EXPAND YOUR READING!!

"Today the concept of truth is viewed with suspicion, because truth is identified with violence. Over history there have, unfortunately, been episodes when people sought to defend the truth with violence. But they are two contrasting realities. Truth cannot be imposed with means other than itself! Truth can only come with its own light. Yet, we need truth. ... Without truth we are blind in the world, we have no path to follow. The great gift of Christ was that He enabled us to see the face of God".Pope Benedict xvi, February 24th, 2012

The Church is ecumenical, catholic, God-human, ageless, and it is therefore a blasphemy—an unpardonable blasphemy against Christ and against the Holy Ghost—to turn the Church into a national institution, to narrow her down to petty, transient, time-bound aspirations and ways of doing things. Her purpose is beyond nationality, ecumenical, all-embracing: to unite all men in Christ, all without exception to nation or race or social strata. - St Justin Popovitch

BENEDICTUS MOMENTS

Google+ Badge

Tuesday, 26 January 2016

THE CELEBRATION OF CONFIRMATION by Dom David Bird






In "The Meaning of Confirmation" we criticized some of the common ways of explaining what Confirmation is because they are too vague and need something else to make them clear; and we said that that "something" is the liturgy.   Liturgy is the product of the synergy between the Holy Spirit and the Church and the proper context in which to understand the sacraments.   We then looked at how the Catholic West celebrates Confirmation and then how the Orthodox East celebrates it; and we asked what the two have in common.   We found this to be the strong connection with the bishop: the bishop is the ordinary minister in the West, and the priest who administers Confirmation as part of Baptism in the East has to use oil blessed by the bishop or patriarch.   If a priest gives Confirmation in the West without being delegated to do so, then the confirmation is not only illicit, it is invalid; and the same is true in the East if the priest does not use chrism blessed by the bishop.   We concluded that the principal effect of Confirmation is to bind the Christian to the bishop and the hierarchical Church by the power of the Holy Spirit who manifests his presence in ecclesial love.  We noted that the chrism is blessed on the one day of the year, Maundy Thursday or thereabouts, when a diocese comes together with its bishop as a single eucharistic unity.   We also noted that from earliest times Confirmation was used to integrate a person baptised outside the Church into the Catholic communion.

We shall now take a closer look at the celebration of Confirmation according to the Roman version and see if we can learn any more about the sacrament,.



- -
INTRODUCTORY REMARKS

The bishop welcomes the baptised person into the Eucharistic Community by sealing him with “the Gift of the Holy Spirit”.   Let us now unwrap this Gift.  What is given us is a Christian vocation in the Church; and it has three levels or dimensions; though the third is really the perfection of the other two.   The first task of the Holy Spirit is to transform us in such a way that Christ lives in us, so that we can be his instruments.  The second is to give to each of us a particular function or role in the Church and to impart to each of us those charisms we need to fulfil that role, so that, what we do for the building up of the body of Christ is really Christ’s work in the power of the Spirit, and not just something that entirely belongs to us and done entirely on our own.   When we talk of the Charismatic Renewal, we normally mean a deepening of the Spirit’s activity in us at the level of our transformation into Christ and a widening in our use of his charisms to embrace all those mentioned in the New Testament and more.   This is due to a renewal of our experience of what is given to us in the sacraments of initiation.   It can be said that our transformation into Christ belongs to baptism as the sacrament of conversion and is renewed again in confirmation as a pre-requisite for exercising a Christian vocation; that the gift of charisms to fulfil a Christian ministry in the Church belongs to confirmation as the sacrament of vocation.   There is a third level of renewal in the Spirit for those who have travelled on the straight and narrow path of the Beatitudes, through purity of heart to contemplation, through constant prayer to what the fathers of the desert called spiritual fatherhood and motherhood.    Because they have found harmony between the Spirit and their own will, they become the source of harmony for others, Christ can use them in all sorts of ways, and the Spirit endows them with many charisms that are normally shared among the community.    This level of renewal corresponds to communion, in which each of us, being only one, small, limited member of Christ’s body, nevertheless, receives the whole body of Christ in the Eucharist.   Good examples of these fathers and mothers in the Spirit are the founders of many religious orders and congregations, St John Mary Vianney and St Seraphim of Sarov in the 19th century, Marthe Robin and Padre Pio in the 20th.   We shall be looking at each of these three levels of the “gift of the Spirit” as they present themselves.

  However, our first task is to find out as much as we can from the liturgy, the principal source for our understanding of the sacraments.  We shall examine the Blessing of Chrism on Maundy Thursday with its epiclesis; then we shall look at the epiclesis over the people who are about to be confirmed; and then we will examine the sacramental formula itself.


EXAMINING THE LITURGY



 THE BLESSING OF CHRISM ON MAUNDY THURSDAY

i.    Introduction

 The Chrism Mass usually takes place on Maundy Thursday; but if the clergy and people have difficulty in attending the Mass on that day, then another day near Easter can be chosen.   The very first rubric sets the scene:

The bishop is to be considered as the high priest of the flock.   The life in Christ of his faithful is in some way derived and dependent upon the bishop.

The chrism Mass is one of the principle expressions of the fullness of the bishop’s priesthood and signifies the close unity of the priests with him.   During the Mass, which he concelebrates with priests from various sections of his diocese, the bishop consecrates the chrism and blesses the other oils.   The newly baptized are anointed and confirmed with the chrism consecrated by the bishop.   Catechumens are prepared and disposed for baptism with the second oil.   And the sick are anointed in their illness with the third oil.

