Confirmation is a rite of initiation in many Christian Churches, normally in the form of laying on of hands and/or anointing for the purpose of bestowing the Gifts of the Holy Spirit upon them. In some denominations, confirmation bestows full membership in the church upon the recipient. In others, such as the Roman Catholic Church, confirmation "renders the bond with the Church more perfect", but a baptized person is already a full member.
Roman Catholics, Eastern Orthodox, Oriental Orthodox Churches, and Anglicans view Confirmation as a sacrament. In the East is conferred on infants immediately after baptism, but in the West is usually administered later at the age of reason or in early adolescence.
In Protestant Churches, the rite tends to be seen rather as a mature statement of faith by an already baptised person. However, it is required by most Protestant denominations for membership in the respective church, in particular for traditional Protestant faiths. In traditional Protestant faiths (Presbyterian, Methodist, etc.) it is recognized by a coming of age ceremony.
Several secular, mainly Humanist, organizations direct "civil confirmations" for older children, as a statement of their life stance, an equivalent alternative to traditional religious ceremonies for children of that age.
Some secular regimes have as a matter of policy fostered the replacement of Christian rituals such as confirmation with non-religious ones. In the historically Protestant German Democratic Republic (East Germany), for example, "the Jugendweihe (youth dedication) gradually supplanted the Christian practice of Confirmation. A concept that first appeared in 1852, the Jugendweihe is described as "a solemn initiation marking the transition from youth to adulthood that was developed in opposition to Protestant and Catholic Churches' Confirmation.
Now when the apostles in Jerusalem heard that Samaria had accepted the word of God, they sent them Peter and John, who went down and prayed for them, that they might receive the Holy Spirit, for it had not yet fallen upon any of them; they had only been baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus. Then they laid hands on them and they received the Holy Spirit.
When the Apostle Paul met disciples in Ephesus who had only received the baptism of John the Baptist, they received Christian baptism and then Paul laid hands upon them and "the Holy Spirit came on them" ().
Also, in the Gospel of John, Chapter 14, Christ speaks of the coming of the Holy Spirit on the Apostles (). Later, after his Resurrection, Jesus breathed upon them and they received the Holy Spirit a process completed on the day of Pentecost (). After this point, the New Testament records the apostles bestowing the Holy Spirit upon others through the laying on of hands.
In the teaching of the Roman Catholic Church, Confirmation, known also as Chrismation, is one of the seven sacraments instituted by Christ for the conferral of sanctifying grace and the strengthening of the union between individual souls and God.
The Catechism of the Catholic Church in its paragraphs 1302–1303 states:
According to canon law for the Latin or Western Catholic Church, the sacrament is to be conferred on the faithful at about the age of discretion (generally taken to be about 7), unless the Episcopal Conference has decided on a different age, or there is danger of death or, in the judgement of the minister, a grave reason suggests otherwise (canon 891 of the Code of Canon Law). The number of Episcopal Conferences that have set a later age, usually between 14 and 16 years of age, has diminished in recent decades, and even in those countries a bishop may not refuse to confer the sacrament on younger children who request it, provided they are baptized, have the use of reason, are suitably instructed and are properly disposed and able to renew the baptismal promises (letter of the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments published in its 1999 bulletin, pages 537–540).
In the Latin-Rite (i.e., Western) Catholic Church, the sacrament is customarily conferred only on persons old enough to understand it, and the ordinary minister of confirmation is a bishop. Only for a serious reason may the diocesan bishop delegate a priest to administer the sacrament (canon 884 of the Code of Canon Law). However, a priest is not only by law empowered (canon 883), but, in the absence of a bishop, is obliged to confer the sacrament, if he baptizes someone who is no longer an infant or admits a person already baptized to full communion, or if the person (adult or child) to be confirmed is in danger of death. Baptism and confirmation of an adult would normally occur at the Easter Vigil.
In Eastern Catholic Churches, the usual minister of this sacrament is the parish priest, using olive oil consecrated by a bishop (i.e., chrism), and administering the sacrament immediately after baptism. This corresponds exactly to the practice of the Early Church and the non-Catholic Eastern Churches.
