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Fundamentals of Catholicism by Father Robert Altier

Lesson 15: An Introduction to the Sacraments

[Class begins with a greeting by Father and the recitation of the Hail Mary.]

We are going to begin our coverage of the sacraments, which will take us through the next several lessons. This is critically important because the whole life of the Church takes place in and through the sacraments. So we have to ask, first of all, what is a sacrament? Anyone raised Catholic will remember that a sacrament is an outward sign of an interior reality instituted by Christ in order to give grace. In its basic meaning, it is a sign or symbol of something else. In the Church, the sacraments are outward signs of the inner mysterious activity of Christ saving and sanctifying His people.

Our word “sacrament” comes from the Latin word sacramentum. Sacramentum is a translation in the Latin of the Greek word musterion. You can see that is the root of our word “mystery.” Sacramentum simply means “a holy thing,” and you can see our word “sacred” in there. When we are talking about this idea of the musterion, it is something which is hidden, something which is secret. That is what it would imply in the Greek.

It is interesting to note that in Latin sacramentum is also the Latin word for “oath.” The Hebrew word for oath is the word sheba, which is “seven,” and so the Hebrew idiom to swear an oath is actually “to seven oneself.” If that is what this is about, then it is a very interesting point to recognize that there are seven sacraments, seven things God has done to be able to save His people. They are oaths that God has sworn. In fact, it even says that with regard to the priesthood of Christ in Psalm 110: The Lord has sworn an oath He will not change. You are a priest forever according to the order of Melchizedek. Well, the amazing thing is that God swears an oath. God Who cannot lie, God Who cannot deceive, in order to be able to demonstrate to us and having no one greater to swear by, swears by Himself; He swears an oath to us! Saint Paul makes this clear in his Letter to the Hebrews. The simple pondering that God would have to swear an oath to humanity is mind-boggling, but that is what the sacraments are – they are the oath of God.

Also, it is the idea of covenant. Again, that is where the concept of a covenant comes from. God has entered into seven covenants with His people. He enters into smaller ones, but as far as a covenant with all the people, there are seven that God has entered into; and all of the covenants remain intact because the three elements of a covenant is that they are permanent, faithful, and life giving. And so we enter into the covenant. You can look at the old covenant, for instance, with Moses and the Ten Commandments, but there is a covenant with Abraham and a covenant with Noah and with different people along the way.

Then there is something quite fascinating that comes up in the Book of the Prophet Isaiah. It is in chapter 42 and again in chapter 49. These are both what are known as the Suffering Servant Songs, and in these Suffering Servant Songs God says something quite extraordinary. He is speaking about the Messiah who is to come and He says, I will make you a covenant to the people. He does not say, “I will make a covenant with you for the people.” That is what He did with the others. He made a covenant with Noah, a covenant with Moses, a covenant with Abraham, and so on. But in this case He does not say that. He says, I will make you a covenant. The covenant is a person. So when we enter into the covenant, we enter into a person. That is exactly what happens at baptism: We become partakers of the divine nature; we become members of Jesus Christ and children of God and heirs of heaven. That is the reality of what is going on inside of us.

Every covenant has to have a sign. For instance, you can recall that in the covenant with Noah the sign was the rainbow. If the rainbow is an image of God’s bow, you can see that the bow is turned the other way so that God is not aiming his arrow at us. It is going the other direction, and so He is not angry at us anymore. It was the promise and the sign that He would never destroy the world again by a flood. Instead, it is going to be by fire next time, but at least it will not be by a flood. Would you like to get burned to a crisp, or would you like to drown? At any rate, most of us probably are not going to be here for that anyway, so we will not have to worry about it. Nonetheless, the fact of the matter is that every covenant has a sign. Baptism is our entrance into the covenant, so what is the sign? It is the Eucharist. What we enter into at baptism, we celebrate every time we receive Holy Communion. We become a member of Jesus Christ, and so we receive Him in the fullness of His person at Holy Communion. That is what we have going on here. These are the oaths that God has sworn; they are the covenant that He has entered into with us. With that idea of seven, everyone thinks seven is a perfect number, and it is one of the perfect numbers, but that is just a fraction of it. Seven is a covenant; it is an oath. That is what this is all about. Seven is a sacrament.

