Kitchen Catechism: Featured Articles
A Closing Look at our Lucky Sevens
by Lois Donahue
Jesus spoke often of forgiving sins - from the 'sinful woman' who washed His feet with her tears (Lk 7:48) to those who crucified Him (Lk 23:34). While He gave to Peter the power to 'bind and loose', it was His words to His disciples when He appeared to them after His Resurrection to which the institution of the Sacrament is attributed - "Whose sins you forgive are forgiven them, and whose sins you retain are retained." (Jn 20:23)
Now for just a bit of history that I found interesting. In the early Church the Apostles and those who succeeded them used the authority to forgive sin given them by Jesus. Sins were 'confessed' but, not surprisingly, more attention was given to gravely serious sins such as adultery, murder or complete abandonment of one's Christian faith (apostasy). In those cases, the penance required was not only long and severe but also had to be done in public. In addition, so I read, 'absolution' could only be received once in a person's entire life. It is said that because of this, many who converted delayed Baptism until very late in life so as to avoid the above consequences of gaining forgiveness for serious sins. Fortunately, change came in about the seventh century when Irish monks began the practice of private and more frequent confession of all sins, even the less serious. This became the accepted form of receiving the Sacrament of Penance and, except for surrounding it with the community involvement of current Communal Penance Services, remains the standard form today and that form requires five things from us. We must - 1. examine our conscience to know and admit to ourselves our sins 2. be and say we are truly sorry for all our sins 3. express our intent not to sin again 4. confess our sins to the priest 5. do whatever penance the priest gives us We do find another requirement regarding this Sacrament in the Precepts (the official laws) of the Church where it says that, "you shall confess your sins at least once a year." The Catechism of the Catholic Church goes into more detail when, in #1457, it says, ---"after having attained the age of discretion" - (sometimes referred as the age of reason and generally considered to be those who have reached the age of seven) - "each of the faithful is bound by an obligation faithfully to confess serious (mortal) sins at least once a year." It goes on to say, "Anyone who is aware of having committed a mortal sin must not receive Holy Communion, even if he experiences deep contrition, without having first received sacramental absolution, unless he has a grave reason for receiving Communion and there is no possibility of going to confession." In conclusion we are told that, "children must go to the sacrament of Penance before receiving Holy Communion for the first time."
I think it is important to note here that although the Catechism makes it clear that we are obligated to confess our mortal sins 'at least once a year', it is also quick to remind us that "confession of our everyday faults (venial sins) is strongly recommended "because each and every time we go to confession we receive the help of Sacramental Grace which - helps us decide what is right and what is wrong, helps us to resist the temptation to do what is wrong and helps strengthen our relation with God.
The outward signs of this Sacrament include our actions and those of the priest. Our actions are - (confessing our sins - voicing our sorrow - expressing our intent to try not to sin again and performing penance). The actions of the priest are - (making the sign of the cross and speaking the words of forgiveness (absolution)…which are "---I absolve you of your sins in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit".
I love the way the Catechism of the Catholic Church explains the effects of this Sacrament (#1468) - "The whole power of the sacrament of Penance consists in restoring us to God's grace and joining us with Him in an intimate friendship.
Just a few words concerning the Sacrament of Penance and the earthly world in which we live… There are people we meet who believe that the way God wants us to seek and receive forgiveness for our sins is to go directly and only to Him - He'll handle it - no need for a middle-man -- no need to tell our sins to a priest. I am always puzzled when I hear someone who claims to believe in the Bible express that opinion when it is so clearly stated in Jn 20:23 that Jesus gave to men the power to forgive sin in His name. (see also #1441 in the CCC) Beyond that, it just doesn't make sense to me to believe Jesus gave this authorization ONLY to Peter and those disciples in the locked room (all of whom would be dead within not too many years) any more than He would have expected the 'eleven disciples' to whom He spoke after His Resurrection (Mt 28:16-20) to personally 'make disciples of all nations - baptize them - and teach them to observe all He had commanded'. It just seems logical that God, who, without question so deeply loves each of us who came into or will come into this world after Peter and those others had left it, would not offer to us what was offered to those living during the early years of the Church ---- would not have provided us today with someone, authorized by His Church to speak in His name and thus give us the opportunity to be baptized, to be taught and to hear that our sins are forgiven.
I know it's time for me to end my personal ramblings but just one more thought about why I think God wants us to 'confess our sins to a priest'. We have talked before about the fact that God chose us to be created human and consequently knows so well what we, as humans, need. Therefore, it seems to me that, in the case of forgiveness, He knows the importance of us saying aloud what sins we have committed and, in return, hearing a human voice, who we know speaks for Him, telling us we are forgiven.
I am intentionally changing the order in which we usually list the Sacraments and inserting Holy Orders in here because, having at least implied in my above thoughts about Penance, the need to 'pass on' the authority to forgive, to baptize and to teach, this seemed to be the logical place to talk about the Sacrament God's Church provides to do just that. As the Catechism of the Catholic Church puts it in #1536, "Holy Orders is the sacrament through which the mission entrusted by Christ to His apostles continues to be exercised in the Church, and will continue to be, until the end of time".
