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The Eucharist 1. An Introduction to the Sacraments

PDF (Adobe Portable Document Format) and .ppt (Microsoft PowerPoint Format) files of the presentation for this session are available for download from the Eucharist Home Page and the Download page.

 

Topics

1. Traditional Sacramental Theology

1.1. Introduction. Word versus Sacrament

1.2. Outward Sign, Inward Grace

1.2.1. Introduction

1.2.2. Ex Opere Operato

1.2.3. The Outward and Visible Sign

1.2.4. The Inward and Spiritual Grace or Res

1.3. Regular versus Valid Sacraments

1.4. The Number of Sacraments

 

2. The Sacramental View of Reality

2.1. Three Views of Reality

2.2. The Sacramental View and Intimations of Immortality and Beauty

 

3. Modern Sacramental Theology

3.1. A Broader Definition of Sacrament

3.2. Creation as a Sacrament of God

3.3. Jesus as Primordial Sacrament

3.4. Church as Fundamental Sacrament

3.5. Christians as Living Sacraments

3.6. The Sacramental Economy of Salvation

 

References

 

 

1. Traditional Sacramental Theology

1.1. Introduction. Word versus Sacrament

Word and Sacrament

We often say that participation in "Word" and "Sacrament" is the means to salvation.

 

By "Word" we mean

  • Proclaiming the “Good News” (= gospel), reading the bible.

It:

  • Involves language

  • Addresses most immediately the mind

 

By "Sacrament," we refer to:

  •  a defined rite of the Church

It:

  • Involves actions, material objects, as well as language

  • Addresses most immediately the senses and the unconscious, as well as the mind

 

 

1.2. Outward Sign, Inward Grace

1.2.1. Introduction

A sacrament involves:

 

 

an “outward, visible sign”

 

 

that is a conduit for

 

 

an “inward and spiritual grace”

 

 

 

1.2.2. Ex Opere Operato

The imparting of grace is said to be ex opere operato, meaning:

  • It depends only on the “proper performance” of the sacrament

  • It does not depend on the godliness of the minister or the faith of the recipient. All that is required of the minister and the recipient is:

    • the minister must have the proper intention

    • Recipient must set up no obstacles to receiving grace (such as contempt or gross disbelief)

 

 

1.2.3. The Outward and Visible Sign

The “Outward and Visible Sign” consists of two parts: matter, and form:

1. Matter -- the material substance used

  • For example, water in Baptism

  • For example, Bread and Wine in the Eucharist

2. Form -- ritual action, formula of words

  • For example, Washing in Baptism

  • For example, Breaking, Pouring, Eating, Drinking in the Eucharist

 

 

1.2.4. The Inward and Spiritual Grace or Res

The “Inward and Spiritual Grace” = “res” refers to the presence of God (see Survey of Theology 6. The Doctrine of Human Nature, Sin, and Grace for further discussion of grace). The grace imparted in a sacrament is sometimes spoken of as having two facets:

  • 1. The “symbolic reality” or “paschal mystery:” a description of the recipient’s “participation” in the divine

    • For example, in the Eucharist: the partaking of the body and blood of Christ

  • 2. The benefits of this participation

    • For example, in the Eucharist, strengthening of our bond to God, a foretaste of the heavenly banquet to come

 

 

1.3. Regular versus Valid Sacraments

A sacrament is regular if performed according to the canons and laws of the Church. If it is not performed according to the canons and laws of the Church, it is termed irregular.

Regularity is a matter of Church discipline

 

A sacrament is valid when all the theological conditions required for the sacrament are fulfilled

  • 1. Proper matter and form

  • 2. Proper minister (good intentions)

  • 3. Proper recipient (not deliberately resisting grace)

Validity is a matter of Church doctrine and theology.

 

One can have a valid sacrament, that is, a sacrament that meets all three theological, doctrinal conditions for a sacrament, that is none the less irregular, because it does not satisfy an additional canon law requirement.