As the Church reflected on Her actions and the understanding of the definition of a sacrament, She finally concluded that there are only seven sacraments that are instituted by Christ. There are many other things the Church does that are related to the sanctification of the people, but all of these things were instituted by the Church – they were not instituted by Christ. These things may be rituals or sacramentals. A sacramental would be a rosary, a medal, or scapular, things like that, but they are not sacraments. Of all the different things the Church does to help sanctify the people, there are only seven that we can actually look at and say that these go all the way back to Christ, that these were instituted by the Lord Himself. In fact, that reflection did not come until the 12th century and it was not nailed down that way. It was not until the Council of Trent in the 16th century that it was made infallible. The Council of Trent said, “There are seven sacraments, no more and no less.” So there cannot be six and there cannot be eight. There are seven. Period. Whether they knew all the Hebrew background, etc., I do not know; it does not matter. The Holy Spirit led them to be able to understand the reality that there are only seven, and that is perfect because it is a sacrament, a musterion, a seven, a sheba, an oath. That is what we have in what Our Lord has given us.

Back in the 5th century, Saint Augustine recognized that the sacraments were sacred signs, but he described them further as signs pertaining to divine things and visible signs of grace. Reflection over the centuries and into the Middle Ages resulted in the realization that they are not just signs of grace but in fact cause the grace that they signify. This was the recognition that led to the dogmatic definition that there are only seven sacraments or seven saving acts of the Church. When the Church understood that the sacraments caused the grace they signify, people said, “The Church found something that is going to cause grace. Only God can do that.” So when we look at it and say, “What did Jesus Himself do? What did He give us?” there are only seven things we can point to. That is where the definition of the seven sacraments came from.

There are three basic elements that constitute a sacrament. First, it is an external, sensibly perceptible sign of sanctifying grace. There is something which is external, something which is sensible. You can either see it or hear it or taste it or touch it, whatever the case might be. Second, it is a sign which causes grace. In other words, they not only signify grace, but they actually cause or confer grace in the soul of the recipient. When you receive a sacrament, you receive an increase of sanctifying grace plus the actual grace that comes with the sacrament. Third, they are instituted by Christ. This is very important because it means that God wills to communicate Himself to us in and through definite outward signs. This means, obviously, that the Church did not invent the seven sacraments but received them from Her divine founder. We see, then, that the sacraments continue the work of Christ. The Church is the Mystical Christ. You can look at all the things that Jesus did: He fed people, He healed people, He forgave people, and so on. That is what the sacraments do; they continue the work of Christ through His Mystical Body, the Church.

The other thing is that there are very definite and specific ways He has chosen to do this, and that is for our own good. People think, “Oh, the Church is so legalistic.” That is not the point. The point is that the people of God have a right to know whether or not they have received the sacrament. Certain things have to be there; otherwise, it is all just willy-nilly. “If Pastor Joe was able to say the prayer well enough, maybe we got it this time!” Well, if he did not, maybe you did not get it. Or you can look at it in some of the Protestant theology: “If your faith is strong enough, then it happened; but if your faith isn’t, then it didn’t.” How do you know? There is nothing objective. It is purely subjective; it is entirely up to you or it is entirely up to the minister. In the Church, that is not the way it is. There are very specific things that have to be there. You can look at those things and ask, “Were these elements present?” If the answer is “yes,” then you can say the sacrament was valid. If you can say objectively, “No, they were not,” then the sacrament is not valid. We will cover this more as we move along.

