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Deacon-structing Sacraments | Part 2: The Ritual

Deacon Pedro

Sunday, July 1, 2018

Christ Healing a Woman with an Issue of Blood, by Paulo Veronese, 1548
Last week we learned that all Sacraments are a sign of an invisible Grace and we saw that Grace is a gift of God. Grace is guaranteed to be received with every Sacrament.


We know that there are seven Sacraments: Baptism, Reconciliation, Eucharist, Confirmation, Marriage, Holy Orders, and Anointing of the Sick. Of these seven Sacraments, there are 3 of initiation: Baptism, Eucharist, and Confirmation; 2 of healing: Reconciliation and Anointing of the Sick, and 2 of service: Marriage and Holy Orders. Three of them (Baptism, Confirmation, and Holy Orders) are only given once because they leave an indelible mark on your soul.
All the rituals or rites of the Sacraments consist of matter and form. They all have some sort of matter, i.e., the water, the oil, the acts of penance, the bread and wine, the couple being married; and they all have form, which is the words being spoken: “I Baptise you...”, “I absolve you...”, the words of the Consecration at Mass, the vows exchanged by the marriage couple. Without this formula (for lack of a better term), the Sacrament would not take place. That means that there would be no guarantee of a Grace being conferred.
The rites also have three moments: Anamnesis (remembering), Epiclesis (calling forth the Holy Spirit), Doxology (praise). Most of us are familiar with these in the context of the Mass. They exist with every Sacrament.

No Matter What

The Sacraments act by the very fact of the action being performed, independent of the minister. That means that even if the minister is drunk at the time, or living in sin, the Sacrament is still valid. That means that the Grace is received and there are effects. But we don’t always experience the effects. The effect on the person receiving the Sacrament depends on the interior disposition of the receiver. That means that Christ is always present and the Grace is always offered, but it is not always received.
A note on this: We seldom “feel” a Grace being conferred. It would be very easy if Christ made himself present to us the way He made himself present to St. Paul on the way to Damascus. But that’s not the way it happens. And so we have to rely on our human ways. We have to have faith. We need to be disposed. We need to be open to the idea that the Lord is present. If we are, we will encounter Him. That’s what it means to have “disposition”.
It may be good to point out here that the Sacraments don’t just happen at “one moment”: the moment of baptism, or the moment of repentance, or at the time of the marriage ceremony. The Sacraments are a lived experience. The ritual is there to point to the mystery and to remind us of what is taking place, but then we are called to LIVE the Sacrament in our daily lives, every day.
In that sense, my wife and I may have got married on our wedding day, but we administer the Sacrament of Marriage to each other every time we live the Sacrament of Marriage in our daily lives. It’s the same with every Sacrament. We have to live it. When we do, the Sacrament is being administered and Christ is made present.

Rites of Passage

I think there is also confusion with the Sacraments because they are similar to rites of passage in other cultures and in other religious groups. This is because the seven Sacraments touch all the stages and all the important moments of Christian life: They give birth and increase, healing and mission to the Christian’s life of faith. Because of this, there is a certain resemblance between the stages of natural life and the stages of the spiritual life. But Sacraments are more than just rites of passage.
Last time we remembered the definition, “Sacraments are a visible sign of an invisible Grace.” Sacraments are also referred to as “visible signs instituted by Christ to convey Grace.”
There’s a story in the Gospels (Mark 5:25-34) that will help with this: There was a woman who had a hemorrhage. She touched Jesus’ cloak and was immediately healed. This, I think, is the perfect illustration of Sacrament: the power that flows out from the body of Jesus in order for us to have a new life in him. This makes perfect sense because, in reality, Jesus is the ultimate Sacrament. Christ is made present in the Church, and so the Church is the Sacrament of Christ because the Church makes Christ present in the world.

Instituted By Christ

This is why we believe that Christ instituted them. The Sacrament takes a natural thing and makes Christ present in it. To say that Jesus instituted the Sacraments doesn’t mean that he said, “This is how you pour the water and these are the words you say”... although with Baptism he actually did say, “Baptise them in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit...” But the Gospels don’t say that He did that with all seven Sacraments.
However, we believe Jesus instituted the Sacraments because He promised that He would be present in them, in those mysteries. And we do find scriptural references from the Gospels, supporting Jesus saying something about these seven mysteries. Jesus speaks about being family and children of God; God being Father. He speaks about healing, about forgiveness and love; He speaks about Marriage and also about sacrifice and about being sent forth. That about covers it all.
Come back next time so we can look a little deeper into these “mysteries”.
This is Part 2 of a three-part series. Read Part 1 and Part 3.

Every week, Deacon Pedro takes a particular topic apart, not so much to explore or explain the subject to its fullness, but rather to provide insights that will deepen our understanding of the subject. And don’t worry, at the end of the day he always puts the pieces back together. There are no limits to deaconstructing: Write to him and ask any questions about the faith or Church teaching: [email protected]

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