Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Sacraments and Sacramentals

This is my first assignment from the course I took on sacraments this semester. While we didn't have regular papers, I wound up writing about the same or more relatively speaking. I had this course in parallel with the sacramental theology course we had for Servant School (diaconal and lay ministry formation).

Explain the differences between Sacraments and Sacramentals. Who instituted the Sacraments? What is the difference between an explicit and implicit institution? When did the Church define the seven sacraments?

Sacraments are visible signs, instituted by Christ, that convey the grace they contain (CCC 1131). They are symbols, but not merely so as they “make present efficaciously the grace that they signify” (CCC 1084). Sacramentals are like sacraments in their form (CCC 1667), but they differ in that they do not convey or contain grace, but merely dispose us to receive and cooperate with grace (CCC 1670). While the seven privileged sacraments of the Church were instituted by Christ, sacramentals are instituted through the intercession of the Church (Sacrosanctum Concilium 60). This difference in source, perhaps, explains the difference in effects. While the Church has intercessory power and represents Christ on Earth, the fact that Christ instituted the seven privileged sacraments indicates that something unique was imparted through His actions.

Each of the seven privileged sacraments were instituted, either implicitly or explicitly, by Christ Himself. Explicit institution means that Jesus Himself requested something to be done, either in scripture or in some event that was not recorded in writing but handed down by the Apostles, whereas implicit institution indicates that his words and actions indicated a course of action to be followed by the Apostles. We can look to various passages in Scripture to support the claims of sacramental institution. Baptism (Matthew 27:19) and the Eucharist (Matthew 26:26; Luke 22:19; and Mark 14:22) are clearly the most explicit examples in which Christ specifically tells His Apostles to perform these signs. The sacrament of reconciliation is also mentioned, with the powers to bind and loose in Matthew 16:19 and most directly in John 20:22–23. However, each of the seven sacraments is implied in scripture in word or in deed. The Church has always understood the selection of the Apostles, the granting of powers to bind and loose, and the various admonishments to evangelize, baptize, and anoint to be the establishment of a hierarchical organization, whose offices were transmitted from the Apostles to the episcopacy (Lumen Gentium 18–22). Christ’s miracle at Cana (John 2:1–11) and his condemnation of divorce (Matthew 19:3–9) imply a positive affirmation of the sacramental nature of marriage. His own actions in healing the sick and his command to the Apostles to do the same (Matthew 10:8) institute the sacrament of the anointing of the sick.

However, the Gospel of John states at least twice (John 20:30, 21:25) that not everything Christ did was written down but that He performed many other signs in front of the disciples. From these statements, we can extrapolate that some sacraments may have been implemented explicitly but not recorded. For example, in Acts 6, the Apostles select a group of men and ordain them into the diaconate, in much the same way as a bishop or priest is ordained. We do not see Jesus doing this in the gospels, but one does have to ask where the Apostles got the notion of its necessity. In James 5:14–15, the author instructs the elders to anoint the sick with oils and pray over them. Scripture does not indicate that Jesus used this form, so we might infer that this instruction was not recorded but nonetheless occurred.

While the practice of the Church from the earliest times included all of what we call the seven sacraments, the term “sacrament” was not used in an exclusive manner about these seven until much later. The word sacramentum was used by the Church Fathers to refer to various rites, as well as to the doctrine and discipline of the Church. Not until the 12th century did Peter Lombard first enumerate the seven sacraments in Quatuor libri Sententiarum. The seven sacraments were confirmed as dogma at the Council of Florence in the Decree for the Armenians in 1439 and confirmed again at the Council of Trent in the Decree on the Seven Sacraments in 1547.

Explain in your own words the meaning of ex opere operato. Explain the five conditions for the validity of the sacraments.

The words ex opere operato mean “from the work done” or as the Catechism of the Catholic Church states, “by the very fact of the action’s being performed.” (CCC 1128) In essence, this means that the efficacy of the sacraments is not based upon any personal righteousness on the part of the participants (celebrant or recipient) but simply by virtue of the power of God, particularly through Christ and by the Holy Spirit. While the term did not come into use until the Council of Trent, the concept goes back at least as far as the Donatist controversy in the 4th century, at which time the Church was torn between those who claimed the invalidity of the sacrament of baptism by traditores (ministers who had turned over sacred scripture during times of persecution) and those such as St. Augustine who held that the office of the priesthood gave validity to the sacrament rather than the individual’s personal sanctity.

Five conditions are required for the objective efficacy of the sacraments: First, the celebrant or minister of the sacrament must be eligible to perform the sacrament. Eligibility to be the celebrant of a sacrament varies, depending on the sacrament. For example, the normal minister of the sacrament of baptism would be a bishop, priest or deacon (CIC 861.1). However, in an emergency, anyone—even a non-Christian—can baptize, as long as they intend to do what the Church does (CCC 1256, CIC 861.2). Other sacraments, such as reconciliation, anointing of the sick, and the confection of the Eucharist are reserved for priests and bishops. The only valid minister for the sacrament of holy orders is a bishop.

