What is Confirmation?
Confirmation is a sacrament and is a joyful service in which the candidates make promises to follow Christ as full members of His church. It is a natural step on from the Sacrament of Baptism.
The age of confirmation candidates
Anyone may be confirmed who is old enough to answer responsibly for themselves, and who has taken part in a course of preparation.
In the Church of England there is no set age for confirmation and many people are now being confirmed as adults as they discover for themselves the freedom and joy that faith in Christ brings. As confirmation services happen infrequently the church gives permission to those adults who have been baptised and ‘who are ready and desirous to be so confirmed’ to receive Holy Communion.
Where does the sacrament of confirmation come from?
In the Bible we read that the apostles and other church leaders laid their hands on a Christian's head and prayed for them to receive the Holy Spirit. You can read about this in The Bible, Acts chapter 9 verses 14 – 23 and chapter 19 verses 1–6.
In the very beginning of the Church only adults were baptised. The Sacrament of Confirmation was always given immediately after the Sacrament of Baptism.
Gradually whole families came to be baptised, children and babies with their parents. For those who were baptised as children this confirmation now takes place when they are old enough to make the promises for themselves. This happens in a Confirmation Service, during which the bishop lays his hands on the heads of the confirmation candidates and prays for them to be confirmed by the Holy Spirit.
A celebration and confirmation of faith…
Preparing for confirmation is an important time for a Christian to learn about the commitment that being a Christian involves. They may have been baptised as a baby but in the confirmation service they will make their own promises before God about choosing to live as a Christian.
Candidates often come from several churches to be confirmed by the bishop. Their family and friends join with them to support them and to celebrate this special day.
During the service itself…
The Bishop asks the people being confirmed if they have been baptised. He asks them if they believe in Jesus and that they will try to live the way He wants us all to live.
Each person comes to the front in turn and kneels down. The Bishop says, God has called you by name and made you his own.
The Bishop puts his hand on their head. He says, Confirm, O Lord, your servant with your Holy Spirit. They say Amen.
The Bishop then draws the sign of the cross on the forehead of the candidate with the Oil of Chrism. This is an ancient sign of being chosen by God. This is the same oil used at baptism. The sign of the cross shows that the candidate is a son or daughter of God and is used as a symbol of strength to follow Christ and to live the Christian life.
Why is Confirmation a Sacrament?
A Sacrament is ‘an outward and visible sign of an inward and spiritual grace’. In the sacrament of Baptism the outward sign is water and the grace received is that of being made a member of Christ through his death and resurrection.
In Confirmation the outward sign is the laying on of hands and the oil of chrism. These are signs of the grace given at Confirmation – the anointing, strengthening and gifts of the Holy Spirit.
A prayer for those to be confirmed
St Ambrose wrote this prayer in the 4th century for those who had been confirmed.
Guard what you have received.
God the Father has marked you with his sign;
Christ the Lord has confirmed you and has placed his pledge, the Holy Spirit, in your hearts. Amen