Saturday, December 30, 2017

Catechetical Basics: The Sacraments Explained



The theology of the Sacraments much like other points of theological teaching are under assault in the Church today. The Sacraments are often trivialized or taught to be mere signs of communal membership within the Church. Often heretical theologians, RCIA team members or DREs in parishes teach that certain Sacraments such as that of Penance only were developed later in the Church communities. Thus they come to ridiculous conclusions that one can receive forgiveness of mortal sins by going to Mass and participating in the penitential rite. I have heard this myself in the confessional as well as in the classroom. Why are these pernicious errors so prevalent in the Church today?

Catechesis is at an all time low in the Church and I would argue that the clergy and laity have not been this ignorant since the Black Plague killed off the educated clergy in the 14th century. There are a few basics concerning the Sacraments that I wanted to document here for those who may stumble across them on the Net searching for a basic outline. If anyone were to contradict any of these basic teachings of the Church listed below, they would be in error and they should be resisted. Below is a simple outline which can be used as a tool to further examine the Sacraments more in depth. I used mostly the wonderful work of Arthur Devine, 'The Sacraments Explained' to compile this outline. I recommend this work for anyone who wants an in depth understanding of the Sacraments. Reprints, used copies and free Epubs can be found online. As I have mentioned before, the Canons and Decrees of the Council of Trent should be required reading for anyone teaching the faith. 



There are three essential attributes that apply to all of the Sacraments. 
1. They are outward visible signs of a reality. We see these signs in the performed rite of the Church such as the sprinkling of water in Baptism. These are required as the Church prescribes to be valid. 
2. The were all divinely instituted by Jesus Christ Himself, without exception. This is a dogma of the Catholic faith. All seven Sacraments come from Christ and were all known and performed by the apostles by His command. Thus they are all necessary and none are superfluous. 
3. They contain in themselves by their own virtue and power, ex opere operato (literally: "by the very fact of the action's being performed"), the power of life giving grace. This means that the Sacrament itself is a channel of divine grace given for the salvation and sanctification of all men. They are not mere external signs of membership to a community and contain in themselves the production of grace in virtue of the power given to them by God. The Sacraments themselves then are instruments of grace. 

The Sacraments in number. 
There are seven Sacraments of the Church, no more and no less. The Councils of Trent and Florence are clear that they are as follows.. Baptism, Confirmation, The Holy Eucharist, Penance, Extreme Unction, Holy Orders, and Matrimony. 

Character on the soul. 
Certain Sacraments impress a character on the soul while the others do not. The Sacraments of Baptism, Confirmation and Holy Orders impress a character on the soul and thus can only be received once. 

Sacraments of the living and the dead. 
Sacraments of the living are those supposed to be living in a state of grace and thus supply an increase of grace in the person who receives them. They are Confirmation, The Holy Eucharist, Extreme Unction, Holy Orders and Matrimony. 

Sacraments of the dead are those who are spiritually dead and are said to give grace to give life to those in such a state. These are Baptism and Penance. Those who have yet to receive Baptism or those in mortal sin who have not gone to the Sacrament of Penance should not receive any of the other Sacraments until they have done so. 

Proper matter and form make a Sacrament valid. 
1. The matter of the Sacrament is the sensible thing used such as water for Baptism. 
2. The form is the manner in which the Sacrament is performed in the words of the rite itself. Some are essential some are not. Certain words are essential in each Sacrament in order for it to be valid. These signify the grace or power to be conveyed as such distinguishing it from the other Sacraments. For example, in the case of Baptism for example the words, ""N___, I baptize thee in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Ghost." 
3. The matter and form go together as a whole thus the water is poured while the Baptismal formula is pronounced. Each Sacrament has its proper rite to which these two go together as a whole and should be followed as prescribed by the Church in the appropriate rite. 
4. Any substantial change in either the matter or form invalidates the Sacrament. 
5. Whenever a reasonable doubt exists as to their validity the Sacrament can be repeated conditionally. 

The proper administrator of the Sacraments. 
1. The primary minister of the Sacraments is Christ, the secondary is the minister who confers or administrates the Sacrament physically in the name of Christ by His authority. 
2. There are ordinary and extraordinary ministers. The ordinary is that who has the authority to do so according to the general law established by the Church. The extraordinary is one who ministers outside the general law due to necessity. 
3. There are two conditions required for a minister to validly administrate the Sacraments, 1) That they have power given to them by God to so so, 2) To have the intention of doing what the Church does. Each Sacrament has different laws concerning ministers. For example, Holy Orders can only be administrated by bishops, no exceptions, while Baptism could be administrated by a lay person in time of necessity. 


The Canons of Trent on the Sacraments in General- Session 7

Canon 1. If anyone says that the sacraments of the New Law were not all instituted by our Lord Jesus Christ, or that there are more or less than seven, namely, baptism, confirmation, Eucharist, penance, extreme unction, order and matrimony, or that any one of these seven is not truly and intrinsically a sacrament, let him be anathema.

Canon 2. If anyone says that these sacraments of the New Law do not differ from the sacraments of the Old Law, except that the ceremonies are different and the external rites are different, let him be anathema.

Canon 3. If anyone says that these seven sacraments are so equal to each other that one is not for any reason more excellent than the other, let him be anathema.

Canon 4. If anyone says that the sacraments of the New Law are not necessary for salvation but are superfluous, and that without them or without the desire of them men obtain from God through faith alone the grace of justification, though all are not necessary for each one, let him be anathema.

Canon 5. If anyone says that these sacraments have been instituted for the nourishment of faith alone, let him be anathema.

Canon 6. If anyone says that the sacraments of the New Law do not contain the grace which they signify, or that they do not confer that grace on those who place no obstacles in its way, as though they were only outward signs of grace or justice received through faith and certain marks of Christian profession, whereby among men believers are distinguished from unbelievers, let him be anathema.

Canon 7. If anyone says that grace, so far as God's part is concerned, is not impaired through the sacraments always and to all men even if they receive them rightly, but only sometimes and to some persons, let him be anathema.

Canon 8. If anyone says that by the sacraments of the New Law grace is not conferred ex opere operato, but that faith alone in the divine promise is sufficient to obtain grace, let him be anathema.

Canon 9. If anyone says that in three sacraments, namely, baptism, confirmation and order, there is not imprinted on the soul a character, that is, a certain spiritual and indelible mark, by reason of which they cannot be repeated, let him be anathema.

Canon 10. If anyone says that all Christians have the power to administer the word and all the sacraments, let him be anathema.

Canon 11. If anyone says that in ministers, when they effect and confer the sacraments, there is not required at least the intention of doing what the Church does, let him be anathema.

Canon 12. If anyone says that a minister who is in mortal sin, though he observes all the essentials that pertain to the effecting or conferring of a sacrament, neither effects nor confers a sacrament, let him be anathema.

Canon 13. If anyone says that the received and approved rites of the Catholic Church, accustomed to be used in the administration of the sacraments, may be despised or omitted by the ministers without sin and at their pleasure, or may be changed by any pastor of the churches to other new ones, let him be anathema.





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