THE SEVEN SACRAMENTS OF THE CATHOLIC CHURCH
GROWTH BY OATH: INTRODUCTION TO THE MEANING OF A SACRAMENT
We're going to do a six-part series on the sacraments of the Catholic religion. Why the sacraments? It's clear when you understand Catholicism - that the sacraments are the most important idea, the most important reality in the Catholic faith. They constitute the very heart of Catholicism. They are what make Catholicism so unique and distinct.
The sacraments are built upon this idea, this theological principle of the good creation: that God created the world and he saw that what he made was "very good," as it says in Genesis. In other words, it isn't just the spiritual side of human life that is good whereas the material, physical life is evil. That view was rejected by the early Church. No, the Christian vision is that all of creation is a good creation, as God made it.
"But what about the sin and the fall?" somebody could say. Well, that's right. The sin has radically affected all of creation, both spiritually and materially, but what about redemption? How did Christ accomplish our redemption? It was precisely by taking upon himself human nature -- not just spiritually but also physically. He took on our flesh in the Incarnation and he resurrected that flesh as well; and that flesh and blood, that human body is enthroned in glory in heaven. So, our Savior did not despise living in a virginal womb for nine months, as physical as that was, nursing at his mother's breast, growing up as a young child, experiencing all the material and physical things that a child goes through. Why? Because Jesus Christ who is the redeemer of the world is also the Creator.
So the one who made matter and spirit redeems matter and spirit and he uses matter and spirit to redeem us as well. So we have to say with the Church that Jesus Christ, the Creator and Redeemer of the world, in the sacraments is using matter, physical reality, for our redemption.
I think that is going to go a long way in explaining how it is that the Catholic Church, the Church of Christ, is the Body of Christ, the physical, the visible expression of Christ. Theologians say that the Church is the extension of Christ's incarnation and that extension takes place through the sacraments. In other words, God does extraordinary things through ordinary means. He takes the natural to do the supernatural. So the sacraments, in sum, constitute the very heart of the Catholic faith. But I have to say something else and that is that perhaps the sacraments are the least understood dimension of the Catholic faith.
That's true for almost anybody alive in this century but, especially perhaps, it's true for modern Americans. Why? Because America may well be the least sacramental society in history. Unlike ancient Greece, unlike ancient Rome, India and other ancient civilizations, America really finds no place for religious ritual in public life. In fact, religious ritual in public life makes most Americans very, very uncomfortable because our society stresses individualism, individual rights and freedoms as opposed to the family.
We also find that Americans think in a pragmatic, in a scientific, experiential mode. They want it here and now and they want it served up piping hot. They think in terms of that which entertains and amuses and excites. So, when it comes to the sacraments, you're hard pressed to understand it; because, in American life religious ritual has almost no place.
Now you could point out a few isolated fragments, I suspect. You know, on the coin is, "In God We Trust." When we say the Pledge of Allegiance we acknowledge that we are "one nation under God." We require our politicians to take an oath of office, if they are going to become President. We even require witnesses in a courtroom to take an oath and ask for God's help as they swear "to tell the whole truth." But the fact is these are isolated fragments that don't really find an integrated place in American society, and so it's hard for Americans to understand what a sacrament really is.
Now at this point, a cradle Catholic who has been born and raised and catechized could protest and say, "Now, wait a second. Sacraments are really simple. You're making complicated what is really easy to understand, because, after all, aren't sacraments just simply "outward signs instituted by Christ to give grace?" That, of course, is the catechism definition and it's a very good definition, as far as it goes. But I think we are going to discover that as essential as a catechism definition is, it doesn't really go that far in explaining what sacraments are.
That definition explains where they come from -- they are instituted by Christ. It explains what they do -- they give grace, but not what they are, as sacraments, per se. Recent attempts by scholars to explain sacraments in a clearer way, I think are helpful; but they might fall short, because in the last ten, twenty, thirty years, many theologians have gone to psychology or anthropology to understand how it is humans use signs and symbols to structure social life -- the handshake, the kiss, the common meal are all more than just actions. They are signs and symbols that convey a great deal of truth through the signs.
Now, if recent attempts to study signs and symbols through such things as kisses and handshakes and meals have been helpful, I have to say that they are also deficient when it comes to explaining what the sacraments of the new covenant are. Now before I show how, let me explain what's going on here. If you take a look at something natural, like a kiss, you could say, "That's a sign, that is in a sense almost sacramental?" Why? Because it causes what it signifies, doesn't it? Somebody could say, "Well, a kiss is just a kiss. It doesn't necessarily communicate love." That's true, not necessarily; but suppose I kiss my wife and she says, "Well, that's just a kiss and a kiss is a kiss, is a kiss."
