The Sacrament of Confirmation has a Priority! Vol. 3, No.9

It was like a thunder storm among Nsukka Catholic boys and girls when the emeritus bishop, Most Rev. Dr. F.E.O. Okobo, declared, some years before his retirement, that there will be no celebration of the Sacrament of Matrimony for any Christian who is yet to receive the Sacrament of confirmation. In addition, the Emeritus Bishop also maintained that those who got married and are yet to receive the sacrament of confirmation will not be qualified to stand as a sponsor to one who is to be baptized, confirmed, or a couple to be wedded. Why is it that this declaration still remain valid even after the episcopate of Bishop Okobo?
Why is it that we receive the first Holy Communion before the sacrament of confirmation whereas, in the sacrament of Christian initiation, confirmation precedes the Eucharist? In fact, why do we still need confirmation in spite of the fact that at baptism, we receive the Holy Spirit just as Christ did at River Jordan? Was there anything like confirmation during the time of Christ? We shall briefly examine the emergence of confirmation and subsequently respond to these questions before the end of the month through our weekly series.
In the New Testament, Confirmation is linked to Baptism, even when it does not follow Baptism immediately. Absolutely, it is always understood as a post-baptismal event (ie, as received after Baptism). That is to say, once you are baptized, consequentially there will be a ritual for the reception of the Holy Spirit. That is why it is called the second Sacrament of the Sacraments of initiation. It usually follows Baptism as the Sacrament of spiritual strengthening. By implication, it precedes the reception of the body and blood of Christ, through which Christian initiation is brought to completion.
By way of definition, it is that Sacrament in which the Holy Ghost is given to those already baptized in order to make them strong and perfect Christians and soldiers of Jesus Christ. Thus, we read in the Dogmatic constitution on the church, Lumen Gentium no II, that by the Sacrament of Confirmation, Christians are more perfectly bound to the Church and are endowed with the special strength of the Holy Spirit. Hence, they are, as true witnesses of Christ, more strictly obliged to spread the faith by word and deed.
The conception of Confirmation as an immediate consequence of Baptism became clearer on the day of Pentecost, after Peter had preached to the people, those who listened to his proclamation inquired what they should do to be beneficiaries of the new divine manifestation. “Peter answered: Each of you must repent and be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ, so that your sins may be forgiven. Then you receive the gift of the Holy Spirit” (Act 2:38). The apostles made sure to see to that those who became believers receive the gift of the Holy Spirit by laying on of hands to complete the grace of Baptism. This laying-on of hands is rightly recognized by Catholic tradition as the beginning of the Sacrament of Confirmation, which in a certain way perpetuates the grace of Pentecost in the church.
Meanwhile, Confirmation is a distinct ritual act which follows upon baptism because the power to execute this symbolic action was not contained in the power to baptize. No wonder the Sacrament was administered from the beginning through the imposition of hands by those who exercised apostolic ministry (ie the bishops). For instance, the sending of Peter and John to the people of Samaria who were baptized by Philip the deacon, was to lay hand on them, that they may receive the Holy Spirit (Act 8:15-17).
Finally, the episcopal declaration of Bishop Okobo as regards no confirmation, no wedding remains unquestionable because, it is the second Sacrament of Christian initiation. And so, one must be fully initiated into the Church before receiving any vocation, be it marriage or priestly vocation. As to the emergence of Confirmation and why reception of the Holy Eucharist comes before Confirmation especially in the West shall be clarified in the historical development of Confirmation coming up in our next week series.

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