The Sacrament of Confirmation – Valid Form and Matter

The discussion surrounding the sacrament of Confirmation is complicated. Should it be administered to infants (the Eastern Church) or to those having attained the age of reason (the later Western Church). Should it be administered by a bishop alone (Western Church) or by extension a priest (Eastern Church and modern Western Church). Is the matter anointing with chrism or simply laying on of hands.

Let us begin with a simple Catholic presupposition that valid form and matter with right intention and proper minister constitute a valid sacrament in the Catholic Church. The Catechism of the Catholic Church reads:

1300 The essential rite of the sacrament follows. In the Latin rite, “the sacrament of Confirmation is conferred through the anointing with chrism on the forehead, which is done by the laying on of the hand, and through the words: ‘Accipe signaculum doni Spiritus Sancti‘ [Be sealed with the Gift of the Holy Spirit.].” In the Eastern Churches of Byzantine rite, after a prayer of epiclesis, the more significant parts of the body are anointed with myron: forehead, eyes, nose, ears, lips, chest, back, hands, and feet. Each anointing is accompanied by the formula Sphragis doreas Pneumatos Hagiou (Signaculum doni Spiritus Sancti): “the seal of the gift of the Holy Spirit.”

The Eastern and Western forms are essentially the same in that the minister, be he a bishop or priest, refers to the “seal” of “the gift of Holy Spirit”.

In the New Testament we read only of “laying on of hands” as accompanying baptism and not any specific anointing with chrism. (cf. Acts 8; Heb 6:1-5) However, Sacred Tradition holds that the use of consecrated chrism was instituted by the Apostles and thus is a necessary element. The Apostolic Constitution of Paul VI Divinae consortium naturae states that the matter of Confirmation is “the anointing with chrism on the forehead, which is done by the laying on of the hand.” In other words, the anointing of the head is the same as the laying on of the hand on the head described in the New Testament.

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