Questions and Responses
Doctrinal Commission – International Catholic Charismatic Renewal Services
If the sacrament of Confirmation is delayed to a time when the recipient is making a free will adult decision (18 years plus), is baptism in the Holy Spirit necessary?
This is an understandable question, since baptism in the Holy Spirit is the essential and intended gift of the sacrament of Confirmation. Yet experience confirms that there can be an enormous difference between the objective reality of what God does when a sacrament is administered and its subjective realization in the recipient.
On the objective side, the Catechism states 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). So when the sacrament of Confirmation is validly celebrated—whether for a child (in some of the Eastern Rites), an adolescent, or an adult—we must assert by faith that the bishop’s laying on of hands imparts the gift of the Holy Spirit.
On the subjective side, the Catechism notes that “the fruits of the sacraments also depend upon the disposition of the one who receives them” (1128). The ICCRS booklet Baptism in the Holy Spirit, drawing from St. Thomas Aquinas, elaborates on this subject: “various factors such as inadequate preaching of the word of God, lukewarm faith, unrepented sin, insufficient preparation, lack of understanding of the reality of the sacraments, a secular mindset, or psychological or spiritual obstacles can hinder the sacraments from achieving their full fruitfulness.” Thus although the sacraments always confer grace, we can never assume that they are “automatically” fruitful in a person’s life.
Scripture shows that with each group of new Christians who were brought into the Church, the apostles were very attentive to what was experienced. They sought to ensure that the new believers experienced what they themselves had experienced—that people were actually “clothed with power from on high” as Jesus promised (Lk 24:49). This occurred, for example, for the new believers in Samaria, in Caesarea, and in Ephesus (Acts 8:17; 10:44-45; 19:6).
In the case of Cornelius, Peter later shared with the church in Jerusalem how he had witnessed the signs of tongues and spontaneous praise, declaring that “the Holy Spirit fell upon them just as on us at the beginning. And I remembered the word of the Lord, how he said, ‘John baptized with water, but you shall be baptized with the Holy Spirit’” (Acts 11:15-16). This evidence was crucial for those who had challenged Peter, who when they “heard this, stopped objecting and glorified God, saying, ‘God has then granted life-giving repentance to the gentiles too’” (Acts 11:18). Clearly, the observable evidence of baptism in the Holy Spirit was an essential part of the Church’s understanding of the Christian life, even though no single effect—such as tongues, for example—was ever considered a “litmus test” of having received the Holy Spirit.
Part I of the ICCRS booklet discusses these characteristic effects of baptism in the Spirit. Although they differ in each person, the following are common:
- A personal encounter with Jesus, experiencing his unspeakable love
- Strong awareness of the Holy Spirit and his supernatural gifts
- Freedom from sinful tendencies
- The healing of relationships
- The Mass coming alive
- Scripture coming alive
- Prayer springing from the heart
- Praying in tongues
- The release of other charisms
- Awareness of the spiritual battle
- Zeal to evangelize
The fact that someone receives Confirmation as an adult (18 years or older) does not in itself guarantee that this personal, experiential fruit of baptism in the Holy Spirit will be realized. People receive Confirmation for a variety of reasons—because they have a desire to grow spiritually, or simply because they know they are supposed to, or because Confirmation is necessary for getting married in the Church. In such cases, they may not be adequately prepared to make the full surrender to Jesus that is at the heart of baptism in the Spirit. On the other hand, children younger than 18, sometimes even as young as seven, can be capable of such a surrender. So the key factor is not age but faith, repentance, understanding, good preparation, surrender of one’s life to Jesus, and openness to the Holy Spirit and his gifts.
A caring pastoral approach must look at whether these effects have been experienced by the individual. It may be helpful to lead the person through a list like the one above. If these fruits are evident, we rejoice at the priceless grace that has been released into their life. If not, we can invite them to a Life in the Spirit Seminar or offer to pray over them for baptism in the Spirit so they can experience the fullness of what God has for them.
We can take the same posture as St. Paul who wrote twice in 1 Corinthians, “I handed on to you what I myself received” (1 Cor 11:23; 15:3). We who have received baptism in the Holy Spirit are under a profound obligation to “hand it on” in any of the countless ways that are modelled in the Charismatic Renewal. We can be confident that God himself seeks to restore the normal fruitfulness of Confirmation, while in the meantime we pray for baptism in the Spirit with anyone who is disposed to receive it.