The second rubric gives an over-all reason for the use of chrism and a preliminary statement on confirmation.   Other uses for chrism, such as anointing in the sacrament of orders, the consecration of an altar and the blessing of an icon in the Byzantine Rite, are not mentioned.   This rubric is important for our purpose, as forming the context:

The Christian liturgy has assimilated this Old Testament usage of anointing kings, priests and prophets with consecratory oil because the name of Christ, whom they prefigured, means ‘the anointed of the Lord’.  Chrism is a sign: by baptism Christians are plunged into the Paschal Mystery of Christ; they die with him, are buried with him, and rise with him.  By confirmation Christians receive the spiritual anointing of the Spirit who is given to them.

Flesh is added to these bare bones of a definition as we proceed with the rite of blessing of the Chrism which normally takes place after Communion, but can take place after the homily.

ii.  The Invitation.

The Bishop sings or says the invitation:

Let us pray that God our almighty Father will bless this oil so that all who are anointed with it may be inwardly transformed and come to share in eternal salvation.

We may well ask what the bishop is praying for that has not been already granted to the newly baptized.   I believe this will become clearer as we continue with our investigation.   For the moment we will simply quote from The Wellspring of Worship by Jean Corbon OP about the inward transformation that takes place in those who allow themselves to become subject to the Holy Spirit’s action, and to point out that this transformation is an essential pre-requisite in those who intend to bear witness to Christ in the world:

Through baptism and the seal of the gift of the Holy Spirit we have become “sharers of the divine nature” (2 Pet 1:4). In the liturgy of the heart, the wellspring of this divinization streams out as the Holy Spirit, and our individual persons converge in a single origin. But how is this mysterious synergy to infuse our entire nature from its smallest recesses to its most obvious behaviors? This process is the drama of divinization in which the mystery of the lived liturgy is brought to completion in each Christian.
  For the liturgy of the Church to be really effective in us, our participation in the life of the Blessed Trinity as members of Christ’s body must seep deep down into the very depths of our being, into what we call the “heart” of our soul, where our Eucharistic Lord takes up his abode at communion.               His flesh that we receive in communion is the veil of the Holy of Holies in heaven  through which we enter into the presence of God the Father and become participants in that very divine Life that the Father has given to his Son from all eternity       At this level, all that we receive in baptism and confirmation becomes included in Christ’s gift of himself in the Eucharist, and Christ’s Spirit transforms us, little by little, into living victims in Christ, and we receive with him God’s own life from the Father in the joy of Christ’s resurrection - ascension.

“Man becomes God as much as God becomes a man”, says Saint Maximus the Confessor. [1] Christian holiness is divinization because in our concrete humanity we share in the divinity of the Word who married our flesh. The “divine nature” of which Saint Peter speaks (2 Pet 1:4) is not an abstraction or a model, but the very life of the Father, which he eternally communicates to his Son and his Holy Spirit. The Father is its source, and the Son extends it to us by becoming a man. We become God by being more and more united to the humanity of Jesus. The only question left, then since this humanity is the way by which our humanity will put on his divinity–is this: How did the Son of God live as a man in our mortal condition? The Gospel has been written precisely in order to show us “the mind of Christ Jesus” (Phil 2:5); [2] it is this mind with which the Holy Spirit seeks to fill our hearts.

We learn from this prayer that confirmation is about our inward transformation by the Holy Spirit into Christ, even as it is about our communion with the bishop and our integration into the local Church and its mission.   This is because we can only take part in the life of the local church and bear testimony to the Gospel in the world in an authentic manner to the degree that we allow the Holy Spirit to transform us into Christ.  The problem is that this transformation does not take place automatically or all at once.  It can only happen in so far as our wills are acting in unison with the energy of the Holy Spirit so that, together, they freely form a divine –human unity rooted in Christ’s Incarnation, because Christ is the true source of our new divine-human life as sons of God.   Hence our outward participation in the life and mission of the Church must be interiorized and rooted in Christ’s presence in the heart.

Here the effects of baptism and confirmation cannot be separated from the Eucharist that crowns the initiation process, in which, every time the Eucharist is celebrated, the invocation (epiclesis) which the bishop makes over those to be confirmed is renewed in the epiclesis of the Mass, and our baptism and confirmation are activated, deepened and matured to the extent that we participate in the Mass.   Likewise, they cannot be separated from participation in the life and mission of the local Church which has the Eucharist as its centre and the bishop as its head.   This maturing, deepening process can continue only by the experience of living the Christian, ecclesial life in harmony with the Holy Spirit.  Hence, it is only in living the Christian life within the local Christian community with the bishop at its head that all the virtues that are promised to those to be confirmed will become an experienced reality, and cease to be a simple abstraction in the writings of theologians.. Confirmation is essentially the integration of the baptized person into the communal, ecclesial experience of the Holy Spirit which the Church enjoys in union with its bishop.  It does not ‘work’ in a context abstracted from the life of the Church.
   HH Pope Benedict XVI breathing on the Chrism
 at the Maundy Thursday Chrism Mass

iii. The Consecratory Prayer (Epiclesis).

