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Year of Faith Series 7

Posted on : 26-06-2013 | By : TAG | In : Faith Series

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THE SACRAMENTAL ECONOMY

(Ref. CCC Part II, Sections 1 & 2)

 

The sacramental economy consists in the communication of the fruits of Christ’s redemption through the celebration of the sacraments of the Church, most especially that of the Eucharist. The Sacrifice of the Cross is the fount of the sacramental economy of the Church.

Christ has entrusted the sacraments to his Church. They are the sacraments “of the Church” in a twofold sense: they are “from her” insofar as they are actions of the Church which is the sacrament of Christ’s actions; and they are “for her” inasmuch as they build up the Church. (CCC 1117-1119)

Sacraments

The sacraments, instituted by Christ and entrusted to the Church, are efficacious signs of grace perceptible to the senses. Through them divine life is bestowed upon us. The sacraments are divided into: the sacraments of Christian initiation (Baptism, Confirmation and Holy Eucharist); the sacraments of healing (Penance and Anointing of the Sick); and the sacraments at the service of communion and mission (Holy Orders and Matrimony). (CCC 1210-1211)

The effectiveness of the sacraments in producing grace does not depend on the holiness of the minister. The sacraments confer grace on the person who receives them provided that the person does not impede the grace through bad disposition. The grace will be more abundant the better the dispositions because his receptivity will be greater.

In addition to granting sanctifying grace, God also grants special aids called “sacramental graces” with each of the sacraments. The diversity of the sacraments responds to the different moments in our supernatural journey toward union with God in glory.

 

BAPTISM

As a consequence of original sin, all men are born without sanctifying grace. We are born to supernatural life through the sacrament of Baptism. Jesus Christ instituted this sacrament as the means to take away original sin and confer initial sanctifying grace on us to make us sharers in the divine nature and children of God. The fruit of Baptism includes not only the forgiveness of original sin but also all personal sins (in the case of an adult), birth into a new life by which man becomes an adoptive son of the Father, a member of Christ and a temple of the Holy Spirit. It is the door to the other sacraments and to the Church.

God Himself made Baptism necessary for salvation: “he who believes and is baptized shall be saved; but he who does not believe shall be condemned.” (Mark 16:16).

The Church has always held the firm conviction that those who suffer death for the sake of the faith without having received Baptism are baptized by their death for and with Christ. This “Baptism of blood” brings about the fruits of Baptism without being a sacrament. (CCC 1258)

Every man who is ignorant of the Gospel of Christ and of his Church, but seeks the truth and does the will of God in accordance with his understanding of it, can be saved. It maybe supposed that such persons would have desired Baptism explicitly if they had known its necessity. As regards children who have died without Baptism, the Church can only entrust them to the mercy of God. (CCC 1260-1261)

Since Baptism takes away original sin and confers sanctifying grace, it is reasonable to confer this sacrament on newborn infants as soon as possible after their birth. Parents have a serious obligation to see to the immediate baptism of their children. They would deprive them of the immense good if they were to fail to fulfill this obligation and they would leave them in danger of dying in original sin and therefore excluded from heaven.

 

CONFIRMATION

Confirmation is the sacrament which strengthens the supernatural life received through Baptism. Confirmation perfects Baptismal grace; it is the sacrament which gives the Holy Spirit in order to root us more deeply in the divine filiation, incorporate us more firmly into Christ strengthen our bond with the Church, associate us more closely with her mission, and help us bear witness to the Christian faith in words accompanied by deeds.

Confirmation, like Baptism, imprints a spiritual mark or indelible character on the Christian’s soul; for this reason one can receive this sacrament only once in one’s life. A person must be in state of grace in order to receive the sacrament. In practice, it is wise to make a good confession prior to the reception of this sacrament.

It is Christian practice to receive this sacrament shortly after reaching the age of reason when the person begins to become aware of the demands of Christian life.

 

HOLY EUCHARIST

The Holy Eucharist completes Christian initiation. Those who have been raised to the dignity of the royal priesthood by Baptism, and configured more deeply to Christ by Confirmation, participate with the whole community in the Lord’s own sacrifice by means of the Eucharist. (CCC 1322) The Eucharist is the source and summit of the Christian life. It is the root and center of one’s interior life. It is the sum and summary of our Christian faith.

All of the sacraments are instruments instituted by Christ to grant us grace. The Holy Eucharist, however, is much more than a mere instrument of grace because Jesus Christ Himself is present, Body and Blood, under the appearances of bread and wine. When we receive the Holy Eucharist, we receive not only grace but also the very author of grace. The union with Christ we attain in this sacrament of divine extravagance is the most perfect union open to us in this life.

During the Last Supper, Jesus fulfilled His promise and worked the great miracle of the Holy Eucharist. His words transformed the bread and wine into His own Body and Blood. He had to leave us but wished to remain in our midst. Under the appearances of bread and wine, He is truly and substantially present with His Body and Blood, with His Soul and Divinity.

