The Holy Ghost and You: Confirmation

 

By The Rt. Rev. Chandler Jones

Bishop Suffragan, DEUS APA

Every spring, we celebrate the great festival commonly described as the Birthday of the Church, the Feast of Pentecost or Whitsunday, fifty days after Our Lord’s glorious Resurrection from the dead. Although the Church, the Body and Bride of Christ, was truly conceived and born by Our Lord on the Cross of Calvary, when the water signifying Holy Baptism and the blood signifying the Holy Eucharist gushed forth from His wounded side (Saint John 19.34), the New and Second Eve vivified by the Dominical Sacraments of the Gospel, the Church, taken from the side of the New and Second Adam, the New Creation Himself (Genesis 2.20-25, I Corinthians 15.47), that Church was filled with the power, grace, life, light and divinity of God the Holy Ghost, the Third Person of the Holy Trinity, on Pentecost, when the Comforter descended on the Apostles, the Blessed Virgin Mary and the other holy men and women gathered in the Upper Room awaiting ‘the promise of the Father.’ (Acts of the Apostles 1 and 2).

 

But when does the Spirit of Truth, the Comforter Whom the Father sends in the Name of the Son (Saint John 14.26), descend upon us and fill our souls with His power and presence? Do we receive Him in the same way as did the Primitive Church, with tongues of fire and a rushing mighty wind? Or do we receive Him personally, corporately, individually in another less dramatic but equally powerful way?

 

The answer is: we receive the fullness of the Holy Ghost, the operation and presence of theHoly Ghost in a unique way, in the Sacrament of Confirmation. Some people know much about this Sacrament, but others, especially those outside the Churches of the Apostolic Succession, may know nothing about it all. Many Anglicans may not realise or recognise the import of this Sacrament. Like all of the Seven Sacraments, Confirmation has two parts; the part one can see and the part one cannot see. One can see the Bishop placing his hands on the head of a person who has already been baptised, and one can hear him praying. This is the outward part of the Sacrament. Perhaps one has seen a Bishop confirming; if one has, one will remember how in a short service the children, and perhaps some adults as well, went and knelt before him. One may even remember the prayer the Bishop said:

 

Defend, O Lord, this thy child with thy heavenly grace; that he may continue thine forever; and daily increase in thy Holy Spirit more and more, until he come unto thy everlasting kingdom. Amen.

 

In different branches of the Church Catholic the words are different; but the important element is the laying-on-of-hands by a Successor of the Holy Apostles. The part which none can see is what God does in the souls of those who come to be confirmed. When the Bishop lays on his hands, God sends the Holy Ghost to make their souls strong. This is the inward part of the Sacrament. Our Lord Jesus Christ calls the Holy Ghost the Comforter, παράκλητος  – the Paraclete, literally, ‘He who is called along side,’  ‘He who strengthens, who makes strong’ - Advocate, Guide, Helper, Encourager, Consoler, Intercessor, Refresher, Summoner, Liberator, Supporter (Saint John 14.16, 15.26, 16.7).  The Holy Ghost comes to our souls to make us strong to keep the promises that we made when we were baptised into Christ.

 

We cannot see the Holy Ghost coming – just as we cannot see the wind, only its effect. Therefore, we should be able to see the result of the Holy Ghost in our souls, although we cannot see His descent: the result of the Holy Ghost’s indwelling should be a good and holy life. When we have been confirmed, we belong to God even more than before. The Holy Ghost seals us as His own – as we would seal a letter we want to send to our friend. The Holy Ghost seals and marks our souls as His own, to make especially sure we get to Heaven. ‘And grieve not the Holy Spirit of God, whereby ye are sealed unto the day of redemption’ (Ephesians 4.30). As the Bishop may say at Confirmation when he administers the chrism: The seal of the gift of the Holy Ghost. In Confirmation, Christ chrismates Christians with the chrism of the Holy Spirit. The Anointed One anoints the anointed ones with the One who is the Unction from above. Confirmation is our personal Pentecost, for each and everyone one of us (Acts of the Apostles 8.14-23, I9.1-7).

 

The Holy Ghost remains in our souls always, and we should always remember that we possess this special Strengthening Gift. When we were baptised, we became God’s Children by adoption and grace. When we are confirmed, we become God’s Soldiers in a new and special way. When we were baptised, we were given the gift of spiritual Regeneration and New Life in Christ by the Holy Ghost. When we are confirmed, we are given the gift of strength to make perfect the life of grace.

 

We more fully understand what a wonderful mystery and Sacrament Confirmation truly is when we recall Who the Holy Ghost is. The Third Person of the Godhead, the Holy Ghost, proceeded forth and fell upon the Church on the first Whitsunday. He filled the Church with His strength so that she could go and do wonderful works for God. When we are confirmed, the Holy Ghost fills us with strength so that we too can go and accomplish wonderful achievements for God.

 

We can only be baptised once, and we can only be confirmed once. In fact, it is very much like being born and then growing up. The new-born child (the baptised) needs strength to grow into adulthood and maturity (the confirmed).

