Friday, March 9, 2012
When it comes to the wonders of the mysteries of the sacraments, our Lord, through his church, wants us to understand that the sacraments are: of Christ, of the church, of faith, of salvation and of eternal life (cf. “Catechism of the Catholic Church,” 1114-1130).
First and foremost, the sacraments are the sacraments of Christ. They are of Christ because he instituted all seven.
In essence, the sacraments are gifts of Christ to his people throughout the centuries, so that the reasons he became like us in all things might be made accessible to us.
What are those reasons? “The Word became flesh for us in order to save us by reconciling us with God…so that we might know God’s love…to be our model of holiness…to make us ‘partakers of the divine nature’” (CCC 457, 458, 459, 460).
These reasons for the incarnation are definitively accomplished in the Paschal Mystery, and made available to us through the sacraments.
The sacraments are participations in Christ’s own life, love and work. He didn’t come to do everything so that we do not have to do anything. “Sacraments are ‘powers that comes forth’ from the Body of Christ, which is ever-living and life giving. They are actions of the Holy Spirit at work in his Body, the Church” (CCC 1116).
This leads us to the second point, namely that the sacraments are the sacraments of the church.
Christ formed the Twelve to be what he was and do what he did when he walked the earth. They have an intimate share in the body of Christ through the sacrament of holy orders. They are in persona Christi capitas (in the person of Christ the head), as do their successors, the bishops.
“The ordained priesthood guarantees that it really is Christ who acts in the sacraments through the Holy Spirit for the Church…The ordained minister is the sacramental bond that ties the liturgical action to what the apostles said and did and, through them, to the words and actions of Christ, the source and foundation of the sacraments” (CCC 1120).
Through the sacraments of baptism, confirmation and the Eucharist, we all become members of the body of Christ. “Forming ‘as it were, one mystical person’ with Christ the head. The Church acts in the sacraments as ‘an organically structured priestly community’” (CCC 1119).
The sacraments are of the church because they are by her and for her. “They are ‘by the Church,’ for she is the sacrament of Christ’s action at work in her through the mission of the Holy Spirit. They are ‘for the Church’ in the sense that ‘the sacraments make the Church…” (CCC 1118). In a preeminent way, “the Eucharist makes the Church” (CCC1396).
The third point is that the sacraments are the sacraments of faith. This doesn’t mean that the bread and wine, when the priest pronounces the words of consecration, become the Body and Blood of Christ because I believe it. They become the Body and Blood of Christ whether one believe it or not.
They are sacraments of faith because, “they not only presuppose faith, but by words and objects they also nourish, strengthen, and express it” (CCC 1123).
So they do presuppose belief in all that the church teaches, including what it teaches about the sacraments.
The sacraments are not to be given to those who do not believe. The reception of all of the sacraments concludes with the response “amen,” which is a way of professing belief. When the priest, in the Communion rite, says, “The Body of Christ,” the response is “Amen,” which is like saying, “Yes it is.” Someone who does not believe but still responds, “Amen,” has just lied. One who does not believe should not receive, and then go and seek out the reasons to believe.
However, for those who have faith, they are sacraments of faith because they nourish, strengthen and express faith. We are all called to have our faith go ever deeper into the mysteries of God. We cannot do this on our own, and the sacraments are given to us by Christ to nourish that faith and make it ever stronger.
A fourth important point about the sacraments is that they are the sacraments of salvation. Christ came to save us by reconciling us to God.
Salvation is not only about being saved from sin; it is also about being saved for sonship, and living a life as a son or daughter of the heavenly Father.
“The fruit of the sacramental life is that the Spirit of adoption makes the faithful partakers in the divine nature by uniting them in a living union with the only Son, the Savior” (CCC 1129).
They are sacraments of salvation because “…for believers the sacraments of the New Covenant are necessary for salvation” (CCC 1129).
So, if we believe, and do not fully participate in the sacramental life of the church and the living out of that each day, then most definitely our salvation is in peril. If we decide to substitute hunting, fishing, camping, football, sleep, etc. for participating in Sunday Mass, then our salvation is in jeopardy, through the committing of a potentially mortal sin. What silly things to put in place of the goal of life, eternal glory in the midst of the life-giving love of the Trinity.