It is the teaching of the Church that the sacraments are signs of sanctifying grace, that is, they are signs of God working in those who receive the sacraments in faith. So they are signs of God’s grace. When we recognize what the Lord is doing, then we are going to be able to see the grace of God at work in the person who receives the sacraments. This is a point of disagreement between Catholics and Protestants. Due to the Protestant understanding of justification, the reformers looked upon the sacraments as pledges of the divine promise of the forgiveness of sin by means of the awakening and strengthening of fiducial faith. Fiducial faith, remember, is that internal mental conviction of being saved by Christ: “I believe in Jesus as my Lord and Savior; I believe that He died for me on the Cross; therefore, I’m saved. The blood of Jesus washes me and I’m set.” Martin Luther said that was all that was necessary, that it caused grace and thereby justified the sinner. Well, this becomes necessary for them because of the idea that faith alone justifies. Therefore, for them, the sacraments are not the means for the bestowal of grace, but rather they are the means by which faith is stirred into action. They are important to some of the Protestants; the Lutherans will claim two sacraments, for instance. They claim that they have baptism and the Eucharist. We would say that the Protestants have two sacraments, that is, baptism and marriage. They do not recognize marriage as a sacrament, but we recognize marriage as a sacrament. Yet we do not recognize their Eucharist as a sacrament because they have an entirely different theology of the Eucharist than we do. Regardless, it is not that they see the sacraments as being unimportant, but what they see is that they are the means by which faith is stirred into action. They continue to push us forward, so they have a psychological or symbolic meaning for the Protestants, but they are not the actual cause of grace in the soul. As Catholics, we believe that the sacraments actually cause the grace of God to be conferred upon the soul. God works through the sacrament. Just as He fed people or healed people or touched people or spoke to people in the past, so does He continue to do so now in and through the sacraments.

To say that the sacraments are outward signs means that they are external and perceptible to the senses. Not all of them are visible, for instance with confession, it is a matter of the sins themselves and the forgiveness of sins. You can hear instead of seeing. But most of them have something that is visible. This means, in other words, that the sacraments are not just interior invisible spiritual acts which take place in the inner recesses of the person, but they are external and they are objective. That is what is important.

The Church teaches that the sacramental rites consist of two parts, what is called the matter and the form. So we ask: What is the matter? That does not mean “What is the problem?” It means “What is the physical stuff that is involved in the sacrament?” In each sacrament, there are really three things to consider: the matter, the form, and the intention of the minister. The matter is the physical stuff. It is the water for baptism, as well as the unbaptized person. It is the oil for confirmation. It is the two spouses for marriage. It is the sins for confession. It is bread and wine for the Eucharist. Each sacrament has to have the physical stuff. And the form is the words. You have to have the right words: “I baptize you in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit.” If you make up your own words because you think it sounds neat, it is not a valid sacrament. So we can look at the external things. You can say, “But they were so sincere in what they were saying!” Well, that is real nice, but that does not make it valid. You can have all the nice ideas and all the nice reasons, but if you want to baptize somebody in the name of the Creator and the Redeemer and the Sanctifier instead of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit because you think the latter is sexist, nobody is baptized. It might have sounded real nice and it might have been a false sense of charity, but the person is not baptized because that is not the proper formula. You could have had the water and the unbaptized person, but if you did not say the right words, nothing happened. You need the right stuff and the right words.

That becomes real important for a lot of people when it comes to marriage because about 20 or 30 years ago, the big thing was making up your own marriage vows. “As long as the butterflies are flying and the sky is blue, I’ll be in love with you.” Cute, but no marriage. That is not a valid sacrament. It might have sounded real nice and meant a lot to the couple – “We took the words out of our song and it really speaks to us!” – but that does not constitute a sacrament and the couple is not married if that is what happened. These things become very, very important. Why do we need to have something objective? So that we can look at it and make a determination of whether or not it was valid. It is not up to your own sincerity or an attempt to put enough oomph behind it to make it happen. As I sometimes tell the couples that are planning for marriage, “If the two of you stood on opposite sides of the sanctuary and ran at one another as hard as you could and crashed into one another, that is still not going to make the two of you one. There might be parts of you that connect, but it is not going to make you one. Only God can do that and only in a certain form.” That is why we have to have something objective to be able to look at.