Then suppose we proceed to kiss for five minutes or fifteen or thirty-five or forty-five minutes. What will happen? Is that kiss just simply a sign or does that kiss begin to do more than just signify? Does it also, in fact, intensify that love? Does it also magnify the love and lead to a deeper experience of that love? Well, yeah, it does. So at the natural level we do have some comparisons to make as we study the anthropological and psychological parallels to the Catholic sacraments.
Okay, well and good. But a non-Catholic could easily protest at this point and say, "Now wait a second. A kiss does signify and intensify and magnify love, but that's not the same thing as what the Catholic Church claims for its sacraments." Why? Because these signs that constitute the sacraments of the Catholic Church don't just intensify love through lip smacking. The sacraments, according to the Catholic religion, actually bring about, for instance, the Body and the Blood of God, the wiping away of original sin and the mystical infusion of the soul into the Mystical Body of Christ?
You know, the non-Catholic, I think has a point. I mean, if we are going to make a comparison between our sacraments and the signs and symbols in human society, we have to admit that the sacraments do far more than our experience or human reason could explain. I think the problem is this. The Catholic might say, "Well the comparison is very helpful to me, but oftentimes, constant exposure dulls the senses and makes it hard to understand how unique and how distinctive the Catholic sacraments really are." I mean, let's face it, what we believe about the seven sacraments goes way beyond what human reason tells us and, in the case of the Eucharist, what we believe about the sacraments goes right against what our five senses and what human experience tells us.
In fact, what we really believe about the sacraments is a divine mystery revealed by God, supernaturally, depending upon a supernatural gift of faith in order to believe and live out and adhere to. In other words, the sacraments are really not reducible to any social convention that you could find in society, the signs and the symbols that constitute social relations. No, the sacraments constitute the mystery of faith. They are divinely revealed. They are believed by supernatural faith, through God's grace. Simply on the basis of God's word do we believe in them. It's because we have Christ's testimony that we accept the sacraments for what they do and for what they are. It's the same as our belief in the Trinity, something that goes well beyond reason -- our belief in the incarnation of God in a human body; that goes far beyond our sense experiences. Were Christ to walk into this room right now, we would never know from our five senses that this is the Eternal Logos, the Second Person of the Godhead, the Creator of the Cosmos. It's only by faith that accepts supernatural revelation by grace, God's assistance.
Now the sacraments go far beyond reason but they don't go against reason. They go beyond logic but they are not illogical; they are not contradictory. So there is still room for reason to explore and study, to grasp the intelligibility and the meaning of the sacraments. So we are not suggesting that Catholics act like zombies in some mindless, unquestioning way just simply accepting and grasping that which is absurd. No. Catholics should not be zombies. They should be faithful children who accept the testimony of their father in heaven through the Spirit but, at the same time, they ought to grow up and allow their reason to explore the intelligible meaning of the sacraments. That's what we are going to do with our time as we study the sacraments. How can we reason to better understand our faith and the mysteries of faith that are the sacraments.
Why Refer to the Divine Mysteries as Sacraments?
Now, one thing I think that we can ask ourselves that will be very, very helpful is, "Why is it that the Holy Spirit led the early Church to refer to these divine mysteries as sacraments?" The term sacramentum is a Latin term that goes back to pre-Christian usage. Now why is it that the early Church felt it so proper to adapt a term with certain non-Christian or pre-Christian meanings to explain these divine mysteries? In other words, what's the original meaning of the term sacramentum?
Well, it's actually hardly a matter for dispute. All scholars are in agreement. Sacramentum is the Latin term used in antiquity to designate an oath. For instance, we know that in antiquity Roman soldiers, as they came into the army, actually had to swear a sacramentum, an oath to the Emperor to serve in the army. We also know that in ancient Rome, for instance, when there was a legal dispute between two people, a pledge was left by both parties at the temple for the gods and this sacred pledge constituted a sacramentum.
So, sacramentum is the term in antiquity designating oath. Now at first glance we might be tempted to say, "So what? Big deal. Oaths of initiation, these rituals and the secret societies of antiquity, I mean, how does this really help us understand a sacrament or why the Church was led by the Spirit to accept the term sacrament to explain these divine mysteries?"