At the words of the consecration, first spoken by Christ and since repeated by the apostles and each priest, the substance of bread and wine are changed into the Body and Blood of Christ. This unique change is fittingly called “transubstantiation”, a change from one substance to another. By the will of Christ, this transformation left intact the appearance of bread and wine so that we might receive Him as food.

The Holy Eucharist is the spiritual nourishment of our souls. When we eat material food it becomes one with the person who eats it. When we eat the Eucharist, in contrast, the body and blood of Christ do not become part of us, but we become spiritually one with Christ. Whereas material food gives us physical strength and makes us grow in a bodily way, the Holy Eucharist gives us spiritual strength and makes us grow in sanctifying grace.

Just as material food is not beneficial to a dead body, so the Holy Eucharist does not benefit a soul which is dead through mortal sin. A person who receives communion in a state of mortal sin commits a more grievous sin of sacrilege, profaning the body and blood of Christ. If a person is aware of having committed mortal sin, he must first go to confession before receiving communion. Mere interior repentance is not sufficient but sacramental absolution is necessary.

The principal fruit of receiving the Eucharist in Holy Communion is our intimate union with Jesus Christ. It gives divine life to our soul (CCC 1392), it separates us from sin (CCC 1393) and preserves us from it (CCC 1395), it wipes away venial sin (CCC 1394) and unites us all in one body, the Church (CCC 1396). Therefore, the practice of frequent Communion with proper disposition is strongly encouraged and thanksgiving after Communion is highly recommended.

 

PENANCE

Men can and do violate God’s commandments, even gravely; they sin precisely by violating these commandments. Yet if an individual who has sinned acknowledges his having done so and sincerely asks God’s pardon, God will not fail to grant it. “What depths of mercy lie in the justice of God! For, according to human justice, he who pleads guilty is punished, but in divine justice, he is pardoned. (St. Josemaria: The Way Pt. 309)

If one loses sensitivity for the things of God, it is very difficult to appreciate this sacrament. Sacramental confession is a divine dialogue. It is a tribunal of justice and especially of mercy.

We read in the gospel how Our Lord pardoned sins on a number of occasions and also how He gave the power to forgive sins to His apostles, “Whose sins you shall forgive, they are forgiven them; and whose sins you shall retain, they are retained.” (John 20, 23). In this way, He instituted the sacrament of reconciliation so that anyone might recover the grace he lost.

In this sacrament, the priest, as an instrument of Christ, pardons those sins committed after Baptism which the sinner confesses with repentance and acceptance of the penance imposed upon him by the priest. Thus, there are 3 necessary elements – contrition, confession, and satisfaction.

 

  1. Contrition  is repentance or sorrow for the sins which we have committed. It is necessary to acknowledge that they were sins and to turn our will against them, to resolve to avoid sin and even occasions of sin in the future. We must repent because we have offended God.
  2. Confession is telling one’s sins to the confessor, an ordained priest. Through his  priestly ordination, the priest obtained this power to forgive sins in the  name of Christ, as an instrument of Christ by administering this sacrament of Penance.

Each and every mortal sin which has been committed and not yet confessed and forgiven must be told in confession. To this end, it is necessary to make an adequate examination of conscience beforehand to ascertain the various specific kinds of sins and the number of times that they have been committed. Any circumstance which would affect the kind of sin must also be mentioned.

The sacrament of penance may be received even if no mortal sins have been committed. In fact it is very beneficial to confess venial sins because an increase of grace is obtained by means of the sacrament and the person becomes more sensitive to God’s love. St. Josemaria used to say that frequent confession gives a person “sensitive skin”, meaning a refined conscience for the things of God. Frequent confession is not just a positive means of spiritual progress but also one of the best defenses against mortal sin.

3. Satisfaction

Even though God grants us forgiveness through the sacrament of penance, we must still make up in some way for what we have done. If we have harmed or offended someone, it is hardly enough to do no more than to say we’re sorry. We have to show this by doing something to make up for it. This is the reason for the penance imposed by the priest in confession which can consist of prayer, an offering, works of mercy, service of neighbor, voluntary self-denial, sacrifices, and above all, the patient acceptance of the cross we must bear. (CCC 1460).

 

ANOINTING OF THE SICK

God wants everyone to be saved and He provides us with the means to obtain His grace and live in His grace in every circumstance. If a person makes the effort to use these means, especially the sacraments, and to live habitually in the state of grace, God will certainly grant that person the gift of dying in the sate of grace. Consequently, the best guarantee of eternal salvation is the daily struggle for sanctity. Our Lord did institute the special sacrament of Anointing of the Sick to provide the necessary graces when a person is in danger of death; this sacrament assists the person to overcome the last difficulties and enter heaven.

The priest alone is able to administer this sacrament. The essential element is the anointing of the forehead and hands of the sick person with oil, saying, “Through this holy anointing, may the Lord in His love and mercy, help you with the grace of the Holy Spirit.”