As in other cases regarding a sacrament being 'instituted by Christ', exact words like "baptize" and "forgive" are not found in the case of Holy Orders but definite indications of what Jesus had in mind are found in Scripture and accepted by the Church to fulfill one of the requirements for Sacramental status. For instance, St. Paul said to Titus, "This is why I left you in Crete, that you amend what was defective, and appoint presbyters (priests) in every town, as I directed you" (Titus 1:5).
When it comes to the Outward Sign for Holy Orders we read that "The sacrament of Holy Orders is conferred by the laying on of hands followed by a solemn prayer of consecration asking God to grant the ordinand (be he bishop, priest or deacon) the grace of the Holy Spirit required for his ministry". Of course, it goes without saying, that the 'grace' referred to in that prayer is the Sacramental Grace which will help those receiving the Sacrament to accept the responsibilities and fulfill the obligations 'required for his ministry'. (CCC #1597)
Stated quite simply - Matrimony is the Sacrament 'by which a man and a woman establish between themselves a partnership for the whole of their lives and is offered by God through His Church not only for the good of each of them but also for their children'.
Although it is not known exactly when Christ 'instituted' the Sacrament of Matrimony, it would seem obvious that such was His intent. We know that Jesus performed His first miracle at a wedding and that He spoke of 'man and wife' and 'marriage' in the opening of Mt 19. Also, in reading Paul's words to the Ephesians about wives and husbands in Chapter 5:21-32, we find that marriage was the teaching of the Church from the time of the Apostles. It is therefore apparent, that Christ again chose to leave the timely-appropriate specifics in the capable hands of His Church.
As to the 'outward sign' of this Sacrament, let me quote Church teaching. "The Church holds the exchange of consent between the spouses to be the indispensable element that 'makes the marriage'. If consent is lacking there is no marriage. (#1626)
We need only look at the many ways in which marriage is threatened today, to know how much a man and his wife need the Sacramental Grace offered through this Sacrament.
ANOINTING OF THE SICK
This Sacrament was previously called Extreme Unction and more often than not was only received when a person was in the final stages of dying. By the way, whenever possible, the person also received Holy Eucharist (under those circumstances called Viaticum). Consequently it was often said that the dying person had received the 'last sacraments'. Unfortunately it became almost a given that when the priest walked into the room of a seriously ill person it was without doubt 'the sign of death'.
Thank God we now view this Sacrament in a broader sense and learn from the Church that 'The special grace of the sacrament of the Anointing of the Sick has these effects:
It unites the sick person to the passion of Christ for his own good and that of the whole Church.
It strengthens the peace and courage needed to endure in a Christian manner the suffering of illness or old age.
If the person was unable to go to Confession, it offers the forgiveness of sins.
There is the possibility that health may be restored, if such is God's Will. If this is not the case, this Sacrament helps prepare the dying person for his or her journey into eternal life. (CCC #1532)
Not surprisingly, when searching Scripture for information about this Sacrament, the explicit words, "instituted by Christ" are not to be found. However, Jesus often asks the sick to believe. Here are a couple of examples, Mk 5:34 and Mk 9:23-28. He also makes use of signs to heal: spittle and the laying on of hands (Mk 7:32-36 8:22-25). In another instance He uses clay and washing (Jn 9:6-7). The sick try to touch Him, "for power came forth from Him and healed them" (Lk 6:19). We find much the same references in Mk l:41, 3:10, 6:56". So it is that with not only this Sacrament but with all the Sacraments, Christ continues to "touch" us in order to, in some way, heal us. (CCC #1504)
Although we may have no exact details as to when and how Jesus instituted this Sacrament, we can be certain He did institute it by reading such Biblical references as "and they anointed with oil many who were sick" (Mk 6:13) and "is anyone among you sick he should summon the presbyters of the Church, and they should pray over him and anoint (him) with oil in the name of the Lord…" (Jas 5:14-15) It is thus apparent, from words such as these, that the Apostles and their successors would not have believed in this Sacrament and used it unless they had Jesus' authority for doing so.
Of course, we cannot leave the subject of the Anointing of the Sick without including the essential 'outward sign' of this Sacrament. Again we turn to the Catechism of the Catholic Church and read the following -
"Only priests (presbyters and bishops) can give the sacrament of the Anointing of the Sick, using oil blessed by the bishop or if necessary by the celebrating presbyter himself." (#1530) "The celebration of the Anointing of the Sick consists essentially in the anointing of the forehead and hands of the sick person (in the Roman Rite) or of other parts of the body (in the Eastern Rite), the anointing being accompanied by the liturgical prayer of the celebrant asking for the special grace of this sacrament." (#1531)
So much for my attempt to share with you some things I've learned from others about the Sacraments. While I do want to have given you some information which will be helpful, my sincerest hope is that when we think about the Sacraments we always remember they are gifts from 'SOMEONE' - 'Someone' who cared enough about each of us to bring us into existence when His choices of who to create were limitless. 'Someone' who knows who we are and what we need better than anyone else. (Often including ourselves I might add.) 'Someone' who always listens and is always willing and able to help. 'Someone' who is compassionate, understanding and willing to forgive. BUT - Also 'Someone' who, in turn, wants us to have faith in Him when we don't understand - trust in Him when we are tempted to doubt - belief in Him when we cannot offer the kind of 'proof' others want. 'Someone' who expects us to do what He asks of us, to follow the rules and to listen and learn from His Church. However, most importantly, 'Someone', that no matter what, loves us.