The Catholic Diocese of Hexham and Newcastle

The Catholic Diocese of Hexham and Newcastle

A Catholic Prayer Book and Study Guide

PART VI

THE SEVEN SACRAMENTS OF THE CATHOLIC CHURCH

THE SACRAMENTS

The history of human salvation is the history of the way God came to men. The first step on this way was the bridging of the gulf separating God and man in the person of the one Mediator Jesus Christ and by his work of redemption. By means of his Church Christ makes his grace available to all. Only in this application of redemption to mankind is the redemptive action of Christ completed. The doctrine of the sacraments is the doctrine of the second part of God's way of salvation to us. It deals with the holy signs which Christ instituted as the vehicles of his grace.

The great mystery of the union in Christ of a human nature with the second Person of the Godhead is that the human actions and sufferings of Christ are divine actions and sufferings. The sacraments are a living continuation of this mystery. There are earthly, external signs here which, of themselves, could never acquire any supernatural significance, but the signs of the sacraments have been made by Christ into vehicles of his grace. They effect in men the grace for which Christ made them the sign.

So there are two fundamental ideas which constantly recur in the Church's teaching, on the sacraments. First there is the Church's concern for these instituted by Christ, their number, and their proper preservation and administration; then the grace which Christ has for all time linked with these signs and which is communicated by them.

The second is the effect of the sacraments. They are the signs of Christ's work; the effectiveness of Christ's continuing work in his Church cannot be dependent on man's inadequacy. A sacrament, administered properly in the way established by Christ and with the proper intention, gives the grace it signifies. It is effective not by reason of the power of intercession of priestly prayer nor on account of the worthiness of the recipient, but solely by the power of Christ. The power of Christ lives in the sacraments. The effect of the sacrament is independent of the sinfulness or unworthiness of the minister. The Church has never tolerated any subjective qualifica- tion of the objective effectiveness of the sacraments ex opere operato. This would ultimately be to conceive the way of salvation as being man's way to God and not God's way to man.

THE CHURCH THUS TEACHES: There are seven sacraments. They were instituted by Christ and given to the Church to administer. They are necessary for salvation. The sacraments are the vehicles of grace which they convey. They are validly administered by the carrying out of the sign with the proper intention. Not all are equally qualified to administer all the sacraments. The validity of the sacrament is independent of the worthiness of the minister. Three sacraments imprint an indelible character.

Sacramentals are instituted by the Church and are effective by virtue of the Church's intercession. Institution and alteration of them is reserved to the Holy See.

THE SACRAMENT OF BAPTISM

BAPTISM is the sacrament that frees man from original sin and from personal guilt, that makes him a member of Christ and His Church. It is thus the door to a new and supernatural life.

This sacrament has been undisputed in the Church since the beginning of Christian tradition. It has never been rejected by any heresy intending to remain on a Christian basis. Doubts could arise only about the ways and means of administering it and on its effects and way of operation. These things are therefore in essence what Church documents about baptism deal with.

THE CHURCH THUS TEACHES: Baptism is a true sacrament instituted by Christ. It is administered by washing with natural water and at the same time invoking the Most Holy Trinity. Anybody, even an unbeliever or a heretic can validly administer baptism. Since it confers grace by the signs' being properly carried out children can and should be baptized even while still infants. Baptism is necessary for salvation. Baptism effects the remission of original sin and actual sins and of all punishment due to sin; it confers sanctifying grace, membership in Christ and in the Church and the obligation to obey the Church's laws, and give an indelible character.

Note: from Pope Innocent III AD1201. The baptism of young children is not profitless. As circumcision made men members of the People of Israel, so baptism gives them entry to the kingdom of heaven......

THE SACRAMENT OF CONFIRMATION

The sacrament of confirmation completes the sacrament of baptism. If baptism is the sacrament of re-birth to a new and supernatural life, confir- mation is the sacrament of maturity and coming of age. The real confession of Christ consist in this 'that the whole man submits himself to Truth, in the judgment of his understanding, in the submission of his will and in the consecration of his whole power of love . . . To do this, poor-spirited man is only able when he has been confirmed by God's grace'

This confirmation in the power of the Holy Spirit leading to a firm profession of faith has always been the particular effect which Catholic tradition has ascribed to the sacrament. It is effect which complements and completes that of baptism.

