Kitchen Catechism: Featured Articles
Another Look at our Lucky Sevens
by Lois Donahue
As I told you in closing last month, this time I will try to cover the 'outward sign' and 'the institution by Christ' aspect of each Sacrament. I'll warn you, though, this might turn out to seem like merely an effort to answer questions on a religion class quiz. However, sometimes it is good for us to review some truths of our Faith we have come to take for granted - to bring them to the surface of our thinking not only to nudge our own memory but just in case someone might ask us a question. I sure know that gathering what follows brightened a light or two in my mind that had grown very, very dim. So here we go --- but first a couple of things about the 'sacraments in general'.
Why an outward sign? God certainly didn't need one. No, but remember it was His decision that we be 'human beings' which meant He intentionally made us a composite of the physical, the visible, (our body) and the spiritual, the invisible, (our soul). But why, in connection with the Sacraments, was an 'outward sign' really needed? God could give us His grace that is so necessary to the 'spiritual' part of us without some visible sign. God didn't need it but He knew how important it would be to the 'physical' part of us to 'see' something. I think the whole idea is summed up in a quote I remember reading -"The senses are the gateways to the soul". It just makes sense to me that a wise and loving God was aware of that when He created us and would certainly not have 'forgotten' it when He founded His Church…the Church brought into existence to serve our twofold nature. So it is that, in making available to us the Sacraments, our Church cares for the part of us which is invisible and spiritual through the part of us which is visible and physical. Before going on, let me say here that in discussing the Sacraments you will find I often refer to the "Catechism of the Catholic Church" although I may not always quote it word for word. The reason I have such faith in this book of reference is because it comes to us with the approval and the blessing of our Pope and it offers the most accurate and most current "essential and fundamental contents of Catholic doctrine, as regards both faith and morals, in the light of the Second Vatican Council and the whole of the Church's Tradition." Also, because its "principal sources are the Sacred Scriptures, the Fathers of the Church, the liturgy and the Church's Magisterium."
But now let's zero in on specific Sacraments and we'll begin with the three Sacraments our Church say lay the foundation of every Christian life - Baptism, because we are spiritually reborn when we are baptized, Confirmation because we are strengthened when we are confirmed and Eucharist because that is the Sacrament by which we are nourished.
"Baptism is the basis of the whole Christian life." And is essential for reception of all the other sacraments. "By Baptism all sins are forgiven, original sin and all personal sins, as well as all punishment for sin." It makes us heirs to heaven, allows us to share and participate in the supernatural life of God and 'by incorporating us into the Church, makes us sharers in her mission'. (#1213 & #1263)
Jesus initiated the Sacrament of Baptism when, after He rose from the dead, He gave His Apostles the mission to "Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you." (Mt 28:19-20 and Mk 16:15-16)
The Apostles did as Jesus asked. We find examples of that in Acts 2:41 where we read that those who accepted Peter's message were baptized and Paul in Acts 16:33 tells us that the 'jailer' "and all his family were baptized". From both these instances we see the reality that Baptism is always connected with faith. However, the Church reminds us that the faith required for Baptism need not be either a mature or a perfect faith but, as is most often the case, a faith that is beginning and is called to develop. (#1253)
The 'outward sign' of Baptism "consists in immersing the candidate in water or pouring water on his head, while pronouncing the invocation of the most Holy Trinity; the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit." (#1278) It is important to remember that while the priest (or bishop) usually baptizes, "in case of necessity, any person can baptize provided that he have the intention of doing that which the Church does and provided he pours water on the head of the person to be baptized while saying, I baptize you in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit."
I feel I should note here that there are three kinds of Baptism. One is Sacramental Baptism by WATER as defined above. Then there is a form of Baptism, requiring a very deep and most sincere wish to be baptized and to do all that is asked of those who are baptized, by someone who has, through no fault of his own, not been baptized by water. This is called Baptism by DESIRE. The third kind is called Baptism by BLOOD which is received by those who suffer death rather than give up their faith. Regarding the two later kinds of Baptism-although they are not Sacraments, they do "bring about the fruits of Baptism." (#1258)
I would like to include here something regarding the Baptism of infants which is part of Church teaching - "The Church and the parents would deny a child the priceless grace of becoming a child of God were they not to confer Baptism shortly after birth." (#1250) (Must confess that I have the feeling that for me to deprive my baby of baptism would be a form of spiritual abortion - for sure that's just personal belief NOT official Church teaching.) Along that line, for the life of me, I cannot understand why a Catholic who parents a child and does not let that child decide where it will live, what it will eat, how it will dress and where it will start school will not decide to give that same child the benefits of being Baptized . Just doesn't make sense.