These leads to the final point: The sacraments are the sacraments of eternal life. I would like to sum up this fact with a prayer after Communion, composed by St. Thomas Aquinas: “I give you thanks, O holy Lord, Father Almighty, Eternal God, that you have vouchsafed, from no merit of my own, but of the mere condescension of your mercy, to satisfy me, a sinner and your unworthy servant, with the Precious Blood of Thy Son our Lord Jesus Christ. I implore you, let not this Holy Communion be to me an increase of guilt unto my punishment, but an availing plea unto pardon and forgiveness. Let it be to me the armor of faith and the shield of good will. Grant that it may work the extinction of my vices, the rooting out of concupiscence and lust, and the increase within me of charity and patience, of humility and obedience. Let it be my strong defense against the snares of all my enemies, visible and invisible; the stilling and the calm of all my impulses, carnal and spiritual; my indissoluble union with you the one and true God, and a blessed consummation at my last end. And I beseech you that you would vouchsafe to bring me, sinner as I am, to that ineffable banquet where you, with the Son and the Holy Spirit, art to your saints true and unfailing light, fullness and content, joy for evermore, gladness without alloy, consummate and everlasting bliss. Through the same Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.”
I would like to look at some profound truths that relate to all of the sacraments.
The “Catechism of the Catholic Church” draws our attention to what is known as the “sacramental economy.” First, we must note that the catechism is not referring to money when it talks about economy.
What then does “economy” refer to? “The Fathers of the Church distinguish between theology (theologia) and economy (oikonomia). ‘Theology’ refers to the mystery of God’s inmost life within the Blessed Trinity and ‘economy’ to all the works by which God reveals himself and communicates his life” (CCC 236).
So when the terminology of sacramental economy is used, it is referring to how God reveals himself and communicates his life to human persons by means of the sacraments, which are the “works of God.” When we talk about the sacraments and the sacramental economy, we are talking about the history and accomplishment of our salvation and sanctification.
What is God’s plan for the accomplishment of our salvation? God’s plan for our salvation is, of course, very Trinitarian.
Liturgy and the sacraments are first and foremost works of the Holy Trinity.
God the Father is the one with the plan, which is nothing less then our participation in divine, Trinitarian, life both now and in eternity.
God the Son is the one who makes the Father’s plan effective through the Incarnation and his suffering, death, resurrection and ascension.
God the Holy Spirit, who proceeds from the Father and the Son and is sent upon the church at Pentecost, is the one who effects the plan in our lives.
God the Father sends the Son. The Father and the Son send the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit is poured out on the church Christ established. And it is the church that is the dispenser of the mysteries of salvation.
The church then makes the Trinitarian life – which the Father planned to give us, the Son died to give us and the Holy Spirit was poured out on the church to give us – abundantly available in the liturgy and the sacraments.
It is through the sacraments that the salvation wrought by the Paschal Mystery of Christ is made accessible to us here and now. We, too, can have a real share in Christ’s life, work and love. It is first and foremost through the sacraments that we do so.
We must always keep in mind that the Father, not human persons, is the source and goal of the liturgy. Liturgy is Christ’s work, not humanity’s. The Holy Spirit, not man and woman, is the “artisan of ‘God’s masterpieces,’ the sacraments of the new covenant” (CCC 1091). God is the author of the sacraments and liturgy. They are not humanly instituted rituals.
This being the case should change the way we respond to these mysteries, and indeed understand that this demands nothing less than a response of faith. What comes to us from the Father and the Son through the Holy Spirit to the Church in the sacraments is meant to elicit in us a response to the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. The sacramental economy includes such a response, what St. Paul calls “the obedience of faith” (Romans 1:5; 16:26).
We are given nothing less than Trinitarian life in the sacraments. As participants in the church Christ established through the power of the Holy Spirit, with the authority given to him by the Father, we are called to give a very Trinitarian response of faith. “…The Church, united with her Lord and ‘in the Holy Spirit,’ blesses the Father ‘for his inexpressible gift’ in her adoration, praise, and thanksgiving” (CCC 1083).
