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Diebus Saltem Dominicis: 4th Sunday after Easter – Divine protection in the great eschatological trial

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We now move into the next phase of the seven-week Easter Season.  The first stage looked back to the Resurrection and reflect upon the sacraments of Baptism and Eucharist.  In this stage, which began last Sunday, we look forward to the Lord’s Ascension, the Spirit’s Descent and we consider the Sacrament of Confirmation.  Like last week, we have another segment of Christ’s “Farewell Discourse” during the Last Supper.  The Lord is preparing the disciples for this momentous shift: unless He departs, the Holy Spirit will not come as Counselor and Advocate.  The Epistle reading, from James 1:17-21 introduces the theme saying that “Omne datum óptimum, et omne donum perféctum desúrsum est, descéndens a Patre lúminum Every good endowment and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights…”.  “Coming down”, Latin desursum, so our hearts can be sursum “upwards”.

In the Gospel reading from John 16:5-14, the Lord is talking about things that are hidden.  They are mysteries.  To help his followers into the mysteries, to encounter Mystery, they will receive not just “the Spirit”, but, as the Lord says, the Spirit of Truth.  The Spirit of Truth will enable them to enter into what, on their own, they could not grasp.

Last week, this week and next week, the three Sundays before the Ascension, our Sunday Gospels are all from John 16.  Holy Mother Church places us, with the disciples in the “upper room”, when the Lord was preparing His Church for his Ascension and then the descent of the Holy Spirit and the commencement of their apostolic work.  Last Sunday Christ informed them of his departure and that it will cause them pain, but ultimately that pain will turn to joy because something new will come.  He uses the imagery of a birth.  When the Holy Spirit descends, the Church will be born as the Spirit informs the mystical Body, the mystical Person of Christ the Church.

This Sunday Christ explains more about that new life and the nature of the divine Person who is about to arrive.  In the Latin Vulgate the Lord calls the Holy Spirit the “Paraclitus”, from the Greek parákletos (para “beside” + kaleo “call”), which is Counselor, Advocate, one who stands by you and intercedes.  In Matthew 2:18 and 5:4 we have two uses of the passive form of the same verb παρακαλῶ.  Both times, the context is mourning.  The meaning is ‘to be comforted’.  John 16, our Gospel for this Sunday, also has its element of mourning.  Jesus says (v.6):

But because I have said these things to you, sorrow has filled your hearts.

The Hebrew equivalent of parakletos, menahhem, means “comforter”.  The RSV version translates parákletos as “Counselor”.  The KJV says “Comforter”.  Parákletos is a multi-layered term and title.  Across many different translations, “Comforter” is strongly represented.

English “Comforter” is rooted in Latin fortis, “stronger”.  That points to the role of the Spirit in the Sacrament of Confirmation.  A “Counselor” or Advocate” makes you and your case stronger.  The Spirit of Truth is the Strengthener, the Fortifier.  Hence, it was to the advantage of the disciples that the Lord should depart and the Fortifier would come!

The Sacrament of Confirmation was instituted by Christ.  This is indirectly proven from Sacred Scripture.  First, we have prophecies that the Messianic era would be characterized by the outpouring of the Spirit of God on humanity.  Christ promised the Holy Spirit to the Apostles.  On Pentecost that promise was fulfilled.  The Apostles then imparted the Holy Spirit by laying hands on the baptized (Acts 8:14ff; 19:6; Heb 6:2).  St. Thomas Aquinas said that Christ instituted the Sacrament not by explicitly administering it but rather by promising it (STh III, 72, 1 ad 1).

Confirmation is considered a Sacrament “of the living”, that is, for it to be active in us we must be in the state of grace (alive) and not in the state of mortal sin (dead).  The Sacraments “of the dead” bring a person into spiritual life.  They are Baptism and Penance, which are received in the state of sin.  The rest are Sacraments “of the living”. Confirmation effects an increase in sanctifying grace and a strengthening of faith.

The Catechism of the Catholic Church 1302-03 lists effects of the Sacrament:

  • it roots us more deeply in the divine filiation which makes us cry, “Abba! Father!” (Romans 8:15);
  • it unites us more firmly to 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 venerable Baltimore Catechism describes Confirmation as imparting an indelible (irremovable, permanent) character or seal on the soul whereby the Christian is marked as a soldier in the army of Christ, the Church Militant.  We benefit from this Sacrament when it is active in us for fighting our spiritual battles.  A symbol of this character and battle comes during the liturgical rite of the administration of Confirmation when the bishop – the normal minister – gives the newly confirmed Catholic a tap on the cheek to signal that we must be ready to suffer for the sake of Christ.  The rubric says:

Deinde leviter eum in maxilla caedit, dicens: Pax tecum…. Then [the bishop] strikes him lightly on the cheek, saying: Peace be with you.”

This gentle slap was prescribed in the older, traditional rite of Confirmation.  It was removed from the rubrics of the post-Conciliar 1971 rite.

The Council’s liturgy document Sacrosanctum Concilium 23 said that:

“[T]here must be no innovations unless the good of the Church genuinely and certainly requires them; and care must be taken that any new forms adopted should in some way grow organically from forms already existing.”

