Can you explain why priests are doing Confirmations? In the past, only Bishops confirmed. Also, what happened to the slap in Confirmations?
Priests could always do Confirmation in case of an emergency, so of its nature, the power to administer the Sacrament was not confined to the Episcopal order. In practice, it was usually conferred by a Bishop except in the case of an emergency. In recent years, Bishops have been given the authority to delegate ordinary administration of the Sacrament in wider circumstances to make it more readily available.
From THE SACRAMENTS OF CHRISTIN INITIATION
In the Old Testament the prophets announced that the Spirit of the Lord would rest on the hoped-for Messiah for his saving mission. The descent of the Holy Spirit on Jesus at his baptism by John was the sign that this was he who was to come, the Messiah, the Son of God. He was conceived of the Holy Spirit; his whole life and his whole mission are carried out in total communion with the Holy Spirit whom the Father gives him “without measure.”
This fullness of the Spirit was not to remain uniquely the Messiah’s, but was to be communicated to the whole messianic people. On several occasions Christ promised this outpouring of the Spirit, a promise which he fulfilled first on Easter Sunday and then more strikingly at Pentecost. Filled with the Holy Spirit the apostles began to proclaim “the mighty works of God,” and Peter declared this outpouring of the Spirit to be the sign of the messianic age. Those who believed in the apostolic preaching and were baptized received the gift of the Holy Spirit in their turn.
“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 in a certain way perpetuates the grace of Pentecost in the Church.”
Very early, the better to signify the gift of the Holy Spirit, an anointing with perfumed oil (chrism) was added to the laying on of hands. This anointing highlights the name “Christian,” which means “anointed” and derives from that of Christ himself whom God “anointed with the Holy Spirit.” This rite of anointing has continued ever since, in both East and West. For this reason the Eastern Churches call this sacrament Chrismation, anointing with chrism, or Myron which means “chrism.” In the West, the term Confirmation suggests that this sacrament both confirms and strengthens baptismal grace.
THE MINISTER OF CONFIRMATION
The original minister of Confirmation is the bishop.
In the East, ordinarily the priest who baptizes also immediately confers Confirmation in one and the same celebration. But he does so with sacred chrism consecrated by the patriarch or the bishop, thus expressing the apostolic unity of the Church whose bonds are strengthened by the sacrament of Confirmation. In the Latin Church, the same discipline applies to the Baptism of adults or to the reception into full communion with the Church of a person baptized in another Christian community that does not have valid Confirmation.
In the Latin Rite, the ordinary minister of Confirmation is the bishop. If the need arises, the bishop may grant the faculty of administering Confirmation to priests, although it is fitting that he confer it himself, mindful that the celebration of Confirmation has been temporally separated from Baptism for this reason. Bishops are the successors of the apostles. They have received the fullness of the sacrament of Holy Orders. The administration of this sacrament by them demonstrates clearly that its effect is to unite those who receive it more closely to the Church, to her apostolic origins, and to her mission of bearing witness to Christ.
If a Christian is in danger of death, any priest can give him Confirmation. Indeed the Church desires that none of her children, even the youngest, should depart this world without having been perfected by the Holy Spirit with the gift of Christ’s fullness.
The “slap” which was a light tap on the face, was to symbolize strength the face adversity, was abolished after the Second Vatican Council because it didn’t help convey the true nature of the Sacrament which, rather than being assistance to deal with adversity, is the assistance of the Holy Spirit to live affirmatively the Christian vocation in every circumstance of life.
Holy Spirit Catholic Church, Atlanta, GA