ASK FATHER: Non-standard form for Confirmation – valid?

12_03_12_confirmationFrom a reader…


Yesterday I acted as sponsor for a person receiving Confirmation. I noticed that the bishop, at the moment of anointing the candidates with the sacred chrism, did not say the standard formula. The bishop (a native English speaker, speaking in English) said, “Be sealed in the gifts of the Holy Spirit.” (He repeated this same nonstandard formula over and over for dozens of candidates. I heard him both through the microphone and directly up close.) Is that sufficiently similar in meaning to the prescribed formula to be valid? The bishop did all sorts of other nonsense during the Mass that made a mockery of Catholic liturgy, and I was very annoyed by it, but is this change to the essential sacramental formula bad enough that I should report it to the appropriate congregation at the Vatican?

Let’s review, because reviewing helps.

All sacraments have both matter and form.  For the Sacrament of Confirmation the matter is the laying on of hands and the anointing with chrism.  In 1971, Paul VI issued in his Apostolic Constitution Divinae consortium naturae a new rite of Confirmation and he designated as the form: Accipe signaculum doni Spiritus Sancti… Be sealed with the Gift of the Holy Spirit.”  In the Byzantine East the form is virtually the same, including singular  “gift” (??????, genitive of ? ?????) except that different parts of the body are anointed.  The older, traditional Latin Church form is also valid: “Signo te crucis: et confirmo te Chrismate salutis, in nomine Patris, et Filii, et Spiritus Sancti. … I sign thee with the Sign of the Cross, and I confirm thee with the Chrism of salvation, in the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost. Amen.”

The Catechism of the Catholic Church covers the Sacrament of Confirmation in 1285 ff.  Everyone should own a copy.  More HERE.

Does “Be sealed with the gifts of the Holy Spirit” mean the same thing as “Be sealed with the Gift of the Holy Spirit”?

In general, the “gifts of the Holy Spirit” are understood to be, “Wisdom, Understanding, Knowledge…”, etc., which are bestowed with the indwelling of the Holy Spirit in the soul with sanctifying grace.  They are a result of the indwelling of the Spirit.  “The gift of the Holy Spirit” could include the “gifts of the Holy Spirit”, and more.  Each sacrament has its effects. In the CCC 1303 we read that one of the effects of the sacrament of Confirmation is that “it increases the gifts of the Holy Spirit in us”. I suppose that we can conceive of all the effects to be one with the Holy Spirit’s indwelling. But…the Latin form has singular “doni”, genitive singular of donum.  The Greek has the singular. I don’t know if “gifts” is valid or not.  Perhaps you could – respectfully – ask the bishop if it means the same thing before you write to the Congregation.  In general, which every Catholic always has immediate recourse to the Holy See in these matters, it is best to work your way up with questions rather than start at the top.

It grieves me some priests and bishops do not use the sacrament form as it is written in the book. People who are in attendance can read it in the book or the handout.  People who are paying attention and who have basic catechism scratch their heads when the book says one thing while the minister of the sacrament says another.

Catholics with a fundamental knowledge of their basic catechism know that our sacraments have both matter and form and that the form matters, if you get my drift.  For a sacrament to be valid, a valid form – the words spoken – must be used.  The valid form is laid down by the Church.  It is not up to individual priests or bishops to determine what the valid form is.  Priests and bishops are obliged by law and all that is good and holy to use the proper form.

I don’t think that most bishops and priests who screw around with sacramental forms are being malicious.  I think that, for the most part, they are trying to make the rite more “meaningful”, even though they have zero authority to change the words.

If it comes to their attention that people are confused by what they do, then it is a horrible lack of charity to continue to upset people by using a non-standard “form” for sacraments, thus raising doubts in their minds:

“Was I really absolved?  Was I really confirmed?  Is that really the Eucharist up there?  Was my child really baptized?”

Fathers, please just stick to the book for the form of sacraments.

If you have to review, then, for the love of God, review.  Just…

Say the Black Do the Red

The moderation queue is ON.


My dear friend Fr. Tim Finigan, His Hermeneuticalness, has picked up on this post and, at his place (HERE), added good remarks, including:

I have another quibble with the form of Confirmation in our current English version. Simply put, it is not a correct translation of the Latin text.


“Be sealed with the Gift of the Holy Spirit.” I do not think that it is pedantic to point out that “Be sealed with the Gift of the Holy Spirit” is not the same as “Receive the seal of the Gift of the Holy Spirit.”


