Pope Francis said Wednesday that confirmation is the sacrament in which Catholics are marked with a seal that solidifies their belonging to Christ through the Holy Spirit, who he said is God's invisible gift to each person who receives the sacrament.
Referring to how candidates for confirmation are told to “receive the seal of the Holy Spirit given to you as a gift,” Pope Francis said May 30 that the Holy Spirit “is the invisible gift bestowed” on candidates, and the holy oil they are anointed with, called “chrism,” is the “visible seal” of this gift.
“In the image of Christ who bears on himself the seal of the Father, Christians are also marked with a seal that says to whom they belong,” he said, adding that “it is God himself who confirms us in Christ and who has given us the anointing, he has impressed us with a seal and has given us the deposit of the Spirit in our hearts.”
Pope Francis spoke to pilgrims gathered in St. Peter's Square for his weekly general audience, which this week focused on the sacrament of confirmation as a part of the process of Christian initiation in the Catholic Church.
Confirmation, he said, “shines in the light of baptism” and is fulfilled in the reception of the Eucharist.
He noted how candidates, at one point during the confirmation Mass, are asked to renew the promises made by their parents and godparents at their baptism. With confirmation, “now it is they themselves who profess faith in the Church, ready to respond 'I believe' to the questions asked by the bishop.”
The coming of the Holy Spirit requires that hearts be gathered in prayer, he said, noting that this is why after a moment of silence among the congregation, the bishop extends his hands toward the candidates and “asks God to infuse in them the Holy Spirit, the Paraclete.”
While the Holy Spirit is the biggest gift given during the sacrament, he brings a variety of others with him, Francis said, and listed the seven gifts of the Holy Spirit spoken of by the prophet Isaiah and the fruits of the Holy Spirit referred to by St. Paul.
The seven gifts mentioned by Isaiah — wisdom, understanding, knowledge, counsel, fortitude, fear of the Lord and piety — are bestowed in a special way on candidates during the sacrament of confirmation and are the virtues “poured out onto the Messiah in order to fulfill his mission,” Francis said.
Likewise, he noted that in St. Paul's letter to the Galatians the apostle referred to the fruits of the Holy Spirit — love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control — which represent both the uniqueness and unity of the Holy Spirit.
“The one Spirit distributes the many gifts which enrich the one Church: he is the author of diversity, but at the same time the creator of unity,” the pope said, adding that while different people receive different gifts, “at the same time there is harmony and unity” among them all.
Francis then turned to the moment when the bishop lays his hands on the heads of the candidates, saying this gesture is biblical, having been spoken about in the Acts of the Apostles, and is how the Holy Spirit is communicated to the person receiving the sacrament.
This gesture is done “to better express the outpouring of the Spirit who pervades those who receive it,” he said, noting that soon after the laying on of hands, the candidates are anointed with holy oil, called “chrism.”
Used in both Eastern and Latin rites during the sacrament, the oil is “a therapeutic and cosmetic substance, which enters the wounds of the medical body in the tissue and perfumes the limbs,” he said.
This, he said, is the reason why oil was adopted as a liturgical and biblical symbol to express the action of the Holy Spirit, “who consecrates and permeates the baptized, embellishing them with gifts.”
After receiving the anointing with oil in the sign of the cross, the candidates receive an “indelible spiritual sign,” which is “the character that more perfectly configures them to Christ and gives them the grace of spreading its 'good smell' among men.”
Pope Francis concluded his address saying the Holy Spirit is “an undeserved gift to be welcomed with gratitude, making room for his inexhaustible creativity.”
The Spirit, he said, is a gift “to be preserved with care, to be indulged with docility, allowing oneself to be molded like wax by its fiery charity in order to reflect Jesus Christ in today's world.”