In our lives, we are to give the response of adoration. “Adoration is the first attitude of man acknowledging that he is a creature before his Creator…homage of the spirit to the ‘King of Glory,’ respectful silence in the presence of the ‘ever greater’ God. Adoration of the thrice-holy and sovereign God of love blends with humility and gives assurance to our supplications” (CCC 2628). The response of faith, in adoration, must, by necessity, include a humble disposition because “…humility is the foundation of prayer” (CCC 2559).
In our lives we are also to give the response of praise. “Praise is the form of prayer which recognizes most immediately that God is God. It lauds [praises] God for his own sake and gives him glory, quite beyond what he does, but simply because HE IS. It shares in the blessed happiness of the pure of heart who love God before seeing him in glory” (CCC 2639).
Further, in our response of faith we are to give the response of thanksgiving. St. Paul tells us, “Give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you” (1 Thessalonians 5:18). As the Psalmist says, “Give thanks to the Lord who is good, whose love endures forever! Let that be the prayer of the Lord’s redeemed, those redeemed from the hand of the foe…” (Psalm 107:1-2).
The response of faith must also include, living a life “…worthy of the calling you have received…” (Ephesians 4:1). Our daily life must be lived out worthy of the Trinitarian life we receive in the sacraments, a life of faith, hope and love. Let’s us not deceive ourselves like those in Isaiah’s day, being ones “…who call evil good, and good evil, who change darkness into light, and light into darkness, who change bitter into sweet, and sweet into bitter!” (5:20).
Prior to our next reception of the sacrament of sacraments, the Eucharist, “a person should examine himself, and so eat the bread and drink the cup. For anyone who eats and drinks without discerning the body, eats and drinks judgment on himself” (1 Corinthians 11:28).
We must always remember to “be on your guard, stand firm in your faith, be courageous, be strong. Your every act should be done in love” (1 Corinthians 16:13-14).
Have you ever wondered where your body came from? The answer comes after asking another question: Where did all matter come from?
In Genesis we read, “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth” (Genesis 1:1).
Then we read: “The Lord God formed man out of the clay of the ground and blew into his nostrils the breath of life...The Lord God then built up into a woman the rib that he had taken from the man…” (Genesis 2:7, 22).
God made our bodies from the material world. Should it be so hard to believe that he would redeem us through the instrumentality of matter? Because that is what he has done, wants to do and does at the Easter Vigil through the sacraments.
Man is unique in the entire material world by virtue of the reception of God’s breath of life. In this creative act God communicates to man both natural (body and soul) and supernatural life (Trinitarian life).
Many have said that matter is evil and the spirit is good. The fact is, “God looked at everything he had made, and he found it very good” (Genesis 1:31). The sad fact is that Adam and Eve lost the gift of supernatural life they were created with by committing the original sin. After this, all of humanity is born without the gift of divine life. Each person is created at the moment of conception with a body and an immortal soul, but void of grace.
However, God promised us a redeemer (cf. Genesis 3:15). He also promises to put his Spirit back into us. Ezekiel prophesies, “I will sprinkle clean water upon you to cleanse you from all your impurities…I will give you a new heart and place a new spirit within you…” (36:25-26a).
“But when the fullness of time had come, God sent his Son, born of a woman…so that we might receive adoption…God sent the spirit of his Son into our hearts, crying out, ‘Abba, Father!” (Galatians 4:4-6). John’s gospel says, “And the Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us, and we saw his glory, the glory as of the Father’s only Son, full of grace and truth” (1:14). God the Son became a man, flesh and blood, body and soul, so that the sons of men might once again become sons of God. By becoming man he took on a human intellect, a human will, a human soul, and, yes, a human body.
God has thus decided, irrevocably, to save us through the instrumentality of matter. The Second Person of the Trinity from the moment of the Incarnation has a body, and it is through his body that he saves us. It is a body that he would keep after the Resurrection. Jesus says to Thomas, “Put your finger here and see my hands, and bring your hand and put it into my side…” (John 20:27). For all eternity, Christ reigns on the throne of glory with the body he assumed at the Incarnation.