There are two consecratory prayers, each with its own emphasis.   Before we look at what they contain, let us look at what the bishop is doing when he consecrates chrism.   In the consecration of this chrism, Christ’s anointing by the Holy Spirit is remembered; the oil itself becomes a gift of Christ, a means by which he anoints us with the same Spirit in confirmation that he received at his baptism, giving us a share in the messianic role that was inaugurated on that day. Hence, St Cyril of Jerusalem wrote:

After you had come up from the pool of the sacred streams, there was given chrism, the antitype of that with which Christ was anointed, and this is the Holy Spirit. But beware of supposing that this is ordinary ointment. For just as the bread of the Eucharist after the invocation of the Holy Spirit is simple bread no longer, but the body of Christ, so also this ointment is no longer plain ointment, nor, so to speak, common, after the invocation. Further, it is the gracious gift of Christ, and it is made fit for the imparting of his Godhead by the coming of the Holy Spirit.

The first consecratory prayer is about the joy which this oil will bring to the Church in the sacraments of the Father’s love.   It draws a parallel between Noah’s time and the present time of baptism.   After the avenging waters of Noah’s flood, God sent a dove as a sign of peace.   After the waters of baptism which wash away sins, God makes us radiant with joy by the anointing with olive oil.   At God’s command, Aaron was washed with water, after which Moses anointed him priest: this is a pale reflection of what happened at Christ’s baptism and an inferior blessing to that which we receive after our baptism in confirmation.  Here I shall quote the text:

After your Son, Jesus Christ our Lord, asked John for baptism in the waters of Jordan, you sent the Spirit upon him in the form of a dove and by the witness of your own voice you declared him to be your only, well-beloved Son.   In this you clearly fulfilled the prophecy of David, that Christ would be anointed with the oil of gladness beyond his fellow men.

All the celebrants extend their right hands toward the chrism, without saying anything, until the end of the prayer:

And so, Father, we ask you to bless + this oil you have created.   Fill it with the power of your Holy Spirit through Christ your Son.   It is from him that chrism takes its name and with chrism you have anointed for yourself priests and kings, prophets and martyrs.Make this chrism a sign of life and salvation for those who are to be born again in the waters of baptism.   Wash away the evil they have inherited from sinful Adam, and when they are anointed with this oil make them temples of your glory, radiant with the goodness of life that has its source in you.Through this sign of chrism grant them royal, priestly and prophetic honour, and clothe them with incorruption.   Let this be indeed the chrism of salvation for those who will be born again of water and the Holy Spirit.   May they come to share eternal life in the glory of your kingdom.   We ask this through Christ our Lord.   R/ Amen.
 In this epiclesis over the chrism, it is asked that every person, place or thing that is blessed with the oil should shine with the splendour of holiness on the world.  Every confirmed person, every church or shrine, every icon should become a place where people are put in touch with God.   The purpose of these manifestations is that the Church should increase “until it reaches eternal glory”.

  Confirmation is about so living the Christian life that we not only talk about Christ but, through the gifts of the Holy Spirit, we shall be transformed into the new creation and thus we shall manifest Christ to the world.

 Here is a passage from the great Orthodox liturgical theologian Alexander Schmemann:

It is the Holy Spirit, whose coming is the inauguration of the ultimate, of the “last things”; who transforms the Church into the “sacrament” of the kingdom, makes her life the presence, in this world, of the world to come.….It is his (the person being confirmed) ordination as truly and fully man, for to be fully man is precisely to belong to the kingdom of God.   And again, it is not his “soul” alone, his “spiritual” or “religious” life that are thus confirmed, but the totality of his human being.   His whole body is anointed, sealed, sanctified, dedicated to the new life: “The seal of the gift of the Holy Spirit,” says the priest as he anoints the newly baptized, “on the brow, on the eyes, and the nostrils, and the lips, and on both ears, and the breast and on the hands, and on the feet.”  The whole man is now made the temple of God, and his whole life from now on is a liturgy.   It is here, at this moment, that the pseudo-Christian opposition between the “spiritual” and the “material”, the “sacred” and the “profane”, the “religious” and the “secular” is denounced, abolished, revealed as a monstrous lie about God and man and the world.   The only true temple of God is man and through him the world.   Each ounce of matter belongs to God and is to find in God its fulfilment.   Each instant of time is God’s time and is to fulfil itself as God’s eternity.   Nothing is “neutral”.   For the Holy Spirit, as a ray of light, as a smile of joy, has “touched” all things, all time – revealed all of them as precious stones of a precious temple.
To be truly man means to be truly oneself.   The confirmation is the confirmation of man in his own unique “personality”.   It is, to use again the same image, my ordination to be myself, to become what God wants me to be, what he has loved in me from all eternity.   It is the gift of vocation… Confirmation is the opening of man to the wholeness of divine creation, to the true catholicity of life.   This is the “wind”, the ruah of God entering our life, embracing it with fire and love, making us available for divine action, filling everything with joy and hope Although the Father sent the Spirit into the womb of the Blessed Virgin to bring about the incarnation and, from the very beginning, all the human activity of Jesus was in harmony with the activity of the Spirit; yet, Jesus was anointed by the Spirit at his baptism and was initiated in his role as Messiah, and thus began his public life.    In a parallel way, the Father sends his Spirit on the person being baptised, who thus becomes a son or daughter of God and member of the Church.  Yet, at a time determined by the Church, the bishop or his representative confirms the person’s baptism and his communion membership of the institutional Church by sealing him or her with the gift of the Holy Spirit which is his or her share in the Messianic anointing.   This involves a mandate to live the Christian life in such a way as to bear witness to Christ.   He or she should be a temple of the Holy Spirit who is “radiant with the goodness of life that has its source in” God the Father and thus the confirmed person becomes an icon of Christ.