The seal is something that is given and received. In the Roman army, recruits were marked on the hand or the forearm with an abbreviation of the name of the general. This tattoo was called the signaculum. (In the film Gladiator, Maximus has the mark on his upper arm and cuts it away with a flint while he is being transported to be sold into slavery.) In Greek the word would be sphragis and there is a rich vein of material in the Fathers of the Church that brings out the significance of this in the rite of Baptism and Confirmation. Danielou in his “The Bible and the Liturgy” devotes a chapter to it.

The signaculum or sphragis was an indelible seal, a mark of belonging to Christ, of being incorporated into the Church, a mark of protection, and a mark of enlistment into the army of Christ. The notion of being a soldier of Christ did not originate with Faustus of Riez, it was there in St John Chrysostom. The military metaphor was made more explicit by the Roman use of signaculum, of course.

So using the phrase “Be sealed with the gift of the Holy Spirit” in our current translation is not the same as “Receive the seal of the Gift of the Holy Spirit” which is what the Latin original means.


Go over there and read the rest.  It is very good.

Fathers, you priests of the Latin Church: Just Use Latin!

About Fr. John Zuhlsdorf

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  1. VexillaRegis says:

    Fr. Z, the reader writes that the bishop said “Be sealed *in* the gifts of the Holy Spirit.” A weird way to put it, hmm. Or is it a lapsus calami? [Are you suggesting that it was wrong in the book? Hmmmm. Sorry, that doesn’t cut it. A bishop should not be ignorant of his primary roles. Confirming is precisely one of those things for which they are consecrated.]

  2. Ocampa says:

    I would be inclined to think this is a slip of the tongue out of habit of talking about the “gifts” of the Holy Ghost. Can a slip render a sacrament invalid? [Yes. But this wasn’t a “slip”. It was repeated. Moreover, this is a bishop we are talking about. He was a priest before he was a bishop. He ought to know these things.]

    I also know native speakers who can’t get noun and verb numbers straight. [If that is an enduring problem they can’t be trained out of, they probably shouldn’t be ordained.]

    But then there’s the other “mockery” that the questioner mentioned, whatever that may be. [Irrelevant to the question. I could have edited that bit out.]

  3. VexillaRegis says:

    No no, I meant that either the questioner or You put *in* in the sentence by mistake – a lapsus calami – OR that the bishop did in fact say “Be sealed *in* the gift*s* of the Holy Spirit.”

  4. madisoncanonist says:

    As I see it, the difference between the two is substantial. “The Gift of the Holy Spirit” uses a genitive appositive: “Gift” is not something belonging to or pertaining to the Holy Spirit, but is a synonym of the Holy Spirit (cf. CCC 733 ff). A paraphrase would be “Receive the Gift that is the Holy Spirit.” By contrast, “The Gifts of the Holy Spirit” refers to something belonging to or pertaining to the Holy Spirit: the gifts that are given by the Holy Spirit. The former phrase describes what confirmation IS, and the latter phrase describes a consequence or effect of confirmation. Whether that defect is enough to make the sacrament invalid is above my pay grade.

    [Good observations.]

    Fr. Z's Gold Star Award

  5. So, what happens if a person who was confirmed years ago as an adult realizes the bishop used an incorrect form? What os the person to do?

    [It’s hard to say. If you can submit solid evidence that it was invalid, that’s one thing. If you can’t, that’s other. Either way, for a solidly established reason, a person could be conditionally confirmed.]

  6. bourgja says:

    If we compare the newer and older forms of the Roman rite, considering that both are valid, we can conclude that a bare minimum for validity is: some verb relating to “sign” and a mention of the Holy Spirit. [No.] The word gift is not even present in the older form of the Roman rite, so I don’t think that it is necessary for validity. [No.]

  7. Tom A. says:

    Father, My post about SSPX validity a few days ago relates to this very matter. Much of the NO Rites depend on the “intention” of the minister. [You may be over-analyzing or looking for rare problems.]

  8. disc.s.thom says:

    I would agree with madisoncanonist above. The objective meaning of those two formulas or phrases is very different. [I think that’s what matters.]

    However, with such a minute difference in the words themselves, and given that this was the actual celebration of a sacrament rather than an academic discussion, one would have to look beyond the objective meaning of the texts. We must ask also what the minister intended by using the incorrect word. [Ummm… no. The sacraments have forms for a reason. If a priest, having a momentary lapse of attention because he’s thinking about lunch, says, “This is my cheeseburger”, he doesn’t confect the Eucharist.]

    He may have meant, actually, the seven gifts. He may have simply thought the text of the ritual is actually ‘gifts’. [HUH?] He may have meant (in some weird way) the Holy Spirit himself. Regardless, so long as he was intending what the Church intends (and therefore were not being malicious in using the wrong formula; whether generally intending or specifically intending), then it would be valid. [No.]

    And that we don’t have the answer to. Only the minister himself knows.

