Confirmation and the Pentecost Novena
This past Friday, Bishop Patrick was due to come and administer the Sacrament of Confirmation to our young people. Obviously this had to be postponed, but the First Reading today from the Acts of the Apostles (which tells us all about the early Church) has some interesting things to teach us about this Sacrament.
The events being related here took place after Pentecost – so the Holy Spirit had already come, and we’re told that Philip, who was a deacon and now full of the Holy Spirit, goes to Samaria to proclaim Christ. He casts out evil spirits and heals many people. There are some verses missed out in our reading, but in those missing verses, we learn that Philip also preached to and baptised many of the Samaritans. Then it says:
“When the Apostles in Jerusalem heard that Samaria had accepted the word of God, they sent Peter and John to them, and they went down there, and prayed for the Samaritans to receive the Holy Spirit, for as yet He had not come down on any of them. They had only been baptised in the name of the Lord JESUS. Then they laid hands on them and they received the Holy Spirit.”
This is the earliest description we have of the Sacrament of Confirmation. Philip, as a deacon, could preach and baptise but could not confirm. This was something the Apostles had to do. So Peter and John came all the way from Jerusalem to lay hands on these newly baptised so as they would receive the Holy Spirit. Bishops, who are the successors of the Apostles, do the same laying on of hands today in Confirmation before anointing the candidates with the Oil of Chrism. So we learn from this that Confirmation is distinct from Baptism. We receive the Holy Spirit in Baptism, and Original Sin and any personal sin are removed. But in Confirmation we receive the full outpouring of the Holy Spirit so as we can go out and witness to the Gospel in our lives. And so it is fitting that the Apostles themselves should lay hands on the people to complete their Baptism, and then send them out as missionaries, because ‘Apostle’ means ‘to be sent out’. This is why it is a Bishop, a Successor of the Apostles, who normally administers this Sacrament. The Bishop may delegate a priest to do so in his absence, which nowadays happens more often.
On Friday of this week we begin the Pentecost Novena. Before His Ascension (which we celebrate on Thursday), Our Lord told the Apostles to gather together and pray for the coming of the Holy Spirit. And so with Our Lady, they gathered in the Upper Room, and for nine days prayed before receiving the Holy Spirit on Pentecost Sunday. This is where the word ‘novena’ comes from. It means ‘nine’. So if we pray a novena for Pentecost we are doing what Our Lord commanded the Apostles to do. I have put a link to a novena in this newsletter (page 4) and I will also post the link on the parish website so you can even sign up and have it sent to you via email each day. I would encourage you to pray this novena at home and in your families to help you all grow in holiness, and it will also help to unite the parish in prayer at this time.
Fr Paul Gillham, IC