Second, the recipient must be eligible to receive the sacrament. For baptism, the recipient must be unbaptized. If they have been baptized previously, they cannot receive the sacrament again, although they can receive it conditionally if there is some question of the validity of the first baptism—for example, if use of the proper form is in question. For most other sacraments, the recipient must be baptized (CIC 842.1), and for ordination, the recipient must be male (CIC 1024).

Third, the participants must intend to do what the Church does through this sacrament. A minister cannot be forced to perform a valid sacrament, and one cannot accidentally perform a sacrament or do it in jest. Pope Alexander VIII, in response to the error of the Jansenists, confirmed that an interior intention to do what the Church does (and not merely an apparent external intention) must also be present for a sacrament to be valid.

Fourth, valid matter must be used. For baptism, only water may be used and not some other substance (CIC 849). For Eucharist, bread made from wheat flour and wine made from grapes must be used (CIC 924.1–3). For confirmation, ordination, and anointing of the sick, oils are used. In the sacraments of marriage and reconciliation, what constitutes valid matter is not as obvious. However, for marriage, consummation is required for validity (CIC 1061.1), so the matter could rightly be considered the parties themselves.

Finally, proper form must be followed for a sacrament to be valid. In general, canon law admits of no changes to the words of the sacramental prayers: “In celebrating the sacraments the liturgical books approved by competent authority are to be observed faithfully; accordingly, no one is to add, omit, or alter anything in them on one’s own authority” (CIC 846.1). In the sacrament of baptism, invocation of the Trinity as commanded in Matthew 28:19 is often held up as a canonical example of proper form, as are the words of institution in the consecration of the Eucharist.

According to the Second Vatican Council (Vatican II), Sacrosantum Concilium 60-61; CCC 1667-1673 and CIC canons 1166-1172, explain: name, nature and purpose of the sacramentals.

Sacramentals are sacred signs that signify spiritual effects obtained through the intercession of the Church. Their principle effect is to dispose or prepare us to receive the effects of the sacraments (SC 60). They do not convey grace but prepare us to receive it. They also accompany and sanctify different events in our lives. They are called “sacramentals” because they have a close resemblance to the sacraments and often use the same matter and similar forms and can sometimes point forward toward a sacrament (such as confirmation) or allude back to one (such as baptism) (CCC 1668). As Sacrosanctum Concilium notes, sacramentals are meant to sanctify our lives and draw their power from the passion, death, and resurrection of Christ (SC 61). Sacramentals are yet another way in which all Christian life becomes sacramental: “There is hardly any proper use of material things which cannot thus be directed toward the sanctification of men and the praise of God” (SC 61).

Most sacramentals are liturgical blessings of persons or objects. These blessings can be for meals, people, objects of various kinds, sacred spaces, or other locations such as homes or places where charitable works are performed (CCC 1671–72). Some of these blessing consecrate spaces or objects for sacred use. They can also consecrate people to God or to special offices or various lay ministries (CCC 1672). Exorcism is also a sacramental. In baptism, a minor exorcism is used to prepare a recipient to receive baptismal grace (CCC 1673). Major exorcisms, too, are considered a sacramental. The Catholic Encyclopedia offers the following applications for sacramentals: “Orans (public prayer), tinctus (use of holy water or oils), edens (eating blessed foods), confessus (listing of faults), dans (alms), benedicens (blessings).”

The form of a sacramental is very similar to the form of a sacrament. The Catechism notes the following concerning sacramentals: “They always include a prayer, often accompanied by a specific sign, such as the laying on of hands, the sign of the cross, or the sprinkling of holy water (which recalls Baptism)” (CCC 1668). Unlike sacraments, which work ex opere operato, sacramentals work ex opere operantis, which means that the blessings received from the sacramental depend upon the faith of the recipient and the minister. Blessed objects were (and in some places, still are) called sacramentals. However, this usage is considered outdated.

Works Cited
Catechism of the Catholic Church. 2nd Edition. Vatican: Libreria Editrice Vatican, 1997.
Chapman, John. “Donatists.” 1909. The Catholic Encyclopedia. 4 September 2009 .
“Code of Canon Law.” 1983. Vatican the Holy See. 5 September 2009 .
D’Ambrosio, Marcellino. “Sacraments: Lesson 2.” International Catholic University. 28 August 2009 .
Depuis, Jaques, ed. The Christian Faith in the Doctrinal Documents of the Catholic Church. New York: Alba Press, 2001.
Fanning, W. “Baptism.” 1907. The Catholic Encyclopedia. 4 September 2009 .
Ghellinck, Joseph de. “Peter Lombard.” 1911. The Catholic Encyclopedia. 5 September 2009 .
Hardon, Fr. John. “Ex opere operantis.” 1999. Modern Catholic Dictionary. 5 September 2009 .
—. “Ex opere operato.” 1999. Modern Catholic Dictionary. 4 September 2009 .
Leclercq, Henri. “Sacramentals.” 1912. The Catholic Encyclopedia. 5 September 2009 .
Mosey, Rev. Douglas. “Patristics: Lecture 4.” International Catholic University. Catholic Educational Television, Inc., 2006.
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