Traditionally, the rite of confirmation has been associated with the laying on of hands and invocation of the Holy Spirit in conjunction with baptism. The scripture reference that connects the act of confirming with baptism is Acts 8:17, where Peter and John pray for and lay hands up0on the recently baptized converts of Samaria. Later in the early church, this laying on of hands was done by the bishop during the rite of confirmation; but because the number of converts was growing and the church was expanding geographically, the bishops could not keep up with the demand. Consequently, by the fourth century, confirmation of the newly baptized was delayed until the presence of a bishop could be counted upon. In some respects, the need for a practical solution to this problem gave rise to a new understanding of confirmation.
Early on the church saw a need for catechesis- the education and faith formation of Christian persons. Originally this was focused on adults. The Council of Trent, in 1545, determined that the appropriate age for catechumens was six through twelve, and baptized children began to be instructed in the faith. In the past century, the normative age for confirmation has been adolescence. Confirmation, originally practiced as a charismatic and apostolic act , has become a graduation exercise upon completion of a prescribed educational program. It is also popular to look at confirmation in light of its root meaning of “to make firm” or “to strengthen.” So several points about confirmation can be made.
- Confirmation means affirmation of faith. It is honored by both the individual and the faith community.
- Confirmation is also an affirmation on one’s baptism. While baptism claims one’s membership in the Christian Church at large, confirmation claims one’s membership in a particular faith community.
- Confirmation is also tied to Holy Communion as well as to baptism. Both are rites of passage and a point of entry into the Christian community.
The rite of confirmation is celebrated both in response to and in anticipation of the work and will of God in the life of a believer. This is consistent with the traditional understanding of confirmation as a rite that recognized God’s presence and transforming power in the lives of Christ’s followers.
Please contact Pastor Gatewood for further information on becoming confirmed in the Christian Faith at Bethel United Church of Christ.