However, something that does make sense and brings great comfort to those of us who have lost children before they could be baptized is that our Church reminds us that in the Bible we read of Jesus' tenderness toward children (Mk 10:14) and, so, reassuringly tells us not to be concerned but rather to confidently "entrust them" to the boundless mercy of a loving God.
I would be negligent if I didn't bring up a question that might be put to us at some time or other - "What about you saying that you can't be saved without baptism?" Our Church says: "Every man who is ignorant of the Gospel of Christ and of His Church, but seeks the truth and does the will of God in accordance with his understanding of it, can be saved. It may be supposed that such persons would have desired Baptism explicitly if they had known its necessity." (#1260)
In defining this Sacrament, the Church says that "the reception of the Sacrament of Confirmation is necessary for the completion of baptismal grace" and that by it "the baptized are more perfectly bound to the Church and are enriched with a special strength of the Holy Spirit. Hence they are, as true witnesses of Christ, more strictly obliged to spread and defend the faith by word and deed." (#1285)
To clarify that the Sacrament of Confirmation was 'instituted by Christ', let me first quote these words of the Church; "The imposition of hands is rightly recognized by the Catholic Tradition as the origin of the sacrament of confirmation." Now let's back up and make the Sacramental connection between Jesus Christ, Holy Spirit and imposition of hands. In the Bible we hear Jesus promising the outpouring of the spirit (Lk 12:12, Jn 16:7-8-13). Then, just before He ascends into Heaven, Jesus speaks of the "power" to be His "witnesses" which they will receive from the Holy Spirit. (Acts 1:8) Next we read that Peter and John, obviously using that power and acting as His witnesses, not only baptized some people in Samaria in the name of the Lord Jesus but also "laid hands on them and they received the Holy Spirit". (Acts 8:16-17). We also read this in the Catechism, "From that time on the apostles, in fulfillment of Christ's will, imparted to the newly baptized, by the laying on of hands, the gift of the Spirit". (#1288) Finally, we are told in Hebrews 6:2 that "instructions about -- laying on of hands" was part of the "basic teaching about Christ".
All of the above about 'laying on of hands' would seem to point out the 'outward sign' of this Sacrament. It's not quite that simple. But before an explanation let me again quote the "Catechism of the Catholic Church". "In the Latin rite, the Sacrament of Confirmation is conferred through the anointing with chrism on the forehead, which is done by the laying on of the hand (of the Bishop) and through the words: 'Be sealed with the Gift of the Holy Spirit'. (#1300) (Further information re the Eastern Churches follows if you are interested.)
Now to a bit of explanation which might clarify something. Above I quoted that the 'imposition of hands' is recognized as the origin of Confirmation and in the many words that followed I referred again and again to 'laying on of hands' so you might wonder, as I did, how 'anointing' became part of the outward sign. Here's what I found in (#1289) "Very early, the better to signify the gift of the Holy Spirit, an anointing with perfumed oil (chrism) was added to the laying on of hands. This anointing highlights the name "Christian," which means "anointed" and derives from that of Christ himself whom "God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Spirit". (Acts 10:38)
We could not possibly leave the Sacrament of Confirmation without mentioning the Gifts and the Fruits of the Holy Spirit. We find the gifts included in the bishop's prayer to God as he extends his hands over those being confirmed - "Send your Holy Spirit upon them to be their helper and guide. Give them the spirit of wisdom and understanding, the spirit of right judgment and courage, the spirit of knowledge and reverence. Fill them with the spirit of wonder and awe in your presence." (In this case the words 'wonder and awe in your presence' were used whereas at other times that gift of the Holy Spirit is often called fear of the Lord. (#1299)
The Tradition of the Church lists the following as 'fruits' of the Spirit - "charity, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, generosity, gentleness, faithfulness, modesty, self control and chastity". The Church also defines these fruits as "perfections that the Holy Spirit forms in us as the first fruits of eternal glory. (#1832) Sounds great - but we all know that the Holy Spirit isn't about to 'form perfections' in us free-will folks without us doing our part. But at least we are offered the opportunity and the help.
Now to move on to the next Sacrament -
The Sacrament of the Eucharist is, "in the fullest sense", the presence of the body and blood, soul and divinity of our Lord Jesus Christ under the appearance of bread and wine. That presence begins during the part of the Mass we now call the Liturgy of the Eucharist, when the priest, at the consecration, repeats the words of Sacramental INSTITUTION which Jesus spoke at the Last Supper - "Take this, all of you, and eat it; this is my body" ----- "Take this, all of you, and drink from it, this is the cup of my blood -----" and that presence remains whole and entire in each and every part of what appears to be bread and what appears to be wine until they no longer exist as such.
