Priests and confirmation


I know it is the bishop who is the cleric who confirms folks with the anointing or Chrismation. Nevertheless, it is my understanding bishops throughout the USA (at least) give some sort of permission/dispensation or temporary faculties to priests to perform confirmation in place of the bishop. Am I right that this is a temporary thing and that a priest has no faculties to do this unless expressly granted by the ordinary? If so, how long has this been the practice within the Latin Church, regardless of Rite (I know the Eastern Catholic Churches still baptize, give the Eucharist and Chrismate during the same divine liturgy or at least I believe that is the case)? In other words, was there a time (could be centuries) when priests did not give confirmation to the faithful since it is a sacrament reserved to the bishop?



Can. 883 The following have, by law, the faculty to administer confirmation:

1° within the confines of their jurisdiction, those who in law are equivalent to a diocesan Bishop;

2° in respect of the person to be confirmed, the priest who by virtue of his office or by mandate of the diocesan Bishop baptizes an adult or admits a baptized adult into full communion with the catholic Church;

3° in respect of those in danger of death, the parish priest or indeed any priest.

So, as you can see, it is the norm in the Latin rite for any priest admitting an adult into full communion with the Church to confirm the adult.

Also, in the Easter rites of the Catholic Church, it is the norm for the priest to confirm (“chrismate”) an infant immediately after baptizing him.

In all such cases, the oil in question is blessed by the bishop.


Thank you for the reply. If I understand correctly, then, it is the bishop who always and at any time with respect to any person–adult or minor–is charged with confirming such a person within the bishop’s jurisdiction. In other words, a priest could not do this outside of the areas mentioned above, as that would rest solely with the bishop, correct? That is why the bishop is always present at confirmation of teenagers, I would imagine.

Now, I recognize what you say and the reference to canon law–much appreciated. But, what about the part of my question as to whether there was a time when only the bishop could chrismate or confirm a candidate? Was that ever the case or has canon law never changed–on this narrow point as to the clerics who can licitly confirm candidates–since canon law was first promulgated? Thank you.


The article on Confirmation in the Old Catholic Encyclopedia will give you insight into how things were at the time it was written back in 1908. It doesn’t seem that much different that the current Code of Canon Law.


Thank you, Joe. Now, this makes me wonder about the diaconate. If a priest (which would include the bishop) were unavailable and there was a need to anoint one with chrism due to illness or impending death, is it theoretically possible a deacon could do this if temporarily granted the faculty? I don’t believe it happens and the deacon is not an ordinary minister of that sacrament, but could that be possible in theory? Could that evolve over time? Since the deacon can provide viaticum already, I speculate as to whether that could be something a bishop might allow, if however infrequently. This is more of a hypothetical on future development of the theology and pastoral norms for the diaconate.


I do not believe that a deacon, even in danger of death, can validly or licitly confer the sacrament of confirmation. I’ve never been asked that question before…:shrug::blush:


Poor wording on my part, Deacon–I meant in reference to extreme unction a/k/a anointing of the sick. My apologies


There has been discussions of allowing deacons to anoint the sick, I even heard a well respected theologian and priest who thought we would see it happen in the next 25 years.
Part of the reason is the number of deacons who regularly in hospital visits and often their availability is greater than that of a priest. I believe at one time the USCCB has broached the subject with the Vatican.

Dcn Frank



I’d disagree with that theologian/priest, considering this statement from the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith:

This is doctrine, not discipline.



I know not of these discussions, but it seems logical to me, particularly since deacons are an ordinary minister of baptism and can witness marriages on behalf of the Church. In light of the development (I think) over time of priests being permitted, in extraordinary circumstances or with express dispensation of the ordinary, to confirm candidates (albeit not minors), I don’t see why such a development might not occur in regards transitional or permanent deacons; i.e., they might be designated extraordinary ministers of anointing of the sick. I can’t see it as to confirmation, confession or the Eucharist, but–of those three–confirmation would appear to be one that would be most accessible, from a theological point of view, of being granted to a deacon (again, in only very rare circumstances or with express permission of the ordinary). Of course, I know I am wildly off-base here, but I am just in an inquisitive mood today. :shrug:


Very interesting. Thank you, Dan. I knew deacons could not do this and now I see the reason why. That being said, might there be development on this in any way, shape or form? Is this on the same level as the papal bull on male-only sacred orders under Blessed John Paul II? I have a hard time viewing this in the same league as that issue. Did the diaconate pre-date the priesthood within the Church (if memory serves I think it may have) and, if so, did any of the early deacons have such faculties from a historical standpoint?