The alternative consecratory prayer is even clearer about this two-fold gift:

By his (Jesus’) suffering, dying, and rising to life he saved the human race.   He sent his Spirit to fill the Church with every gift to complete your saving work.   From that time forward, through the sign of holy chrism, you dispense your life and love to men.   By anointing them with the Spirit, you strengthen all who have been reborn in baptism.   Through that anointing you transform them into the likeness of Christ your Son and give them a share in his royal, priestly, and prophetic work.
All the concelebrants extend their right hands toward the chrism without saying anything, until the end of the prayer.
And so, Father, by the power of your love, make this mixture of oil and perfume a sign and source + of your blessing.   Pour out the gifts of your Holy Spirit on our brothers and sisters who will be anointed with it.   Let the splendour of holiness shine on the world from every place and thing signed with this oil.Above all, Father, we pray that through this sign of your anointing, you will grant increase to your Church until it reaches the eternal glory where you, Father, will be the all in all, together with Christ your Son, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, for ever and ever.  R/. Amen.

This second prayer asks that those who are anointed with chrism will be transformed into the likeness of Christ and thus be able to share in his royal, priestly and prophetic work.    Inward transformation makes possible an outward sharing in Christ’s messianic role.   Here we are not talking about those  charismata that do not depend on the holiness of the person who exercises them.   We are talking about the basic role of the disciple which all of us are called to exercise, whether we are pope, priest or layperson, simply because we are Christians.   Not all of us are called to preach, to celebrate Mass, to administer in the Church, but all of us are called to manifest Christ in our lives, whatever particular vocation we may have; and we cannot do that without being transformed by the Holy Spirit; and this is the immediate concern of the sacrament of confirmation.


We are now able to define more clearly what happens at Confirmation, using what we have learnt so far.   Firstly, something really happens to the chrism when it is blessed.  It becomes an instrument of God the Father  – “a sign and source of your blessing - who acts through the Holy Spirit and the Church working in harmony to make the confirmed person a sharer in the vocation and holiness of Christ.   With this chrism the Holy Spirit and the bishop anoint the person being confirmed, giving the Christian a royal, priestly and prophetic role, which is a reflection of Christ’s own role of Messiah.  Whether we are married or single, pope or pauper, priest or layman, male or female, each one of us has the vocation to be a disciple, like the disciple whom Jesus loved in St John’s Gospel, and our varied ministries, as parents, parish priests, pope or bishop, have more in common with each other than differences.  Every Christian vocation is the fruit of the Spirit’s activity; every vocation is a share in Christ’s own vocation and a means by which he can act in and through us by the power of the Spirit.   This teaching is continued in the rite of Confirmation itself.





THE RITE OF CONFIRMATION


The Catechism of the Catholic Church (1106)   states that, at the heart of every sacramental rite, there is an invocation (epiclesis) in which the Church asks the Father in Jesus’ name to send the Spirit to achieve something or to transform something or someone or those taking part.   This epiclesis may or may not be the moment when the transformation takes place, but it is absolutely crucial for our understanding of the meaning of the rite, because it makes clear in the petition both the nature of the sacrament and what good effects are expected in those who take part in it.  We have already looked at the consecratory prayers used to bless the chrism and have seen the bishop pray “Through that anointing you transform them into the likeness of Christ your Son and give them a share in his royal, priestly, and prophetic work.” .   If we want to know what this means in more detail, we can go straight to the invocation made by the bishop over the people he is about to confirm,   Before confirming them, he stretches his hands over them, as do the priests who are participating with him.   He says:

All-powerful God, Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, by water and the Holy Spirit you freed your sons and daughters from sin and gave them new life.Send your Holy Spirit upon them to be their Helper and Guide.   Give them the spirit of wisdom and understanding, the spirit of right judgement and courage, the spirit of knowledge and reverence.   Fill them with the spirit of wonder and awe in your presence.   We ask this through Christ our Lord.

This epiclesis reflects the prophecy of Isaiah, 11,1ff:

A shoot shall come out from the stock of Jesse, and a branch shall grow out of his roots.   The spirit of the Lord shall rest on him, the spirit of wisdom and understanding, the spirit of counsel and might, the spirit of knowledge and fear of the Lord.   His delight will be in the fear of the Lord.

If you meditate at any length on what this chapter says about the anointing of the Messiah and then go to the New Testament to meditate on the way Christ manifested the effects of this messianic anointing in his own ministry, how he showed wisdom, understanding, right judgement, knowledge and sensitivity to obey his Father’s will during his public life, then you will grasp something of the awesome immensity of the gift that the bishop asks for the people who are to be confirmed.  He is asking the Father to send the Holy Spirit on them so that they can share in the same anointing that Jesus had at his Baptism, and that their lives and ministries should reflect the likeness and the presence of Christ in what they do by means of these gifts which show the activity within them of the same Holy Spirit that was in him during his ministry.   These gifts, when they are truly gifts of the Holy Spirit and not natural ones described in religious language, are exactly those necessary for people who practise the gift of prophecy.   Although the “gift of the Holy Spirit” enables us to share in the priestly and royal functions of Christ as well, it is the prophetic gift that is especially stressed in Confirmation.   That it is given at the invocation of the bishop shows that each person does not receive it as an individual, but only in so far as each person is a member of the Eucharistic community over which the bishop presides.   There is an intimate connection between the functioning and maturing of this gift in each member of the Church and the epiclesis (invocation) over the gifts and over the people in the anaphora or Eucharistic Prayer in the Eucharist.   We shall be examining later in another article the connection between the prophetic gifts of understanding and knowledge given to each confirmed person as a member of the Church and the infallibility of the Church, even in the form defined by the First Vatican Council in 1870.

