This is a weekly series of Monday teachings and discussions on the beliefs and practices of the Catholic Church. The aim is to reach out to our catholic youth who are bombarded on social media and elsewhere with all sorts of questions about the faith as well as all those interested in knowing about the Church.
It will also serve as a reminder to those Catholics who wish to freshen up the knowledge they acquired during their catechism classes. The basic tools that we shall need are The Holy Bible, The Catechism of the Catholic Church (CCC) and the Catholic Encyclopedia.
SACRAMENTS AND SACRAMENTALS
We often hear of Sacraments and Sacramentals. What are they, how do they operate and what is the difference between them.
Here are some definitions from the Church:
1131 The sacraments are efficacious signs of grace, instituted by Christ and entrusted to the Church, by which divine life is dispensed to us. The visible rites by which the sacraments are celebrated signify and make present the graces proper to each sacrament. They bear fruit in those who receive them with the required dispositions. (Catechism of the Catholic Church)
A Sacrament is an outward sign instituted by Christ to give grace. (Baltimore Catechism)
The key part is that the sacraments were instituted by Christ. The Church, led by the Holy Spirit, has discerned how many sacraments there are:
1117 _As she has done for the canon of Sacred Scripture and for the doctrine of the faith, the Church, by the power of the Spirit who guides her “into all truth,” has gradually recognized this treasure received from Christ and, as the faithful steward of God’s mysteries, has determined its “dispensation.” Thus the Church has discerned over the centuries that among liturgical celebrations there are seven that are, in the strict sense of the term, sacraments instituted by the Lord._ (CCC)
1113 There are seven sacraments in the Church: Baptism, Confirmation or Chrismation, Eucharist, Penance, Anointing of the Sick, Holy Orders, and Matrimony. (CCC)
These seven sacraments all find their root in Sacred Scripture and are seen directly in the life of Christ. For the purposes of this series I won’t go into a long defense of the sacraments, nor give citations of where they are found in Scripture. I will do that as we study the sacraments one after the other
Ordained clergy are required for the proper performance of these sacraments:
1120 The ordained minister is the sacramental bond that ties the liturgical action to what the apostles said and did and, through them, to the words and actions of Christ, the source and foundation of the sacraments.
While an ordained priest or bishop is normally required for the performance of these sacred rituals (in an emergency, Baptism does not require an ordained minister), the grace dispensed to the faithful is not dependent on the holiness of the priest. The sacraments operate ex opere operato, meaning, by the work done or by the work worked. In essence, this means “that the efficacy of the action of the sacraments does not depend on anything human, but solely on the will of God as expressed by Christ’s institution and promise” (Catholic Encyclopedia).
No matter the disposition of the priest performing the sacraments, as long as he performs them according to the ritual of the Church, grace is transmitted and the effects of the sacraments are made present. A classic example of this is when an adulterous and very sinful priest is saying Mass. As long as he stays within the rite of the Church and has the intention of doing what the Church requires, the Eucharist is made present at Mass. The presence of Christ in the Eucharist is not dependent on the holiness of the priest. This extends to all of the sacraments.
At the same time, the grace of the sacrament can only enter a soul that is properly disposed. As the Catechism said above, “They bear fruit in those who receive them with the required dispositions.”
The Baltimore Catechism gives a great commentary on this same subject:
Q. 605. Do the Sacraments always give grace?
A. The Sacraments always give grace, if we receive them with the right dispositions.
Q. 606. What do we mean by the “right dispositions” for the reception of the Sacraments?
A. By the right dispositions for the reception of the Sacraments we mean the proper motives and the fulfillment of all the conditions required by God and the Church for the worthy reception of the Sacraments.
Q. 607. Give an example of the “right dispositions” for Penance and for the Holy Eucharist.
A. The right dispositions for Penance are:
To confess all our mortal sins as we know them;
To be sorry for them, and
To have the determination never to commit them or others again.
The right dispositions for the Holy Eucharist are:
To know what the Holy Eucharist is;
To be in a state of grace, and
— except in special cases of sickness — to be fasting [as the Church prescribes].
In summary, sacraments were instituted by Christ to give grace. The grace transmitted is not dependent on the holiness of the priest, but it does require proper dispositions from the receiver.
To be continued…
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