THE CHURCH THUS TEACHES: Confirmation is a true sacrament instituted by Christ and different from baptism. It is administered by laying-on of hands and anointing with chrism accompanied by prayer. The chrism is blessed by the bishop and the bishop administers the sacrament. All baptized persons can and should be confirmed. The effect of the sacrament of confirmation is to give strength in faith and for the confession of faith and to impress an indelible character.

THE SACRAMENT OF THE EUCHARIST

The doctrine of the holy Eucharist consist of that of the Eucharist sacrifice, the sacrificial meal, and the sacrificial food, or to express it otherwise, it consists of the doctrine of the Mass, of Communion, and of the Real Presence. There is no presence of Christ in the Blessed Sacrament that is not meant first and foremost as food for the faithful people, and there is no sacramental union with Christ in Holy Communion that is not to be thought of as a sacrificial meal: 'For as often as you shall eat this bread, and drink the chalice, you shall show the death of the Lord, until he come' (1 Cor. 11:26). The Eucharistic meal can only be prepared in the sacrifice of the Mass.

Thus the mystery of the Eucharist summarizes the whole mystery of our redemption. There are two fundamental relationships in which Christ stands to us. First, he is our priestly mediator with God, and offers him atonement for our sins. Bust Christ is not a stranger to us, who merely represents us as a propitiator before God. He comes to us in the second relationship by being the mediator of the grace which God gives us on account of his sacrifice. That is the mystery of our union with Christ who is the source of all grace for us. 'And of his fullness we have all received, grace for grace' (John 1:16).

This second community is realized only in the sacrifice of the Cross, by his giving his life for his Church which he had to ransom from himself. Only in death did Christ seal the deep covenant with the Church whereby she is purified and sanctified and which according to the teaching of St. Paul is the image of the most intimate union of human being in marriage: 'Husbands, love your wives, as Christ also loved the Church and delivered himself up for it; that he might sanctify it, cleansing it by the laver of water in the word of life' (Eph. 5:25). From the opened side of our crucified Saviour the Church was first born, as Eve was taken from Adam's side. That is the most ancient way of expressing this truth.

This twofold relationship, then, in which Christ stands to us men, as our mediator before God and the bringer of all graces from God, lives on in the mystery of the Eucharist. The Holy Mass is the renewing of the sacrifice which Christ offered for us, of the sacrifice of atonement for our sins; but the sacrifice is also at the same time the preparation of the Eucharistic meal, the sacrament of our union with Christ in grace.

We should not be surprised if the doctrine of the real presence of Christ in the Blessed Sacrament occurs more than most doctrines in the documents of the Church. There are few mysteries of the faith where the mystery is so evident and therefore so exposed to the attacks of heresy and unbelief. However, the militant position of the Church should not prevent us from seeing the Real Presence in the context of the whole Eucharistic mystery.

THE CHURCH THUS TEACHES: The doctrine of the Holy Eucharist is thus made up of:

1. Doctrine about the Eucharistic sacrifice. Holy Mass is a real sacrifice, instituted by Christ at the Last Supper. It represents Christ's sacrifice of the Cross, but in an unbloody manner. Priest and victim are both Christ, who offers himself through the priest. The laity also offers the sacrifice, but does not have the power to transubstantiate. The Eucharistic sacrifice is offered to God in praise, thanksgiving, petition and atonement, for the living and the dead. Saints may also be commemorated in honour and petition. The Church has the responsibility of determining the rites and prayers to be observed. The liturgy as a whole is the public worship by the mystical Body of Christ. In every liturgical activity Christ is present, in a manner that must be properly interpreted.

2. Doctrine about the Eucharistic sacrament, sacrificial meal and sacrificial food:

The Holy Eucharist is a true sacrament, instituted by Christ. Christ is really present in the Holy Eucharist, even when not being received. It is therefore to be honoured and adored. The whole Christ is present in either kind and is received by the communicant. For the wheat bread and grape wine are transubstantiated by the ordained priest into the flesh and blood of Christ so that only the appearance of bread and wine remains.

The sacrament effects union with Christ; it is nourishment for the soul, gives increase in grace and remits venial sin and punishment.

THE SACRAMENT OF PENANCE

If the Church is to fulfil in its entirely her task of saving mankind she needs the power to forgive sins. It is a power essentially different from her mission to preach the Gospel and baptize. In baptism, indeed all sins and the punishment due to them are remitted. Baptism is the first justification. But the first justification is also the first entry into the realm of the supernatural which works entirely by God's grace and which asks of the person baptized no more than that he turn away from sin and turn in faith to Christ.