It cannot change, it was clarified as a Doctrine in Trent. The minister of the Sacrament must have valid Sacerdotal Orders. The Church would have no authority to grant such a ministry to Deacons apart from also imparting Sacerdotal Orders.

Here is the Council of Trent Session XIV


And now, with regard to prescribing who ought to receive and administer this sacrament, this also was not obscurely expressed in the words cited above. For there it is also pointed out that the proper ministers of this sacrament are the priests of the Church; by which name in that place are to be understood not the elders by age or the highest in rank among the people, but either bishops or priests, rightly ordained by bishops with the imposition of the hands of the priesthood.

It is also declared that this anointing is to be applied to the sick, but especially to those who are in such danger as to appear to be at the end of life, whence it is also called the sacrament of the dying. If the sick should after the reception of this sacrament recover, they may again be strengthened with the aid of this sacrament when they fall into another similar danger of death.

Wherefore, they are under no condition to be listened to who against so manifest and clear a statement of the Apostle James[69] teach that this anointing is either a human contrivance or is a rite received from the Fathers, having neither a command from God nor a promise of grace; nor those who declare that this has already ceased, as though it were to be understood only as referring to the grace of healing in the primitive Church; nor those who maintain that the rite and usage which the holy Roman Church observes in the administration of this sacrament are opposed to the expression of the Apostle James, and therefore must be changed into some other; nor finally those who assert that this last anointing may without sin be despised by the faithful; for all these things are most clearly at variance with the manifest words of so great an Apostle. Assuredly, in reference to those things that constitute the substance of this sacrament, the Roman Church, the mother and mistress of all other churches, does not observe anything in administering this unction that has not been prescribed by the blessed James. Nor indeed can there be contempt for so great a sacrament without a grievous sin and offense to the Holy Ghost.

These things regarding the sacraments of penance and extreme unction this holy ecumenical council professes and teaches and proposes to all the faithful of Christ to be believed and held. And it submits the following canons to be inviolately observed, and forever anathematizes those who maintain the contrary.

Especially note the last paragraph. The Council binds the Church in a matter of Faith and Morals, even to the extent of anathemizing anyone who maintains to the contrary. In such, it cannot err.

I have a hard time viewing this in the same league as that issue. Did the diaconate pre-date the priesthood within the Church (if memory serves I think it may have) and, if so, did any of the early deacons have such faculties from a historical standpoint?

The Diaconate did not, and could not have. The Apostles were Ordained at the Last Supper to both Episcopal and Sacredotal Orders. They were priests and bishops

The Diaconate was established in Acts 6, several years later.


Thank you, brendan. For me, the issue is closed as the Church has spoken. Have a great day.


The reason for this is that anyone can baptize, so the sacrament can be administered by anyone, even a non-Christian. And in marriage, the deacon/priest/bishop is not administering the sacrament, it is the couple that is administering the sacrament to each other. The deacon/priest/bishop is witnessing for the Church, but is not administering the sacrament.


(Latin Catholic Church) CIC
Can. 882
The ordinary minister of confirmation is a Bishop. A priest can also validly confer this sacrament if he has the faculty to do so, either from the general law or by way of a special grant from the competent authority.
(Eastern Catholic Churches) CCEO
Can. 696

  1. All presbyters of the Eastern Churches can validly administer this sacrament either along with baptism or separately to all the Christian faithful of any Church sui iuris including the Latin Church.
  2. The Christian faithful of Eastern Churches validly receive this sacrament also from presbyters of the Latin Church, according to the faculties with which these are endowed.
  3. Any presbyter licitly administers this sacrament only to the Christian faithful of his own Church sui iuris; when it is a case of Christian faithful of other Churches sui iuris, he lawfully acts if they are his subjects, or those whom he lawfully baptizes in virtue of another title, or those who are in danger of death, and always with due regard for the agreements entered between the Churches sui iuris in this matter.