"Sacramentum" is the Latin Word for "Oath"
I think further study will give us greater insight, though. For instance we will find that one of the early Roman historians by the name of Pliny wrote to Trajan, a very important person in Rome, to explain who the Christians were and what they did. Pliny said to Trajan that (he was trying to summarize in a simple way so that Trajan could understand these Christians). He said, "On a certain designated day, they get together before sunrise and they sing an antiphonal hymn to Christ as God and then they bind themselves with an oath not to commit any sin."
He saw these Christians binding themselves with an oath not to commit any sin or crime. Now the Latin term is sacramentum. What is it that the Christians are binding themselves to when swearing not to sin? The sacramentum is, of course, the Eucharist which they receive and celebrate there on a Sunday morning after they sing the Psalms and songs of praise to Christ as God. In other words, when we look a little closer at the ancient meaning of sacramentum as oath, I think what we see is that we may be holding the key to understanding the sacrament, but we might be holding it upside down.
So let's take a look and understand what sacramentum really meant. I think we're going to see that one big reason why sacraments are so little understood these days is because an oath is even less understood. Where do we find oaths in modern society? I mean, how in our own experience do we relate ourselves to oaths in a meaningful way? Well, the President takes an oath of office as soon as he assumes the presidency. We also hear physicians swearing the Hippocratic Oath. We also know that immigrants who want to be naturalized as citizens have to take an oath as well. When you enter the military you frequently have to take an oath or when you register to vote, you have to take an oath.
But what is the most familiar oath that we all know about from seeing things like Perry Mason on TV? Where are oaths most common in our mental association? In the courtroom. When the witness is to take the stand, what does the witness say? Well, he is sworn in and what is the oath that he swears? "I solemnly swear to tell the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth, so help me God." Even clarifying or emphasizing this particular oath in modern life might not shed much light. After all, all the oaths I have just mentioned -- for the President, for the doctor, for the witness for the military man, for the immigrant -- all of these things might seem awkward, obsolete, out of place in modern American society, almost, in fact, like a violation of Church and state. I mean, there, in a civil courtroom, asking for God's help. How is religion accorded such a central role in such public, secular and civil activities? It certainly bothers some people.
Let's take a closer look at this best known example in the courtroom. "I solemnly swear to tell the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth, so help me God." What is going on there? Well, before I say what is going on, I want to mention that in my studies I found a historian who looked at the use of oaths in modern society. From his studies he discovered that Americans simply do not understand the oath they swear. They swear them, but they don't know why. They don't really understand and they don't really believe that they have any power to do what they seem to be doing.
So he refers to an oath, this Professor Mendenhaul does, as an ancient ruin still standing. So what difference does it really make if a witness swears an oath before taking the stand in the courtroom? In other words, they are going to lie anyway, aren't they? They are going to swear the oath and they are going to sit there and lie through their teeth. So why bother swearing the oath; or why focus on this instance in order to clarify the meaning of oath as sacramentum? Well, I think if we return to the original purpose of the oath, we're going to understand that the oath is given and the oath is sworn to strengthen the promise.
Think, for instance, of the old Perry Mason shows where as the witness is about to break, the judge leans forward from the bench and what does he say? "I remind you, you're still under oath." What does that mean? I mean is the witness supposed to look up and see some ax blade dangling over his neck and identify that with oath? What do you mean, I'm under oath? Well, one practical way to understand the difference that an oath is supposed to make is to look at the lie. If I were to stand here right now and proceed to tell you all about my ten kids who are all doctors, having received advance degrees from Harvard University, I would be telling you a few white lies, perhaps harmless. They wouldn't get me in trouble. You might think I'm strange. But suppose I said those same exact things in a courtroom, on the witness stand under oath. What would those white lies be called? Perjury.
What is the Purpose of Swearing an Oath?
Now what might be just simple sins here become major crimes in a courtroom. Why? Because I'm under oath. The oath is supposed to make a difference. The oath is supposed to strengthen the promise and the individual's resolve not to lie. And the oath is especially supposed to gain the help of God to assist the witness in telling the truth. In other words, to understand the purpose of the oath, we need to understand what's happening with the witness, that a witness is called upon to give testimony that may hold in the balances the difference between life and death or a few million dollars or whatever kind of legal settlement might be reached.