The Orthodox theologian Fr Boris Bobrinskoy quotes Fr Sergius Bulgakov:
Pentecost is the universal consecration to prophecy for which each one receives a special gift (in the sacrament of chrismation: "the seal of the gift of the Holy Spirit") ... In this sense, there are no persons in the church who do not have their gift. They may be different, but the prophetic spirit remains immutably in them, for prophecy is not a special gift nor a confession, but the designation of all possible gifts.(10)
Fr Boris goes on to say:

Alongside the priestly church (the institutional church with sacraments and hierarchy), Father Sergius thus sets a royal and prophetic church, so taking up the classical division of the three ministries of Christ. The first is organized and defined, the latter cannot be so because it is the result of the breath of the Spirit seeking to restore one church to humanity, over and beyond our institutions and ecclesiological exclusiveness. In Father Sergius's thinking, both the doctrinal charism of the hierarchy and the instinct for Orthodoxy of the whole people of God, as the Guardian of the faith, derive from this pentecostal and ecclesial gift of prophecy.

In Western Catholic language, the doctrinal charism of the magisterium must be recognised and accepted by the faithful; but the same bishops have to also recognize that they do not have the monopoly on the Holy Spirit, that the sensus fidei of the whole Christian community must be respected as having its authority from the same Holy Spirit with which the confirmed person is anointed.   This has been the case from generation to generation since the time of the apostles. Tradition comes about when the biblical revelation is interpreted by means of the gift of prophecy which is given to the faithful by the sacrament of confirmation.   This gift cannot  be exercised individualistically by itself, because it only becomes functional within the context of the Eucharistic community, and it remains dependent on the Holy Spirit who descends on the community as God’s response to the Eucharistic epiclesis.  Hence, the bishops and faithful acknowledge that they are bound to each other by the same Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit gives them a share in Christ’s messianic anointing in confirmation and joins those who are baptized, not only to the bishop and faithful of their local church, but also to the bishops and faithful across space and time; and not only to the bishops and faithful, but also to Christ, the high priest of the new covenant who transcends time and place, because he in the presence of the Father in heaven, together with the angels and saints..   This too is accomplished every time we celebrate the Eucharist.    Through living the life of the Spirit in the Church and in obedience to the bishop, each person’s ‘gift of the Holy Spirit’ takes shape and matures, and each Christian receives his or her charisms and special vocation in the Body and, through the Eucharist, is transformed into Christ.    Thus Sergei Bulgakov wrote of the Church:

  • Finally, the church is entirely oriented towards the Holy Spirit, "the treasury of blessings and giver of life". The entire life of the church is a thirst for acquisition of the Holy Spirit and for participation in him, and in the fullness of grace. Just as the life and spiritual struggle of each believer consists, in the words of St Seraphim of Sarov, in the acquisition of the Holy Spirit, so also the life of the church is that same acquisition, the same eternally satisfied but never completely quenched thirst for the Holy Spirit. "Come to us, O Holy Spirit, and make us partakers of your holiness, and of the light that knows no evening, and of the divine life, and of the most fragrant dispensation ..." (compline canon of the feast of the Holy Spirit).
Confirmation teaches us that the Church is essentially the work of the “two hands of God the Father”  (St Irenaeus), of Christ and the Holy Spirit.  Trouble comes when we forget the important role of the Holy Spirit.   Fr Joseph Ratzinger wrote in 1969 about past times when the role of the Holy Spirit was forgotten:
The church ceased to be understood in its pneumatological and charismatic reality, it came to be considered exclusively under the aspect of the incarnation, in much too earthly a fashion, and ended by being explained entirely in the categories of power applying in secular thought. But this meant there was no longer room for the doctrine of the Holy Spirit; except where this continued to subsist humbly in pure devotion, it was absorbed into abstract trinitarian speculation and so practically, ceased to have any function in Christian conscience.(2)
                    Joseph Ratzinger, "Foi chretienne hier et aujourd'hui", Pads, 1969, pp.238-39

To describe the unity of the Church and of the bishops with the Pope entirely in terms of jurisdiction, a term taken from the secular discipline of Roman Law, leaves us with an inadequate understanding of the Church and of the papacy.   However true it may be in itself, it is only a part truth.   The concepts of secular law are as incapable of describing the nature of the Church and the relations between its members as any humanist philosophy is incapable of explaining the concept of the kingdom of God, and for exactly the same reason: it cannot cope with the divine dimension.   The definition of universal jurisdiction of the Pope in Vatican I was incapable of fully describing the nature of Papal authority because the definition was expressed in secular terms.    It fails to explain what the council fathers of the First Vatican Council certainly held, that the universal and immediate jurisdiction of the Pope does not turn the local bishops into mere representatives of papal power, or the Catholic Church into one vast diocese with the Pope at its head.   Indeed, the council stated that the authority of local bishops is actually strengthened by the Pope’s function.   Nevertheless, the internal logic of this claim is not clear in the definition because there are dimensions of papal authority and the authority of the local bishop which an exclusively legal vocabulary cannot put into words.   The truth lies elsewhere, in the fundamentally sacramental nature of the Church, and in the corresponding activity of the Holy Spirit as the true source of unity, both at a local and universal level.  From confirmation we learn that the unity between a bishop and his flock is forged by the Holy Spirit.   Though his jurisdiction decides where and how he exercises his authority, it does not provide the content of the authority as representative of Christ which is given by the Holy Spirit.   As representative of Christ in his Church, the bishop has very strong and binding moral imperatives which arise directly from his vocation; and these cannot always be put in legal terms, but they are no less binding for all that, because they spring from the very nature of the Church as body of Christ.

