By: Elizabeth Slaten, M.A. 

As Catholics, we celebrate the end of the Easter season with the Solemnity of Pentecost, that beautiful event where the Holy Spirit descends on the apostles in the form of tongues of fire, filling them with grace and strength. This event was promised to the apostles on several occasions by Christ while he still walked on earth. But this outpouring of the Holy Spirit was not reserved for the apostles only; it was a promise for every Christian, which we receive at our Confirmation. Of the seven sacraments, Confirmation is often the most difficult to explain, and as a result, a challenge to understand. In the Catechism of the Catholic Church, we find there is a connection between the descent of the Holy Spirit on the apostles at Pentecost and the Sacrament of Confirmation. Reflecting on the event of Pentecost can help us develop a deeper understanding of our Confirmation and what we are called to do as a result of our Confirmation.

Before Christ ascended into heaven, He promised the Holy Spirit would be sent to guide the apostles and to give them strength. During the Last Supper, Christ tells His apostles, “I have much more to tell you, but you cannot bear it now. But when he comes, the Spirit of truth, he will guide you to all truth.” (John 16:12-13)  Christ also says to his apostles before his ascension into heaven, “you will receive power when the holy Spirit comes upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, through Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.” (Acts 1:8) After Christ’s Ascension, the apostles waited for the Holy Spirit to be sent to them.

As Our Lord promised, the Holy Spirit did come upon the apostles at Pentecost. We hear this story in Acts 2:1-11, which is the first reading for the liturgies on Pentecost Sunday. The entire passage is worth quoting at length:

When the time for Pentecost was fulfilled, they were all in one place together. And suddenly, there came from the sky a noise like a strong driving wind, and it filled the entire house in which they were. Then there appeared to them tongues as of fire, which parted and came to rest on each one of them. And they were all filled with the holy Spirit and began to speak in different tongues, as the Spirit enabled them to proclaim. Now there were devout Jews from every nation under heaven staying in Jerusalem. At this sound, they gathered in a large crowd, but they were confused because each one heard them speaking in his own language. They were astounded, and in amazement they ask, “are not all these people who are speaking Galileans? Then how does each of us hear them in his own native language? We are Parthians, Medes and Elamites, inhabitants of Mesopotamia, Judea and Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia, Phrygia and Pamphylia, Egypt and the districts of Libya near Cyrene, as well as travelers from Rome, both Jews and converts to Judaism, Cretans and Arabs, yet we hear them speaking in our own tongues of the mighty acts of God.” (Acts 2:1-11)

Though there are many things to consider in this passage, the one that always strikes me is the immediate response of the apostles to go and preach. There is no hesitation. The Holy Spirit comes upon them in the form of tongues of fire and immediately their response is to go out into Jerusalem and proclaim the Gospel. They go out and evangelize.  

Peter’s speech on Pentecost shows us the boldness of the apostles and we get a glimpse at the urgency of the message, the Good News. Peter addressed the Jews, he explained to them the meaning of Sacred Scripture, and invited them to repent, saying:

“Repent and be baptized, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins; and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. For the promise is made to you and to your children and to all those far off, whomever the Lord our God will call.” He testified with many other arguments, and was exhorting them, “save yourselves from this corrupt generation.  (Acts 2:38-40)

Peter was so compelling that we are told “about three thousand persons were added that day” (Acts 2:41). In Acts 4, Peter and John are confronted by the Sanhedrin for preaching about Jesus and the two apostles explain, “it is impossible for us not to speak about what we have seen and heard.” (Acts 4:20)  Immediately after the decent of the Holy Spirit, the apostles begin to preach and evangelize.

Another aspect that has always challenged me is just how quickly the apostles began to experience hardships and began to suffer for the Gospel. Soon after Pentecost, the apostles are challenged by the Sanhedrin (Acts 4) for curing a crippled beggar and later arrested and flogged for preaching in the temple (Acts 5). In the end, all but one of the apostles is martyred for the sake of the Gospel. The event of Pentecost and the outpouring of the Holy spirit gives the apostles the strength to preach the Gospel and to suffer for Christ. Ultimately, they become Christ’s witnesses (in Greek: martyrs).

