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Lent and the Sacraments: Concluding Thoughts

“All the visible realities of our Redeemer have passed over into the sacraments.”

Elevation of the Eucharist is depicted in a stained-glass window at St. Anthony's Church in North Beach, Md., July 15, 2021. (CNS photo/Bob Roller)

Permit me to offer some summarizing remarks about this second “pillar” of the Catechism of the Catholic Church as certain themes recur throughout the discussion on the Church’s sacramental life.

1. Again and again, we discover an effort to restore a sense of the sacred by emphasizing the primacy of the spiritual and the supernatural. Not to be missed, for example, is the regular use of words like “holy” and “saint.”

2. In response to a resurgence of a virulent strain of neo-Pelagianism in some quarters of contemporary catechetics, moral theology and liturgy, the Catechism stresses the absolute and indispensable necessity for divine grace. In other words, we cannot work out our salvation on our own; it is God, who takes the initiative in the work of salvation.

3. In an era which has witnessed what St. John Paul II characterized as the “clericalization of the laity and the laicization of the clergy,” repeatedly we come across passages which highlight the intimate connection between the ministerial priesthood and the sacraments.

4. So many of the post-conciliar abuses in all areas of ecclesial life have developed because of the tendency to put flesh on what Voltaire once pilloried when he quipped: “God made man in His own image and likeness, and man has never ceased to return the compliment.” This Catechism is unmistakably Christo-centric, rather than anthropocentric.

5. The text is as comfortable in quoting St. John Chrysostom as it is the documents of Vatican II, thereby demonstrating the continuity of Catholic theology down the ages, that Faith which St. Augustine lovingly spoke of as a beauty “ever ancient and ever new.”

6. I trust you noticed the very common use of the present tense, as we read that “Christ says” or “the apostles do,” thus serving as constant reminders of the on-going presence of Christ and the apostles in the Church today, so that we are not dealing with events from a distant past but very much from contemporary – indeed, eternal – realities.

In short, I believe we have been given a text which historians will cite as beginning in a serious manner the renewal envisioned and mandated by the Second Vatican Council (thankfully, its texts have found their way into the religion textbooks of our young people for a good two decades now). It reclaims the Council for the whole Church – the Church of Tradition – thus putting the lie to assertions that Vatican II sought to create a new Faith and a new Church.

Perhaps a generation raised on the truths so clearly enunciated here will be able to read better and more effectively “the signs of the times.” And so, such young people will be able to lead modern man to the God who “became man that men might become gods,” having recourse to the sacraments as the God-given means to bring about that noble and lofty goal of divinizing the human race – but doing it God’s way, instead of our own.

Let’s conclude our Lenten review of the sacraments by tapping into that font of the accumulated wisdom of Holy Church down the ages.

“All the visible realities of our Redeemer have passed over into the sacraments.” – Pope St. Leo the Great, Sermon 74

“Let then no one approach. . . with indifference, no one faint-hearted, but all with burning hearts, all fervent, all aroused. For if Jews standing, and having on their shoes and their staves in their hands, ate with haste, much more ought thou to be watchful. For they indeed were to go forth to Palestine, wherefore also they had the garb of pilgrims, but you are about to remove unto Heaven.” – St. John Chrysostom, Homilies on the Gospel of Matthew, 82, 4

“Who, then, is the author of the Sacraments if not the Lord Jesus? Those Sacraments came from Heaven; for every counsel is from Heaven.”— St. Ambrose of Milan, De Mysteriis

“I desire you therefore, in the first place, to hold fast this as the fundamental principle in the present discussion, that our Lord Jesus Christ has appointed to us a light yoke and an easy burden, as He declares in the Gospel (Mt 11:30) in accordance with which He has bound His people under the new dispensation together in fellowship by sacraments, which are in number very few, in observance most easy, and in significance most excellent.” – St. Augustine, Ad Januarium

“. . . God did not stand in need of those sacrifices, nor does He ever need anything; but there are certain acts, symbolic of these divine gifts, whereby the soul receives either present grace or eternal glory, in the celebration and practice of which, pious exercises, serviceable not to God but to ourselves, are performed.” – St. Augustine, Ad Marcellinum

“There can be no religious society, whether the religion be true or false, without some sacrament or visible symbol to serve as a bond of union. The importance of these sacraments cannot be overstated, and only scoffers will treat them lightly. For if piety requires them, it must be impiety to neglect them.” – St. Augustine, Contra Faustum, 19, 11

“And the fact that the ancient church offered animal sacrifices, which the People of God now-a-days read of without imitating, proves nothing else than this, that those sacrifices signified the things which we do for the purpose of drawing near to God, and inducing our neighbor to do the same. A sacrifice, therefore, is the visible sacrament or sacred sign of an invisible sacrifice.” – St. Augustine, De Civitate Dei

“The Word comes to the element; and so there is a sacrament, that is, a sort of visible word.” – St. Augustine, In Johannem