The same can be said for the pope.   His universal authority springs from his universal ministry as successor of St Peter; but the power of the Holy Spirit which binds the Church together and which both makes each local church both a part of a greater whole and a manifestation of that whole in a particular place, is the power of the love of Christ for the Father and the love of the Father for Christ: it is a power based on self-giving, on kenosis or self-emptying so that others may live, rather than on self-assertion and force,  It is the weakness of God working through the humble obedience of man.  It is the most essential dimension of Christian authority at every level, because it is only through the Holy Spirit that the Church is the Body of Christ.   It leaves papal jurisdiction, as defined in Vatican I, intact, but, by its very nature, transforms the way this jurisdiction must be understood and exercised.   Just as Jesus was fully human, and his human will was completely free, nevertheless, the free harmony between the Divine Will and the human will was an essential requisite for the Incarnation; so, however complete, direct, personal and universal, papal jurisdiction may be, it has to obey and respect the structures created and the relationships underwritten by the Holy Spirit, and is only a truly ecclesial reality when it is humble enough to be an instrument of the Holy Spirit.   Only such a jurisdiction, transformed by the Holy Spirit, can make such big claims, as does the Pope, while making him Servant of the Servants of God, a strengthener and guardian of episcopal authority rather its obliterator...   In the celebration of confirmation, we have seen a spiritual relationship between bishop and the baptized is established in confirmation, and that this links the baptised Christian with the Catholic hierarchy and the Pope;.     All dimensions of this Christian authority cannot be expressed in categories of Roman Law which was never designed to formulate something that is essentially a mystery,  a synergy between the divine and the human, a sharing in the Divine Life.   In a Christmas sermon, Pope Leo the Great says that the birth of Jesus is the birth of our peace, because the human nature of Christ is the source of our ecclesial peace.   He says:
Peace gives birth to sons of God, it feeds love, is the origin of unity and the rest offered by the Beatitudes.    The proper purpose of this peace and its most specific fruit is that it unites to God those whom teh Lord has separated from the world.   Those who are born, not of blood or carnal love,nor from human love, but from God, offer to the Father that concord that is proper to peaceful sons, and all members by adoption converge on the Only Begotten of the new creation, who came to fulfil the will of him who sent him and not his own: it follows that the grace of the Father as inheritors those who indulge in discord and incompatibility, but those who loved and felt the same.   Those who have been re-formed  to become one Image ought to be in agreement in their spirit.   The birth of the Lord is the birth of peace, as the Apostle said, "He is our peace; he has turned two peoples into one single thing, so that all, whether we are Jews or Greeks, we can approach the Father by means of the same Spirit.

So the origin of the Church's unity is the human nature of Christ as Source for us of the Holy Spirit.   The Pope is, at the very least, a servant of the Holy Spirit.  The first function of the Pope as successor of St Peter is to remove any obstacle to the free flow of that love which is the evidence of the presence of the Holy Spirit who flows from Christ's human nature into the Church to make it one.   The Orthodox theologian, Archbishop John Zizioulas writes about this love:
A characteristic of the ecclesial hypostesis  is the capacity of the person to love without exclusiveness, and to do this not out of conformity with a moral commandment (“Love thy neighbour”), but out of his  “hypostatic constitution,” out of the fact that his new birth has made him part of a network of relationships which transcends every exclusiveness.   This means that only in the Church has man the power to express himself as a catholic person.It follows from the very catholicity of the Church that no jurisdiction, local, regional or national, should be so closed in on itself as to block the free flow of self-giving love.   Universal papal jurisdiction paradoxically relativizes all jurisdiction, because it takes for granted that the true unity of the Church at all levels is the work of the Holy Spirit, and that jurisdiction at every level is the servant of Divine Love, and must never be allowed to be its master.   Universal papal jurisdiction is designed to ensure that Love may reign in the Church without impediments and restrictions imposed by the egoistic loyalties and power structures of a fallen world pre-occupied with itself.    Such a world has no place in the Church. 

Tragedy happens when the universal authority itself becomes contaminated by the world, as has happened too often in history. . The Catholic Church is not a Roman Empire, and the pope is not the equivalent in religious matters to the Emperor. Emperor and pope may have parallel functions, and the laws and decrees of Church and Empire may be expressed in the language of Roman Law; but the Empire was held together by force, and the Church by love, a love that is the visible effect of the presence of the Holy Spirit.. When the Emperor cannot enforce his rule, the Empire becomes divided: when love does not flow freely throughout the Church, the Church becomes divided. The Empire is maintained by pride in its abilities and achievements: the Church by its humility and joy in its inability, knowing, as it does, that the Holy Spirit is acting in and through it. Fr Jean Corbon writes:
It is through the combination of the power of the Holy Spirit and the virginity            (of Mary), that is to say the total incapacity of Mary (who is completely open to the power of the Holy Spirit) that “the Son of God was made Son of the Virgin”….The virginal mystery of her (Mary’s) being prepared her to become capable of receiving the power of the love of the Holy Spirit.   In the profoundest humility of the humble servant, her incapacity that was nevertheless consenting and open made it possible for God to do what is impossible for human beings to achieve.   In the same way, the Church, of which we are all members, is essentially virgin by vocation.   As St Clement of Alexandria wrote, “There is only one virgin mother, and I like to call her ‘Church’.”   The fecundity of the Church’s mission depends on this condition.    Only because it is virgin, like Mary, it is Spouse and Mother.  Every time that the Church puts its trust in the powers of this world, in power, wealth and appearances, it prostitutes itself and becomes sterile.   This gift of ecclesial virginity ceaselessly calls us to the fight, to conversion, to the fervour of the first Christians.Jean Corbon OP :   Liturgia y Oracion, Ediciones Cristiandad, 2004, pg 99, 114

 Both bishops and laity are servants, not the masters of Tradition, which is the constant effect of these gifts of the Holy Spirit on the life of the Church from one generation to the next  This Tradition is expressed primarily in the liturgy which is the product of the Holy Spirit and the Church acting together.