The practice of the Eastern Churches gives greater emphasis to the unity of Christian initiation. That of the Latin Church more clearly expresses the communion of the new Christian with the bishop as guarantor and servant of the unity, catholicity and apostolicity of his Church, and hence the connection with the apostolic origins of Christ's Church.
After the Fourth Lateran Council, Communion, which continued to be given only after Confirmation, was to be administered only on reaching the age of reason. The 1917 Code of Canon Law, while recommending that Confirmation be delayed until about seven years of age, allowed it be given at an earlier age. Only on 30 June 1932 was official permission given to change the traditional order of the three sacraments of Christian initiation: the Sacred Congregation for the Sacraments then allowed, where necessary, that Confirmation be administered after first Holy Communion. This novelty, originally seen as exceptional, became more and more the accepted practice.
In the mid-twentieth century, Confirmation thus began to be seen as an occasion for professing personal commitment to the faith on the part of someone approaching adulthood. However, the Catechism of the Catholic Church, 1308 warns: "Although Confirmation is sometimes called the 'sacrament of Christian maturity,' we must not confuse adult faith with the adult age of natural growth, nor forget that the baptismal grace is a grace of free, unmerited election and does not need 'ratification' to become effective.
The present (1983) Code of Canon Law maintains the rule in the 1917 Code, stating that the sacrament is to be conferred on the faithful at about the age of discretion (generally taken to be about 7), unless the Episcopal Conference has decided on a different age, or there is danger of death or, in the judgement of the minister, a grave reason suggests otherwise. The Code lays down the age of discretion also for the sacraments of Penance and first Holy Communion.
The number of Episcopal Conferences that have set a later age has diminished in recent decades, and even in those countries a bishop may not refuse to confer the sacrament on younger children who request it, provided they are baptized, have the use of reason, are suitably instructed and are properly disposed and able to renew the baptismal promises (letter of the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments published in its 1999 bulletin, pages 537–540).
One of the effects of the sacrament is that "it gives us a special strength of the Holy Spirit to spread and defend the faith by word and action as true witnesses of Christ, to confess the name of Christ boldly, and never to be ashamed of the Cross" (Catechism of the Catholic Church, 1303). This effect has been described as making the confirmed person "a soldier of Christ".
The same passage of the Catechism of the Catholic Church also mentions, as an effect of confirmation, that "it renders our bond with the Church more perfect". This mention stresses the importance of participation in the Christian community.
The "soldier of Christ" imagery was used, as far back as 350, by St Cyril of Jerusalem. In this connection, the touch on the cheek that the bishop gave while saying "Pax tecum" (Peace be with you) to the person he had just confirmed was interpreted in the Roman Pontifical as a slap, a reminder to be brave in spreading and defending the faith: "Deinde leviter eum in maxilla caedit, dicens: Pax tecum" (Then he strikes him lightly on the cheek, saying: Peace be with you). When, in application of the Second Vatican Council's Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy, the confirmation rite was revised in 1971, mention of this gesture was omitted. However, the French and Italian translations, indicating that the bishop should accompany the words "Peace be with you" with "a friendly gesture" (French text) or "the sign of peace" (Italian text), explicitly allow a gesture such as the touch on the cheek, to which they restore its original meaning. This is in accord with the Introduction to the Rite of Confirmation, 17, which indicates that the episcopal conference may decide "to introduce a different manner for the minister to give the sign of peace after the anointing, either to each individual or to all the newly confirmed together."
Information on other effects and broader matters concerning this sacrament can be found in the Catechism of the Catholic Church, 1285–1321
The saint's name is often used in conjunction with the confirmee's middle name, and is without effect in civil law, unless, of course, the confirmand pursues the appropriate legal avenues.