Penance is something different. A baptized person who sins again, sins against God to whom, since his baptism in the name of the Most Holy Trinity, he belongs. He also betrays the Church of which he is now a member. Thus, the new atonement assumes the character of a legal trial, with accusation, sentence and satisfaction.

The practice of penance has varied considerably down the centuries. In very early days satisfaction, usually in the form of public penance, was very much to the fore. Re-acceptance into the Church community normally took place only after completion of the penance imposed. More and more, however, penance has withdrawn from the public domain and today only the private administration of the sacrament is still in use.

The development of the system of confession shows that misunderstanding easily arises above the nature of penance. In the face of all attacks - by Wycliffe, the Reformers, liberal dogmatic historians and modernists - the Church has always maintained the judicial character of the sacrament of penance and drawn the necessary conclusion.

THE CHURCH THUS TEACHES: The Church has the power to forgive all sins. This forgiveness of sins is a true sacrament instituted by Christ, different from baptism, particularly on account of its judicial form. Sins are forgiven only by the sacrament of penance. Sins are forgiven by absolution which can only be given by an authorized priest. It is a real judicial pardon. The Church has the power to reserve certain cases.

On the part of the sinner contrition, confession and satisfaction are required. Contrition is aversion to the sins committed. Perfect contrition remits sin even before confession if it is joined with the intention to confess. Imperfect contrition (attrition) is sufficient if there is confession, and is a good and salutary thing.

Confession must cover all mortal sins committed since baptism and not previously confessed. Venial sins, and sins already confessed can validly be confessed. And satisfaction. The effect of the sacrament is recon- ciliation with God, that is, the remission of sins and the eternal punishment but not all the temporal punishment.

THE SACRAMENT OF EXTREME UNCTION OR THE ANOINTING OF THE SICK

As Confirmation by conferring the Holy Spirit completes the sacrament of baptism, so extreme unction is the complement and completion of penance. Penance restores the justification lost by sin, extreme unction takes away the infirmity left by sin; it 'removes that state which might be an obstacle to the clothing with glory of the resurrection'; and, as every sacrament makes us men in some respect like Christ, 'so we become by extreme unction like the risen Christ because it will be given to the dying as a sign of the glory to come in which everything mortal will be stripped from the elect' (Albertus Magnus). According to the teaching of great theologians, the holy anointing makes the man who stands at the threshold of eternity and loyally cooperates with the grace of the sacrament ready to enter directly upon the Beatific Vision.

That this sacrament was provided for the sick to strengthen them and prepare them for a happy passage to the hereafter was for centuries an undisputed part of tradition. The ancient prayers accompanying the anointing of the sick are evidence of this. The Church only had to concern herself officially with the doctrinal side of it when particular questions cropped up or errors appeared. For this reason the earliest documents deal more with the question of the minister and the external rites. It was not until the Reformation denied the sacramentality of extreme unction and its institution by Christ that a more exact exposition was demanded of the Council of Trent.

THE CHURCH THUS TEACHES: Extreme Unction is a true sacrament instituted by Christ and proclaimed by St. James. It is administered by anointing with blessed oil accompanied by prayer. Only a priest can validly administer it. It can be received by any baptized person who has reached the age of reason and is on account of sickness or age in danger of death. Its effect is the strengthening of the soul, often of the body as well, and in the necessary conditions remission of sins.

THE SACRAMENT OF HOLY ORDERS

The supreme task which Christ had to fulfil was his priestly work of atonement which he completed as mediator between God and man. By the union in himself of humanity and divinity Christ is by nature the mediator. As a man from among men, Christ is our mediator with the Father; yet he is also capable of offering a worthy sacrifice to God because, by virtue of the union of his human nature with the Second Person of the Godhead, his human actions have in infinite value. In this fullest sense, the priesthood belongs to Christ alone.

But if Christ wished to live on and continue his work in the Church, the first thing he had to do was to provide for the continuance of his sacerdotal and mediatory function. Above all, if Christ wished to renew the sacrifice of the Cross throughout the ages and all over the world as the sacrifice of the New Law in the Holy Mass, he had to allow other men to share in his priesthood. For if there is to be a true sacrifice, there must be a priesthood ordained and authorized by God from whose hands God will accept the sacrifice.