 Note the liturgical context in which the bishop asks that the newly baptized should receive these gifts.   He makes this invocation just before the baptized person goes before him to be confirmed as a baptized member of the Church by being sealed with the Gift of the Spirit.   They are not gifts given to an individual separated from others by sin, but to a Christian person in so far as he is participating in Christian communion (koinonía) in which the bishop is the centre of unity.   As the rubrics for the blessing of chrism point out: “The   life in Christ of his faithful is in some way derived and dependent upon the bishop.”   Once it is realized that all the spiritual gifts given at confirmation belong, firstly, to the community assembled for Mass and for a communal Christian life, and that they become properties of the individual Christian when he or she is confirmed by the bishop as a member of that community, then all the Catechism of the Catholic Church says about confirmation has a context in which it can be understood.

   This epiclesis does not specify the ministry that the confirmed person will exercise in the Church, but rather those gifts we all need if we are to exercise a prophetic Christian ministry of whatever kind, as a priest, religious or lay person.   In asking for these gifts rather than for those that each of us needs for our special vocation, the rite is saying something very important.   It is saying that, whatever our vocation, every vocation is a variation on a central theme, and that theme is Christ.   A person may be called to be pope or to be a teacher or a housewife or a begger; but every single Christian vocation calls us to be an image and revelation of Jesus, in whatever God wants us to do.   By these gifts, the Holy Spirit will gradually form us in Christ’s image.  In St John’s Gospel, the most important person in the Church is the ‘disciple whom Jesus lived’.  In this way the author gives secondary importance to rank: there is nothing as important as an intimate relationship with Christ.   In the appointment of St Peter as head of the Church, Jesus in the fourth Gospel puts first things first, “Do you love me?” (Jn   ).      In God’s good time, Christians discover the will of God for them, and then is the time for the particular gifts or charismata; and these too are part of what is given in confirmation, however implicit they may be at the time when the sacrament is celebrated.  Hence the person who needs them should remember the sacrament of confirmation and know that, whatever gifts he or she may receive from the Holy Spirit, they are to be always used in communion with the bishop and the local Church, and that the common factor in all vocations is more important than the  factors that distinguish them: every vocation manifests the same Christ.  .

Indeed, it is the same Holy Spirit who unites them by a specific sacramental character and by love to the Christian community and its bishop as gives his gifts, to each one for the building up of the same community.   As St Paul says:
Now there are varieties of gifts, but the same Spirit; and there are varieties of services, but the same Lord; and there are varieties of activities but it is the same God who activates all of them in everyone.   To each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good. (1 Cor. 12, 4 – 7)
It is important always to bear in mind that, although the three sacraments of baptism, confirmation and communion are distinct and may even be given at different times, they are not separate: they belong to each other.    Confirmation presumes that the person is baptised and will only bear fruit itself to the extent that the person is living his or her baptism; and both baptism and confirmation become fully operational when the person is united to Christ and to the Church in eucharistic communion.   Hence, the gifts that the bishop asks for in the confirmation epiclesis are not formed in the soul in isolation, but in communion with the local Christian community.   In fact, there is an intimate connection between what is asked for in the confirmation epiclesis and what is asked for in the double epiclesis of the Eucharist, and each presumes the other.   This we shall examine when we come to the article on the Eucharist.

After asking the Father to send his Spirit onto those who are about to be confirmed, the bishop dips his right thumb in the chrism and makes the sign of the cross on the forehead of the one to be confirmed, as he says:

N., be sealed with the Gift of the Holy Spirit.          The newly confirmed responds: Amen.
          The bishop says:  Peace be with you.
          The newly confirmed responds:   And with your spirit.

The “Gift of the Holy Spirit” is a share in the anointing of Jesus as Messiah.   St John’s Gospel says of the Father’s gift of the Holy Spirit to Jesus, “He whom God has sent speaks the words of God, for he gives the Spirit without measure.” (Jn 3, 34).   The saving force which makes Christ’s words the words of God is the Holy Spirit.   This gift of the Spirit is called a seal in John 6, 27, “Do not work for the food that perishes, but for the food that endures for eternal life, which the Son of Man will give you.  For it is on him that God the Father has set his seal.”  (Jn 6, 27).    In our turn, God puts his seal on us.   We have already quoted this passage; but it is important for our understanding of confirmation:
As surely as God is faithful our word to you has not been “Yes and No”; but in him has always been “Yes”.  For the Son of God, Jesus Christ, whom we proclaimed among you, Silvanus and Timothy and I, was not “Yes and No”; but in him it is always “Yes”.      For in him every one of God’s promises is a “Yes”.   For this reason it is through him that we say the “Amen” to the glory of God {the peoples’ response to the Eucharistic Prayer}.   But it is God who establishes us with you in Christ and has anointed us, by putting his seal on us and giving his Spirit in our hearts as a first instalment.   (2 Cor. 1, 18 – 22)   Again, in Ephesians 2,13, St Paul tells us, “: … when you had heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation, and had believed in him, were marked with the seal of the promised Holy Spirit; this is the pledge of inheritance towards redemption as God’s own people to the praise of his glory.”
The Eschatalogical Dimension
This introduces another dimension to what is meant by being “sealed with the Gift of the Holy Spirit”.   We have seen earlier that the whole of Christ’s life, from conception to death on the cross, is called the fullness of time because, while remaining an historical process that took place two thousand years ago, the Holy Spirit, who is eternal and, hence, outside time, has bridged the distance between that process and all times and places.   We also see how the death of Christ, seen as a total gift of self to the Father, and his resurrection from the dead, have been made eternal by the ascension into heaven and have become the means through which the human race and, indeed the whole universe, come to share in the new relationship with the Father brought about in the resurrection.   For this reason it is called the last time (eschaton).   This too is the work of the Holy Spirit.   Hence, the presence of the Holy Spirit in the Church and its members is necessarily eschatological, bringing us into relationship with the fullness of time and the last time.    He has become the pledge (or first instalment) of inheritance towards redemption.   Thus, we are warned, a little later on the epistle, “Do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, with which you were marked with a seal for the day of redemption.”  (Eph. 4, 30)

