In heaven we shall live and not be able to die, for we shall enjoy
eternal glory, life that was purchased for us by our Savior's
death. We shall possess it securely, without fear of losing
it. Our Lord came as Savior to save us all from dying. For
his death acquired for us that life in which we shall never die, the
life of glory. --St. Francis de Sales
The Gifts of the Holy Spirit for Our Diocesan Church
Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ,
On this great feast of Pentecost, the Holy Spirit came upon the Apostles in
tongues of fire, and filling them with love, burning away their fear, their
weakness, and their hesitancy. In a mighty wind, the Apostles received the very
power of God and a renewed and confirmed faith in Jesus Christ, raised from the
dead and glorified by God (Acts 2).
Driven by the Holy Spirit, and filled with the breath of God, the Apostles
fled to the streets proclaiming the Good News of Christ——crucified, dead,
and risen. The feast of Pentecost, in many ways the birth of Evangelization,
marked a new birth for the Apostles, for the Church, and for the world.
The renewal of the Second Vatican Council has brought great emphasis on the
sacraments of initiation: Baptism, Confirmation, and Eucharist. Our identity as
Catholic Christians springs from the waters of Baptism, is sealed in the chrism
of Confirmation and is fed weekly at the tables of Word and Sacrament. While
these sacraments must be seen collectively, we can and should ask specifically:
What is Confirmation? What does it mean? And what does it mean to us?
In the sacrament of Confirmation and through its celebration, our hearts too are
set ablaze with the gifts of the Holy Spirit. "The
Paraclete, the Holy Spirit whom the Father will send in my name, will instruct
you in everything, and will remind you of all that I told you" (Jn
14:26). For without the power of God——the presence of God Himself within us——we
cannot even utter the name of Jesus as Christ. Our world yearns to see this
divine presence. Our culture thirsts for the gifts the Holy Spirit brings. Our
Church hungers for the brilliant splendor of God’s majesty. On our own, we
struggle in turmoil, floundering to find a way to authentic happiness and
genuine fulfillment. Immersed in a climate that values profits over people, self
over society, immediate gratification over self-sacrifice, we drift from a life
overflowing with the gifts of the Spirit and, ultimately, away from God.
So what are these gifts that manifest the glory of God? What hallmarks do
disciples share? What transforms the human heart? What gifts can unleash our
passion, drive us to the streets, and compel us to proclaim Christ raised and
Wisdom and Understanding
With the gifts of Wisdom and Understanding, the Holy Spirit seizes us,
opening our eyes to see as Christ, transforming our hearts to God’s will, and
granting us insight to be present to those around us. Through Wisdom and
Understanding, God unleashes within us the creative energies that stem from
realizing both who we are and whose we are, as well as what we must do to be
Right Judgment and Courage
Each of us struggles to know what to do and muster the guts to do right in
difficult times. In discerning God’s will for our lives, we are guided by
Gospel values and clear moral imperatives. With the gifts of Right Judgment and
Courage, the Holy Spirit empowers us to apply Wisdom and Understanding to
concrete situations with sound counsel and humble fortitude to act on our faith.
Knowledge and Piety
The Holy Spirit guides the Church and blesses us with a rich tradition that
allows us to know the truth for our lives. Searching for and finding divine
presence in a world filled with so many deceptions is a marvelous gift of the
Holy Spirit. Once found, our response to the amazing mystery of God in our lives
is that we fall to our knees overwhelmed at God’s love; we leap to our feet in
joyous praise and thanksgiving; and we hurry to the door to announce His Good
News in our words and in our deeds.
Wonder and Awe
Relishing the mystery of God inspires a sense of Wonder and Awe in us and in
those around us. Our culture tries to seduce us into thinking that we are the
masters of the universe. Wonder and Awe in the presence of God is the presence
of the Holy Spirit thrilling our hearts to God, our Creator.
