Thank you for the in-depth exposition on the juridic dimension of Baptism. A related topic, I think, is Confirmation. While I was baptized quite early (at age five, if I remember right), my own children were baptized when they were about Grade V and the same thing is now happening to my grandchildren, all in Catholic schools. What does Canon Law really say about this?
TO answer this question thoroughly, we need to start—in this article—with the sacramental structure of Confirmation and its immediate juridic effects. In the next issue, we shall complete the exposition with the juridic aspects of the administration of the sacrament.
Confirmation is the second sacrament of Christian initiation, the reception of which—The Catechism of the Catholic Church declares—“is necessary for the completion of baptismal grace. By the sacrament of Confirmation, the baptized are more perfectly bound to the Church and are enriched with a special strength of the Holy Spirit. Hence, they are, as true witnesses of Christ, more strictly obliged to spread and defend the faith by word and deed” (n.1285).
The Sacramental Structure of Confirmation
The immediate canonico-doctrinal sources for this matter are the post-Conciliar Apostolic Const. Divinae consortium naturae, signed by Pope Paul VI on 15.VI.1971 and the Catechism of the Catholic Church. The latter gives an excellent summary of the doctrine.
a. The Sacramental Sign
The Catechism summarizes the elements of the sacramental sign, which are canonically regulated in the following terms.
1) The remote matter: For validity, the remote matter for Confirmation is chrism—i.e., vegetable oil mixed with balsam or another aromatic substance, as sign of the bonus odor Christi, which the confirmed Christian is obliged to spread with his good works. The chrism to be used in the sacrament of confirmation must be consecrated by a bishop, even if the sacrament is administered by a priest (c.880, §1).
For licitude, the chrism must have been recently consecrated or blessed by the Bishop; [the minister] is not to use old oils unless there is some necessity (c.847, §1).
2) The proximate matter: For validity, the sacrament of Confirmation is conferred through anointing with chrism on the forehead, which is done by the imposition of the hand…(c.880, §1). Without entering into the long history of the essence of this action—i.e., whether the action consists of both the actual anointing with chrism and the imposition of the hand—we limit ourselves to three data to support this affirmation:
a) The Apostolic Const. Divinae consortium naturae, which states that “…the anointing with chrism in some way represents the imposition of the hands used by the Apostles.”
b) The Ordo Confirmationis (22.VI.1971), which simply stated that “the Bishop wets his right index finger in the Chrism and with the same makes the sign of the cross on the forehead of the candidate for Confirmation” (n.4).
c) The Reply of the Pontifical Commission for the Interpretation of the Decrees of Vatican Council II (6.VI.1972), which affirmed that during the anointing, it is not necessary to impose the hand over the candidate, since the mens legislatoris is that the anointing with the thumb in itself manifests the imposition of the hand.
For licitude, however, it can be affirmed that the integral gesture—for the Latin Rite and for now—is that of the anointing with chrism preceded by the imposition of hands, according to the tenor of c.880,§1. The reason for this is pointed out by the same aforementioned Constitution, which states that the imposition of the hands prior to the anointing with chrism—which in the actual praxis forms a unique gesture with it—“even if not pertaining to the essence of the sacramental rite, should be taken in great esteem, since it forms part of the perfect integrity of the same rite.”
3) The Form: For validity, a new formula to accompany the anointing with chrism was introduced, as a consequence of the reform mandated by the Apostolic Const. Divinae consortium naturae: “N., accipe signaculum doni Spiritus Sancti.” (OC, n.34). This new formula was chosen because of its antiquity—its roots traceable to Apostolic times and its use to the 5th Century in some Churches of Asia Minor—and its more adequate expression of the sacramental grace—i.e., the gift of the Holy Spirit.
4) Additional Norms regarding the Place and Time: For licitude, It is desirable that the sacrament of confirmation be celebrated in a church and during Mass, but for a just and reasonable cause, it may be celebrated outside Mass and in any worthy place (c.881).
This is the canonical expression of a desire expressed by Vatican II, “to revise the rite of Confirmation so that the intimate relation between this sacrament and the whole of Christian initiation may appear more clearly” (SC, n.71), and is the most important novelty in the new rite.
On the other hand, this norm—in the case of Confirmation of children who receive it after their First Communion—has caused a rupture in the traditional order of the Sacraments of Christian initiation (Baptism, Confirmation, Holy Communion), a rupture with great transcendence in the ecumenical relations with the Oriental Churches.
The Juridic Effects of Confirmation on the Faithful
The juridic dimension of the sacrament of Confirmation is not limited to the canonical norms as regards the sacramental sign. Of greater import at the constitutional level, although of difficult expression and articulation at the practical level, are the juridic effects of the reception of the sacrament on the Christian faithful.
These are summarized in the introductory canon of Book IV, Title II: The Sacrament of Confirmation: The sacrament of Confirmation impresses a character and by it the baptized, continuing on the path of Christian initiation, are enriched by the gift of the Holy Spirit and bound more perfectly to the Church; it strengthens them and obliges them more firmly to be witnesses to Christ by word and deed and to spread and defend the faith (c.879).
From the aforementioned theological effects arise a set of more properly juridic effects, which transcends the interiority of the subject and finds projection in a set of rights and duties:
1) The Christian is bound more perfectly to the Church. Confirmation obliges them more firmly to be witnesses to Christ by word and deed and to spread and defend the faith. Nevertheless, it must be emphasized that the above effects do not really constitute a new mission different from that arising from Baptism. Neither do they substantially modify the juridic condition of the baptized. What is proper, rather, of Confirmation is the perfection and strengthening of that juridic condition.
2) The Christian is capacitated for the licit exercise of certain ecclesial functions, which imply greater maturity and strength of the Christian life in the subject. Thus, prior reception of Confirmation is required—for licitude and not for validity—for the following situations:
a) To be godparent in Baptism and Confirmation, as is demanded by the very nature of the office.
b) Entry into a new canonical state, as in (i) Admission in major seminary (c.241, §2) or in novitiate (c.645, §1); (ii) Marriage, insofar as this is possible without serious inconvenience (c.1065, §1); (iii) Reception of Holy Orders, for which prior confirmation is a strict requirement for licitude (c.1050, 3º).