In other words, guilt and innocence will be determined on the basis of the testimony. So you have to trust the witnesses. But what if it's in the best interest of the witness to lie? What's going to keep him from lying? Well, sometimes we simply have to trust other people beyond their own personal trustworthiness. How can you do that? Well, society better find a way because society frequently finds itself in a place where it has to trust people beyond their reasonable level of trustworthiness or reliability.
For instance, in the battlefield, why do military men have to take an oath? Because they know they might find themselves on a battlefield with bullets whizzing overhead. What happens there? Suppose one soldier looks up and sees an escape route where he could desert and he could leave? What happens if the other soldiers spot that man leaving under battle conditions. Are they allowed to do anything to stop him? They are obligated to do something. They are obligated to shoot him on sight for desertion in battle conditions! Why? Because what is desertion in battle? If you see one guy leaving to save his own neck, who doesn't want to flee? Who doesn't want to run away and live to fight another day? It's just common sense. But as soon as the door is opened, who won't want to run through it, and then what is left of the army? What is left in the battle? In other words, the battle requires a degree of trust from our fellowmen that by themselves we could not reasonably demand. Yet we need it. So what do we do? We put them under oath, like we put witnesses under oath.
If a politician elected into office, right before he takes office says to all of the voters, "Trust me," what do you feel? All of a sudden you just kind of sit back and relax and say, "Oh, I'm so glad he asked me to trust him." Of course not. I mean between politicians asking for trust and used car salesmen, we're not going to be able to rely upon such words at all. So, what do we do? We put them under oath, the oath of office. Why? It's the same thing. We need to engage a more reliable person, a more trustworthy party who is going to be able to make a difference. Because, as I say, society finds itself in a very awkward position. For instance in the courtroom, society needs the truth in order to establish and vindicate justice. But the calling for truth from witnesses where no absolute certainty is obtainable. Are we certain that he is telling the truth? No, he could be lying.
So what do we ask the witnesses to do before they testify? To make a kind of sacrifice, to pledge themselves before God and witnesses that they will tell the whole truth and nothing but the truth. And at the same time they make that pledge, they state a plea, "So help me God." In other words, we all know that in moments of distress and temptation, where it might really pay to tell a lie, it might really pay to stretch the truth, we're going to need God's help to overcome that temptation. That's what the oath is for. Why not lie? Because an oath has engaged the services of Almighty God who is truthful, who is truth itself; who is all-knowing and who is present, actively present, in our midst to judge us, to help us and to insure that the truth is out and that the truth is vindicated.
So we engage the services of God as judge and as provider -- as judge to vindicate the truth and as provider to give that extra assistance to the person who is called upon to give the truth, even under tempting circumstances. So what do we do? We have him put his left hand on the Bible and raise his right hand and he says the oath. What is it signifying? That left hand on the Bible, that right hand to heaven represent or constitute an appeal to God. What we are saying is, "If I am false and the judge doesn't know it, and the jury doesn't know it and if all the people in the court don't know that I'm lying through my teeth, God, you who know all, you who are truth, you know that I am lying."
So may, the curses recorded in this book. "Come upon me from heaven if I lie or deceive. Conversely, we also signify by this act that if I tell the truth and the judge doesn't believe me and the jury doesn't accept my testimony and all the other people don't as well, God, you know my heart, you know the truth, you vindicate me according to the blessings recorded in this book that you promised to give to those who live the truth and speak it as well." So God is engaged as a guarantee, He supplies a kind of warranty. God is actively present in human affairs when his name is pledged in the oath, the sacramentum, as judge and as provider. It's a pledge of self and it's a plea for his help.
Now, I'll give you an example. Suppose I were to take out my checkbook right now and I were to go ahead and write for you all in this room a $1 million check and give to each of you a $1 million check. How would you all feel about that? Would you take it and cash it tomorrow? I'm not sure you would. You'd look at me and say, "He's a college professor. A million dollars per person. I mean, his school might pay well, but what school pays that well?" But suppose you took a second look at that check and you notice that underneath my signature was a co- signer. You saw the name Donald Trump. What would you do then with that check in hand? You'd guard it with your dear life. You would hold on to that. You would clutch it and make sure that tomorrow morning, if not earlier, you would go out and cash it. Why? Because when that name is invoked underneath your own, that word becomes trustworthy. It becomes reliable.
