Rites of passage are important in many cultures. As a therapist I encounter stories from client who cherish or regret something that worked like a rite of passage depending on the context. In the positive sense it is someone being reinforced in the norms of their culture by the adult community that they can thrive in the norms of the pack and they have the tools in their lives to do it. In a faith community it is reinforced that the young man or young woman is, and will continue to be, equipped with supernatural help to live a supernatural life but all in a joint understanding of the community being bonded to the divine and not just the individual as an end in his or her self.
In our case as a family, it was a joyous day recently when our 9-year old and (going on) 8-year old kids were confirmed. They had gone through study in religious education and we had had conversations with them about their faith. The pastor at our parish quoted a passage that directly applies to Jesus but by faith is integrated for those who find identity as Christians in him. These gifts of the Holy Spirit are piety, counsel, understanding, wisdom, knowledge, fortitude, and fear of the Lord.
I will return again to the scriptural reference point for how this happens in an objective, spiritual, practical and community way. But first I would like to point out something for those who would object to the Holy Spirit being “boxed” into “the sacramental system”. I have a personal testimony of having an initial conversion to Jesus Christ as my Lord and Savior on a rainy day in Newport, Oregon with my cousin. That same day she taught me about the baptism of the Holy Spirit that can be given to the believer if they just ask in Jesus’ name. I had a sense of Someone coming over me and I would say it was the Holy Spirit.
But that is two things in the description: individually centered and subjective. Those aspects are not bad but the experience I described is not as biblically supported as the engagement with the Holy Spirit in being confirmed sacramentally. Confirmation is referred to below.
Therefore, let us leave behind the basic teaching about Christ and advance to maturity, without laying the foundation all over again: repentance from dead works and faith in God, instruction about baptisms and laying on of hands, resurrection of the dead and eternal judgment (Hebrews 6:1-2).
It is important to see the same ongoing pattern apparent in what has been covered in baptism in that Christians are not to be alone on the spiritual journey. The objection could be that one receives the Holy Spirit when they are born again and “man made religion” should not overcomplicate the matter.
But that is not what we find in scripture as the early church is lives out Christianity.
When the apostles in Jerusalem heard that Samaria had accepted the word of God, they sent Peter and John to Samaria. When they arrived, they prayed for the new believers there that they might receive the Holy Spirit, because the Holy Spirit had not yet come on any of them; they had simply been baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus. Then Peter and John placed their hands on them, and they received the Holy Spirit. (Acts 8:14-17).
Contrary to modern, American, Protestant assumptions we see an impartation of the Holy Spirit through hierarchy above the level of Philip the deacon and a work using the laying on of hands. We also see the term “simply been baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus”. This is not a put down but reinforcing how the baptism is a beautiful birth that precedes confirmation which empowers us to grow in the spiritual life. There is an exception to this pattern in Acts 10 with the Roman converts but this was rectified soon after with the sacramental context.
This continued in the Christian church as a practice.
“Are you willing to be anointed with the oil of God? We are called Christians on this account, because we are anointed with the oil of God (St. Theophilus of Antioch, “To Autolycus”, 181 AD).
The bishop will then lay his hand upon them, invoking, “Lord God, you who have made these worthy of the removal of sins through the bath of regeneration, make them worthy to be filled with your Holy Spirit, grant them your grace, that they might serve you according to your will, for to you is the glory, Father and Son with the Holy Spirit, in the holy Church, now and through the ages of the ages. Amen.” After this he puts the oil into his hand, and laying his hand on each of their heads, says, says, “I anoint you with holy oil in God the Father Almighty, and Christ Jesus, and the Holy Spirit.” Then, after sealing each of them on the forehead, he shall give them the kiss of peace and say, “The Lord be with you.” And the one who has been baptized will say, “And with your spirit.” So shall he say to each one [Apostolic Tradition 21-22, 215 AD].
Confirmation is to baptism what growth is to generation. Now it is clear that a man cannot advance to a perfect age unless he has first been born; in like manner, unless he has first been baptized he cannot receive the Sacrament of Confirmation. (Thomas, Aquinas, Summa Theologica III.72.6).
This scene was played out, minus the kiss, in my confirmation as an adult in 2013 and my children recently. There is continuity for this from the 1st to the 12th to the 21st Century.
This continuity of course does not happen by accident but by design. Jesus as the Apostle and High Priest of the Christian faith founded a pattern with a guarantee it would stand as we will next see.