Symbols of Confirmation

Interior of an ornate Catholic church
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The rite of confirmation, also known as chrismation among Eastern or Orthodox churches, is one of three sacraments of initiation among Christian churches. Christians believe that the sacrament of confirmation bestows more gifts of the Holy Spirit, creating a stronger bond to the Church and its community. According to the Catholic Church, confirmation "confirms and strengthens baptismal grace," in unity with the sacraments of baptism and communion. This Christian ritual is rich with symbols that tie together faith, community, and Church history.

1 Background

The rite of confirmation varies among each denomination and church, though its significance and symbols are similar. Some Protestant denominations do not see the ritual as a sacrament like Catholics or Orthodox churches do. Instead, it is considered a "symbolic act," and does not confer grace. The practice also occurs at different times among different churches. For example, in the Catholic church, confirmation usually occurs when an individual is an adolescent, after receiving the sacrament of communion. In Orthodox churches, chrismation occurs immediately following baptism. Overall, confirmation plays an important role in confessing a person's faith and in joining a congregation.

2 Anointing the Chrism

The anointing of the holy oil during confirmation is one of the most distinguishable symbols of the rite. Its use is present in the rite of confirmation or chrismation among Catholics, Orthodox Christians, Anglicans, Lutherans, and other denominations. The chrism, or perfumed oil, signifies the gift of the Holy Spirit. The origins of the word chrism comes from "Christ," which in turn symbolizes the relationship of Christ as "the anointed One." It is considered a "spiritual seal" of healing, cleansing, and strengthening, in order to renew the spiritual gifts of God on those confirmed. It evokes the mission of Christians to "witness" Christ, and spread Christ's mission of faith and good deeds.

3 Sign of the Cross

With the chrism, the bishop or priest makes the sign of the cross on each individual's forehead during confirmation. The bishop says the words, "be sealed with the gift of the Holy Spirit," reaffirming the catechumen's devotion to the faith. In Orthodox practices, the priest anoints the oil on various parts of the body white saying, "the seal of the gifts of the Holy Spirit." As a Christian symbol of Christ's sacrifice, the anointing of oil reminds the individual of her commitment to living a Christian life and to defending the faith.

4 Laying on of Hands

The Christian churches that celebrate confirmation and chrismation believe that the laying of the hands is the origin of confirmation, making it one of the most important symbols within the ceremony. This symbol replicates the times in the Bible when Jesus Christ would bestow the Holy Spirit on those he healed and blessed. During confirmation, a Catholic bishop confers a blessing to the group about to be confirmed by extending his hands over them, signaling this symbol. In the Methodist tradition, the minister also confirms a new member by laying his hands on the confirming member's head.

5 Sign of Peace

In the Catholic church, the sign of peace concludes the sacrament of confirmation, in which the entire congregation exchanges greetings to each other. As confirmation is a rite of initiation, the entire church community witnesses and welcomes the newly confirmed to the congregation. The sign of peace symbolizes the unity of the Church and its members. In addition, it symbolizes the presence of the Holy Spirit as a unifying influence.

Dianne Laguerta is a graduate of Mount Holyoke College with a bachelor's degree in history and Middle Eastern studies. She studied and conducted research in Cairo, Egypt during the 2012 Egyptian elections, and has traveled throughout the Middle East.