In light of this weekend’s confirmation service, you may be wondering what confirmation is and why it is significant. For the first few hundred years of the Church, confirmation was a practice unique to the city Rome and its surrounding diocese. It gained wider practice in Europe when–in the late eighth century–the emperor Charlemagne prescribed the rites of Rome for the whole of his empire. At that time, confirmation was seen as an extension of the baptismal rite whereby the bishop anointed or lay hands upon recently baptized adults or children. The strong association between confirmation and the religious education of young adults arose primarily during the Protestant Reformation of the 1500s.
Anglicans ground the practice of confirmation in the belief that the invocation of the Holy Spirit which occurs at confirmation, and the period of religious instruction that precedes it, are powerful instruments of God’s grace. Though not a sacrament of the gospel like Baptism and the Lord’s Supper, confirmation is nonetheless seen as a sacramental rite in which those who were baptized as infants or unconfirmed adults profess their faith, reaffirm their baptismal vows, and then receive the laying on of hands by the bishop, who prays that they will be freshly empowered by the Holy Spirit to live a life of faith.
The common practice of observing confirmation within mid to late adolescence is pastorally significant because it occurs as young people are experiencing change and maturity in many areas of their lives. Confirmation provides an opportunity for the church to encourage young believers in the midst of these changes and commend to them the truth that God has sent his Holy Spirit to be their helper and guide. “In baptism we are regenerated to life, after baptism we are confirmed to combat. In baptism we are washed, after baptism we are strengthened…confirmation arms and equips those who are to be reserved for the contests and battles of this world.” pseudo-Melchiades, c. 400 A.D.
Over the course of the past year, the three candidates from our congregation have attended classes on Christian theology, biblical studies, worship, and spiritual disciplines. They have served in the church, met with a mentor on a regular basis, and been interviewed by one of our pastors. As our confirmation candidates reach the climax of their preparation and are confirmed on Saturday, it is our prayer that the habits and knowledge they have received, and the blessing of the Holy Spirit that is invoked upon them, will be gifts that only continue to grow in value to them.
Though it is a great blessing, confirmation is a not a spiritual destination but a milestone at which believers receive valuable spiritual provisions and empowerment. We hope that you are able to join us this coming Saturday as we encourage our confirmation candidates in their faith, affirm our own baptismal vows, and celebrate the power of the Holy Spirit.