What is also necessary is that the person who is the minister of the sacrament have the proper intention to do what the Church desires or intends to do in the sacrament. For instance, if I were to hold up an unconsecrated host and say to you, “At what point will this piece of bread become the Body of Jesus,” and you give me the answer and I say, “Exactly. When I say, This is my body,” I had the right stuff and the right words, but I did not intend to change that piece of bread into Jesus. If I did intend to do it, then it would have happened right then and there. But if I did not have the right intention, then it did not happen. For instance, if you are going to try to teach somebody how to do a baptism, you do not have to use an unbaptized baby to teach them. You can say, “I’ll show you on my own child who has already been baptized, but I don’t intend to rebaptize my baby.” You can go through the motions and say, “This is what you do.” Well, you did not perform a sacrilege because you had no intention of trying to rebaptize the baby. You had the water and the words, but there was no intention. All three have to be there simultaneously. You have to have the matter, the form, and the intention simultaneously, and the intention is that of the one who is performing the sacramental rite. If you came to confession and had the right intention but I did not, that is, I did not intend to absolve your sins, then your sins technically would not be absolved. Now you do not have to be wondering about that when you walk out of the confessional: “Did he have the right intent?” People wonder about that sometimes. What about the priest at Mass? How do we know? The only thing you can say is that if he comes up properly vested and says Mass properly and says the right words, then you can trust that he has the right intention. If he dresses up like a clown and bounces up the aisle on a pogo stick, then you better wonder. Tragically, that has happened; they do these mime Masses and things like that. Well, I’m sorry but a mime cannot change bread and wine. You have to have the right words. All the things have to be there and they have to be there simultaneously, so that is what you can look for.

I said earlier that the sacraments cause grace. This conferral of grace is immediate. In other words, it is through the sacramental sign and it is immediately given to the soul. For the adult recipient, faith is a necessary presupposition for reception, but it is the sacrament itself and not faith that causes grace in the soul. You must have faith when you come forward. If you come forward with no faith at all and receive Jesus in Communion, it is still Jesus but you have no faith. Therefore, you do not receive any grace because you are pushing it out; you are not opening your heart. You must have faith, but it is not your faith that causes the grace to happen. The amount of grace you receive will depend to a degree on your disposition. The more your heart is open, the more you are going to be able to receive, but you did not cause it. The grace is there in the sacrament. If you close your heart and receive the sacrament, you do not receive any grace because you close your heart. As we were talking before in a previous lesson, does God love some people more than He loves others? The answer is “yes.” The more you open your heart in the sacraments, the more grace you are going to be able to receive. His grace is infinite. When you receive Holy Communion, that is God Himself, so there is no limit to the amount of grace that is there. The only limit is how much our hearts are open to be able to receive the grace. But He is the cause of grace, not ourselves. We have to cooperate, we have to come forward with our hearts open, we have to have faith, but our faith does not make the grace happen. Jesus causes the grace and we receive it.

When we say that the sacraments are true causes of grace, we have to remember that they are instrumental causes of grace. If you are taking notes right now, your pen is the instrumental cause of the writing on your page. The pen is not causing it all by itself. You are the agent cause, as it would be known; you are the one causing the pen to move. But if you were just moving your fingers in those motions without a pen, nothing would happen on the page. Yet the pen is not going to write all by itself either, so it requires both. Some bread and wine by itself is not going to make something happen in your soul; only God can, but He has done it through that particular sign, through the sacrament. And so the bread and wine or the words of absolution all by themselves are not enough unless the Lord is working in them. He has to do it. The sacraments themselves are instrumental causes of God’s grace, and so when we say that the sacraments contain grace, it implies that the sacraments are used by God to communicate His grace to our souls. It does not mean the sacraments contain grace the way a box or a closet contains its contents. In other words, if you take the Host and break it in half, the grace does not all come flowing out. It is not like grace is a thing. It is not something merely quantitative and you have only so much of it inside this little sacrament that if you cut it in half you lose half of the grace, not at all. Rather, the sacraments contain grace in the sense that they are the means by which God has chosen to give grace to our souls.