 

If we have not yet been confirmed, we should look forward to the day we shall be. If we have been confirmed, we should consider how we are using that marvellous Gift of God the Holy Ghost that we have within us.

 

How does the Holy Ghost then operate in our lives, again we may ask...

 

1. Common humanity. The Holy Ghost has been present in creation since He established it and has always abided in the imminent creation, sanctifying, controlling, and ordering it. The Holy Ghost operates in His grace in the creation of every human being and endows every human being with his human soul, making each man the Image and Likeness of God. He, with the Father and the only-begotten Son/Logos/Word, continually loves, creates, governs, sustains, and gives life to the universe, including all living things, and especially human beings. God the Holy Ghost is the Person, source, and power Who gives life to all things, to all men: He is the 'Lord and Giver of Life' as the Creed declares. It is the Holy Spirit Who infuses divine aspirations, guidance, and knowledge into the minds and hearts of all men and Who leads all men to seek the true and living God. God the Holy Spirit has conferred all divine revelation in the history of the world and particularly to the covenant people of Israel, has inspired all of the Old Testament covenants, prophets, and writings, and has led and still leads the heathen to contemplate the truth about God. The Holy Ghost indwells all human beings only in the above sense, as Creator Spirit, as Life-Giver, as Wisdom - we call this ministry and operation of the Holy Ghost prevenient grace, 'grace that goes before.' The Holy Ghost leads and guides into all truth - He functions in common humanity to persuade men to enter into the Life of Jesus Christ. 

 

2. The Church. The Holy Ghost indwells the crucified and risen Body of Christ, the Church, in a unique and supreme way: Christians possess the Holy Ghost in the fullness of His Person, in the fullness of His sevenfold Gift, in a way different from the common mass of humanity. The Spirit raised Jesus Christ from the dead, and the Spirit emanates from the risen and glorified Body of Jesus. It is only through the risen Body of Christ that the Holy Ghost infuses His full life, gifts, virtue, and power into the members of that Body, the new and renewed humanity, the new human race, the New Creation, which is the Church. The Holy Ghost is given for the remission of sins and regeneration, the New Life in Christ, in Holy Baptism; the Holy Ghost is given for strengthening and spiritual perfection in Holy Confirmation; the Holy Ghost is outpoured upon and within the Holy Gifts and upon and within us in the Holy Eucharist, changing the bread and wine into the True Body and Blood of Christ and us into the mystical Body. The Spirit is communicated sacramentally to those who are grafted into Christ. The Church is now the unique Home and Sphere of the Holy Ghost and of all grace. Whereas common humanity continues to receive the Holy Ghost for prevenient grace, the living members of the Body of Christ now receive the Holy Ghost in His fullness as sanctifying grace - grace to make us one with the Holy Trinity and to divinise us by entering us into the life of God - theosis - God-likeness, mutual indwelling, perichoresis, coinherence. Sanctifying grace, salvation, the Holy Ghost as Sanctifier, is received exclusively in the Church. Extra ecclesiam non salus est. The Spirit dwells in us only because we are members of that Body of Christ in Whom the Spirit dwells. 'In the One Body we are all made to drink of One Spirit.' 

 

The indwelling of the Holy Ghost is complete and entire only within the Church, which is His Temple and dwelling-place, the Visible Sign and Sacrament of the Spirit. Wherever the Church is, there in covenant and promise is the Holy Spirit. Now uniquely, through the Church, the Holy Ghost sanctifies and consecrates the whole creation, and draws all men to saving communion with Jesus Christ in His mystical Body. What the Spirit does even now through the Church will finally enter into its fulfillment on the Last Day, wherein Christ completes the redemption of the universe and the Kingdom of God is fully realised. The Spirit is in the Church as the 'down payment' for the final glorification of the cosmos in Christ. 'The Spirit is in the Church and the Church is in the Spirit.' 'The Church is the place where the Spirit flourishes.' The Church is the Spirit-possessed Body of Christ. (Saint Irenaeus of Lyons). In fidelity to the ancient Tradition of the Church, we can only say where this Church, this communio sanctorum, is: we cannot say with certitude where it is not. We know for certain that the Church is found in those communions which bear the Four Notes of the Church, unity, holiness, apostolicity, and catholicity, and the Four Essentials of the New Testament Church, the canonical Holy Scriptures, the Three Great Creeds, the Seven Sacraments, and the Apostolic Succession of Faith and Order.

 

In summary, the Holy Ghost creates, loves, and sustains all human beings but only indwells in a salvific way those who are united to Christ in Holy Baptism, and are thus members of His mystical Body, and who seek to cooperate with Him for sanctification and salvation. Universalism, or the salvation of the whole of mankind without reference to one's moral state, sometimes described as apocatastasis, is a heresy. Not everyone will be saved because not everyone will desire to be saved. We may rightly hope and pray for the salvation of all, but some men will inevitably and finally refuse the grace of salvation - as we are informed in Scripture.