Holy Spirit to spread and defend the faith by word and action as true witnesses of Christ, to confess the name of Christ boldly, and never to be ashamed of the Cross.”
The Catechism stresses that confirmation is only given once because, just as at baptism, an “indelible spiritual mark” is imprinted on the soul of the believer.
“We give them the sacrament so they can experience the gifts of the Holy Spirit,” said Bishop Robert E. Guglielmone. “In our weakness we are unable to do all God asks us to do, so he sends the Spirit to assist us. The sacrament gives them what they need to confirm God’s kingdom on earth.”
Who performs confirmations and what happens during the ceremony?
Bishops are the ordinary ministers of confirmation, and in the Diocese of Charleston, Bishop Guglielmone officiates at the ceremony. In larger dioceses, auxiliary or retired bishops often help in performing confirmations. If a bishop is not available, parish priests can be given faculties to confirm. Priests, for instance, also bestow confirmation on adults at the Easter Vigil.
During the ceremony, those receiving the sacrament, known as confirmandi, are anointed by the bishop with the oil of chrism, a consecrated oil. He makes the sign of the cross on their forehead and says “Be sealed with the gift of the Holy Spirit.”
What does it mean?
Some people mistakenly believe that confirmation is some sort of Catholic coming of age ritual or a graduation ceremony for children who have completed eight years of religious education. Nothing can be further from the truth. In reality, the sacrament arms youth with the tools they need to continue learning about their faith as they grow.
“While some people teach that they’re reaching a level of ‘adulthood’ in their faith, there’s still so much maturing that needs to take place,” said Father John Zimmerman, pastor of Our Lady of Perpetual Help in Camden. “The young people need to learn an appreciation of their faith, they need the Gospel in their hearts and the gifts of the Holy Spirit. They can’t just think being confirmed is like achieving a country club membership.”
“The sacrament is their final initiation into the Church, a completion of their baptism,” said Stephanie Lasitter, director of youth and family life at Prince of Peace Church in Taylors. “When they are confirmed, they really take ownership of their faith and are responsible for defending it and living it.”
Who gets confirmed?
In the Diocese of Charleston, pastors have the discretion to decide whether confirmations in their parish take place in eighth or ninth grade, said Michael Martocchio, diocesan director of Catechesis and Christian initiation. Those in higher grades are sometimes confirmed at the same time depending on their circumstances. Adults who have not been confirmed usually receive the sacrament at the Easter Vigil after going through the Rite of Christian Initiation for Adults (RCIA), but they also can be confirmed at other times during the year.
How do you prepare?
Preparation normally takes two years and begins in seventh or eighth grade. The first year includes regular catechesis, and the second is dedicated entirely to preparing for the sacrament. Youth leaders from several parishes said the second year explores the faith more deeply, with lessons on everything from the sacraments and Scripture to prayer and Church teaching. Many parishes also require a certain number of service hours at home, in the community and at church. They also ask that students attend confirmation retreats.
“It’s about getting kids to unwrap what Catholicism really means,” said Elizabeth Hudacko, director of youth ministry at Our Lady of the Hills Church in Columbia. “We were given the great gift of our faith by our parents at baptism. During the year, I ask the students to learn what the gift is and take ownership of it for themselves.”
A message from our sponsors …
Young people must select a confirmation sponsor. This is a Catholic adult other than their parents who serves as a role model and helps guide the student on the way to the sacrament. The sponsors also ideally attend the ceremony along with the family.
According to canon law, confirmation sponsors must be at least 16 years old and be a “fully initiated Catholic” who has been baptized, confirmed and received the Eucharist. They also should be active in their parish, regularly receive the sacraments and be willing to provide ongoing spiritual support to the person they sponsor.
Barbara Hollis, director of youth ministry at St. Gregory the Great Church in Bluffton, said sponsors are important because they can offer an example of how to live an authentic Catholic life. At her parish, sponsors and youth attend monthly discussions together on educational topics.
What’s in a name?
One of the highlights for youth is selecting a name that they take during the confirmation ceremony. It must be a Christian name, and is usually the name of a saint, someone they aspire to emulate. While some choose relatives’ names, others spend a long time researching the lives of holy people to find one that seems especially relevant to them.
After a lot of research, Patricia selected Therese for her name, after St. Therese of Lisieux.
“During her life, she did a lot of little things to build up the kingdom of God, and she showed great faith in God,” Patricia explained.
It’s just the beginning …
Two years of hard work comes to an end when confirmation takes place, but in reality, the ceremony signifies the start of a whole new journey with Christ.
“It’s the beginning of our Christian vocation to live saintly lives and to evangelize,” said Pedro Silva, youth minister at St. Peter Church in Beaufort.
Patricia said she’s already learned a lot more about God through her confirmation and looks forward to serving the Church and sharing God’s love in any way she can.
Gifts of the Holy Spirit
Church teaching tells us that the Holy Spirit descends on the person being confirmed and gives them courage and specific gifts that will enable them to practice the faith, much as the Spirit descended on the Apostles at the first Pentecost.
In preparing for the sacrament, young people in the Diocese of Charleston are taught about the gifts of the Spirit and why they are important. Alison Blanchet, a youth director, author and retreat leader, also addressed the gifts in her recent book “Gifted: Unleashing the Power of Confirmation”.
Here is a list of the gifts of the Holy Spirit offered by Blanchet, along with how each gift can be applied in the life of the newly confirmed:
Wisdom: Enables us to take what we know about God — the “facts” of Christ, sin and salvation, and apply it to how we live our lives in the world. Wisdom helps us see what God intended for us, and helps us choose what will make us happy or fulfilled.
Understanding: Pushes us to go beyond acknowledging the existence of God to figuring out what his will for our lives is, even though it might be difficult. The faithful can look to the many ways God teaches us — Scripture, tradition, Church teaching, family, other role models — to help them grow in understanding.
Counsel: This doesn’t mean giving advice, nor is it about making people uncomfortable or embarrassed. It’s the gift that empowers people to bring truth to light through words and actions.
Fortitude (courage): Helps people stay the course when they find themselves in situations where they’re not sure what to do or when doing the right thing may be hard. According to the Catechism, this gift “ensures firmness in difficulties and constancy in pursuit of the good.” (1808).
Knowledge: Knowledge of the truth, which St. Paul explains is the truth of the relationship between the person and Christ.
Piety: This gift moves the believer to seek God the Father, not when she feels she earned it, but when she is most in need of it.
Fear of the Lord: The ability to show awe and reverence before God.