To point out the objective efficacy of the sacraments, theologians teach that the sacraments work what is called ex opere operato. Literally, that means “by the work worked.” In other words, it is through the power of the sacramental rite properly completed; when you can look at it and say, “You had the right stuff, said the right words, had the right intention, so it happened.” It is objective. When the work has been properly done, then it is all set. Another way of saying this is that sacramental grace is not conferred by reason of the subjective activity of the recipient, but rather it is caused by the validly operated sacramental sign. It is a point we have made already several times. It is not we ourselves who cause grace to happen; only God can do that. And through the sacraments we can see how it is done objectively. Not any one of us can individually come forward and say, “Now, because I have enough faith, I’m going to cause the grace to happen in my soul.” That is not the case. That would be Martin Luther’s idea of it, but that is not the Catholic idea of it. Obviously, the sacraments are not magic. Consequently, it implies that there is no obstacle that has been placed in the way. It is not just a matter of going through the motions or something like that. If there is something serious placed in the way, then there is no sacrament. The Church does teach that the subjective preparation of the adult recipient is necessary. But, as I mentioned earlier, it is not the disposition of the recipient that causes or fails to cause grace to happen. It does determine the measure of grace you will receive, but it does not cause the grace.

The Church teaches that all true justification either begins through the sacraments, or once begun increases through them, or when lost is restored through them. We saw how God works with prevenient grace, but it is at the point of baptism that one is actually justified. Then, through receiving the sacraments, the grace is increased. If we lose God’s grace and go to confession, the grace is restored. That process of justification or sanctification that takes place within us, takes place particularly in and through the sacraments.

We have seen that there are seven sacraments and that grace is given through all seven sacraments. So the obvious question is: Do all seven confer the same grace? The answer is “yes and no.” We can ask it a different way: Is the grace given by each sacrament different? Again, the answer is “yes and no.” Let me explain this. When we are talking about sanctifying grace, it is the same in all seven sacraments. That is because sanctifying grace is the life of God in the soul. There is only one life of God; therefore, there can only be one sanctifying grace. If you have different varieties of the life of God, we are going to be in trouble because that means there would have to be different gods having different lives, and that is not the case. Since there is only one life of God, only one sanctifying grace, and all seven sacraments give an increase in sanctifying grace, when we are talking about sanctifying grace, it is identical in all seven sacraments.

However, there must be more than just that because the Lord gave us seven sacraments. If all the grace was the same, why have seven? Why not just have one that you keep doing over and over and over again? If all you have is an increase in sanctifying grace, why have seven? There is something more, and the difference is called “sacramental grace,” in other words, the actual graces given by that particular sacrament. The sacramental grace, then, includes both the sanctifying grace and the claim to these extra graces, which are actual graces that go along with the fruitful reception of the sacrament.

For instance, in marriage there is an increase in sanctifying grace, but there is also a pledge from God to help the couple live their commitment in a Christian manner provided they remain faithful to Him. He gives all the graces necessary for the couple to live out married life. Any of you who are married can understand that. The grace to be able to live together, the grace of insight into the various problems that will come, the grace to overcome the difficulties, the grace to be parents, the grace to deal with kids, the grace forty or fifty years down the road to suddenly live together again all by yourselves when you are wondering who this other person is and get to know them all over again, for all of the things that are going to come up in the course of the marriage the grace is there. Those are the actual graces, the sacramental graces, which come along with that particular sacrament. There are graces specific to each sacrament. When you go to confession, all of the grace necessary to stay out of mortal sin (or to stay in the state of grace) is given. It does not mean we cooperate with it and stay in the state of grace all the time, but all the grace necessary to remain in the state of sanctifying grace is given at that moment. Each sacrament has these different kinds of grace.

There are three sacraments which can only be received once. Those are baptism, confirmation, and Holy Orders. Under normal circumstances, marriage is included in there, but marriage can be received more than once if one’s spouse dies. If there is a divorce and an annulment, that means there was never a sacrament in the first place because the sacrament unites the two souls and the only thing that puts an end to that is death. So if the spouse dies, then the person who remains is free to be married and can enter into another sacrament. Marriage can be done more than once if the circumstances are proper. But there are three that can only be received once: baptism, confirmation, and Holy Orders.