The actions of the apostles demonstrate for us a connection between the outpouring of the Holy Spirit and being witnesses for the Gospel. Think about the words of Christ quoted earlier. “You will receive power when the holy Spirit comes upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, through Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth” (Acts 1:8, emphasis added).  The Holy Spirit came upon the apostles to give them the power and strength to be Christ’s witnesses to “go into the whole world and proclaim the Gospel to every creature” (Mark 16:15). This is their mission and the gift given by the Holy Spirit at Pentecost. Thus, living life as a witness for Christ is uniquely connected to the outpouring of the Holy Spirit.

This fact has important implications for us as baptized and confirmed Catholics. The Catechism makes a clear connection between Pentecost and the Sacrament of Confirmation. The Catechism quotes Pope Paul VI when it notes:

From that time on the apostles, in fulfillment of Christ’s will, imparted to the newly baptized by the laying on of hands the gift of the Spirit that completes the grace of Baptism. For this reason in the Letter to the Hebrews the doctrine concerning Baptism and the laying on of hands is listed among the first elements of Christian instruction. The imposition of hands is rightly recognized by the Catholic tradition as the origin of the sacrament of Confirmation, which is a certain way perpetuates the grace of Pentecost in the Church (Catechism of the Catholic Church, 1288).

The outpouring of the Holy Spirit was not just reserved for the apostles; the Holy Spirit is available to and wants to pour himself into each of us. And the coming of the Holy Spirit is made available to the Church today through the laying on of hands in the Sacrament of Confirmation.

It is important to point out that all baptized persons do in fact have the Holy Spirit dwelling with in them. This is one of the graces of Baptism, the removal of sin and the indwelling of the Blessed Trinity within the soul. Because of our Baptism, the Holy Spirit does dwell in our souls. But this is where there can be a challenge. If the Holy Spirit already dwells within us by virtue of our Baptism, what is the difference between Baptism and Confirmation? The Catechism states, “it is evident from its celebration that the effect of the sacrament of Confirmation is the special outpouring of the Holy Spirit as once granted to the apostles on the day of Pentecost (CCC, 1302, emphasis added). According to the Catechism, there is something special about the outpouring of the Holy Spirit at Confirmation. An examination the graces of Confirmation can helps us understand what is special about this sacrament.

In the Catechism we find a list of the effects of the Sacrament of Confirmation. They are worth reading in full:

Confirmation brings an increase and deepening of baptismal grace: it roots us more deeply in the divine filiation which makes us cry, “Abba! Father!”; it unites us more firmly to Christ; it increases the gift of the Holy spirit in us; it renders our bond with the Church more perfect; it gives us a special strength of the Holy Spirit to spread and defend the faith by word and action as true witnesses of Christ, to confess the name of Christ boldly, and never be ashamed of the Cross (CCC, 1303).

In Confirmation there is an increase of the life of the Holy Trinity with in us and our bond with the Church is made more perfect. But we are also given the strength of the Holy Spirit “to spread and defend the faith by word and action as true witnesses of Christ.” Confirmation gives us the grace to be like the Apostles on Pentecost and be witnesses for our faith, to preach the gospel and suffer for Christ if necessary.

This is the part about Confirmation that I find the most beautiful, but also the most misunderstood. The graces of Confirmation strengthen the life of the Holy Trinity in us and bind us closer to the Church, not so we can sit comfortably and never move, but rather so we can go out into the world and bring Christ’s light and love to others. Confirmation is about going out, without hesitation, just like the apostles did on Pentecost and preaching the good news to a world that so desperately needs it.

Unfortunately, in most cases when we think of Confirmation, we do not think about being witnesses for Christ and his Church. But the connection between Confirmation and witness is so strong, that the Catechism goes so far as to say we have an obligation to be witnesses of the Gospel.

For “by the sacrament of Confirmation, [the baptized] are more perfectly bound to the Church and are enriched with 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” (CCC, 1285, emphasis added).

The example of the apostles on Pentecost and the teaching of the Catechism help us understand the unique call we have as confirmed Christians to be Christ’s witnesses.

As lay people, we can find being witnesses of our faith challenging. We often find that it is socially unacceptable to speak about our faith, or that our Catholic beliefs are unwelcome in conversations. Our participation with the Holy Spirit dwelling with in us is desperately needed by the world today, and as lay people, we can reach places and corners of the world others cannot.

