In the normal course of nature every one who is born eventually comes to maturity _ the fullness of bodily strength and vigor. So too, God wills that every one who has been born to the spiritual life by Baptism shall come to spiritual maturity and to the fullness of spiritual strength; and for this purpose Our Divine Lord instituted a special sacrament, Confirmation. During His lifetime, and particularly at the Last Supper, Christ promised to send the Holy Ghost for the enlightenment and the strengthening of His followers. This promise was fulfilled for the apostles and the disciples on Pentecost, when the Holy Ghost descended on them in the form of fiery tongues. But the means which our Lord chose to confer this privilege on the other members of the Church was a sacrament. We find reference to this sacrament in the Acts of the Apostles which relate that Peter and John went to Samaria to give the Holy Ghost to the newly baptized converts of that city: "Then they laid their hands on them and they received the Holy Spirit" (Acts, 8:17). Similarly, it is related that when St. Paul converted some of the people of Ephesus: "They were baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus; and when Paul laid his hands on them, the Holy Spirit came upon them" (Acts, 19:6).
In the beginning, this sacrament may have been conferred only by the laying on of hands; but at any rate, anointing was in use in the third or fourth century. Even today there are some differences in the manner of confirming between the Latin Church and the Oriental churches. Thus, in the former only one anointing is given, on the forehead, whereas in the latter the anointing is given on several parts of the body. Moreover, in the Oriental rites infants are usually confirmed immediately after Baptism, whereas in the Latin Church it is considered preferable to wait until children have reached the use of reason.
In connection with the sacrament of Confirmation it is appropriate to describe the various holy oils used in the liturgical ceremonies of the Church. These oils are three in number _ the oil of catechumens, holy chrism, and the oil of the sick. These are blessed by the bishop at the Solemn Mass on Holy Thursday and are then distributed as soon as possible to the pastors throughout the diocese, because the law of the Church prescribes that in the administration of the sacraments and the other sacred functions in which blessed oil is used the oil which has been blessed on the preceding Holy Thursday shall be employed. Thus, in the blessing of the baptismal water on Holy Saturday the priest must use the oil of catechumens and the chrism blessed two days before.
The holy oils are used in the administration of four sacraments _ Baptism, Confirmation, Holy Orders and Extreme Unction. In conferring Baptism the priest anoints the breast and the back of the recipient with oil of catechumens before the pouring of the water, and his head with chrism afterward. In Confirmation, as was described in this lesson, the bishop anoints the brow of the person being confirmed with holy chrism. When a man is being ordained to the priesthood his hands are anointed with the oil of catechumens; and when a priest is being consecrated a bishop his head and hands are anointed with chrism. The oil of the sick is used for the administration of Extreme Unction.
We cannot value too highly the importance of Confirmation in the supernatural life. It is a great source of strength in the warfare we must wage against the three great enemies of our salvation, the world, the flesh and the devil. The character of Confirmation remains on the soul forever, marking one who has been confirmed as a soldier of Christ, with the right and the duty of proclaiming and defending the Christian faith before the world. Nowadays there is a great need of those who will explain and uphold the true religion of Christ, even though it demands personal sacrifice; and this task belongs not merely to the priests and bishops but also to the laity _ of course, always with due subordination to their ecclesiastical rulers. And when a layperson, according to his capacities and position, defends and explains the faith of Christ, he is living up to the task committed to him through Confirmation and is contributing his share toward Catholic Action.
It is evident that every Catholic should receive Confirmation in order to partake of the strengthening graces of this great sacrament. It sometimes happens that a person who, through no fault of his own, was not confirmed in his earlier years comes to maturity without having received Confirmation. Such a person should ask his pastor to arrange for his Confirmation. Even though he may not be guilty of mortal sin if he fails to receive this sacrament, he is surely depriving himself of a most effective means of spiritual light and strength.