The Celebration of the Christian Mystery
Very early, the better to signify the gift of the Holy Spirit,
an anointing with perfumed oil (
) was added to the laying
on of hands. This anointing highlights the name “Christian,” which
means “anointed” and derives from that of Christ himself whom
God “anointed with the Holy Spirit.”
This rite of anointing has
continued ever since, in both East and West. For this reason the
Eastern Churches call this sacrament
which means “chrism.” In the West, the term
suggests that this sacrament both confirms baptism
and strengthens baptismal grace.
Two traditions: East and West
In the first centuries Confirmation generally comprised one sin-
gle celebration with Baptism, forming with it a “double sacrament,”
according to the expression of St. Cyprian. Among other reasons, the
multiplication of infant baptisms all through the year, the increase of rural
parishes, and the growth of dioceses often prevented the bishop from
being present at all baptismal celebrations. In the West the desire to reserve
the completion of Baptism to the bishop caused the temporal separation
of the two sacraments. The East has kept themunited, so that Confirmation
is conferred by the priest who baptizes. But he can do so only with the
“myron” consecrated by a bishop.
A custom of the Roman Church facilitated the development of
theWestern practice: a double anointing with sacred chrism after Baptism.
The first anointing of the neophyte on coming out of the baptismal bath
was performed by the priest; it was completed by a second anointing on
the forehead of the newly baptized by the bishop.
The first anointing
with sacred chrism, by the priest, has remained attached to the baptismal
rite; it signifies the participation of the one baptized in the prophetic,
priestly, and kingly offices of Christ. If Baptism is conferred on an adult,
there is only one post-baptismal anointing, that of Confirmation.
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 guar-
antor and servant of the unity, catholicity and apostolicity of his Church,
and hence the connection with the apostolic origins of Christ’s Church.
In treating the rite of Confirmation, it is fitting to consider the
and what it signifies and imprints: a spiritual
101 Cf. CCEO, can. 695 § 1; 696 § 1.
102 Cf. St. Hippolytus,
21: SCh 11, 80-95.