So when we swear an oath, God becomes the co-signer. He becomes the surety, the guarantor. His signature is even greater and more trustworthy than Donald Trump's. So God's name becomes attached to our performance whenever we swear an oath. His reputation is on the line. He has got to act to vindicate his holy name. No wonder out of Ten Commandments, he only gives us ten, right? Number two is what? "Thou shalt not take the name of the Lord, Thy God, in vain for he will not hold him guiltless who takes his name in vain." I mean God only gives us ten, why waste one of them on false oath taking? Because that's really the meaning of the second commandment. Notice, it's the second commandment, second only to, "Thou shalt have no other gods before me."
So, once we choose the true God, we have to worship and live according to that God in a true way. That means when we swear oaths with God's name and his reputation attached to our performance, we do not take that name in vain. We don't take his name and drag it through the mud. We don't lower his reputation to the same level as our own deception and fraudulent behavior. This, I believe explains why the oath is meant to strengthen the promise. It also explains the curious custom we find in the Bible. When people are called upon to take an oath in very dire circumstances at a very important time where the truth is absolutely essential, where fidelity is crucial, what do they do?
Well, there's one word for oath, shabot, to swear an oath in the Hebrew. There's another word that's actually stronger. It's to swear an oath, but literally, it's to curse oneself. In other words, you directly curse yourself. It's almost like -- do you remember when you were kids? I remember when I was a kid, I went down to Florida and I came back and I had caught a red snapper out in the Gulf. The first week back, I told all my friends about the red snapper that I caught because we ate it for dinner. It was a beautiful red snapper about a foot long.
The second week though, I told some more friends about the red snapper and all of a sudden it had grown to be about two, two and a half, three feet long. All of a sudden those teeth began to expand and the ferocity of this beast became just enormous and the fight that I put up...and what did my friends say? "Sure, sure, you caught a red snapper." So what do kids say whenever they start enlarging upon the truth? I don't know about you, but I know what I used to say when I was a kid. I'd say something like this, "Cross my heart, hope to die, stick a needle in my eye."
Now where do kids get that idea? Where did that statement come from? Well, if you study the statement you'll discover it comes from the Middle Ages where oaths were quite common and a very common form of the oath was the self-curse; and a very common self-curse that people take upon themselves was what? "Cross my heart, hope to die, stick a needle in my eye." What does it mean? What does it convey by way of meaning. Simple: "Cross my heart" means cut my heart into four pieces. "Stick a needle in my eye," means, "If I am lying, may God be my judge and may he take away my life and cut my heart into four pieces and gouge out my eyes with needles." You're calling a curse upon yourself. That's the strongest form of oath possible, the self-curse.
Thus, God's active presence is called down and engaged in the fullest possible way when that oath includes the curse. Now, does that guarantee the truth? No, it doesn't. It doesn't guarantee the truth. Just because you swear an oath and you call down upon yourself a curse doesn't mean that you will necessarily tell the truth any more than being a citizen in a nation necessarily means that you're patriotic. It doesn't necessarily follow.
What does necessarily follow is that God is actively engaged to bring judgment upon a person who has taken his name in vain. So, finally and ultimately, the person who is taking the oath determines whether or not we receive the desired outcome. In other words, the oath depends upon the reliability of the man who is swearing the oath or the curse. For instance, oath in the Old Testament -- we see throughout the Old Testament that men continually prove themselves false and insincere by swearing an oath on the one hand and then by failing to live up to it on the other.
Continually we see this in the Old Testament. As a result of this behavior, the curses of the covenant are unleashed. So, when Israel swears an oath to God and accepts a curse upon itself in case of infidelity, what happens? In just a matter of years they are unfaithful. As a result, the curses are unleashed and the curses consist of such things as conquest, exile, slavery, pestilence. You can read all about it in Deuteronomy 28 or Leviticus 26. In both those passages you have a long list of frightening curses that come upon people in case they don't live up to the oaths they have sworn, the sacraments that they have taken upon themselves.
What is the Significance of the "Sacramentum" for Christians?
Now, let's ask ourselves what the significance of all this is for us as Christians. Well, tomorrow morning I am going to begin explaining how it is that an oath is the practical equivalent of a covenant. Throughout scripture, for instance, in Luke 1: verses 72 and 73, we discover that oaths and covenants are interchangeable terms. There we read about how God swore an oath to the fathers and so made a covenant. Also in Ezekiel 16 verse 9 and some other verses in Ezekiel 17, we'll look tomorrow morning and see how when oaths are sworn, covenants are made. In other words, the sacramentum, the oath, constitutes a decisive force for establishing a covenant. The sacramentum oath is that which binds people together in a covenant relationship.
