Source: Estimates based on data from the Archdiocese of Portland and photo from Catholic News Service. (Infographic by Sarah Wolf/Catholic Sentinel)
Source: Estimates based on data from the Archdiocese of Portland and photo from Catholic News Service. (Infographic by Sarah Wolf/Catholic Sentinel)

This article was updated June 7th to correct the name and position of Dave Crepeau.

Archbishop Alexander Sample raises his hands, asking the Holy Spirit to fill the candidates standing before him at the University of Portland’s Christ the Teacher chapel.

“Almighty God, Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who brought these your servants to new birth by water and the Holy Spirit, freeing them from sin: Send upon them, O Lord, the Holy Spirit, the Paraclete; give them the spirit of wisdom and understanding, the spirit of counsel and fortitude, the spirit of knowledge and piety; fill them with the spirit of fear of the Lord. Through Christ our Lord. Amen.”

The moment is one every Catholic experiences on confirmation day — being sealed with the gift of the Holy Spirit.

After the candidates renew baptismal promises and the archbishop prays for the Holy Spirit, the candidates stand before the altar. The bishop annoints each of them, crossing their foreheads with the sweet-scented chrism oil.

“It was one of those Masses where everything was hitting really hard on my soul,” said Clair Bateson, an incoming sophomore at U.P. who was confirmed by Archbishop Sample. Bateson grew up Catholic in Vancouver, Washington, but her family moved away from the faith in her early teenage years.

“I really wanted to find where I belonged religiously.”

After a search through several religions, a friend brought her to an event during the Year of Mercy.

“I went to church for the first time in a really long time and I felt really at home with the Mass again,” said Bateson. So after she arrived at U.P., she began participating in the university’s confirmation classes.

In his homily to the candidates, the archbishop explained the transformation that would be taking place during confirmation.

“My dear young people, as you’re preparing now for your confirmation, God is doing something new in you,” he said.

“Through your baptism, you were forgiven of your sins. Original sin is washed away. You were made a child of God. You were filled with the Holy Spirit already and within the loving Holy Trinity, you shared in God’s very light. And now you’ve come to complete, if you will, your baptism by being sealed with the gift of the Holy Spirit.

“The Holy Spirit is going to renovate you, is going to make you a new creation, is going to do something in you today to change you and to strengthen you. God continues to renew and make things new all the time. That’s what God does now in the sacrament,” he added.

The ultimate purpose of confirmation is the strengthening of the graces given at baptism, said Alex Roth, campus minister at the University of Portland. His hope is that is what happens during the confirmation Masses.

“My job is to help them see what that means in their lives,” said Roth.

Confirmation is one of the sacraments that is reserved almost exclusively for a bishop. So in the Archdiocese of Portland, four bishops preside — Archbishop Sample, Auxiliary Bishop Peter Smith, emeritus Archbishop John Vlazny and emeritus Auxiliary Bishop Kenneth Steiner. The four bishops travel the archdiocese throughout May — and a small number in the off months — confirming more than 3,000 young people every year.

“It’s one of the things where as a bishop, you are reminded that you are a bishop,” said Bishop Smith.

Bishop Smith has seen the many forms that confirmation can take in his travels. Some parishes have a more relaxed approach. Some parishes run with militaristic precision. But always, it’s wonderful. Some parishes have fewer than a dozen candidates and others — more than a hundred. For smaller groups, the Mass may only take an hour and a half. For larger groups, it can stretch past two hours.

Parishes, no matter the size, put a lot of work into confirmation programs.

Dave Crepeau, youth ministry coordinator at St. Henry Parish in Gresham, takes confirmation seriously. He wants teens to form good Christian habits — like serving others, making good decisions, forming good relationships and knowing the faith. Recently, he transformed confirmation preparation into a two-year program, requiring participation from parents or sponsors. Forty-seven youths are in the first year of the program and will be confirmed next year. He treats confirmation as an invitation for the future.

“Once you’re one of us, you’re part of us,” Crepeau tells them.

He points out to the teens that confirmation is not some kind of magic. You’re not yourself one day and then perfect the day after the Mass.

“In that moment when the bishop blesses you and you say amen, something intensely personal happens between you and God,” Crepeau tells the teens getting confirmed. “We believe that in that moment you’re endowed with a spiritual gift. What that gift is is your business and God’s business. And what you do with that gift is your choice.”

For the parish community, confirmation represents hope, added Crepeau.

Confirmation Masses are also an opportunity for bishops to be seen throughout the archdiocese, especially by young people who may not get to otherwise see the bishops, said Bishop Smith.

“For us, it’s a great opportunity to get out into the parishes and meet people,” he said.

The confirmation schedule for the bishops is ambitious. To help consolidate the schedule, parishes usually are required to have at least 25 candidates to have a confirmation Mass. So smaller parishes often form larger groups with surrounding parishes. And some parishes hold confirmation only every two or three years.

Still, there is is usually one Mass a day throughout May and sometimes there are two, three or even four. That’s where the help from the emeritus bishops comes in.

The bishops make the effort to go down to the farthest reaches of the archdiocese — a challenge considering the seat of the archdiocese is at the archdiocese’s northernmost edge. Bishop Smith estimates he drives 3,000 to 4,000 miles each year during confirmation season. Archbishop Sample drives probably 20 percent farther.

“It is tiring in the physical sense,” said Bishop Smith. But still there’s a passion for it. He gets fired up for confirmation season.

“You’re ordained as a priest and then as a bishop to be a shepherd and take care of the people. So that’s where you draw energy, your life, your inspiration,” he said.

sarahw@catholicsentinel.org