Confirmation seals and strengthens the believer to live as a child of God, through the power of the Holy Spirit.
Confirmation is ordinarily conferred by a bishop who - through the “laying on of hands” and “anointing with chrism oil” - invokes the presence of the Holy Spirit on the baptized person. In this powerful encounter with God, we experience again the grace of Pentecost when the Holy Spirit descended upon Mary and the Apostles!
Since the earliest days of the Church, the apostles conferred this sacrament upon the newly baptized.
Now when the apostles at Jerusalem heard that Sama'ria had received the word of God, they sent to them Peter and John, who came down and prayed for them that they might receive the Holy Spirit; for it had not yet fallen on any of them, but they had only been baptized... Acts 8:14-16
In the Early Church, we find witness of this sacrament, such as when Theophilus of Antioch (181 AD) wrote:
Are you unwilling to be anointed with the oil of God? It is on this account that we are called Christians: because we are anointed with the oil of God. To Autolycus
Over time, two traditions developed in the administration of Confirmation in the Catholic Church. In the Eastern Rites of the Catholic Church, the sacrament is given at the time of baptism whether one is child or adult... even to newborn infants! Often this is done by a priest using the oil consecrated by the bishop.
In the West, (in the Latin Rite of the Catholic Church), the sacrament is ordinarily administered by the Bishop sometime after the age of reason. When children are baptized as infants they receive confirmation at a later time. Adults who participate in the "Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults" always receive confirmation immediately following baptism by their pastor. In the case of a baptism when one is in danger of death any priest has the authority to confer Confirmation following baptism provided that he has the proper oil of chrism available at the time of the baptism. This is the case with both adults and infants.
This sacrament provides an increase and deepening of the grace of Baptism which increase the gifts of the Holy Spirit received in Baptism.
The Catechism provides a clear list of these specific graces in #1303:
- Roots us more deeply in the divine filiation which makes us cry, “Abba! Father!”
- Unites us more firmly to Christ
- Increases the gifts of the Holy Spirit in us
- Renders our bod with the Church more perfect
- Gives us the 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.