All attacks on the priesthood of the Catholic Church thus go back to denial that the Holy Mass is a true sacrifice, entrusted by Christ to his Church, and ultimately to denial of any visible Church to which Christ entrusted his work as mediator and redeemer. So the attacks of Wycliffe, the Reformers and the "liberal" historians regarded the setting up of an official priesthood as the result of the evolution of Christian life in the early Christian communities.

The priesthood is ordained in the first place for the offering of sacrifice and therefore for the solemnization of the Church's formal worship. The arrangements for these celebrations demand also a corresponding ministry and thus graded ministers to the alter. This grading of the ministry goes in part back to direct institution by Christ, but in part was introduced by the Church.

The degrees of order - the four minor and three major orders with the highest of all, that of bishop - signify an order of rank in the mediation of grace. It must be distinguished from the other order of rank which concerns jurisdiction, magisterium and pastorate. The latter are not essentially linked with the powers of mediation of grace, but in the concrete order established by God there are close relationships between the two kinds of power. For example, the fact that the power of forgiving sins exists in the Church does not, in itself, say anything about who has this power. But in the divine order, only a priest can have it.

Besides the conflict about the fact of the sacrament of order, its institution by Christ and its hierarchical structure, it has always been a principal concern of the Church to raise the priesthood to the high moral level suitable to its sublime duties. In the West, a most important stem in this direction was the insistence on celibacy. But as we are concerned here solely with doctrinal matters, documents on this are not given.

THE CHURCH THUS TEACHES: Order is a true sacrament instituted by Christ who ordained the Apostles at the Last Supper. It is administered by the laying on of hands and the key phrases of the ordination preface. Only a bishop can validly ordain. Order is a purely ecclesiastical concern. The effect of the sacrament of order is to impart the Holy Spirit and to impress an indelible character, which permanently distinguishes those in orders from the laity. The laity also has a part in Christ's priesthood, but in another manner. The office of bishop is above the priesthood (which in turn is above the diaconate) and gives special powers of consecration. To the priesthood belong the celebration of Holy Mass and the power of forgiving sins. The subdiaconate belongs to the priesthood and diaconate to the 'major orders.' In addition, the four 'minor orders' were instituted by the Church. Conditions for the valid reception of order are baptism and being of the male sex.

THE SACRAMENT OF MATRIMONY

Matrimony is the marriage contract between Christians raised by Christ to the dignity of a sacrament. The theological and dogmatic treatment of this sacrament does not look very much to its main features of unity and indissolubility which are basic characteristics of all marriage in natural ethics; they are rather premisses, though of course they attain greater significance and depth and stability in marriage as a sacrament. The fact, then, that these features take up a considerable amount of space in Church documents must not be allowed to hid the theological content of this sacrament which comes to us from revelation and belongs to the supernatural order. As a sacrament matrimony is entirely oriented on man's supernatural goal. Matrimony and order are the two sacraments which not only serve the individual in reaching this goal but are there for the benefit of the community. Matrimony is there for the mutual help of the spouses and the increase of the people of God. Devotion to his twofold end is the way of salvation for married couples, a way sanctified by the sacrament. 'Yet she shall be saved through childbearing; if she continue in faith, and love, and sanctification, with sobriety' (1 Tim:2:15).

The mutual sacrifice and devotion of husband and wife is a true picture of Christ's sanctifying sacrifice and devotion to His Church. 'Matrimony has its significance in the first place from Christ who took the Church as his bride at the price of his own blood. And also because when he offered his life as the price of her ransom, he stretched our his arms in an embrace of supreme love. And thirdly: as Eve was formed from the side of Adam while he slept, so the Church was formed from the side of the dying and dead Christ, as the two chief sacraments poured from his side - the blood of redemption and the water of absolution' (Albertus Magnus).

It is only from this point of view that one can understand the Church's unceasing struggle against any attempt to see marriage as something unholy or something merely profane, of no concern to religion. The campaign began with those countless rigorist or dualist sects in early times and in the Middle Ages; if defended the religious nature of marriage against the Reformers for whom it was just a civil affair; it represented the demands of the Church in matter of matrimonial legislation in various countries and defended the indissolubility of the marriage contract and the sacrament in the encyclicals of Leo XIII and Pius XI.