One of my favorite quotes comes from Pope Paul VI, who once said: “Modern man listens more willingly to witnesses than to teachers, and if he does listen to teachers, it is because they are witnesses” (Evangelii Nuntiandi, 41). Our world today desperately needs to see Christians living as authentic followers of Christ. The power of Christian witness cannot be underestimated. Let’s go back to the story of Pentecost in the book of Acts. We are told after Saint Peter’s speech on Pentecost that three thousand persons became Christian that day (Acts 2:41). As the Christian community began to be established, the Scriptures tell us:

Every day they devoted themselves to meeting together in the temple area and to breaking bread in their homes. They ate their meals with exultation and sincerity of heart, praising God and enjoying favor with all the people. And every day the Lord added to their number those who were being saved (Acts 2:46-47).

The witness of the Apostles and the early Christians continued to bring others to Christ, and we are called to do the same through our Christian witness.

The Second Vatican Council discussed the importance of the role of the laity in bringing the Gospel into society by describing their witness and work in the world as leaven:

The laity, by their very vocation, seek the kingdom of God by engaging in temporal affairs and by ordering them according to the plan of God. They live in the world, that is, in each and in all of the secular professions and occupations. They live in the ordinary circumstances of family and social life, from which the very web of their existence is woven. They are called there by God that by exercising their proper foundation and led by the spirit of the gospel they may work for the sanctification of the world from within as a leaven (Lumen Gentium, 31).

As lay people, being witnesses of the Gospel in the ordinary circumstances and situations of life is part of our mission and calling. Thanks to the sacrament of Confirmation, we are given the grace and strength we need from the Holy Spirit to be able to do this just as we see the apostles do at Pentecost.

The Solemnity of Pentecost gives us a great opportunity to reflect on the lives of the apostles and the actions they took after receiving the Holy Spirit. Just as the apostles received the Holy Spirit at Pentecost, we also receive an outpouring of the Holy Spirit when we are Confirmed. The Catechism helps us understand that the Holy Spirit gives us the strength and grace to be witnesses for Christ and his Church, just as the apostles preached the Gospel after Pentecost.

This Pentecost, let’s pray that we learn to participate with the Holy Spirit dwelling in us and become the witnesses Christ calls us to be.

As Catholics, we celebrate the end of the Easter season with the Solemnity of Pentecost, that beautiful event where the Holy Spirit descends on the apostles in the form of tongues of fire, filling them with grace and strength. This event was promised to the apostles on several occasions by Christ while he still walked on earth. But this outpouring of the Holy Spirit was not reserved for the apostles only; it was a promise for every Christian, which we receive at our Confirmation. Of the seven sacraments, Confirmation is often the most difficult to explain, and as a result, a challenge to understand. In the Catechism of the Catholic Church, we find there is a connection between the descent of the Holy Spirit on the apostles at Pentecost and the Sacrament of Confirmation. Reflecting on the event of Pentecost can help us develop a deeper understanding of our Confirmation and what we are called to do as a result of our Confirmation.

Before Christ ascended into heaven, He promised the Holy Spirit would be sent to guide the apostles and to give them strength. During the Last Supper, Christ tells His apostles, “I have much more to tell you, but you cannot bear it now. But when he comes, the Spirit of truth, he will guide you to all truth.” (John 16:12-13)  Christ also says to his apostles before his ascension into heaven, “you will receive power when the holy Spirit comes upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, through Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.” (Acts 1:8) After Christ’s Ascension, the apostles waited for the Holy Spirit to be sent to them.

As Our Lord promised, the Holy Spirit did come upon the apostles at Pentecost. We hear this story in Acts 2:1-11, which is the first reading for the liturgies on Pentecost Sunday. The entire passage is worth quoting at length:

When the time for Pentecost was fulfilled, they were all in one place together. And suddenly, there came from the sky a noise like a strong driving wind, and it filled the entire house in which they were. Then there appeared to them tongues as of fire, which parted and came to rest on each one of them. And they were all filled with the holy Spirit and began to speak in different tongues, as the Spirit enabled them to proclaim. Now there were devout Jews from every nation under heaven staying in Jerusalem. At this sound, they gathered in a large crowd, but they were confused because each one heard them speaking in his own language. They were astounded, and in amazement they ask, “are not all these people who are speaking Galileans? Then how does each of us hear them in his own native language? We are Parthians, Medes and Elamites, inhabitants of Mesopotamia, Judea and Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia, Phrygia and Pamphylia, Egypt and the districts of Libya near Cyrene, as well as travelers from Rome, both Jews and converts to Judaism, Cretans and Arabs, yet we hear them speaking in our own tongues of the mighty acts of God.” (Acts 2:1-11)

Though there are many things to consider in this passage, the one that always strikes me is the immediate response of the apostles to go and preach. There is no hesitation. The Holy Spirit comes upon them in the form of tongues of fire and immediately their response is to go out into Jerusalem and proclaim the Gospel. They go out and evangelize.  