The Sacred Tradition of the Orthodox Church teaches that the Apostles themselves established the practice of anointing with chrism in place of the laying on of hands when bestowing the sacrament. As the numbers of converts grew, it became physically impossible for the apostles to lay hands upon each of the newly-baptized. So the Apostles laid hands upon a vessel of oil, bestowing the Holy Spirit upon it, which was then distributed to all of the presbyters (priests) for their use when they baptized. This same chrism is in use to this day, never being completely depleted but newly-consecrated chrism only being added to it as needed (this consecration traditionally is performed only by the primates of the autocephalous churches on Great Thursday).
When Roman Catholics (and some Protestants) convert to Orthodoxy, they are often admitted by Chrismation, without baptism; but, since this is a matter of local episcopal discretion, a bishop may require all converts to be admitted by baptism, if he deems it necessary. Depending upon the form of the original baptism, some Protestants must be baptized upon conversion to Orthodoxy. A common practice is that those persons who have been previously baptized by triple immersion in the name of the Trinity do not need to be baptized. However, requirements will differ from jurisdiction to jurisdiction, and some traditional Orthodox jurisdictions prefer to baptize all converts. When a person is received into the church, whether by Baptism or Chrismation, they will often take the name of a saint, who will become their patron saint.
The Orthodox rite of Chrismation takes place immediately after baptism and clothing the "newly illumined" (i.e., newly baptized) in their baptismal robe. The priest makes the sign of the cross with the chrism (also referred to as Myrrh) on the brow, eyes, nostrils, lips, both ears, breast, hands and feet of the newly illumined, saying with each anointing: "The seal of the gift of the Holy Spirit. Amen." Then the priest will place his epitrachelion (stole) over the newly-illumined and leads them and their sponsors in a procession, circling three times around the Gospel Book, while the choir chants each time: "As many as have been baptized into Christ have put on Christ. Alleluia" ().
The reason the Eastern Churches perform Chrismation immediately after Baptism is so that the newly-baptized may receive Holy Communion, which is commonly given to infants as well as adults.
An individual may be baptized in extremis (in a life-threatening emergency) by any baptized member of the church; however, only a priest or bishop may perform the Mystery of Chrismation. If someone who has been baptized in extremis survives, the priest then performs the Chrismation.
The Roman Catholic Church does not confirm converts to Catholicism who have been Chrismated in an Eastern Church, considering that the sacrament has been validly conferred and may not be repeated.
In other Protestant churches, confirmation is often called a "rite" rather than a sacrament, and is held to be merely symbolic rather than an effective means of conferring divine grace. In Protestant groups where baptism in the early teens is the norm, confirmation is often not practiced at all. The Roman Catholic Church does not recognize the sacramental validity of Protestant confirmations, and therefore does confirm converts from Protestantism.
Lutheran Churches do not treat confirmation as a dominical sacrament of the Gospel, considering that only baptism and the eucharist (and, among some Lutherans, sacramental confession) can be regarded as such. Some popular Sundays for this to occur are Palm Sunday, Pentecost and Reformation Sunday (last Sunday in October).
In the Latter Day Saint movement, confirmation is an ordinance that takes place soon after baptism. It has two purposes: (1) to confirm the participant as a member of the church, and (2) to give the participant the Gift of the Holy Ghost, which provides the recipient with spiritual gifts. It consists of a member of the priesthood laying their hands on the participant's head and blessing the new member, and telling them to "receive the Holy Ghost".
In the Anglican Communion, a person who was previously confirmed by a validly-ordained bishop in another denomination is "received" rather than confirmed again. However, the Episcopal Church USA recognizes non-episcopal confirmations as well.
Eastern Orthodox Churches occasionally practise what is seen by other Christians as "re-chrismation", in that they usually chrismate/confirm — and sometimes rebaptize — a convert, even one previously confirmed in other Churches. The justification is that the new chrismation (or baptism) is the only valid one, the earlier one being administered outside of the Church and hence being little more than a symbol. The Eastern Orthodox will also chrismate an apostate from the Orthodox Church who repents and re-enters communion. According to some interpretations, the Eastern Churches therefore view confirmation/chrismation as a repeatable sacrament. According to others, the rite is understood as "part of a process of reconciliation, rather than as a reiteration of post-baptismal chrismation".