  9. I argued here that “gifts” instead of “Gift” probably invalidates. 2010 CLSA Advisory Opinions 131-133.

    [I think this is becoming clearer.]

    Fr. Z's Gold Star Award

  10. VexillaRegis says:

    Sorry, but the questioner wrote that the bishop said “Be sealed IN the gifts of the Holy Spirit.” He did not write “Be sealed WITH the gifts of the Holy Spirit.” [I don’t think “in” is the main problem.]
    I’m curious about how one could be sealed in multiple gifts – is one wrapped up in gift parcels with string and seals upon them? LOL! No, I think this Bp has leanings towards some New Age philosophy. He is trying to say something that sounds deep and fresh at first sight but points us to a new place “beyond Jesus”. Like what the LCWR is doing.

    This is very serious. Since experts on here already have argued that the using of the word giftS probably invalidates the sacrament, I would think that the Bp also saying IN instead of WITH most certainly invalidates the sacrament! Dozens of confirmates…

  11. bobk says:

    In English the Orthodox say “The seal of the gift of the Holy Spirit” as the person is anointed with oil over a bunch of parts of the body, The usual way it’s spoken of is like being “branded”.

  12. The Masked Chicken says:

    There has been a lot of dirt thrown into air in the last fifty years in Catholic circles (more, in a hidden way, before that) with regards to Charismatic Theology. Unfortunately, some books which might seem authoritative, are based on poor scholarship and may have contaminated the understanding of some clergy and laity. I am thinking, in particular, of, Fanning the Flame: What Does Baptism in the Holy Spirit Have to Do with Christian Initiation, by Kilian McDonnell (Editor), George T. Montague (Editor), but there is a whole host of such books and papers (the Jones bibliography lists about 30,000 articles and books going back 200 years). In it they confuse the extraordinary gifts of tongue-speaking with the ordinary gifts of fortitude, knowledge, etc., and argue that Confirmation, “releases,” the Holy Spirit, manifesting the extraordinary gifts. This is exactly backwards from the sacramental understanding and is an attempt to rationalize the modern Pentecostal ideas with Catholic history. The problem is that no Church Father of which I am aware had this understanding – all of their commentary is quite orthodox. One can cherry-pick examples, but the Church Fathers are pretty uniformly on the side of the ordinary gifts. By the time of St. John Chrystostom, in the early 400’s A. D., he was able to write ,”The [extraordinary] gifts are long-gone.” I don’t want to go into the long, complicated history of post-Patristic non-Catholic theologies of the Holy Spirit, here. I had hoped to write a book on this, some day.

    If one wants to discuss the improper form with the bishop, one ought to have at least some background knowledge. Fr. Finigan is, of course, correct. The notion of, “sealing,” has a long history in Scripture, both Old and New. In the Old Testament, the common word was, chatham, which means to mark as ones own (by some marking, such as a signet ring), to affix to something, to cover up something by sealing (as in sealing a fence with pitch to protect against the rain), to store in ones treasury, or to keep hidden from attack.

    In the New Testament, this notion is transliterated as, sphragizo (from sphragis, which, itself, is from phrasso, which has the sense of to fence in or close up – in other words, seal or enclose; it can also mean to silence).

    Now, something which is sealed is marked. It is, also, strengthened, as adding pitch to a fence strengthens the fence. Thus, one gets the double senses of being indelibly marked and strengthened as the effects of Confirmation. Two examples of this usage are Ephesians 4:30 and Rev 7:2-4:

    Eph 4:30
    And grieve not the holy Spirit of God, whereby ye are sealed unto the day of redemption.

    Rev 7:2
    And I saw another angel ascending from the east, having the seal of the living God: and he cried with a loud voice to the four angels, to whom it was given to hurt the earth and the sea,
    Saying, Hurt not the earth, neither the sea, nor the trees, till we have sealed the servants of our God in their foreheads.
    And I heard the number of them which were sealed: and there were sealed an hundred and forty and four thousand of all the tribes of the children of Israel.

    In both cases, one is sealed, meaning reserved for exclusive use, by an agent, be it the king or his servant. The object or person receives or is branded with the seal of the person.