Thus, you want the strongest, the most reliable person to swear the sacramentum, the oath. Why? Because ultimately the covenant oath is only as strong as the person who swears it. The reliability of the covenant is ultimately going to rest entirely upon the dependability of the person who has sworn the oath. So, throughout the Old Testament what does God do? Well, he selects the strongest and the holiest men to swear the oaths to form the covenants - beginning with Adam and Noah and Abraham and Moses and David and Solomon and Ezra, the High Priest, and others as well. He picks the strongest and holiest men to swear the oaths.
But what do we discover in every case? No matter what the strength of these men might be, no matter how holy their character may seem, time and time again, human nature proves incapable by itself of fulfilling all the demands of God's law to which we swear ourselves when we take upon ourselves the oath.
So what is so unique and distinctive about the New Covenant? What makes Christianity so great? We have something brand new in human history. In the New Covenant, Christianity is built upon one simple revolutionary fact: for the first time in history, God has sworn the oath and taken upon himself the curse. It's almost as if God said, "I am going to save you, as I promised, but I am going to transform that promise into an oath by swearing an oath and taking upon myself the curse." God says, in effect, "I give you my word." And the word became flesh and dwelt among us! And that word was crucified because God took upon himself in the God-Man Jesus Christ, the curse for our sin.
In other words, the New Covenant is built upon the fact that for the first time in history, God swears the sacramentum. God became man and as man he swore an oath, Jesus did, to the Father. He takes the strongest oath upon himself in the form of a curse. By so doing, he institutes the New Covenant in this sacramentum which Christ himself is! Christianity is built upon a New Covenant all because God became man and swore the oath.
You could say that this is the purpose of the Incarnation. God in the Old Testament had promised to provide all that we needed and various humans swore oaths to be the ones to do so, to be the instruments, but they kept falling short. For instance, Noah, after delivering the family of man through the ark and the flood, ends up naked and ashamed in his tent. We also see Abraham who is righteous through thick and thin until he succumbed to the temptation to enter into a polygamous concubinage with an Egyptian woman. Even Moses who is the meekest man in all the earth, according to the Bible, sins so as not to be able to enter into the Promised Land. David, a man after God's own heart, swears the oath and then commits adultery with another man's wife and has that man killed and becomes a murderer. And Solomon, who establishes an oath covenant, as well, what does he do? He falls to so many temptations, he ends up with 700 wives and 300 concubines!
How do the Seven Sacraments all Participate in the One True Sacrament, Jesus?
The Old Testament reads like a dismal record of human failure because of our weakness, the weakness of fallen human nature. But Christ becomes man. God becomes human to take the oath, to form a New Covenant and to accept the curse. First of all, he assumed human nature with all of its debts and obligations and weaknesses. Second, he perfected that human nature in himself with his divine life and power as he lived it out -- as an infant, as a child, as a pre-adolescent, as a teenager, as a young adult and as a mature adult. He perfects all of human life and all human relations as a son and as a man. Third, he establishes a New Covenant by becoming a co-signer to the Old Covenant. He accepts the burden of the Old Covenant curse upon himself.
In so doing, he institutes in his own body and blood, the sacrament by which the New Covenant is constituted. I'll say it again: Christianity is the only religion in all the world and in all of history where we have God swearing the oath. Christ himself is the one, true, ultimately dependable sacrament, oath. His life, thereby, becomes the source of all of our sacraments.
For instance, let's take a look at the seven sacraments and see how they all participate in the one true sacrament, which is Jesus Christ himself. When Jesus was baptized in the Jordan, we hear a heavenly voice declaring him to be God's son, with whom he is well pleased. So, Baptism in the Church is the sacrament of rebirth, the sacrament of our divine sonship.
Jesus Christ goes on later to the Mount of Transfiguration where before three apostles his appearance is transformed, so that the sonship, this divine sonship which he possesses, which was declared at Baptism becomes visible and powerful and manifest to Peter, James and John -- so much so that they end up on their faces. In a sense, Confirmation is that. If Baptism instills divine sonship in the believer, Confirmation unleashes the power of sonship and the Holy Spirit's glory as we receive that sacrament.
We also follow Jesus to the Upper Room in Jerusalem where on Maundy Thursday, he strips down and he washes the disciples' feet. And so he shows them the way to authority in the New Covenant is by serving others in their needs. So the Church teaches that by so doing Christ established the priesthood of the New Covenant. The sacrament of Holy Orders corresponds to this action of Christ.