Since marriage is also of the greatest civic significance, jurisdiction in matrimonial matters was one of the commonest causes of differences between Church and state. Since this is solely a question of dogmatic view- points, the relevant documents are omitted. For the same reason Church documents dealing mainly with matrimonial morality are omitted.

THE CHURCH THUS TEACHES: Marriage is willed by God and was raised to a sacrament by Christ. It is therefore good but may not be put before the state of virginity. The sacrament of matrimony consist of the marriage contract, so that for Christians the contract and the sacrament are inseparable. Therefore marriage comes into the legal competence of the Church. The Church may establish impediments, including diriment impediments which invalidate a marriage and forbidding impediments which make marriage illegal. She may determine the form and rite to be observed. Matrimonial Causes fall to ecclesiastical courts. The purpose of marriage is the increase of the people of God and mutual help for the partners in loyalty and love. The sacrament gives married people a claim on the graces necessary to their state.

Only monogamy is valid. A new marriage is allowed after the death of one party. Marriage is indissoluble, even in cases of adultery. An unconsummated marriage can in certain circumstances be dissolved by the Church. Once it is consummated, a separation only is possible; the marriage bond cannot be dissolved.

INDULGENCES

The power to forgive sins necessarily included the power to remit the eternal punishment due to them. But there remains temporal punishment. But besides the power to forgive sins and their eternal punishment Christ also gave his Church the power to remit temporal punishment for sins.

In the remission of temporal punishment, that is, in indulgences, it is not a matter of regaining the state of grace, or of the essential goods of the supernatural order which we receive in the sacraments and through the objective effects of the sacraments ex opere operato (i.e. independently of one's own or the Church's merits but solely by the power of Christ working in the sacramental signs), but of a lessening of the punishments still due for sin. This remission comes about on the basis of the value as satisfaction of the works and sufferings of Christ and of all who can accomplish such works in the grace of Christ, i.e. of all persons in a state of grace. The application of this satisfying value, however, is not attached to any sacramental sign in itself but to certain actions which can be prescribed by the Church. Thus, the twofold basis of the doctrine of indulgences is: first, the satisfying and supernaturally meritorious value of all works done in a state of grace, and second, the community of saints, of all, that is, who have been redeemed by Christ and live and work in his grace, in communion with Christ and with one another.

Since the gaining of indulgences is related to certain actions, great abuses and scandals have been possible. The in part very abusive practice in matter of indulgences at the end of the Middle Ages served the Reformers as a symbol of a mechanistic organization of supernatural life, of the worldly character and avarice of the Church who touted holy things in the market-place. Against the, the Church declared her power to grant indulgences, and their value for the faithful, but at the same time she pull all her force into the campaign against abuses.

THE CHURCH THUS TEACHES: The Church, then, teaches she has received from Christ, on the basis of the treasury of his merits, the power to grant to the faithful on certain conditions indulgences i.e. the remission of temporal punishment due to sin. Indulgences may be applied to the dead. Abuses are to be avoided. The use of indulgences is salutary for the people of Christ.

THE LAST THINGS

Cornerstone of the Church's doctrinal edifice is eschatology, the doctrine of the end of things. Man came from God, and to God he will return. The doctrine of the last things is what gives the deepest supernatural meaning to the history of the world, which is ultimately the history of salvation to the glory of God.

At the last judgment Christ will finally reveal himself as the head of the Church, as the redeemer and the victor over death and hell, and will lay his kingdom at his Father's feet.

Naturally the position of Christ and his Church in eschatology has not always been proclaimed with the same emphasis at all times and in every individual decree. Almost always the Church's decrees are aimed at heresies which arise and these mostly concern the last things as they affect individuals. In this way the Church's magisterium lays no claim to systematize the inner structure.

In its dealing with heresy concerning the last things the Church has stressed three main fundamental truths:

THE CHURCH THUS TEACHES: Souls which depart this life without sin or punishment due to sin, go the eternal happiness. The happiness of heaven consist in the direct vision of God. For this vision, an end which is not owed to man, man needs the Light of Glory.

The soul which has temporal punishment still due goes to purgatory. The faithful can help the holy souls by prayer and good works. Souls which depart this life in grievous sin go to hell. Hell is eternal. For souls burdened with original sin alone it consists of the loss of the Beatific Vision, but for those in actual sin there are also the torments of hell.

At the end of time souls are re-united with their risen bodies following Christ's example. Christ will then pronounce the last judgment and hand over his kingdom to the Father.

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