The Holy Spirit and the Sacraments of Initiation

Baptism is the first and fundamental sacrament.  It is conferred by pouring water or immersion while speaking the words, “I baptize you in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.”  As the symbol of water makes clear, Baptism does many things at once by the power of the Holy Spirit.  It washes away our sins (Acts 22:16).  Through it, we die with Christ and are raised with him as well (Romans 6:5-11).  It gives us the gift of eternal life—which is to say the life of the Blessed Trinity himself–in a sort of seed form that is intended to penetrate every aspect of our lives, body, soul, and spirit. It makes us both children of God the Father and members of the Church, the Body of Christ, so that we are intimately related, not only to God, but to all the other members of the Church, living and dead. And it prepares us and makes us worthy to receive further graces in the form of the other sacraments.

Confirmation is the next sacrament of initiation and involves both the laying on of hands and anointing with chrism oil.  We can already see it being celebrated in Acts 8:14-17 and in Paul’s mention of being “sealed with the promised Holy Spirit” (Ephesians 1:13).  Confirmation is associated with a further outpouring of the Holy Spirit ordered, not just to our being children of God, but friends of God and mature adults in Christ more firmly rooted in him and the Church.  Confirmation is the gift ordered to mission.  Through it, we receive both sanctifying gifts and charismatic gifts. 

Sanctifying gifts are the gifts you get to keep.  These gifts–wisdom, understanding, counsel, fortitude, knowledge, piety, and fear of the Lord—are the gifts that are given to help make you into a little Christ so that you reproduce in your own life his perfect life of divine sonship and happiness. 

Charismatic gifts are the gifts you give away.  They are given you, not for yourself, but so that somebody else will receive grace from God through you.  Some charisms are not flashy, such as administration or service.  Others are spectacular, such as miracles or healing.  As to the number of such charisms, they are limited only by the imagination of God (though a non-exhaustive assortment of them are mentioned by Paul in Romans 12, 1 Corinthians 12, and Ephesians 5).  But all of them are for one reason: to build up the Body of Christ and renew the face of the earth.

Eucharist is the “source and summit of the Christian life”.[1] It is the sacrament instituted at the Last Supper on Holy Thursday when Jesus declared, with simple clarity “This is my body” and “This is my blood” (Mark 14:22-24).  Every single Church with a succession of bishops dating back to the first century has always taken Jesus as meaning exactly what he said.  In short, it is nothing less than Jesus Christ himself—body, blood, soul, spirit, and divinity—fully present under the appearance of bread and wine.  Through the gift of the Eucharist we receive food which does for our souls what earthly food does for the body.  The Eucharist strengthens us for the journey. (The Catholic J.R.R. Tolkien’s elvish lembas images this in The Lord of the Rings).  It is the “medicine of immortality”[2], communicating the divinized human life of the Risen Christ to us and making us members of one another: the body of Christ in union through the Body of Christ.  It is his whole life given to us and for us, sacrificed for our sins and raised from the dead for our justification and divinization.  It is our Passover from death to life, giving us the supernatural life of God in the most supreme way we can receive it in this life.

[1] Lumen Gentium 11

[2] St. Ignatius, Epistle to the Ephesians 20.  Available on-line at as of August 15, 2019.


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