Firstly, how would the “good of the Church” genuinely and certainly be advanced by the removal of the confirmation slap, certainly one of the more famous elements and most memorable of the rite?  Next, did that removable represent an organic development?  The confirmation slap had been around since at least the 13th century when the liturgical writer William Durandus (+1296) wrote about it.  The gesture probably has its roots in the colée or accolade during the ceremony of knighting.  In days of yore, any blow to the face was a grave insult, not even to be born from a superior.  In the liturgical instance, the bishop delivers it ironically with a serene and fatherly “Peace be with you.”

Has the witness to the Faith in the public square by Catholics been easily recognizable in those who would have been confirmed after, say, 1971?  There is no question that a web of social and ecclesial issues over the last 50 years has shaped, or misshapen, Catholics.  But have we been acting like a body of confirmed believers in the face of challenges from the world, the flesh and the Devil?

I digress.  Let’s continue will our review of the Sacrament and its effects.

Confirmation presupposes Baptism, but it is a distinct Sacrament with its own purpose.  An un-baptized person cannot be confirmed.  Moreover, since Christ instituted the Sacrament, it is therefore indispensable for the Church considered as a whole because of the difficulties the Church faces in the world.  However, Confirmation is not strictly necessary for the salvation of individuals in the Church.  A person who is baptized and in the state of grace at the time of death is saved even if he is not confirmed.  So, while Confirmation is not strictly necessary, it contributes to the perfection of salvation.  A Catholic who is confirmed, after receiving Baptism and Eucharist is said to be “perfected”, not because he or she is perfect, but because the Sacraments of initiation have been completed.  One should, therefore, not avoid being confirmed.  Neglect of the Sacrament of Confirmation from an attitude of disdain would be a sin.

According to St. Thomas, the character, the seal in the soul, from Confirmation gives power and the right to take part in the spiritual battle being waged against the Faith.  Thomas distinguishes the confirmed from the simply baptized.  The baptized are members of the Empire of Christ while the confirmed are the fighters of Christ.  This brings an obligation to make a public profession of the Faith.

The ordinary minister of Confirmation is a bishop.  However, in certain instances, such as during the reception of converts, priests can also confirm.

In the past, people have told me that their local bishops won’t confirm in the older, traditional rite, but they want their children – or themselves – confirmed in the traditional manner.  To that end, would it be valid and/or licit to go to another diocese where a friendlier bishop would be confirming?

The 1983 Code of Canon Law says in c. 886

Can. 886 §1. A bishop in his diocese legitimately administers the sacrament of confirmation even to faithful who are not his subjects, unless their own ordinary expressly prohibits it.

Hence, a Bishop may administer the Sacrament of Confirmation within his diocese “even to the faithful who are not his subjects”.  If, however, confirmands are coming from outside their diocese, if their bishop says “no!”, they cannot be confirmed licitly.  It would be valid but illicit.

So, if your local bishop doesn’t explicitly object, you can go to another diocese for Confirmation.  According to the law, it isn’t necessary for people to get permission from their own pastor or the local bishop to seek Confirmation from a bishop outside of their own diocese.  Still, if I were on the other end, in the other diocese, and someone showed up asking to be confirmed, as pastor of the parish where it was to take place I would want to know what gives, whether or not the pastor of their parish knew them, etc.

Also, once confirmed it is necessary that newly-confirmed’s parish be informed so that the Sacrament can be noted in the sacramental register.  Recording it accurately and in the proper register is very important (can 895).

So, if there is, for example, an FSSP parish in another diocese with a priest willing to include visitors from outside the parish and outside the diocese, then according to the Church’s law the faithful can go there and request to be confirmed.

I know that in some places wacky things are perpetrated during Novus Ordo confirmation Masses.  Still, I’d consider being confirmed locally, even if it is in the Ordinary Form, which is valid.  You want the Sacrament, right?  That is what you get.  If your sacramental preparation is sound, you know what counts.  I understand that sometimes the way this is handled in the Ordinary Form the rites are unpalatable.  But it is something to consider seriously.  Nevertheless, you can seek the Sacrament even in another diocese, in the older Rite if available.

I’ll close with this paragraph from the Catechism of the Catholic Church.  The Sacrament of Confirmation is a serious component of your battle gear as a pilgrim soldier in this vale of tears.  You need all the help God wants to give to make it to the goal, the eternal bliss of the heavenly patria.  Others depend on you to do your part as well.   If you are confirmed, then, think on this.  If you are not yet confirmed, think on this.

Christ himself declared that he was marked with his Father’s seal (cf. John 6:27). Christians are also marked with a seal: “It is God who establishes us with you in Christ and has commissioned us; he has put his seal on us and given us his Spirit in our hearts as a guarantee.” (2 Cor 1:21-22; cf. Eph 1:13; 4,30) This seal of the Holy Spirit marks our total belonging to Christ, our enrollment in his service for ever, as well as the promise of divine protection in the great eschatological trial. (cf. Rev 7:2-3; 9:4; Ezek 9:4-6.)

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