Peter’s speech on Pentecost shows us the boldness of the apostles and we get a glimpse at the urgency of the message, the Good News. Peter addressed the Jews, he explained to them the meaning of Sacred Scripture, and invited them to repent, saying:

“Repent and be baptized, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins; and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. For the promise is made to you and to your children and to all those far off, whomever the Lord our God will call.” He testified with many other arguments, and was exhorting them, “save yourselves from this corrupt generation.  (Acts 2:38-40)

Peter was so compelling that we are told “about three thousand persons were added that day” (Acts 2:41). In Acts 4, Peter and John are confronted by the Sanhedrin for preaching about Jesus and the two apostles explain, “it is impossible for us not to speak about what we have seen and heard.” (Acts 4:20)  Immediately after the decent of the Holy Spirit, the apostles begin to preach and evangelize.

Another aspect that has always challenged me is just how quickly the apostles began to experience hardships and began to suffer for the Gospel. Soon after Pentecost, the apostles are challenged by the Sanhedrin (Acts 4) for curing a crippled beggar and later arrested and flogged for preaching in the temple (Acts 5). In the end, all but one of the apostles is martyred for the sake of the Gospel. The event of Pentecost and the outpouring of the Holy spirit gives the apostles the strength to preach the Gospel and to suffer for Christ. Ultimately, they become Christ’s witnesses (in Greek: martyrs).

The actions of the apostles demonstrate for us a connection between the outpouring of the Holy Spirit and being witnesses for the Gospel. Think about the words of Christ quoted earlier. “You will receive power when the holy Spirit comes upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, through Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth” (Acts 1:8, emphasis added).  The Holy Spirit came upon the apostles to give them the power and strength to be Christ’s witnesses to “go into the whole world and proclaim the Gospel to every creature” (Mark 16:15). This is their mission and the gift given by the Holy Spirit at Pentecost. Thus, living life as a witness for Christ is uniquely connected to the outpouring of the Holy Spirit.

This fact has important implications for us as baptized and confirmed Catholics. The Catechism makes a clear connection between Pentecost and the Sacrament of Confirmation. The Catechism quotes Pope Paul VI when it notes:

From that time on the apostles, in fulfillment of Christ’s will, imparted to the newly baptized by the laying on of hands the gift of the Spirit that completes the grace of Baptism. For this reason in the Letter to the Hebrews the doctrine concerning Baptism and the laying on of hands is listed among the first elements of Christian instruction. The imposition of hands is rightly recognized by the Catholic tradition as the origin of the sacrament of Confirmation, which is a certain way perpetuates the grace of Pentecost in the Church (Catechism of the Catholic Church, 1288).

The outpouring of the Holy Spirit was not just reserved for the apostles; the Holy Spirit is available to and wants to pour himself into each of us. And the coming of the Holy Spirit is made available to the Church today through the laying on of hands in the Sacrament of Confirmation.

It is important to point out that all baptized persons do in fact have the Holy Spirit dwelling with in them. This is one of the graces of Baptism, the removal of sin and the indwelling of the Blessed Trinity within the soul. Because of our Baptism, the Holy Spirit does dwell in our souls. But this is where there can be a challenge. If the Holy Spirit already dwells within us by virtue of our Baptism, what is the difference between Baptism and Confirmation? The Catechism states, “it is evident from its celebration that the effect of the sacrament of Confirmation is the special outpouring of the Holy Spirit as once granted to the apostles on the day of Pentecost (CCC, 1302, emphasis added). According to the Catechism, there is something special about the outpouring of the Holy Spirit at Confirmation. An examination the graces of Confirmation can helps us understand what is special about this sacrament.

In the Catechism we find a list of the effects of the Sacrament of Confirmation. They are worth reading in full:

Confirmation brings an increase and deepening of baptismal grace: it roots us more deeply in the divine filiation which makes us cry, “Abba! Father!”; it unites us more firmly to Christ; it increases the gift of the Holy spirit in us; it renders our bond with the Church more perfect; it gives us a special strength of the Holy Spirit to spread and defend the faith by word and action as true witnesses of Christ, to confess the name of Christ boldly, and never be ashamed of the Cross (CCC, 1303).