“For the completion of the salutary doctrine on Justification, which was promulgated with the unanimous consent of the Fathers in the last preceding Session, it hath seemed suitable to treat of the most holy Sacraments of the Church, through which all true justice either begins, or being begun is increased, or being lost is repaired.” – Session VII, Council of Trent

“The two main intellectual truths which it brought home to me, were the same two, which I had learned from Butler, though recast in the creative mind of my new master. The first of these was what may be called, in a large sense of the word, the Sacramental system; that is, the doctrine that material phenomena are both the types and the instruments of real things unseen,—a doctrine, which embraces in its fulness, not only what Anglicans, as well as Catholics, believe about Sacraments properly so called; but also the article of ‘the Communion of Saints’; and likewise the Mysteries of the faith.” – St. John Henry Cardinal Newman, Apologia pro Vita Sua

“6. Just as Christ was sent by the Father, so also He sent the apostles, filled with the Holy Spirit. This He did that, by preaching the gospel to every creature, they might proclaim that the Son of God, by His death and resurrection, had freed us from the power of Satan and from death, and brought us into the kingdom of His Father. His purpose also was that they might accomplish the work of salvation which they had proclaimed, by means of sacrifice and sacraments, around which the entire liturgical life revolves. … 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.’ They do indeed impart grace, but, in addition, the very act of celebrating them most effectively disposes the faithful to receive this grace in a fruitful manner, to worship God duly, and to practice charity. … Thus, for well-disposed members of the faithful, the liturgy of the sacraments and sacramentals sanctifies almost every event in their lives; they are given access to the stream of divine grace which flows from the paschal mystery of the passion, death, the resurrection of Christ, the font from which all sacraments and sacramentals draw their power. There is hardly any proper use of material things which cannot thus be directed toward the sanctification of men and the praise of God.” – Sacrosanctum Concilium, Second Vatican Council, 6, 59, 61

May our knowledge of the Church’s sacraments lead to an ever-deepening appreciation and love for these mysteries by which we are saved, especially as we re-live those saving mysteries this Holy Week – not as disinterested observers but as devoted and attentive participants.

Related at CWR:
• “Lent and the Sacraments: Plumbing the effective signs of divine grace and life” (March 3, 2022) by Fr. Peter M.J. Stravinskas
• “Lent and the Sacraments: Baptism and Confirmation” (March 10, 2022) by Fr. Peter M.J. Stravinskas
• “Lent and the Sacraments: The Eucharist” (March 17, 2022) by Fr. Peter M.J. Stravinskas
• “Lent and the Sacraments: Penance and Anointing of the Sick” (March 24, 2022) by Fr. Peter M.J. Stravinskas
• “Lent and the Sacraments: Matrimony” (March 31, 2022) by Fr. Peter M.J. Stravinskas
“Lent and the Sacraments: Holy Orders” (April 8, 2022) by Fr. Peter M.J. Stravinskas

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About Peter M.J. Stravinskas 260 Articles
Reverend Peter M.J. Stravinskas founded The Catholic Answer in 1987 and The Catholic Response in 2004, as well as the Priestly Society of Blessed John Henry Cardinal Newman, a clerical association of the faithful, committed to Catholic education, liturgical renewal and the new evangelization. Father Stravinskas is also the President of the Catholic Education Foundation, an organization, which serves as a resource for heightening the Catholic identity of Catholic schools.

1 Comment

  1. True, the seven sacraments each possessing a material sign are Christ’s presence by virtue of what the sacrament signifies, by grace, and visibly in the form of bread and wine, his real presence in the Holy Eucharist.
    As noted by Fr Stravinskas John Paul II identified “the crisis of faith in the clericalization of the laity and the laicization of the clergy”. If Baptism is required for entry into the Christian sacramental life, Christ exhorts us that unless we consume his body and blood we do not have life in us. Whoever eats My flesh and drinks My blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up at the last day (Jn 6:53-54).
    Laicization of the priesthood has led to diminishment of the reality of the real presence, as well as clericalization of the Laity who, as ‘leader’ of the Mass deliver mini homilies to introduce the Mass, dispense holy communion during Mass, often when it’s unnecessary, and visit nursing homes, hospitals, shutins when priests are available. And deacons. It’s appropriate to have laity involved although not forced to the degree it is now practiced.
    From this twofold interchange the outcome is the priest’s loss of his ordained mission as alter Christus, specifically at the consecration during the sacrifice, that he is Our Lord’s mediator for the people, and like Christ is ordained to offer himself as a fragrant oblation to the Father on behalf of the faithful, in imitation of Christ crucified.
    This return of the priesthood to its original foundation by Christ is inherent to, and encouraged by the truths of the Catechism. Evangelization, in America Re Evangelization, is enhanced. It’s consistent with “reclaim[ing] the Council for the whole Church – the Church of Tradition” (Fr Stravinskas).

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