During his life, Jesus made it possible for us to be saved. He did so taking into account how he made us. Some Christians say that the sacraments are not necessary for salvation, because they involve matter (e.g. water, oil, laying on of hands, other human persons) and God is just worried about saving our souls. However, God is not worried about saving souls: he is worried about saving human persons, and human persons are, by virtue of God’s creative act, a unity of soul and body.
God created us through spirit and matter; it is not a stretch to believe he has redeemed us through both. To lend support to this, we must recognize that Christ, during his earthly life used matter to communicate the spiritual. Consider the woman who touched the hem of his garment, the blind man who was healed through spit, and the laying on of hands. Another man who was blind was cured through spit mixed with dirt, and then only after he washed his eyes with water could he see. He healed lepers by touching them. He raised Jairus’ daughter from the dead by taking her hand and speaking to her. We even see the disciples doing similar things. Jesus sends them out two-by-two and they cast out demons and heal the sick through anointing with oil.
God seeks to heal and redeem us through spirit and matter. Jesus says, “Amen, amen, I say to you, no one can enter the Kingdom of God without being born of water and Spirit” (John 3:5). Jesus commands the apostles to go therefore and baptize (cf. Matthew 28:19). The apostles also give the Holy Spirit through the laying on of hands to those who have already been baptized, thus administering the sacrament of confirmation (cf. Acts 8:14-17).
On another occasion, Jesus says, “Amen, amen, I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of man and drink his blood, you do not have life within you” (John 6:53). In is also no coincidence that he says, “This is my body, which will be given for you; do this in memory of me” (Matthew 22:19). At this very moment he gives us his flesh to eat and ordains the apostles as priests of the new and everlasting covenant.
The sacraments are the means by which Christ, in his glorified, resurrected body, seeks to communicate the gift of divine life to humanity, to make us part of his mystical body, the church. They are the fruit of his passion, death, resurrection and ascension. They were instituted by Christ, so if we reject any of them, we reject him.
There are many each year who prepare to receive the gift of divine life through the sacraments. They are preparing and anxiously anticipating this great gift. May they be a reminder to all Catholics not to neglect these gifts of love from the Father. Let us all rejoice when the Father and Son pour forth into their bodies and souls the Holy Spirit, and give them nothing less than his own glorified body and blood.
Printed with permission from the Northern Cross, Diocese of Duluth, Minnesota.
Brian Pizzalato is the Director of Catechesis, R.C.I.A. & Lay Apostolate for the Diocese of Duluth. He is also a faculty member of the Theology and Philosophy departments of the Maryvale Institute, Birmingham, England. He writes a monthly catechetical article for The Northern Cross, of the Diocese of Duluth, and is a contributing author to the Association for Catechumenal Ministry's R.C.I.A. Participants Book. Brian is currently authoring the regular series, "Catechesis and Contemporary Culture," in The Sower, published by the Maryvale Institute and is also in the process of writing the Philosophy of Religion course book for the B.A. in Philosophy and the Catholic Tradition program at the Maryvale Institute.
Brian holds an M.A. in Theology and Christian Ministry with a Catechetics specialization and an M.A. in Philosophy from Franciscan University of Steubenville, Ohio.
The [seven] sacraments are efficacious signs of grace, instituted by Christ and entrusted to the Church, by which divine life is dispensed to us. The visible rites by which the sacraments are celebrated signify and make present the graces proper to each sacrament. They bear fruit in those who receive them with the required dispositions.
By which we are born into the new life in Christ
The fruits of this sacrament are:
- Remission of original sin.
- Birth into the new life by which man becomes an adoptive son of the Father, a member of Christ, and a temple of the Holy Spirit.
- Incorporation into the Church, the body of Christ, and participation in the priesthood of Christ.
- The imprinting, on the soul, of an indelible spiritual sign, the character, which consecrates the baptized person for Christian worship. Because of this character, Baptism cannot be repeated.
By which we are more perfectly bound to the Church and enriched with a special strength of the Holy Spirit
The fruits of this sacrament are:
- An increase and deepening of baptismal grace.
