The documents of the new rite of confirmation further develop the Church’s understanding of this sacrament. The Introduction begins by stating its effect: “In this sacrament they receive the Holy Spirit, who was sent upon the apostles by the Lord on Pentecost. This giving of the Holy Spirit conforms believers more perfectly to Christ and strengthens them so that they may bear witness to Christ for the building up of his body in faith and love.”8 The Apostolic Constitution on the Sacrament of Confirmation develops the idea more fully. It begins by emphasizing that through this sacrament the faithful receive the Holy Spirit as a gift. The New Testament shows that the Spirit descended on Jesus and assisted him in his messianic mission. He promised his followers the gift of the Spirit and kept this promise on Pentecost. From then on the apostles laid hands upon the newly baptized to complete its grace with the gift of the Holy Spirit himself.9
Some might argue that the emphasis upon the gift of the Spirit tends to exclude any specific role for confirmation. For the Spirit already is received in baptism. But this objection is easily answered. It is one thing to receive the Spirit as the principle of one’s own adoptive divinity, and it is something else to receive the Spirit as Jesus did after his baptism and as the apostles did on Pentecost. In the latter case, one has the Spirit as the principle of one’s conscious living out of one’s status as member of the divine family, and so as the principle by which one not only adheres to Jesus in faith, but reveals his truth to others—not only is redeemed by God’s love, but hands on this same love.
A homily provided as part of the new rite of confirmation within Mass makes the preceding point clear:
In our day the coming of the Holy Spirit in confirmation is no longer marked by the gift of tongues, but we know his coming by faith. He fills our hearts with the love of God, brings us together in one faith but in different vocations, and works within us to make the Church one and holy.
Thus, confirmation is an anointing with the Spirit to share in the public ministry of Jesus. By baptism, one shares by adoption in what he is by nature; by confirmation, one shares by commissioning in the redeeming work of Jesus. The confirmed have the power of the Spirit; they are equipped to be active members of the Church, which is a sign lifted up before the nations to hand on the truth and love revealed by God in Jesus (see LG 1; DS 3014/1794).
The gift of the Holy Spirit which you are to receive will be a spiritual sign and seal to make you more like Christ and more perfect members of his Church. At his baptism by John, Christ himself was anointed by the Spirit and sent out on his public ministry to set the world on fire.
You have already been baptized into Christ and now you will receive the power of his Spirit and the sign of the cross on your forehead. You must be witnesses before all the world to his suffering, death, and resurrection; your way of life should at all times reflect the goodness of Christ. Christ gives varied gifts to his Church, and the Spirit distributes them among the members of Christ’s body to build up the holy people of God in unity and love.
Be active members of the Church, alive in Jesus Christ. Under the guidance of the Holy Spirit give your lives completely in the service of all, as did Christ, who came not to be served but to serve.10
8. The Rites, 298.
9. Ibid., 291–92.
10. Ibid., 307.