The reason these can only be received once is that they leave a permanent effect on the soul. This effect has been called by a number of different names, a mark, a seal, an imprint, or a character. The most common name for it is “an indelible mark on the soul,” a mark that cannot be erased or deleted. This mark or character is permanent in this life, and while the Church has never spoken definitively on the matter, there is no reason to believe that we will lose that character after death. It will be very evident when we get to heaven who was confirmed. It will be very evident who was ordained. There will be no doubt because that mark is there on the soul.

What is the purpose of this indelible mark, or this sacramental character? Saint Thomas Aquinas tells us that it is a consecration or a designation for divine worship. Since all Christian worship flows from the priesthood of Christ, this character is also a participation in the priesthood of Christ and an assimilation to Jesus Christ, our High Priest. It is a spiritual quality which gives the one who receives it a special position of service in the Church. As Americans, we would look at that and say, “A special position of service? That’s not what I was signing up for!” Well, what is love? Love is service; that is all it is. If we love God and we love neighbor, we are going to serve them. So it is a designation for a special way of being able to do that.

The character received in baptism enables one to receive the other sacraments. Confirmation enables one to profess the Faith in the face of difficulties. Holy Orders allows one to confect the sacraments and to confer them on others. Those are the three that can only be received once, and you see what that character does for us.

One question that is very frequent: What happens if one is not in the state of sanctifying grace when a sacrament is received? This comes up oftentimes with confirmation and also with marriage. People are living together, they are fornicating, they do not repent, and then they get married and twenty years down the road, they look at it and say, “Man, we were both in the state of mortal sin when we got married! Is our marriage even valid?” The answer is “yes.” There is a distinction made between the character and the grace that is received. One can validly receive the sacrament, and with regard to confirmation and Holy Orders, they can also receive that character or the indelible mark, although one does not receive the sacrament. There is an invalid sacrament, and there is also the unworthy reception of the sacrament. Those are two different things. You can receive a sacrament validly in the state of mortal sin. If you were in the state of mortal sin when you were confirmed or when you were married, the sacrament is still valid. It is a sacrilege to do that and it needs to be confessed, but the sacrament is still valid. Once you get into the state of sanctifying grace, then you receive all the graces of that sacrament retroactively. It is not something to panic over if you were in the state of sin when you received a sacrament, but do not look at this and say, “Good. Then I don’t have to go to confession and I can just keep going to the sacraments.” No, no, no. Every time you do that, it is a sacrilege. By the way, the one sacrament it does not work with is Holy Communion. You do not receive retroactively all the graces you would have received in Holy Communion had you received the Lord worthily. Even though the Lord was truly there (the sacrament was valid at the moment of consecration), if you received Him in the state of mortal sin, that was a sacrilege. A sacrilege is the worst kind of sin that you can commit. It is the worst kind of mortal sin.

It is an infallible teaching of the Church that Christ Himself instituted all seven sacraments. This makes sense because if the sacraments produce grace in the soul, only God, Who is the Author of grace, can institute the sacraments. Since Christ is the One Who instituted the sacraments, their substance or their basic meaning is immutably fixed for all time. The rites can change, that is, the way that things are done. If you go to the Old Mass, for instance, and then you go to the New Mass, they look very different; yet it is the same sacrament. If you go to Mass in one of the Eastern rites, it looks completely different from the Latin rite, but the sacrament is the exact same thing. Even though all of the externals are very different, the reality of what is happening in the sacrament is identical. That has been from day one, and it will be until the last day of the world. That can never, ever change.

Are the sacraments necessary for salvation? The answer is “yes.” Christ instituted the sacraments in order to give grace; therefore, they become necessary for the achievement of salvation for the individual person. In the ordinary course of events, three of the sacraments are so necessary that salvation cannot be achieved without them. For the individual, baptism is necessary for entrance into the Church. The sacrament of penance or confession is also required for the individual to regain grace after it has been lost. And for the Church in general, Holy Orders is necessary so that the sacraments will be available for all the people of God. The other sacraments are necessary in so far as salvation cannot be achieved easily without them. In this way, confirmation completes baptism. The anointing of the sick, in one of its effects, completes penance. Matrimony, of course, is the basis of the family. It is the foundation of the Church and of society, and therefore perpetuates the Church in history. The Eucharist, of course, is the end, the source, and the summit of all the sacraments.