- A deepening of one's roots in the divine filiation, which makes one cry, "Abba, Father!"
- A firming of one's unity with Christ.
- An increase of the gifts of the Holy Spirit.
- A strengthening of one's bond with the Church and closer association with her mission.
- Special strength of the Holy Spirit to spread and defend the faith by word and action as a true witnesses of Christ, to confess the name of Christ boldly, and to never be ashamed of the cross.
- The imprinting, as in Baptism, of a spiritual mark or indelible character on the Christian's soul. Because of this character, one can receive this sacrament only once in one's life.
The Holy Eucharist
By which Christ associates his Church and all her members with the sacrifice of the cross
The fruits of this sacrament are:
- An increase in the communicant's union with Christ.
- Forgiveness of venial sins.
- Preservation from grave sins.
- A strengthening of the bonds of charity between the communicant and Christ.
- A strengthening of the unity of the Church as the Mystical Body of Christ.
Reconciliation or Penance
By which sins after Baptism are forgiven
The fruits of this sacrament are:
- Reconciliation with God: the penitent recovers sanctifying grace.
- Reconciliation with the Church.
- Remission of the eternal punishment incurred by mortal sins.
- Remission, at least in part, of temporal punishments resulting from sin.
- Peace and serenity of conscience, and spiritual consolation.
- An increase of spiritual strength for the Christian battle.
Anointing of the Sick
By which a special grace is conferred during grave illness or old age
The fruits of this sacrament are:
- Unity with the passion of Christ, for the sick person's own good and that of the whole Church.
- Strength, peace, and courage to endure as a Christian the sufferings of illness or old age.
- Forgiveness of sins, if the sick person was not able to obtain it through the sacrament of Penance.
- Restoration of health, if it is conducive to the salvation of the soul.
- Preparation for entering eternal life.
By which the task of serving in the name and in the person of Christ is conferred
The fruits of this sacrament are:
- The mission and faculty ("the sacred power") to act in persona Christi.
- Configuration to Christ as Priest, Teacher, and Pastor.
- The imprinting, as in Baptism, of an indelible character that cannot be repeated or conferred temporarily.
By which a man and a woman form with each other an intimate communion of life and love
The fruits of this sacrament for the spouses are:
- The grace to love each other with the love with which Christ has loved his Church.
- A perfecting of their human love.
- A strengthening of their indissoluble unity.
- Sanctification on their way to heaven.
- The grace to "help one another to attain holiness in their married life and in welcoming and educating their children."
- An integration into God's covenant with man: Authentic married love is caught up into divine love.
 CCC, 1131.
 Cf. CCC, 1277-1279.
 Cf. CCC, 1303-1316.
 Cf. CCC, 1407, 1413, 1416. The holy Eucharist is really, truly, and substantially the Body, Blood, Soul, and Divinity of Jesus Christ, under the appearances of bread and wine. The holy Eucharist is not only a sacrament; it is also a sacrifice-the holy sacrifice of the Mass.
 Cf. CCC, 1486, 1497. Individual and integral confession of grave sins followed by absolution remains the only ordinary means of reconciliation with God and with the Church.
 Cf. CCC, 1527, 1532.
 Cf. CCC, 1536, 1591, 1598. It is bishops who confer the sacrament of Holy Orders in the three degrees: episcopate, presbyterate, and diaconate. In the Latin Church, the sacrament of Holy Orders for the presbyterate is normally conferred on only those candidates who are ready to embrace celibacy freely and who publicly manifest their intention of staying celibate for the love of God's kingdom and the service of others.
 Cf. CCC, 1638, 1639, 1641, 1660, 1664. The marriage bond has been established by God himself in such a way that a marriage concluded and consummated between baptized persons can never be dissolved.
It is more vital than ever that Catholics who understand the teaching of the Church on Birth Control be ever so patient with those who do not.
After all, the sad reality is that for 50 years now there have only been a few Cardinals, Bishops, and priests who have given the proper time to this subject matter from the pulpit. Those who addressed this issue often suffered for it. Some were reprimanded by their Superiors, others were moved out to the farthest, most undesirable location in the diocese.