Christian Initiation

The tradition is for the bishop to confirm (originally the imposition of hands) rather than for the priest to chrismate with the Holy Myron from the eparch. Originally there were bishops and deacons. The priest came later as a representative of the bishop.

Hippolytus’ Apostolic Tradition (earliest Verona edition 215 A.D.) describes this original initiation practice in this order: Baptism

  1. bishop makes oil of thanksgiving and oil of exorcism
  2. anointing with oil of exorcism
  3. nude baptism (by triple immersion)
  4. anointing with oil of thanksgiving (then dry and get dressed)


  1. then in the church, bishop says dismissal rite over the neophytes: “Lord God, you have made them worthy to receive remission of sins through the laver of regeneration of the Holy Spirit, etc.”
  2. laying on of hands together with oil
  3. sealing with oil on the forehead
  4. the kiss of peace prayer


  1. deacons bring oblation (bread and wine, water, milk, and honey)
  2. the oblation is blessed
  3. the milk and honey are mixed together
  4. the bread is distributed
  5. each tastes of the water, milk, and wine, three times.

Baptism and Latin confirmation were separated due to insistence that the bishop must administer it. Pope Innocent I (d. 417) instituted the change to oil administered only by the bishop suggesting the Paraclete Spirit is given and only through the bishop.

Infants were excluded from Latin communion when bread only began to be used (1215 A.D.).

West: emphasis on Christology.
East: emphasis on Spirit.

Exodus 30:22‑25 has the formula for the Holy Myron.


*] Aidan Kavanagh, Confirmation: Origins and Reform (New York: Pueblo, 1988).
*] Gerard Austin, Anointing with the Spirit: The Rite of Confirmation (New York: Pueblo, 1985).

According to Maxwell Johnson, just the Ethiopian retains the milk and honey for first communion. Coptic and Ethiopian also have imposition of hands at first communion.

*]The rites of Christian initiation: their evolution and interpretation by Maxwell E. Johnson, PhD [minister of Evangelical Lutheran Church in America] (1999, revised in 2007)
*]Note: Kilian McDonnell, O.S.B., called it “the best overall treatment of Christian initiation available”.

Johnson also relates, regarding the Eastern Catholic Churches (of seven categories – Armenian, Byzantine, Coptic, Ethiopian, East Syrian, West Syrian, and Maronite) :

At baptism, the Armenian, Coptic, Ethiopian, East Syrian, and West Syrian, and Maronite use oil in some way.

Coptic, Ethiopian, and East Syrian still employ imposition of the hands at Chrismation.


I’m not looking for an augment, I know well the Church’s teaching. I am certain the this theologian was familiar, with the document. Since I heard him at a retreat a few years ago I don’t have the documents which laid out for the practice to be changed.
He did give a disturbing statistic, that across the United States 80% of the calls that go to priest for anointing go unanswered.


Thank you for the reply, Vico–very informative. I was particularly interested in the part where you say that originally there were bishops and deacons, with priests coming later to assist the bishops. That is what I thought was the case as well, but others have told me no, but usually be asserting that since the priesthood is a step up to the episcopacy, then ipso facto all of the earliest Apostles and overseers appointed by them were, in fact, “priests”. Even so, Acts of the Apostles mentions the diaconate very early on, but this is merely a digression from the point of my original post.


The elected seven deacons are written about in Acts 6:1-6. So then we had Apostles and deacons.


When I studied for my MA at a Catholic seminary we too were taught that at the beginning there were only bishops and deacons. As the Church grew priests were ordained to assist bishops in celebrating the Eucharist sice bishops could not get to all the churches in his area. Bishops eventually gave priests more faculties and over the centuries deacons were suppressed except as a step to priesthood.


This post is going rather interestingly. Thank you, Joanm for your reply. If that is the case (that priests were gradually givem more faculties over time** then is it not theoretically possible that the restoration of the even older order of deacons might–note my hypothesis–likewise enjoy a further development of the Church’s understanding of what deacons historically did and, therefore, could likewise lead to an increase in the faculties permitted**? Theologically and theoretically, might that be a possibility over time? Very interesting tangent from the original post, but if the priesthood could undergo a transformation over the centuries, why not the diaconate? :newidea:

DISCLAIMER: The views and opinions expressed in these forums do not necessarily reflect those of Catholic Answers. For official apologetics resources please visit