 

 

1.4. The Number of Sacraments

The number of sacraments has varied through the history of the church and among its denominations:

  • Augustine: 304 sacraments (sacred signs)

  • Early medieval period: 2 to 12 or more sacraments

  • Luther: 3 sacraments (Lutheran Churches today accept three sacraments: Baptism, Penance, the Eucharist)

  • Calvin: 2 sacraments (Reformed Churches today accept two sacraments: Baptism, the Eucharist)

  • Anglicans, Catholics and Orthodox: 7 sacraments

    • Book of Common Prayer speaks of:

      • Two “sacraments of the Gospel,”

      • Five sacraments not counted as "sacraments of the Gospel"

 

 

2. The Sacramental View of Reality

2.1. Three Views of Reality

To simplify for sake of making clear a contrast, one might say there are three basic views of reality:

  • 1. Materialism, Naturalism, or Realism

    • True reality is “matter in motion”

    • The “spiritual” world is a delusion

  • 2. Spiritualism or Idealism

    • True reality is mind and spirit only

    • The material world is unimportant, at best a burden to be rid of, and at worse, evil

  • 3. Sacramental View

    • True reality includes both material and spiritual worlds

    • The spiritual world “expresses itself … acts and operates in the through the material” world

 

 

2.2. The Sacramental View and Intimations of Immortality and Beauty

 

“Earth’s crammed with heaven,

And every common bush afire with God;

But only he who sees takes off his shoes,

The rest sit round and plunk blackberries.”

- Elizabeth Barrett Browning

 

“To me, the meanest flower that blows can give

Thoughts that do often lie too deep for tears”

- William Wordsworth (last lines of Intimations of Immortality)

 

... For I have learned

To look on nature, not as in the hour

Of thoughtless youth; but hearing oftentimes

The still, sad music of humanity,

Nor harsh nor grating, though of ample power

To chasten and subdue. And I have felt

A presence that disturbs me with the joy

Of elevated thoughts; a sense sublime

Of something far more deeply interfused,

Whose dwelling is the light of setting suns,

And the round ocean and the living air,

And the blue sky, and in the mind of man;

A motion and a spirit, that impels

All thinking things, all objects of all thought,

And rolls through all things. ...

- William Wordsworth, Tintern Abbey, lines 88-102

 

 

The Sacramental View of Reality recognizes the duality of our experience in this world:

  • We are embodied beings in a very material world

  • We can feel intimations of beauty, mystery, meaning through this material world (a bush, a flower, a sunset…)

 

It can explain this duality:

  • The material world can be a “conduit,” a “door” to the sacred

  • God is “immanent” in God’s creation. Creation is charged with divine glory.

 

 

3. Modern Sacramental Theology

3.1. A Broader Definition of Sacrament

Based on the sacramental view of reality, modern sacramental theology has broadened the definition of a sacrament.

 

 

Broader definition: A sacrament is the encounter with God when something of the material world becomes a conduit, a door to the sacred

 

 

Note: A sense of this view of a sacrament has always been present in the Church. The Greek term mysterion refers to the experience of some higher, spiritual power. Eastern Orthodoxy sometimes calls the seven traditional sacraments the seven “mysteries”

 

Using this broader definition, modern theologians have spoken of:

  • Creation is a sacrament of God

  • Jesus in his humanity is the primordial sacrament of God

  • The Church on earth is the fundamental sacrament of the Kingdom of God

  • Each Christian should be a living sacrament of God’s love

 

 

3.2. Creation as a Sacrament of God

“The Heavens announce the glory of God and the firmament proclaims his handiwork”

- Psalm 19

 

“Ever since the creation of the world, his invisible nature – eternal power and divine character – have been clearly perceptible through what he has made”

- Romans 1:19-20

 

“Nothing is a vacuum in the face of God. Everything is a sign of God.”

