“Confirm, O Lord, your servant with your Holy Spirit.”
What we now call confirmation was originally part of a wider ceremony of Christian initiation and only became a separate rite when bishops were no longer able to preside at all baptism.
As a separate rite, confirmation marks the point in the Christian journey at which the participation in the life of God’s people inaugurated at baptism is confirmed by the bishop by the laying on of hands, and in which those who have been baptised affirm for themselves the faith into which they have been baptised and their intention to live a life of responsible and committed discipleship. Through prayer and the laying on of hands by the confirming bishop, the Church also asks God to give them power through the Holy Spirit to enable them to live in this way.
It is evident from its celebration that the effect of the sacrament of Confirmation is the full outpouring of the Holy Spirit as once granted to the apostles on the day of Pentecost. From this fact, Confirmation brings an increase and deepening of Baptismal grace, which: unites us more firmly to Christ, increases the gifts of the Holy Spirit in us, renders our bond with the Church more perfect, and 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 His name boldly, and never to be ashamed of the Cross.
“Recall then that you have received the spiritual seal, the spirit of wisdom and understanding, the spirit of right judgment and courage, the spirit of knowledge and reverence, the spirit of holy fear in God’s presence. Guard what you have received. God the Father has marked you with his sign; Christ the Lord has confirmed you and has placed his pledge, the Spirit, in your hearts” (St Ambrose).
Like Baptism, which it completes, Confirmation is given only once, for it too imprints on the soul an indelible spiritual mark, the character, which is the sign that Jesus Christ has marked a Christian with the seal of his Spirit. This character perfects the common priesthood of the faithful, received in Baptism, and the confirmed person receives the power to profess faith in Christ publicly and indeed officially.
Anyone may be confirmed who has been baptised, who is old enough to answer responsibly for themselves, and who has received appropriate preparation. In the Church of England it has been traditional for people to be confirmed in their early teens, but there is no set age for confirmation. In many dioceses, however, the diocesan bishop has set a minimum age for Confirmation. If this is the case your parish priest will be able to tell you what the minimum age is.
The purpose of confirmation preparation is to ensure that those who are confirmed have a proper understanding of what it means to live as a disciple of Christ within the life of the Church of England. In The Book of Common Prayer it is envisaged that this preparation will take the form of learning by heart the Apostles Creed, the Ten Commandments, the Lord’s Prayer, and The Book of Common Prayer Catechism. Today a more comprehensive course of preparation is felt to be appropriate. As in the case of baptism preparation, the form that this preparation takes will vary according to the practice of the church or cathedral concerned and the particular needs and circumstances of the confirmation candidates.
Many people are confirmed in the church or cathedral that they normally attend. However, people may also be confirmed in another church in a service in which candidates from a number of different churches are combined together, and some children and young people are confirmed at their school.
According to the Canons (laws) of the Church of England those who receive Holy Communion in the Church of England should either have been confirmed in the Church of England or should be ready and desire to be confirmed. However, as has already been explained, there is an exception to this requirement in the case of children who are admitted to Communion prior to confirmation in the context of an agreed diocesan and parochial policy that this should be the case.
Those who are baptized communicant members in good standing of other churches are also welcome to receive Holy Communion in the Church of England with the understanding that if they continue doing so indefinitely then they should be made aware of the normal requirements for reception.
It is normal for Confirmation to be followed straight away by Holy Communion, although in cases where confirmation has not taken place in a candidate’s parish church they may instead take Communion for the first time in that church on the following Sunday.