”There’s a Sacrament for That! Invisible Grace Made Visible in the Seven Sacraments” – Compendium QQ 224-229

THE PASCHAL MYSTERY IN THE SACRAMENTS OF THE CHURCH

224. What are the sacraments and which are they?

The sacraments, instituted by Christ and entrusted to the Church, are efficacious signs of grace perceptible to the senses. Through them divine life is bestowed upon us. There are seven sacraments: Baptism, Confirmation, Holy Eucharist, Penance, Anointing of the Sick, Holy Orders, and Matrimony.

  • The whole liturgical life of the Church revolves around the sacraments, particularly the Eucharist

  • The sacraments give us power to truly live.  They are actions of Christ on our souls.  They are channels or streams of grace flowing from the open side of Christ through Our Lady’s hands to us. (Our Lady=Mediatrix of Grace)

  • Let’s look at the definition of a sacrament: an outward sign instituted by Christ to give grace.

  • What is a sign?  A sign is something that represents something other than itself (ex: dark clouds are a sign of rain; smoke is a sign of fire).  A sign always signifies something and points to something real beyond itself.  So a sacrament is a sign of Christ.  It indicates that Christ is in action, working in our souls to produce grace.  Kreeft mentions that sacraments teach us by “sign language.”

  • A sacrament is a sign in 3 ways.  First, it is a sign of the past—Christ’s Passion, which is the source of grace.  Second, it is a sign of the present—grace itself in the here & now, the life of Christ within us.  Third, it is a sign of the future—the result of grace, which is our share in the glory of the risen Christ.

  • Instituted by Christ—what does this mean?  The Church didn’t invent the seven sacraments; she defines and defends them.  They come from Christ.  They touch on all the stages of life and important moments: birth (Baptism), maturing (Confirmation), strengthening by food and drink (Eucharist), repair and restoration (Confession), service of others (Matrimony & Holy Orders), and strengthening in serious illness and preparation for death (Anointing).  There is a parallel between the stages of natural life and spiritual life.

  • The sacraments give grace.  Grace is an undeserved gift of God.  It’s undeserved because God owes nothing to us and we owe everything (and more) to Him.  Because God is love, He continues to give us grace, though we don’t deserve it.  However, grace isn’t a thing that God gives.  Grace isn’t like gasoline and sacraments aren’t like filling stations.  Grace is God Himself—God’s own life in our souls.  Think about 2 people deeply in love.  The lover wants above all else to give of his very self to his beloved.  God, who is love itself, desires this even more.  God’s grace is God’s gift of Himself to us.

  • They are perceptible to the senses—why?  We aren’t purely spiritual beings, but a unified body & soul.  Receiving the Eucharist into our mouths is the visible dimension of receiving Christ into our souls.

225. What is the relationship of the sacraments to Christ?

The mysteries of Christ’s life are the foundations of what he would henceforth dispense in the sacraments, through the ministers of his Church.

“What was visible in our Savior has passed over into his mysteries.” (Saint Leo the Great)

226. What is the link between the sacraments and the Church?

Christ has entrusted the sacraments to his Church. They are the sacraments “of the Church” in a twofold sense: they are “from her” insofar as they are actions of the Church which is the sacrament of Christ’s action; and they are “for her” in as much as they build up the Church.

  • All the sacraments were instituted by Christ—this has been affirmed by Scripture, apostolic traditions, and the consensus of the Church Fathers.

  • Jesus’ words and actions during His hidden life and public ministry were all salvific, even though they came before His Passion.  They anticipated the power of His Passion and announced what He would later give to His Church (the sacraments).

  • However, just like with the canon of Sacred Scripture or doctrines of the Faith, the Church didn’t immediately recognize all seven sacraments.  The Spirit, in time, guided the Church into this truth.  Over the centuries the Church has discerned that, among liturgical celebrations, there are seven that are sacraments instituted by Christ.

  • Sacraments are BY the Church: sacraments are actions of the Church, but the Church itself is the sacrament (sign) of Christ’s action—Christ acts through the Church

  • Sacraments are FOR the Church: they make the Church-they communicate to all people communion with God

  • The Body of Christ, which has Christ as its head, acts as one in the sacraments.  Through Baptism and Confirmation, we are enabled to celebrate the liturgy, with those who have received Holy Orders acting in the name of Christ.  The ordained priesthood guarantees that it is really Christ acting in the sacraments.  Through apostolic succession, the priests have received the Spirit of Jesus to act in His name and in His person.  It is the priest that links the liturgy to what the apostles said & did and, through them, to what Christ said and did.