If the sacraments are necessary, the question comes up: What about people who are not members of the Church? When we talked about that little dictum – No salve extra ecclesiam; there is no salvation outside the Church – we said that those outside the Church can still be objects of God’s grace. The point of the axiom is that all grace is given through the Church. We can say that those who follow God’s will in their own state in life to the best of their ability can be said at least to have an implicit desire for the sacraments and the Church. Therefore, even though they are outside of the visible confines of the Church, they are related in some way by faith and love, and therefore they can obtain salvation. In this way, outside of the Church, outside of the sacraments, there is no salvation. Anyone who is saved is saved by the Church.

When considering the sacraments, it is also necessary to note that Jesus is the primary minister, or the principal agent of the sacraments. It is Christ who sanctifies us through the sacraments. It is obvious, as I mentioned earlier, that the created material symbols themselves have no power to convey divine and eternal life independently of the power and the will of God. Apart from Christ, though, if He is the primary priest, and He is in heaven and He is invisible, how do we know here on earth? If we said that these are sensible signs so we can perceive them through the senses, other than Christ who is the principal priest, who can validly confect the sacraments? Well, other than baptism and matrimony, special episcopal or priestly power is required to be able to confer the sacraments. This is given through the sacrament of Holy Orders. In matrimony, it is the two individuals themselves, the husband and the wife, who are the ministers of the sacraments to one another. The priest or the deacon who is there merely witnesses the marriage on behalf of the Church, but it is the couple who marry one another. Again, when we look at that point of the matter and the form and the intention of the minister, it is necessary that the couple have the right intention while they are standing there. I could be drifting off into never-never land while they are making their vows (not that I would) because it is not up to me – it is up to them– whether or not they are married. It is critical at that point that the couple understands this. And in cases of necessity, anyone can baptize, even a nonbeliever, a heretic, anybody, provided that they have the right intention to do what the Church intends to do.

Recall also that one does not have to be in the state of grace to confect a sacrament validly. That is part of the Donatist heresy. The Donatists said that both orthodoxy, as well as being in the state of grace, is necessary for the validity of the sacraments. Now they were talking about the priest, not the people receiving the sacraments. In other words, if the priest was in the state of mortal sin, they were saying that the sacraments were not valid. According to them, if you go to Mass on Sunday morning and the priest is in the state of mortal sin because he was out getting drunk or something and did not go to confession, then it is not a valid sacrament. That was a problem, and Saint Augustine had to deal with that. He said that because Christ is the primary minister of the sacraments, their objective efficacy and validity do not depend on the subjective state of the minister. When we were talking about the charismatic gifts, we said that a person can be in the state of mortal sin and the charismatic gifts can continue to operate because they are given for the sake of others, not for the sake of the individual who has them. And remember we said that the priestly power of confecting the sacraments is one of those charismatic gifts.

Think about it: If every time you went to Mass or confession you had to wonder whether the priest himself was in the state of sanctifying grace to know whether or not your your sins were removed or whether you received Jesus in Communion, how would you ever know? You would drive yourself crazy wondering about it. “Do you think he was out last night? Is he holy enough? What do you think?” You do not have to worry about that. If the priest says Mass and he is in the state of mortal sin, it is also a sacrilege, but the sacrament is valid. When you receive Holy Communion, you receive Jesus just as much as if you received Him from a priest who is the greatest saint living on the face of the earth right now. If you receive Communion from a priest who is kind of a scoundrel and you receive Communion from a priest who is a saint, there is no difference in the presence of the Lord and there is no difference in the grace that you would receive in that sacrament because it is Jesus Himself who is doing it. He simply works through the humanity of the priest, but it is the Lord who does it. It is not based on the subjective state of the soul of the priest; it is based on the objective nature of the priesthood of Christ.

