Meditations for Layfolks - Confirmation

I will probably acknowledge that, to a very large extent, I have neglected to make use of this sacrament. Of course, I have received it, and I know well that it cannot be repeated. How, then, can I be held to blame for neglecting that which I have received just the one time that I can possibly receive it? To realize this, let me ask myself why it is that it can be received once only. The answer is naturally that thereby I receive a character or mark on my soul which can never be effaced. But what does all this mean? It means really that I cannot receive Confirmation more than once, for the simple reason that I have no need to repeat it. Once given, it is given for always, because the effects last as long as life lasts. The grace of Communion may refresh me all my days, but the Presence fades. Absolution removes all my sins from me. They are forgiven for ever. But if, unhappily, I fall again into sin, again must I approach this saving sacrament. With Confirmation, on the other hand, the sacramental grace perseveres till the end. Once I have been marked with the grace of Confirmation, I have had set up in my soul a power, a force, that never runs dry or can be drained or even wholly affected by sin. When I do wrong the grace ceases to work, but it does not cease to exist; so that as soon as I have reconciled myself to God, back again comes the flood that Confirmation for good and all established within me. Hence the value of it does not consist simply in the day of my reception of it, but is to be made use of all the days of my life. The indwelling of the Spirit of God, begun in Baptism, is now made perfect, and the wonderful Sevenfold Gifts of God are put into my charge, so that with me it lies whether I have the benefit they can confer or not.

But every sacrament has both an outward sign and an inward grace. What are these in Confirmation? First, the external thing, material instrument of God's grace to my soul, is the anointing of my forehead by the Bishop with the consecrated oil. That is the essential outward sign. And the inward grace? Strength. In the East, oil, which is at once a food and a preservative of the skin, is in frequent use among athletes. It is, indeed, the source of the strength of the toilers and is mentioned in the Sacred Scriptures as the symbol of that which it helps to produce. Hence it is the external representation of that inner strength that the soul stands in need of. Usually Confirmation is administered to children just when they stand upon the threshold of life and are beginning to feel that there are many difficulties that they will have to overcome and endure, just when they are becoming conscious that life grows not easier, but harder. Can I remember that at that age I discovered that not everyone quite held with me about the duties owed to God and all that they entailed? I found that the things I held sacred, and the people that I had been taught to reverence, were now held up to my ridicule; and the things I had been afraid to do, afraid even to think about, were spoken of and done openly before me without shame. Even my own inclinations began suddenly to become more forcible, and unsuspected instincts and hidden forces I did not yet understand began to be felt and to give pleasure. Thus the full practice of faith, hope, and love also in turn grew increasingly difficult to observe. Then I was confirmed, i.e. these tendencies were henceforth to be counteracted by the indwelling within me, not merely of grace, but of the very Spirit of God. He Himself was to take charge of my soul.

I have been taught, surely, that the object and effect of this sacrament was to make me strong, that this strengthening of me was to be achieved by the abiding Presence of the Holy Spirit, and that this abiding Presence was to continue for the whole of my lifetime. As the need endures, so must the remedy endure. This sacrament, therefore, is tremendously alive, nor is it right that I should regard it, as perhaps I have often done in the past, as though it were some childish thing that had to be got over while I am quite young. Do I not find sometimes that people look on it much as they look on the measles as a normal heritage of children? But surely in my fuller age the need of divine strength increases rather than diminishes. As a child I probably thought that I was only naughty because I was a child, but that when I grew up I supposed that I should find life the easier. Instead, I discovered that I looked back upon my childhood as the innocent time of my life, and looked upon my older years as necessarily years of wrongdoing, though perhaps I clung to the salve of conscience that in youth a man might be a little wild, but in his old age had time to become a saint. Thus it is always yesterday or tomorrow, never today; but Confirmation suddenly reminds me that it is now that God calls, and now that the Holy Ghost makes appeal to me to remember His presence and to make use of it. Do I, indeed, think of that Presence in my times of stress? In the struggles of temptation do I sufficiently have recourse to that Divine Helper given me? Do the Sevenfold Gifts really signify anything practical to me? Let me turn in devotion to the Holy Spirit, recite the hymns to Him, and be conscious always of the resident force pent up in my soul.

- text taken from Meditations for Layfolk by Father Bede Jarrett, O.P.