In Confirmation there is an increase of the life of the Holy Trinity with in us and our bond with the Church is made more perfect. But we are also given the strength of the Holy Spirit “to spread and defend the faith by word and action as true witnesses of Christ.” Confirmation gives us the grace to be like the Apostles on Pentecost and be witnesses for our faith, to preach the gospel and suffer for Christ if necessary.

This is the part about Confirmation that I find the most beautiful, but also the most misunderstood. The graces of Confirmation strengthen the life of the Holy Trinity in us and bind us closer to the Church, not so we can sit comfortably and never move, but rather so we can go out into the world and bring Christ’s light and love to others. Confirmation is about going out, without hesitation, just like the apostles did on Pentecost and preaching the good news to a world that so desperately needs it.

Unfortunately, in most cases when we think of Confirmation, we do not think about being witnesses for Christ and his Church. But the connection between Confirmation and witness is so strong, that the Catechism goes so far as to say we have an obligation to be witnesses of the Gospel.

For “by the sacrament of Confirmation, [the baptized] are more perfectly bound to the Church and are enriched with 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” (CCC, 1285, emphasis added).

The example of the apostles on Pentecost and the teaching of the Catechism help us understand the unique call we have as confirmed Christians to be Christ’s witnesses.

As lay people, we can find being witnesses of our faith challenging. We often find that it is socially unacceptable to speak about our faith, or that our Catholic beliefs are unwelcome in conversations. Our participation with the Holy Spirit dwelling with in us is desperately needed by the world today, and as lay people, we can reach places and corners of the world others cannot.

One of my favorite quotes comes from Pope Paul VI, who once said: “Modern man listens more willingly to witnesses than to teachers, and if he does listen to teachers, it is because they are witnesses” (Evangelii Nuntiandi, 41). Our world today desperately needs to see Christians living as authentic followers of Christ. The power of Christian witness cannot be underestimated. Let’s go back to the story of Pentecost in the book of Acts. We are told after Saint Peter’s speech on Pentecost that three thousand persons became Christian that day (Acts 2:41). As the Christian community began to be established, the Scriptures tell us:

Every day they devoted themselves to meeting together in the temple area and to breaking bread in their homes. They ate their meals with exultation and sincerity of heart, praising God and enjoying favor with all the people. And every day the Lord added to their number those who were being saved (Acts 2:46-47).

The witness of the Apostles and the early Christians continued to bring others to Christ, and we are called to do the same through our Christian witness.

The Second Vatican Council discussed the importance of the role of the laity in bringing the Gospel into society by describing their witness and work in the world as leaven:

The laity, by their very vocation, seek the kingdom of God by engaging in temporal affairs and by ordering them according to the plan of God. They live in the world, that is, in each and in all of the secular professions and occupations. They live in the ordinary circumstances of family and social life, from which the very web of their existence is woven. They are called there by God that by exercising their proper foundation and led by the spirit of the gospel they may work for the sanctification of the world from within as a leaven (Lumen Gentium, 31).

As lay people, being witnesses of the Gospel in the ordinary circumstances and situations of life is part of our mission and calling. Thanks to the sacrament of Confirmation, we are given the grace and strength we need from the Holy Spirit to be able to do this just as we see the apostles do at Pentecost.

The Solemnity of Pentecost gives us a great opportunity to reflect on the lives of the apostles and the actions they took after receiving the Holy Spirit. Just as the apostles received the Holy Spirit at Pentecost, we also receive an outpouring of the Holy Spirit when we are Confirmed. The Catechism helps us understand that the Holy Spirit gives us the strength and grace to be witnesses for Christ and his Church, just as the apostles preached the Gospel after Pentecost.

This Pentecost, let’s pray that we learn to participate with the Holy Spirit dwelling in us and become the witnesses Christ calls us to be.

 

A native East Texan, Elizabeth Slaten is a cradle Catholic with a passion for Evangelization and
Catechesis. She received her Master’s Degree in Theology from the Augustine Institute in
Denver, CO. Elizabeth works as the Director of Evangelization and Catechesis at a parish in the
Diocese of Tyler, TX. You can visit her blog at restlesswitness.com.