Not surprisingly, the fact that God is present in each morsel and every drop of what looks, tastes and smells like bread and wine has been ridiculed. Some say that for such a thing to be true God would have to be divided or that there would have to be several Gods. We know, thanks to our 'faith', that "one" God does not have to be duplicated or divided to be thus present any more than the fact that "one" God is "everywhere at once" implies the necessity of God-pieces or multiple Gods. (Of course don't expect that explanation to satisfy anyone who does not have, or ever sought to have, the gift of faith.)
Speaking of the fact that the Sacrament of Eucharist IS the 'presence of God', we must remember something. While His presence 'begins' within the Mass (which is not the Sacrament itself but rather a celebration of that Sacrament) and while during Mass is when we most often receive the consecrated bread of the Sacrament, known to us as the 'host', the Eucharist just as truly exists as 'Sacrament' and is so received under different circumstances and at other times. For example, the host may be reverently exposed in a sacred vessel made for that purpose, called a 'monstrance', when it is to be carried in procession or placed in the Church for 'Benediction of the Blessed Sacrament' and during time set aside for 'Adoration of the Blessed Sacrament'. As examples of reception of the Sacrament outside of Mass we need - to look at the Extraordinary Ministers who take Communion to the sick - at those including the Eucharist (then referred to as 'viaticum') in administering the Anointing of the Sick - to accept the reality of a priest shortage which means fewer Masses and more Communion Services - to remember that such services are always held each Good Friday when no Masses are said.
Another thing we need to remember about this Sacrament is that one of the 'precepts' (meaning 'positive laws') of the Church says to us: "You shall humbly receive your Creator in Holy Communion at least during the Easter Season". (In the United States, Easter Season is from the First Sunday in Lent through Trinity Sunday, which is the first Sunday after Pentecost.) (#2042) But let us not forget that the 'laws' present only the minimum required of us. In reality God, Himself, not only 'invites' us but 'urges' us to receive Him often.
By the way, on the subject of us not being able to explain the mystery of the Eucharist to the satisfaction of those who do not, at the moment at least, have the faith to 'believe', someone else had the same problem. When Jesus told a group of His disciples that He was "the living bread" and that "whoever eats this bread will live forever" and that "Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood remains in me and I in him.", the response was, "How can this man give us (his) flesh to eat?" - "This saying is hard, who can accept it?" and many disciples "no longer accompanied him." (Jn 6:51-66) However Jesus did not change His teaching for them - or for us. He meant what He said - "Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood remains in me and I in Him.
But let's remember this - for reasons known only to God, He was the one who chose that bread and wine (being consecrated into His body and blood and being offered to us in Holy Communion) is the way He wants His Divine life to enter our human life. A mysterious way, for sure. One that is, for us, neither understandable or explainable. Just why this was the choice God made, we have no idea but we do know He expects us to believe it.
I like to think, that in ways, we have a good example to follow when it comes to accepting and believing what we don't understand. That example for me is Mary. Think about it. Remember when, as God's voice, His angel spoke to Mary telling her she was to give birth to the "Son of God"? (Lk 1:35) She certainly didn't understand. She too wondered and asked, "HOW can this be?" (Lk 1:34) much the same way we wonder HOW can what looks, tastes and smells like bread and wine be the body and blood of Christ? God gave Mary no explanation. He expected her to accept and believe even if she didn't understand and that's just what she did. In so many words, her answer to God was - 'Whatever you say'.
Of course we don't know all the particulars as to the extent of Mary's knowledge of this great mystery other than a few Scriptural references to her 'wonderings'. It only makes sense that she knew she was pregnant but she had to take God's word for it that she was pregnant with His Son - that God's life was within hers - but as far as we know during her lifetime she still did not understand the 'how' of it all.
Now it's our turn. As God's voice, His Church tells us that the bread and wine become His body and blood. No explanation of HOW just God's expectation that we accept and believe. Our turn to respond with faith and trust like Mary did, each of us with our own individual way of expressing - 'whatever you say, God'.
I guess it boils down to the fact that mystery and belief and love and prayer tend to give our faith a rather personal dimension and it is the Sacramental Grace given us each time we receive Holy Communion which helps keep strong our 'believing faith' and which, by the way, we must always remember needs to be framed in the teaching of God's Church.
Let me insert here what a priest once told me about 'faith'. "If we understood everything, if there were no mysteries, there would be no need for faith."