As a liturgical church, Resurrection is serious about the sacraments. We get really excited about baptisms (just ask the ten babies that were baptized at Easter Vigil!), partaking in the Eucharist, and celebrating marriage. But what about a sacrament like Confirmation, which may not be as familiar to many of us? Rezblog co-editor Tiffany Brenneman interviewed Community Care Coordinator Val McIntyre about her experience being confirmed this April, and then got the inside scoop about confirmation from our very own liturgical expert, Fr Stephen Gauthier.
Being confirmed in April was the completion of a process I began nearly 20 years ago. When I started the preparation classes in 1993 I was highly skeptical of its value. After all, I had been baptized twice, made a public profession of faith in a Reformed church, and graduated from Wheaton College. I thought, ”Enough confirmation already!” In the years since then I’ve come to love the Church in a new way, and to believe that this real flesh and blood historical institution is an expression of the Incarnation; God with us in physical form. The actual experience of being confirmed was awesome. When Bishop Sandy laid his hands on me and prayed for me I experienced a fresh infilling of the Holy Spirit, an impartation of spiritual strength, and an affirmation of my calling to love and serve the church.
Confirmation offers those who were baptized as infants the opportunity to make a mature public affirmation of their personal faith and to renew their baptismal covenant. In baptism, each of us was “sealed with the Holy Spirit and marked as Christ’s own forever” (Book of Common Prayer). At confirmation, the bishop lays hands on us and prays, on behalf of the whole Church, for the release of the fullness of the gift of the Holy Spirit we received at baptism and for its strengthening in our lives, especially in the form of the grace of perseverance, faithful Christian witness and service. Consequently, Confirmation is solidly rooted in baptism and can only be understood in relation to it.
In the New Testament, baptism is closely associated with the Holy Spirit (Acts 2:38; see also Acts 10:46-47). Thus, baptism in the New Testament was accompanied by a laying on of hands for the Holy Spirit (Acts 19:5-6). This laying on of hands was linked to the apostles (Acts 8:14-17). Thus, in the early church, the immersion of those being baptized (performed by priests and deacons) was immediately followed by a laying on of hands by the bishop (as a successor to the apostles). As the Church gradually spread to rural areas, it became impractical for the bishop to be present at all baptisms. Accordingly, in the Western Church, the laying on of hands came to be delayed until the next visit from the bishop, leading to the separate sacramental rite of confirmation. This delay afforded a welcome opportunity for those baptized as infants to use the occasion of their confirmation to make a public profession of their personal faith.
As a Church of the “Great Tradition” of Anglicanism, Resurrection views the office of bishop as a powerful sign of our unity in faith across time and space. Thus, the bishop’s laying on of hands at confirmation reaffirms our connection with the church universal (catholic) throughout the ages and around the world, while at the same time rooting us firmly in an actual community of believers in time and space.
Each baptized Christian has received a gift from the Holy Spirit for the common good (1 Corinthians 12:7). In confirmation, we commit ourselves to use that gift to serve others (1 Peter 4:10). One of my favorite Christian writers, Brennan Manning, talks about a servant-hood love that will “possibly lead to the bloody, anguished gift of yourself.” In confirmation, we take ownership of our God-breathed gifts and influence.
Written by Tiffany Brenneman