This marvelous Spirit, these flashes of divinity, these moments of grace are
pure gift, freely given. We can do nothing to merit the gifts of the Spirit. But
we desperately need them in our lives and for our world. Ours is but to receive
the gifts and offer them back to God by using them in gratitude and love. "You
will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes down on you; then you will be my
witnesses in Jerusalem, throughout Judea and Samaria, yes, even to the ends of
the earth" (Acts 1:8).
In Confirmation, we too are made apostles——witnesses to Christ. We are
reborn into the world to preach Jesus Christ and to glorify God in each of our
choices, actions, and attitudes. The Second Vatican Council sums up the richness
of this sacrament: "By the sacrament of Confirmation, they are more
perfectly bound to the Church and are endowed with the special strength of the
Holy Spirit. Hence, as true witnesses of Christ, they are more strictly obliged
to spread the faith by word and deed" (Lumen Gentium 11).
On account of this reality, we are able to pray with confidence:
God has created me to do Him some definite service;
He had committed some work to me which He has not committed to another.
I have a mission;
I may never know it in this life, but I shall be told it in the next.
I am a link in a chain, a bond of connection between persons;
He has not created me for naught.
I shall do good—I shall do His work
I shall be an angel of peace while not intending it
if I do but keep His commandments;
Therefore, I will trust Him.(Cardinal John Henry Newman)
In our celebration of Confirmation, Pentecost continues in the Church.
Through word and sacrament, prayer and holy anointing, "those who have been
born anew in Baptism receive the inexpressible gift of the Holy Spirit, by which
they are endowed with special strength ... to spread and defend the faith by
word and by deed as true witnesses of Christ" (Paul VI, Apostolic
Constitution on the Sacrament of Confirmation).
Though each part of the Rite is worthy of critical reflection let us focus
attention on the following.
Confirmation’s importance as initiation and its intimate connection with
Baptism are clear in its celebration. Confirmation either follows immediately
after Baptism when the sacraments are celebrated together, or follows a renewal
of Baptismal promises when Confirmation is delayed from Baptism. While in
Baptism the Holy Spirit showers us with the grace of God, in Confirmation, we
are given the strength to "stir into flame the gift of God" we have
received at Baptism (2 Tim 1:6).
We also express the vital importance of the baptized community of faith
ritually in the Sacrament of Confirmation. Like Baptism, Confirmation occurs in
the midst of an assembly of the baptized gathered for word and sacrament,
witnessing to the presence of God, seeking rebirth and renewal in receiving and
living these powerful gifts and offering self to become fashioned evermore into
the image and likeness of God. In this way, Confirmation, like Baptism,
anticipates completion in Eucharist and mission.
Laying on of Hands
Steeped in the presence of the community and fresh from the waters of
Baptism, profound silence envelopes the Church. Only then, from deep within this
silence, the ancient gesture of laying on hands connects us with the Apostles at
Pentecost and begins imparting the Holy Spirit. Through the two fold sign of
laying on hands and anointing with chrism, the bishop or presbyter imparts the
gifts of the Holy Spirit.
"As Paul laid his hands on them, the Holy Spirit came down upon them and
they began to speak in tongues and to utter prophecies" (Acts 19:5).
Laying on hands is a traditional sign of conferring power. In Christianity, it
signifies the bestowal of the Holy Spirit——strengthening, healing, and
sending on mission. This human touch, this intimate contact, is alive with
divine fire, purifying and igniting the human heart.
Imposing hands is also an established way of laying claim. But in this
sacrament, the celebrant, through the power of the Spirit, imposes hands to
claim us for God’s work. Revived by the breath of God, we gradually cease
living for self and advance closer to living solely for Christ and God’s full
At Confirmation, the celebrant, bending close, traces the cross on one’s
forehead with sacred chrism, saying:
"Be sealed with the Gift of the Holy Spirit."