What is necessary then is that the priest, regardless of his subjective state, confers the sacramental signs through the proper matter and form while having the proper intention. Those are the three things necessary. Even if he messes up everything else, if he dresses up like a clown and bounces up on a pogo stick and is trying to do some kind of goofy mime thing, when it gets to the time of the consecration and he has bread and wine and says, This is my body. This is the cup of my blood, it is a valid Mass. Everything else was illicit, but it does not make the Mass invalid. If he decides that coffee and cookies sound better than bread and wine, that is invalid; pizza and beer for Mass would not cut it. Even if he says all the right words, it is not going to work. If he says the wrong words and has bread and wine, it is not going to work, even if it is by mistake. One of the things that will sometimes happen after consecrating the host is that the priest might pick up the chalice and say, This is my body. Oops, wait a minute; nothing happened because he did not say the right words. He has to go back and do it over again. He has to have the right words. Even if it is completely by mistake, it still has to have that objective element to it.

The priest or the individual who is administering the sacrament is, of course, bound by conscience to administer the sacraments in the state of grace. To do otherwise would be a sacrilege. But again, we see the point of removing the validity of the sacraments from the subjective state of the minister is to provide certainty and peace of mind for the faithful. You do not have to worry about it.

We have looked at who can administer the sacraments; now we have to ask the question: Who can receive them? First of all, only a human person composed of body and soul can receive a sacrament. To put it bluntly, that means animals and dead people cannot receive a sacrament. That would seem to make sense, but you might know the old joke about the priest who gets a call from this lady who says, “My little dog died and I’m wondering if you can bury Fifi and have a funeral Mass for her.” The priest says, “No, we can’t have a funeral for a dog.” The lady says, “That’s too bad because I was going to give a fifty thousand dollar donation to the parish.” And the priest says, “Oh, you didn’t tell me it was a Catholic dog!” No, you cannot do that. But sometimes what happens if a couple is engaged to be married and then one of them dies in a tragic accident, the other one says, “But can’t we get married?” “No, you can’t get married. They can’t make the vows –they’re dead.” “But we were going to get married tomorrow. Can’t we do this?” “No, the other person is dead.” The same thing is true with regard to the sacrament of the anointing of the sick. If they are dead for a while, you cannot anoint them. Only a human person who is living, who is composed of both body and soul, can receive a sacrament. But beyond being alive, the person must also be properly disposed to receive the sacrament. That includes faith, repentance for one’s sins, and the desire to receive the sacrament. Freedom, of course, is also necessary. We cannot force the sacraments on anybody.

We can make a distinction here also, as I did earlier, between the valid reception of a sacrament and the worthy reception of a sacrament. To receive a sacrament validly simply means that the sacrament has been received. If you get married and you are in the state of grace, or if you get married and you are in the state of mortal sin, the sacrament is validly received. That just says you have received a sacrament. A sacrament is invalid only when there is a major defect. If you use something other than bread and wine at Mass, if you did not use water at baptism, if there was something seriously wrong or the form was wrong or the intention of the minister was wrong, then there is no sacrament. Otherwise, as long as you have the proper matter, form, and intention, the sacrament is valid. Unworthy reception of the sacrament means that the sacrament was validly received but the person was in the state of mortal sin at the time the sacrament was received. As I mentioned earlier, if a person receives a sacrament unworthily, then when he repents of his sins and goes to confession and gets back into the state of sanctifying grace, not only are his sins forgiven and he receives the grace of the confessional, but he also receives the grace of the sacrament that he had received unworthily. In the next lesson we will look at some particular sacraments, especially baptism, confirmation, and the anointing of the sick.

[End of Lesson 15]

1 posted on 04/30/2006 4:13:31 AM PDT by MILESJESU
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To: Canticle_of_Deborah; sandyeggo; Siobhan; Lady In Blue; NYer; Pyro7480; livius; ...

Lesson 15: AN INTRODUCTION TO THE SACRAMENTS PING!

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2 posted on 04/30/2006 4:17:40 AM PDT by MILESJESU (JESUS CHRIST, I TRUST IN YOU.)
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