It was so very painful for orthodox Catholics to endure.
When 98% of Catholics and non-Catholic alike have used some form of birth control something has gone terribly wrong. Only Satan, himself, is clever enough to have worked his way into that many bedrooms.
Yet in an amazing turn of events, something quite unexpected has taken hold of the country and the Church.
I write this for those who are inundated by the media screaming against their Church. They do not understand. Many don't even know what Humanae Vitae is. Or they know and just don't really have the time to read an Encyclical Letter.
They wonder internally "What is the big deal about Catholics using birth control? I don't get it."
In order to stand up and defend religious liberty one must first understand what it is that his own church teaches. Young and old alike are hungry for the truth.
When I was growing up my parents always modeled by their example a blind trust in God. In the worst of circumstances they would say, "Trust God, he knows what he is doing."
Now that I am a parent I understand how very difficult it can be to, indeed, unconditionally trust what is happening in our lives to God. I also see that it is the most valuable lesson a parent can teach a child. It has been my lifeline. Likewise, here is what I was taught about Church teaching on sex, marriage and birth control:
Sex was a gift from the Creator intended for couples to enjoy inside the sacrament of marriage only.
There are two elements that must be present with every sexual act. The act must be both 'procreative' (meaning 'open to life') and unitive (meaning 'the actual physical union of man and wife'). Any interruption of these two basic guidelines deliberately takes the Will of God out of it. It steps outside the rules of the Church which are inspired by God Himself.
Every act of sexual intercourse must be open to the transmission of human life. That is why barrier protection (condoms and spermicides), withdrawal before the completion of the act, and all forms of hormonal contraception and abortifacient drugs are forbidden. It also explains why the use of surrogate mothers, sperm banks, egg donation, artificial insemination, in vitro fertilization, and certain fertility practices are forbidden by the Catholic Church as well.
If you apply the two basic elements, "procreative and unitive," to each one of these controversial practices today you will see that none of them exhibit both the Church-required "procreative and unitive" elements.
Additionally, direct sterilization (tubal ligation, vasectomy, and other new procedures that render one of the married partners sterile and unable to have any more children) is also not allowed. The lack of understanding of this teaching has led to the following shocking statistic. According to the Center for Disease Control (CDC), one out of every two couples in the U.S. is sterilized by age 45.
The Church does allow married Catholics (with good reason) to abstain from having sex during the fertile time of the woman's cycle. Those who use birth control often say that natural birth spacing and artificial contraception are the same.
They are not.
With artificial birth control, the couple engages in a unitive act that is frustrated by a contraceptive. In Natural Family Planning, a couple is showing self-restraint and abstinence during a possible procreative time. Natural Family Planning is a prayerful decision by a couple to exercise self-restraint.
In other words, by abstaining the couple does not enjoy the unitive aspect of the marital embrace without the procreative aspect which is what is done when a couple enjoys the unitive part of sex while using birth control.
What the Obama administration fails to see is that defending this teaching is not about choice, it is about salvation. The Catholic Church cannot and will not back away from defending it.
The ramifications are eternal.
It is important to note that there are several natural birth regulation methods approved by the Catholic Church such as Natural Family Planning, the Ovulation Method, the Creighton Model Fertility Care System, as well as the Billings method. These methods also assist couples to achieve pregnancy.
Women have been seduced for 50 years into believing that they should take birth control and become their own god. Some of the bad fruits of this seduction can be seen in the negative physical manifestations of using the Pill and the total rejection of God's supreme rights and authority over our bodies.
It is not too late to re-educate Catholics of all ages.
For anyone who seeks to better understand these difficult issues of our day the Catechism of the Catholic Church provides every answer with full explanation to these hard questions and more. The true teaching of Holy Mother Church on birth control has openly found Her voice and regained Her influence at the pulpits once again. Now, more than ever, the prophetic words of Archbishop Chaput are echoing coast to coast:
"There will be no renewal of America without renewal of the Catholic Church, and no renewal of the Catholic Church without renewal of the Catholic family, and no renewal of the Catholic family without a bold proclamation of the sacred truths regarding the transmission of human life."