The effects of the sacrament:

 

  1. The first  effect is an increase in sanctifying grace presuming that the recipient is      already in the state of grace. This is why a person should go to Confession before receiving the sacrament. In the event that confession is  not possible, as in one who is unconscious, the sacrament also forgives      mortal sin, provided, of course, that the person is sorry for such sins, having at least made an imperfect act of contrition beforehand.
  2. This sacrament prepares the soul to enter into heaven by pardoning all venial sins, if there is repentance, and the temporal punishment due to sin. It may also restore bodily health when it is good for the soul of the person.
  3. The Anointing  of the Sick also confers specific sacramental grace. It comforts and   strengthens the soul of the sick person, assisting him to accept God’s will and confront death peacefully as the beginning of a definitive life.   It often brings authentic joy and the realization of being close to  attaining the goal of eternal happiness. It also helps the recipient to  overcome the final temptations of the devil, even that of despair, which  are the last efforts to snatch the soul from God.

The Church wants this sacrament to be administered as soon as there is proximate danger of death from sickness (a serious operation like a heart by-pass) or old age, even though death is not imminent. It is not proper to wait until the sick or aged person is at the very doors of death; the sacrament can and should be administered earlier.

Ignorance, negligence or a falsely conceived affection on the part of family members sometimes results in a person dying without receiving this sacrament. Such persons often fear that the presence of the priest will frighten the sick or aged person. Their excessive concern for the bodily condition leads them to neglect the good of the soul which is far more important.

The recipient of this sacrament does not imply that the person will actually die but only that he is in true danger of death. Since all Christians should certainly prepare themselves for the decisive moment of death, they have the right to be advised of their situation. It would be un-Christian to hide the danger of death from a person, a lack of charity and justice; moreover, a lack of respect, consideration and affection.

 

HOLY ORDERS

The priest is a mediator between God and man. The Latin word “sacerdos” stems from “sacra-dans”, one who gives sacred things. The proper role of a priest is to unite men with God.  Jesus Christ is Himself the perfect priest and mediator since He is both God and man and perfectly unites men with God. Since He is God, He is able to give grace to men; since He is man, He is able to offer the sacrifice of His life to God in behalf of men.

This special priestly power which Jesus conferred upon His apostles was not intended for them alone; Christ came to save all men and not just His contemporaries. Thus He also gave them the power to transmit these priestly powers to others, who would do likewise in their turn, by means of the sacrament of Holy Orders, in an uninterrupted succession down to our own time and until the end of the world.

Through the sacrament of Holy Orders, the priest receives the power to celebrate the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass, to pardon sin, to administer other sacraments and to teach Christian doctrine with authority. This sacrament also confers a character, hence its recipient remains a priest forever. A priest is exclusively a man of God.

The sacrament of Holy Orders has the special feature that is not received through a single act, as the other sacraments are, but in successive stages:

 

  1. Deaconate –      with limited powers, such as to distribute communion
  2. Presbyterate – or Priesthood – receives the fundamental powers of celebrating Mass and  forgiving sins.
  3. Episcopate – the Bishop receives additionally the power of administering the      sacrament of Holy Orders to new deacons, priests and bishops.

To be ordained a priest, a man must have been called by God, as the apostles themselves were. To be called, certain conditions are necessary. Our Lord Himself determined that He would call only males. Since it is a call to serve, a person must not have any physical or moral impediment which would make him incapable of rendering the service proper to the priestly state.

The powers conferred upon the priest are purely spiritual powers. His mission, in consequence, is a spiritual mission. The service he must render is that of leading souls to God by preaching the word of God and administering the sacraments.

Since the priest’s role is to unite men to God, he will best fulfill his task if he is totally and exclusively dedicated to God not only in the use of his time but also in his heart.

Priests are indispensable to the Church. This is why it is very important to pray for them and offer sacrifices for them. Because of this sacramental state, they should always be treated with respect and affection.

 

MATRIMONY

The matrimonial covenant, by which a man and a woman establish between themselves a partnership of the whole of life, is by its nature ordered toward the good of the spouses and the procreation and education of children; this covenant between baptized persons has been raised by Christ to the dignity of a sacrament. According to the original divine plan this conjugal union is indissoluble, as Jesus Christ affirmed: “What God has joined together, let no man put asunder”. (Mark10:9) The well being of the individual person and of both human and Christian society is closely bound up with the healthy state of conjugal and family life. (CCC 1601, 1604)

The sacrament of Matrimony establishes a perpetual and exclusive bond between the spouses. God himself seals the consent of the spouses; hence, a marriage between baptized persons can never be dissolved. The sacrament signifies the union of Christ and the Church. It gives spouses the grace to love each other with the love with which Christ loves his Church, the grace necessary to attain holiness in their married life and to accept responsibly the gift of children and provide for their education.

Unity, indissolubility and openness to fertility are essential to marriage. Polygamy is incompatible with the unity of marriage; divorce separates what God has joined together; the refusal of fertility turns married life away from its “supreme gift”, the child.

The Christian family is called a domestic church because the family manifests and lives out the communal and familial nature of the Church as the family of God. If a couple lives marriage as God wishes, in a holy way, the home will be bright and cheerful, full of peace and joy.

 

June 26, 2013,  feast of St. Josemaria Escriva de Balague

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