St. Irenaeus

 

“The mystics offer us the best proof of this. St. Francis of Assisi immersed himself so deeply in the mystery of God that suddenly he found everything transfigured. Everything spoke to him of God and Christ: the worms along the wayside; the lambs in the field; the birds in the trees; fire, and death, which he came to call Sister Death”

- Leonardo Boff (Brazilian Liberation theologian)

 

 

3.3. Jesus as Primordial Sacrament

Edward Schillebeeckx, in Christ the Sacrament 1963 called Jesus in his humanity the primordial sacrament of God, because:

  • Jesus took on material form and became fully human; yet he remained as well fully God

  • God is seen most fully in and through Jesus

 

“The man Jesus, as the personal visible realization of the divine grace of redemption, is the sacrament, the primordial sacrament, because this man, the Son of God himself, is intended by the Father to be in his humanity the only way to the actuality of redemption”

- Edward Schillebeeckx

 

Macquarrie suggests Jesus is better termed “a supersacrament", a unique manifestation in visible form of the authentic life of God.”

Jesus, the supersacrament, is:

  • 1. The true minister of the seven traditional sacraments

    • The human minister is a stand-in for Jesus

  • 2. The content of the seven traditional sacraments

    • The “inward and spiritual grace” = the res, is Jesus acting in the life of the recipient

 

“One might hear the word “baptism”, and think immediately of water. One might hear the word “unction”, and think immediately of oil. One might hear the word “eucharist”, and think immediately of bread and wine…but when one hears the word “baptism”, one should think of Jesus, when one hears the word “unction”, one should think of Jesus, when one hears the word “eucharist,” one should think of Jesus, and so on.”

- Kenan Osborne (Franciscan theologian)

 

The special graces of Jesus acting in the life of the recipient:

 

Sacrament

Grace

Baptism:  The Baptized One (grace of faith)
Confirmation   The Confirmed One (grace of perseverance)
Reconciliation The Reconciler (grace of penitence)
Eucharist  The Really Present One (grace of self-giving)
Unction   The Healer (grace of wholeness)
Orders The Priest (grace of service)
Marriage The Lover (grace of love)

(table modified from Macquarrie, Osborne)

 

3.4. Church as Fundamental Sacrament

The Church is called to be a visible presence of God’s will for Humanity and Creation. That is to day, the Church is called to be Christ present in the world.

 

“Now the Church is the continuance, the contemporary presence, of that real, eschatologically triumphant and irrevocably established presence in the world, in Christ,  of God’s salvific will. . . . By the very fact of being … the enduring presence of Christ in the world, the Church is truly the fundamental sacrament, the well-spring of the sacraments in the strict sense.”

- Karl Rahner

 

 

3.5. Christians as Living Sacraments

 

“…when any one of us chooses to act as Jesus was known to act, we too become living sacraments in our world. When I forgive my brother or sister from my heart, I become a sacrament of forgiveness; I unveil the face of God who forgives, just as Jesus himself did.”

Beguerie and Duchesneau,

How to Understand the Sacraments

 

 

3.6. The Sacramental Economy of Salvation

(from Noll)

Jesus, Primordial Sacrament

The Church, Fundamental Sacrament

The Seven Traditional Sacraments

Christians as Living Sacraments

 

 

References

The information in these notes comes from the following references:

  • A Guide to the Sacraments. Chapters 1-5, John Macquarrie. Continuum. New York. 1998 ISBN 0-8264-1100-2.

  • Introduction to Theology. Third Edition. Chapter 18 "Sacraments," Owen C. Thomas, Ellen K. Wondra. Morehouse Publishing, Harrisburg, 2002. ISBN 0-8192-1897-9

  • Sacraments. A New Understanding for a New Generation, Chapters 1-3. Ray R. Noll. Twenty-Third Publications, Mystic, CT, 1999. ISBN 0-89622-993-9.

  • Sacramental Theology. A General Introduction. Kenan B. Osborne. O.F.M. Paulist Press, New York, 1988. 0-8091-2945-0

 

 

The Eucharist

 

1. Introduction to the Sacraments

2. The Eucharist as a Meal

3. The Eucharist as the Real Presence of Christ

4. The Eucharist as Sacrifice

5. The Practice of Reservation. Conclusions