Week 14 - The Sacraments (p. 300-470)

As you'll recall, there are four parts to the Catechism:
1. The Creed (What Catholics believe)
2. The Sacraments (How Catholics worship)
3. The Ten Commandments (How Catholics live)
4. The Lord's Prayer (How Catholics pray)
The first section is the toughest, and so we went into it in detail. We'll be going through the last three sections however pretty quickly. Though you may not get to read it all, please keep in mind the INDEX of the Catechism (or search online here). In other words, don't be one of those Catholics who thinks that maybe the Church might teach that perhaps... (you get the idea). Look it up! Nevertheless, if you'd like need a shorter edition of the Catechism that is still legit, try this.

The Sacraments:
The word "sacrament" is the Latin translation of the Greek word mysterion, reminding us that sacraments are at their core mysteries. That is, although sacraments are physical, they are not necessarily logically demonstrable, and are certainly not "magical." St. Augustine's classic definition of sacrament is "a visible sign of an invisible grace." In other words, just as Christ was physical, so He leads the Church to minister in a very physical way as well. The Sacraments are reminders that the drama of salvation is still in process, and includes us. The purpose of each of the Sacraments is to direct us to Jesus Christ.

There are of course Seven Sacraments which evolved over time in Church history and are definitive for Catholics. This does not mean that these are the only ways God works - there are also what Catholics call sacramentals, and of course God is at work in many ways we are unaware of. But the Sacraments, we are assured, are his unique instruments. They are gifts, and we will be learning how to better unwrap them for the rest of our lives.

Sacraments of Initiation
If a weary, homeless traveler came to one of our doors, there are two things (I hope) we would do. Let the person have a bath, and give them a meal. This is what God does for us with the Sacraments of initiation (cleansing Baptism and sustaining Eucharist).

1. Baptism - Baptism is the death of the old self with Christ and the resurrection to the new self in Christ. It can only happen once, and is valid even if done outside the Catholic Church (granted it is done in the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit). The Catechism interestingly states that "God has bound salvation to the sacrament of Baptism, but he himself is not bound by his sacraments" (point 1257).

2. Confirmation - Ideally Baptism and Confirmation (the infilling of the Holy Spirit thorough laying hands of the Bishop) takes place in an adult at the same time. The Sacrament of Confirmation however arose as a separate tradition in order to insure that a person who was baptized as an infant had the opportunity to affirm with their more developed intelligence what happened to them before the "age of reason."

3. Eucharist- This is of course the end all and be all of the Church. You can literally worship the Eucharist in the Catholic Church without being guilty of violating the first commandment, because the Eucharist is the veiled presence of our Lord Jesus Christ. It looks like bread, but it is Jesus. It has been said that you spiritual maturity as a Catholic is directly proportional to you devotion to the Eucharist - an interesting point to ponder.

Sacraments of Healing
If you're not yet a Saint or if you do not yet possess a resurrected body, you may find the following of assistance:

4. Penance- In the Catholic Church you get forgiven at Baptism - but you CAN lose this forgiveness by committing a mortal sin. In the mystery of our freedom, we are capable of cutting ourselves off from the unceasing love of God. Penance is the way to be restored to the waters of your baptism. Penance though is of course not only for mortal sins. If fact, the more we are aware of our sinfulness and the need for penance, the more we can be assured we are progressing towards that "holiness without which no one will see the Lord" (Hebrews 12:14).

5. Anointing of the Sick - This one is kind of self explanatory.

Sacraments of the Consecrated State

6. Matrimony
Question: In the Catholic Church can you still be a minister of the Sacrament if you're married?
Answer: Yes.
Question: In the Catholic Church can even women be ministers of the sacrament? Answer: Yes.
Why? Because husbands and wives are the ministers to one another of the Sacrament of matrimony. Bound as she is by the words of Christ, the Church can only recognize one marriage. Annulments are not "divorces," but the declaration by the Church that a marriage never in fact existed due to one or both parties not being fully aware of what was involved. This Sacrament is an icon of Jesus Christ's love for the Church, and just as that love will never end, so a marriage cannot end except by death (there will be no marriage in heaven). Sex can only happen within the bond of marriage for Catholics. As George Weigel quoted at his presentation, "Christians only make love to people they have made promises to." And not just any promise of course, but the promise sealed in the Sacrament of marriage. Those of you getting married soon, please do read the Catechism on the subject (p. 446-464 or online here). It's really good stuff!

7. Priesthood - Family life for the married is demanding. But by becoming a priest one is taking up "family" commitments in a completely different way, by becoming a "Father" of a different sort. A priest's sexuality is not "suppressed," but "sublimated" through celibacy, leading to greater energy to devote to ministry. It is a high calling, and one that our Lord followed himself. He who can accept it should.

Jan Davidsz de Heem
Eucharist in Fruit Wreath 1648

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