  • Sacraments are communal.  They are received individually, but each sacrament is public and communal because they are administered by the universal Church.  In each of the sacraments the whole Christ, Head and Body, is present.

227. What is the sacramental character?

It is a spiritual “seal” bestowed by the sacraments of Baptism, Confirmation, and Holy Orders. It is a promise and guarantee of divine protection. By virtue of this seal the Christian is configured to Christ, participates in a variety of ways in his priesthood and takes his part in the Church according to different states and functions. He is, therefore, set apart for divine worship and the service of the Church. Because this character is indelible the sacraments that impress it on the soul are received only once in life.

  • In addition to grace, Baptism, Confirmation, & Holy Orders confer a sacramental seal (a.k.a. sacramental character, indelible mark).  A character is a mark on the soul like a seal on soft wax.  It stamps the image of Christ on the soul and gives the soul a share in the priestly powers of Christ.

  • All who are baptized are marked as sharers in Christ’s priesthood, while those called to Holy Orders share in the ministerial priesthood.

  • The character of Baptism gives the power to share in the Mass and to receive the other sacraments.

  • The character of Confirmation gives power to fight spiritually with Christ and for Christ against the enemies of the Faith.

  • The character of Holy Orders gives a full share in the priesthood of Christ, power to offer Mass, and to forgive sins.

  • This seal is indelible or permanent.  What else does it do?

  1. Makes a Christian better disposed toward grace

  2. Promise and guarantee of divine protection

  3. Gives a vocation to divine worship and service to the Church

228. What is the relationship between the sacraments and faith?

The sacraments not only presuppose faith but with words and ritual elements they nourish, strengthen, and express it. By celebrating the sacraments, the Church professes the faith that comes from the apostles. This explains the origin of the ancient saying, “lex orandi, lex credendi, that is, the Church believes as she prays.

  • The sacraments are sacraments of faith, drawing both their origin and their nourishment from the Word of God (sacred Scripture).

  • The sacraments build up the Body of Christ, sanctify men, give worship to God, and instruct.  They presuppose faith as well as strengthen and express it.

  • Lex orandi, lex credendi – the law of prayer, the law of belief.  The phrase came from one of the Fathers of the Church (St. Prosper).  Simply put, the way we worship (liturgy) reflects what we believe and, thus, determines how we will live.  How the Church worships is a witness to the truth She has received.  “Lex Orandi, Lex Credendi. Lex Vivendi”- “as we worship, so we will believe and so we will live.”

  • This faith doesn’t belong only to the believer; it originates with the Church.  When the Church celebrates the sacraments, she confesses the faith she received from the apostles.

  • This is why no sacrament may be changed by the minister administering it or by the community receiving it.

229. Why are the sacraments efficacious?

The sacraments are efficacious ex opere operato (“by the very fact that the sacramental action is performed”) because it is Christ who acts in the sacraments and communicates the grace they signify. The efficacy of the sacraments does not depend upon the personal holiness of the minister. However, the fruits of the sacraments do depend on the dispositions of the one who receives them.

  • Christ Himself is at work in the sacraments.  Just like fire transforms everything it touches, the Spirit transforms into the divine life whatever is subject to His power.

  • Ex opere operato: Sacraments produce grace of themselves, apart and distinct from the disposition of person conferring the sacrament.  Ex opera operato means “from the work worked.”  The gift of grace is not dependent on the minister.  From the moment a sacrament is celebrated in accordance with the intention of the Church, the power of Christ and His Spirit work through it, independent of the holiness of the minister.  You could say the sacraments are objective, not subjective.  When we look at a priest, we should see the perfect Christ, not the imperfect minister.

  • This also means we should be focused first and foremost on Christ present and active in the sacraments—not how the liturgy is being conducted, or how someone is dressed, or how bad the homily might have been.  Focus is not what we are doing for Christ, but what Christ is doing for us.

  • However, the fruits of the sacrament do depend on the disposition of the person receiving them.  Kreeft gives the image of a water faucet.  Imagine a water faucet whose supply is the whole ocean, but whose handle can open more or less.  The power and grace of the sacraments is infinite, but we determine based on our disposition toward them how much we are able to receive.  There is a Latin phrase to express this: ex opera operantis (from the work of the worker).

  • What is required for a valid sacrament?

  1. Valid matter – the “right stuff” (ex: wheat bread for Eucharist, water for Baptism)

  2. Valid form – essential words cannot be changed (ex: “This is my body…This is my blood”)

  3. Valid intention – must intend to do what the Church does

  4. Valid mind  – faith and understanding on the part of the recipient

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