This rich, aromatic oil, consecrated by the Bishop during Holy Week, carries
with it the promise and pledge of the Spirit of God. It brings the sweet
fragrance of divine life and seals these precious gifts within us, making us
"the anointed ones," co-heirs with Christ in the heavenly banquet.
"This anointing highlights the name ‘Christian,’ which means ‘anointed’
and derives from that of Christ himself whom God ‘anointed with the Holy
Spirit’ (Catechism of the Catholic Church, 1289).
The period of sacramental preparation often is taken up with a catechesis
seeking to clarify and expound certain basics of faith. I want to affirm this
aspect while underlining three additional facets of preparation.
First, spiritual formation is key in catechetical preparation of candidates
for confirmation. They should experience and come to value deeply the importance
of prayer and discernment in Catholic life through dynamic liturgical and
personal prayer, retreats, and living models of faith. The Spirit is stirred
into flame best by a rich spiritual life——for adults, youth, and children.
Second, service must be accented. Charity as well as working for justice and
peace should be undertaken in the name of Christ as an effective apprenticeship
in the Christian life. The true Christian is one who not only bends a knee in
prayer, but also bends a knee serving others.
Third, the whole parish community needs an active part in the sacramental
preparation of the candidates. We ritualize the vital role of the community in
all our initiation liturgies. What we ritualize in our celebrating can be
mirrored in parish life and ministry. Both the role of sponsors and integration
into community life are two ways to bring about greater communal involvement.
The real sponsor in Confirmation is the community itself. The parish
community as a whole, and not only through those who exercise pastoral care for
the candidates, should be involved in the preparation by:
- Giving witness to the work of the Spirit
Leading or assisting with times of prayer
- Modeling lives of discipleship, stewardship, and justice
- Welcoming candidates into homes, sharing our common faith at a common table
- Actively participating in the celebration of the sacrament
- Praying over the candidates that they might be sealed with the gift of the
- Providing ongoing support and inclusion
- Gently challenging the confirmed to live as Christ and manifest these gifts
- Sponsoring candidates
Integrating the Confirmed into the Life of the Community
The whole parish community welcomes and embraces the confirmed into the full
life and ministry of the parish. While special accommodation will need to be
made in view of the various ages and abilities of those who have been confirmed,
each has a critical role to play in the mission of Christ.
Where youth are involved, youth ministry should not be primarily ministry to
youth but also ministry by youth. Our Ninth Diocesan Synod observed, "Youth
and young adults do have a central role in the mission of the Church. Energized
by a living faith founded on the word of God and the sacraments, they are able
to preach the Good News of salvation in the home, in their schools, among their
friends, and in the world at large" (Documents of the Ninth Diocesan Synod,
Confirming the Mission, Using the Gifts
The Sacrament of Confirmation marks a new beginning in the life of the Christian
just as Pentecost marked a new beginning for the Apostles. They became fiery
missionaries, zealots for the Gospel. In the same Spirit, pray these gifts rouse
us to the New Evangelization, continue forming us in faith, bind us to our faith
community, extend our hands to serve, and lead us to worship at God’s altar.
In this way, the prayer of the Rite of Confirmation becomes the most fitting
prayer for each day of life:
All powerful God, Father of our Lord Jesus Christ,
by water and the Holy Spirit
You freed your sons and daughters from sin
and gave them new life.
Send your Holy Spirit upon them
to be their Helper and Guide.
Give them the Spirit of wisdom and understanding,
the Spirit of right judgment and courage,
the Spirit of knowledge and reverence.
Fill them with the Spirit of wonder and awe in Your presence.
And we beg You, Father,
continue to send Your Holy Spirit upon us
and renew the face of the earth.
Come, Holy Spirit, Come!
The Most Reverend Bernard W. Schmitt, D.D.
Bishop of Wheeling Charleston
After partaking of the Living Bread, remember what our Lady must have
felt when the Holy Spirit overpowered her, and she who was full of grace
became full with the body of Christ. --Mother Teresa of