by Rev. Deacon Dave Powers, Our Lady of Lourdes Parish, Monroe, North Carolina
THE PASCHAL MYSTERY IN THE CHURCH’S SACRAMENTS (Taken from the Catechism of the Catholic Church)
III. The Sacraments of Faith
1122 Christ sent his apostles so that “repentance and forgiveness of sins should be preached in his name to all nations.” “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.”
The mission to baptize, and so the sacramental mission is implied in the mission to evangelize, because the sacrament is prepared for by the word of God and by the faith which is assent to this word: The People of God is formed into one in the first place by the Word of the living God. . . . The preaching of the Word is required for the sacramental ministry itself, since the sacraments are sacraments of faith, drawing their origin and nourishment from the Word.
1123 “The purpose of the sacraments is to sanctify men, to build up the Body of Christ and, finally, to give worship to God. Because they are signs they also instruct. They not only presuppose faith, but by words and objects they also nourish, strengthen, and express it. That is why they are called ‘sacraments of faith. “
1124 The Church’s faith precedes the faith of the believer who is invited to adhere to it. When the Church celebrates the sacraments, she confesses the faith received from the apostles—whence the ancient saying: lex orandi, lex credendi (or: legem credendi lex statuat supplicandi, according to Prosper of Aquitaine [5th cent.]). The law of prayer is the law of faith: the Church believes as she prays. Liturgy is a constitutive element of the holy and living Tradition.
1125 For this reason no sacramental rite may be modified or manipulated at the will of the minister or the community. Even the supreme authority in the Church may not change the liturgy arbitrarily, but only in the obedience of faith and with religious respect for the mystery of the liturgy.
1126 Likewise, since the sacraments express and develop the communion of faith in the Church, the lex orandi is one of the essential criteria of the dialogue that seeks to restore the unity of Christians.
- The Sacraments of Salvation
1127 Celebrated worthily in faith, the sacraments confer the grace that they signify. They are efficacious because in them Christ himself is at work: it is he who baptizes, he who acts in his sacraments in order to communicate the grace that each sacrament signifies. The Father always hears the prayer of his Son’s Church which, in the epiclesis of each sacrament, expresses her faith in the power of the Spirit. As fire transforms into itself everything it touches, so the Holy Spirit transforms into the divine life whatever
is subjected to his power.
1128 This is the meaning of the Church’s affirmation that the sacraments act ex opere operato (literally: “by the very fact of the actions being performed”), i.e., by virtue of the saving work of Christ, accomplished once for all. It follows that “the sacrament is not wrought by the righteousness of either the celebrant or the recipient, but by the power of God.” From the moment that a sacrament is celebrated in accordance with the intention of the Church, the power of Christ and his Spirit acts in and through it, independently of the personal holiness of the minister. Nevertheless, the fruits of the sacraments also depend on the disposition of the one who receives them.
1129 The Church affirms that for believers the sacraments of the New Covenant are necessary for salvation.
“Sacramental grace” is the grace of the Holy Spirit, given by Christ and proper to each sacrament.
The Spirit heals and transforms those who receive him by conforming them to the Son of God. The fruit of the sacramental life is that the Spirit of adoption makes the faithful partakers in the divine nature by uniting them in a living union with the only Son, the Savior.
- The Sacraments of Eternal Life
1130 The Church celebrates the mystery of her Lord “until he comes,” when God will be “everything to everyone.” Since the apostolic age the liturgy has been drawn toward its goal by the Spirit’s groaning in the Church: Marana tha ! The liturgy thus shares in Jesus’ desire: “I have earnestly desired to eat this Passover with you . . . until it is fulfilled in the kingdom of God.” In the sacraments of Christ the Church already receives the guarantee of her inheritance and even now shares in everlasting life, while “awaiting our blessed hope, the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior Christ. The “Spirit and the Bride say, ‘Come . . . Come, Lord Jesus!’”
St. Thomas sums up the various aspects of sacramental signs: “Therefore a sacrament is a sign that commemorates what precedes it—Christ’s Passion; demonstrates what is accomplished in us through Christ’s Passion—grace; and prefigures what that Passion pledges to us—future glory.”