    Here is where the flaw is in, “Be sealed in the gifts of the Holy Siprit,” vs. “Be sealed with (or receive) the gift of the Holy Spirit.” Being sealed in the gifts is trying to confirm or seal the person in the secondary effects of the Holy Spirit. The correct form, however, is sealing one with the Holy Spirit as gift (one is sealed or marked with the Holy Spirit as a sign of ownership by God, since the Holy Spirit is the first and greatest gift of God – his very self). Let me see if I can make an analogy. Being sealed in the gifts of the Holy Spirit is like Lois Lane being married to Superman’s powers; being sealed with the gift of the Holy Spirit is like Lois Lane being married to Superman. Being sealed, gifted, to Superman, is different than bring sealed in his powers or his actions. Being sealed in his powers might imply that one has a connection to Superman, but it doesn’t claim a direct ownership. When one is sealed with the gift (the signum) of the Holy Spirit, one is infused in a strengthening fashion with the Holy Spirit, hidden with Him, marked by Him. The gifts flow from this, if one acts within the sealing, but the gifts are a secondary sign. In other words, if one is sealed with the Holy Spirit, the gifts will follow, but if one is sealed in the gifts, it does not mean that one is approved of or sealed by God. Jesus even said that some people would perform mighty deeds in his name (i.e., demonstrate the extraordinary gifts), but that He never knew them – they were not marked as his. Being sealed with the gifts of the Holy Spirit is not only ambiguous in that it doesn’t specify ordinary or extraordinary gifts (one can no longer simply assume the ordinary gifts are being referred to because of modern Charismatic tendencies), but it is a form of the fallacy of the converse accident: simply having the gifts does not imply having the Giver of the gifts in a relationship – it may, but it doesn’t absolutely have to.

    The Holy Spirit is a singular gift, unique, personal; being sealed in the gifts is not personal and not necessarily relational.

    In my opinion, the form the bishop used is invalid, since it does not correspond to what is actually happening in the sacrament: the bishop, in persona Christi, is the King, setting His Seal, The Holy Spirit, the First Gift of the Godhead to redeemed man, on the individual – fulfilling what Christ said in the Last Discourse:

    Jhn 14:25
    These things have I spoken unto you, being yet present with you.
    But the Comforter, which is the Holy Ghost, whom the Father will send in my name, he shall teach you all things, and bring all things to your remembrance, whatsoever I have said unto you.

    The Father sends the Holy Spirit in the name of Jesus. The word, send, in the above, pempo, in the Greek, has the sense of being inserting or pressing one thing into another – literally, sealing. Thus, one could say:

    But the Comforter, which is the Holy Ghost, whom the Father will seal you in my name…

    This is the action of Confirmation. Being sealed in the gifts makes no sense, in this context.

    It is sad that things have become so confused in this period of history. The Church has a very stable theology of the Holy Spirit, but it hasn’t spoken up enough, in my opinion, to clarify the good and the bad in the Protestant experiences, especially those that rely solely on interpreting Scripture.

    The Chicken

    P.S. I haven’t been thinking so well, these days, so these are only points to consider. I hope they help.

  13. robtbrown says:

    I don’t think the above use of “gifts” rather than “gift” invalidates the Sacrament.

    BTW, the form is taken from the Greek Church. And the EF rite of Confirmation refers to the Sevenfold Gifts.

  14. npmccallum says:

    In the Byzantine Rite, the prayer is: ??????? ?????? ????????? ?????. In English, literally: Seal of the gift of the Holy Spirit. It is clear in this prayer that the gift is the Holy Spirit himself.

    On a theological basis, I would read “Be sealed in the gifts of the Holy Spirit.” as a sort of Pneumatomachian variant. Put simply, confirmation imparts the Spirit himself. The cooperation of the person with the Holy Spirit produces the effects of the sevenfold gifts. Attempting to seal someone “in the gifts” of the Holy Spirit, that is the created effects of the divine presence, strikes me as deeply problematic theology and, yes, invalid. Imagine if one baptized in the “monarchy of the Father, the obedience of the Son and the power of the Holy Spirit.” This would surely be invalid precisely because it is not the properties of the Trinity that effects baptisms but the very divine persons thereof.

    Also, the use of the Byzantine conjugation in the Latin rite seems very odd to me. The Latin tradition uses the active voice (“Ego te baptizo”, “Signo te crucis… confirmo te Chrismate …”) where the Greek tradition does not (“?????????? ? ?????? …”, “??????? …”). While I appreciate the Byzantine formula as being more theologically precise in general, do you know why it wasn’t adapted to a more natural Latin grammatical form?

  15. robtbrown says:


    The indwelling of the Trinity is present in anyone in a state of Grace. That’s why the Holy Spirit is specifically given in Baptism.

    What is given in Confirmation is, as Fr Z pointed out, the signaculum, the seal, which is an indelible character. The 5 Sacraments without a character distinguish between Res (grace) tantum and Sacramentum tantum. The character imprinted in the other 3 is a spiritual power, thus it is Res et Sacramentum.

  16. robtbrown says:


    The Sacramental forms in the Latin Church often emphasize the priest acting in persona Christi more than Eastern Church does, thus the first person singular.

    In the enthusiasm for Ecumenism the Church has sometimes adopted Eastern aspects that don’t fit so well.

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