Then, of course, he proceeds on to institute the Eucharist. He transforms the Old Testament Passover Feast which he is celebrating at that moment into the New Covenant Passover by establishing the Eucharist and telling these newly ordained apostles that they must do this in remembrance of Me.
Then Jesus, who was anointed by Mary before his death, is then resurrected, giving to us in a sense the significance and meaning behind the sacrament of Anointing as our bodies and souls are prepared to be united with our family in heaven through resurrection.
Then as Christ is resurrected and as he returns to the disciples, what does he do? In John 20: verses 21 through 23, it describes how Jesus breathed on the eleven disciples and said, "Receive the Holy Spirit." Then he says, "Whoever's sins you forgive shall be forgiven, and whose sins you retain shall be retained." In this action of Christ we see another sacrament instituted, namely the sacrament of Penance.
Then finally at Pentecost, Jesus having ascended into heaven, having been glorified and enthroned at the right hand of the Father sends the Holy Spirit down on the feast of Pentecost and so, in a sense, establishes his Church. He betroths the Church to himself as a bride to a bridegroom and he gives to this bride of his the Holy Spirit as a dowry. This is the understanding of Pentecost that the Church has always had. So Matrimony becomes a sacrament in the work of Christ.
Now in these and in many, many other ways Christ established himself as the New Covenant sacrament from which all of the other seven sacraments are derived. Now the sacraments are supposed to give grace. The reason they give grace is because they all share a common source which is Christ himself, the one true sacrament. In fact, grace can be understood properly as the life of Christ, as divine sonship. The Holy Spirit comes into us to give to us divine sonship, divine grace. So, in effect, God is saying, "I am going to give you my love and my love is going to give you myself, my own life, my own sonship. I'll stake my life on it," Christ says, and then he does on the cross. So the grace of the sacraments is not derived only from the holiness of the minister or primarily from the holiness of the recipient so much as from Christ himself, who is ultimately the final minister and the real recipient.
The sacraments are truly actions of Christ on our behalf. They are designed with us and our needs in mind. They are designed to meet the crises in our life that arise -- infants, children, young adults, teenagers, full-grown adults, senior citizens -- all encounter unique problems and they all have distinct needs that must be met.
Christ acted in such a way so as to institute his life as the sacrament par excellance from which the seven sacraments would come to accompany us through the journey of life, assisting us and providing us with the grace that we need as infants to overcome original sin, as young children who have sinned and stained themselves to be restored to the Father through Penance, our first confession. Then to be invited to the family supper table in the Eucharist and to be nourished, to grow that life. Confirmation is almost equivalent to spiritual adolescence when supernatural hormones are released in the children of God to cause them to grow and to become able to control and harness their own newly found powers and desires.
Then on it goes, because when you enter into Matrimony you have specific needs that are provided for by the sacraments. When you become sick, when you become infirm and elderly, the sacrament of Anointing provides you with the grace you need to prepare for resurrection and new life in heaven.
By the sacraments we are united to Christ in the deepest and greatest possible way. The sacraments, as I said, are designed to meet our many needs. They are designed with our needs in mind. The sacraments are the instruments that Christ uses to incorporate us into his own body, the Corpus Christi, so much so that we become identified with Christ. St. Paul says, "It is no longer I but Christ who lives in me." So we are incorporated with Christ. We become identified with Christ through these sacraments. Thus, our sacramental worship in its essence really amounts to Christ's perfect worship of the Father that he continues in our bodies, in our souls, and in the Church that is constituted and strengthened and expanded through the sacraments.
It's this which makes us acceptable. These are the sacramental graces that make our worship, not only acceptable to God but delightful to the Father, as well. The major emphasis throughout this weekend is simple. The sacraments of the Church are not a substitute for holiness. The sacraments are not a substitute for hard work to attain sanctity. They are, rather, the divinely appointed means by which we struggle to overcome sin, and we receive divine aid and grace to help in time of need to grow up and mature as the sons and daughters of the most high God, our heavenly Father.
The sacraments are God's tools for our sanctification. They are not magical and they are not mechanical. They are powerful because Christ is the one who has instituted them because Christ is the sacrament. Christ is the oath that God has sworn for our salvation. So we must accept the challenge to allow Christ to live his life in us and join with him in pledging to God that we will live the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth, so help us God.
In the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. Amen.
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