In a striking text for today the Holy Spirit shakes us into recognising one of his works amongst us today. The first part of this text beings in today’s First Reading: “When the apostles in Jerusalem heard that Samaria had accepted the word of God, they sent Peter and John to them, and they went down there, and prayed for the Samaritans to receive the Holy Spirit, for as yet he had not come down on any of them: they had only been baptised in the name of the Lord Jesus. Then they laid hands on them, and they received the Holy Spirit.”
Now isn’t that interesting. The Samaritans had already been baptised. But that’s not good enough for the bishop, John, or even the Pope, Peter. Instead they insist on an additional ritual: “Then they laid hands on them.” And they are right - the baptised Christians there need that ritual:- because beforehand, as the text tells us, “for as yet he [the Holy Spirit] had not come down on any of them”; and after, “they received the Holy Spirit”. How about that! The bishops were right!
This text is one of the more concrete passages describing the practice of the sacrament of confirmation in the early Church - and especially its importance being insisted upon by the apostles. We speak a lot about the baptised - but its important not to lose sight of the fundamental reality that initiation into full communion with the Church constitutes three sacraments instituted by Christ: Baptism, Confirmation and Holy Communion. Our separated brother Christians who only have the sacrament of baptism miss out on a huge participation in the richness and strength of Christ as he gave them to us at the beginning of the Church.
So what does confirmation actually do? The Compendium reminds us of some crucial elements at number 268: “The effect of Confirmation is a special outpouring of the Holy Spirit like that of Pentecost. This outpouring impresses on the soul an indelible character and produces a growth in the grace of Baptism. It roots the recipient more deeply in divine sonship, binds him more firmly to Christ and to the Church and reinvigorates the gifts of the Holy Spirit in his soul. It gives a special strength to witness to the Christian faith.”
In other words, confirmation is at the heart of us having the strength to be free enough to be deeply bound to Christ and live as Christian witnesses.
This is why it is so important that those who are confirmed are really well-prepared for confirmation - that they develop their personal relationship with Christ, and they prepare to be good witnesses, evangelisers, of Christianity to others. One concrete consequence of this reflection is for us to perhaps reconsider the formation we are giving our young people in our homes and our schools. Obviously two or three weeks focussed on the gifts of the Holy Spirit is, at this time, just not good enough. Maybe a better way would be to, alongside already established patterns of daily prayer, giving them a seven week course in the Kerygma - in developing a personal relationship with the Risen Jesus, and learning how to evangelise.
And maybe we can benefit from doing the same also. So we live daily with Jesus, and are effective witnessing evangelisers of Christianity.
Let us pray:
“Grant, almighty God, that we may celebrate with heartfelt devotion these days of joy, which we keep in honour of the risen Lord, and that what we relive in remembrance we may always hold to in what we do. Through our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son, who lives and reigns with you in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever.”