This also a theme in the Apocalypse;
I saw another angel ascending from the rising sun, having the seal of the living God, and he called with a loud voice to the four angels who had been given power to damage earth and sea, saying, “Do not damage the earth or the sea or the trees, until we have marked the servants of our God with a seal on their foreheads.” (Apoc. 7, 2-3)
After giving a list of those among the Jews who were sealed, the text goes on to speak of a multitude of people of every race with palm branches whose white robes had been washed in the blood of the Lamb.   If, as Skott Hahn claims in The Lamb’s Supper, we are talking in the Apocalypse of our participation in the heavenly liturgy, if the early Christians, who have been excluded from the synagogue and had been blamed for the burning of Rome and were despised  by the gentiles, were actually transcending this world and were, even in the present,  approaching the presence of God the Father in the heavenly sanctuary through their participation in Christ’s death and resurrection by means of the Eucharist, then this passage is talking about baptism and confirmation.  Of course, at another level of meaning, the passage is talking about the eventual end of the world at the end of history and how those whose garments have been washed in the blood and who have the seal of the living God on their foreheads will be protected from the bad effects of the world’s end.

Hence we can say that being sealed by the Gift of the Holy Spirit  has several levels of meaning:

1)       An explicit and permanent relationship with the visible, hierarchical Church which has been confirmed by the bishop and by the Holy Spirit working in harmony (synergy).  This is the permanent and unrepeatable effect of Confirmation, in which the bishop or his representative makes explicit, recognizes and confirms the recipient's membership of the Christian community which was true by the power of the Spirit in baptism and is now underlined by a fresh gift of the Spirit.

2)       The person is moulded by the presence of the Holy Spirit and inwardly transformed so that he can practise the virtue or gifts of the Holy Spirit mentioned in the Epiclesis invoked by the bishop and priests before administering the sacrament of confirmation.  The practise of these virtues is a divine-human activity: divine because they are a direct result of the presence of the Holy Spirit, who can only act with the cooperation of the free human being in whom he dwells, and human because the person’s human will is freely in harmony with the activity of the Holy Spirit.   However, the development of this inner transformation takes place as the person lives the Christian life in communion with the bishop and participates in Christ's sacrifice made present in the Mass celebrated by the bishop or by his representative, the priest.

3)        To the extent that the Holy Spirit and the person act in synergy, the confirmed person participates in the messianic role of Jesus in communion with the visible Church over which s bishop presides who, in his turn, is in communion with the Pope.   The Holy Spirit normally distributes his charisms in such a way that members of the Church are interdependent and form one single body, that of Christ.   However, some chosen souls are so transformed by the Spirit that they become so completely pure of heart that they manifest Christ’s presence as “peace makers”, spiritual fathers and mothers, being in Christ the source of spiritual life for others.

4)       Whatever is given in baptism and confirmation becomes intensely active, grows and matures in the celebration of the Eucharist to which both sacraments are ordered; and the Eucharist, through our participation in the Christian Mystery, ensures a continuous  flow of the life of the Spirit  to the extent that people are open to it, and this makes both sacraments a continual source of life.  Quite often, the Holy Spirit brings about a moment of conversion when the Christian experiences subjectively his baptism (made up of baptism, confirmation and communion) so that he can live his Christian life at a new level.   All this is possible because he is “sealed with the Gift of the Spirit”.

5) An effect of Confirmation?   Confirmation does not give maturity.   What brings what is given in Baptism and Confirmation to maturity is our experience of living the Christian life in our local Church which we implicitly joined in Baptism and were formally accepted in Confirmation.
     Confirmation brings about a mature participation in the life of the Christian community only in so far as it gives him a link with the bishop of his Eucharistic Assembly which is united in the Holy Spirit, and in which we become one with Christ in heaven in the presence of the Father, and thus one with the Church of all times and places.   Confirmation introduces the recipient into the context in which he can become mature.   Christian maturity is sanctity.  We can then return to this world to bear witness to the risen Christ and to look at this world and its problems in the light of the resurrection.  (I)

6)       It marks us as God’s property and citizens of the world to come. 

please click on:


Post a Comment

Search This Blog

La Virgen de Guadalupe

La Virgen de Guadalupe

Followers

My Blog List

Fr David Bird

Fr David Bird
Me on a good day

Blog Archive