Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Sacraments of Healing

Why do we call penance and unction of sick sacraments of healing?

Christ came to heal the sick and wounded, both physically and spiritually. Likewise, He gave to the Church two sacraments so that His Church could continue to heal physically and spiritually in His name. The two actions are connected by Christ Himself in scripture in Matthew 9, when He tells the paralytic, brought to Him for physical healing, that his sins are forgiven (Matthew 9:2). Christ also commands His Apostles to go out, which they do, preaching repentance and healing by anointing with oil (Mark 6:12–13). As the Catechism of the Catholic Church states in 1420, “Now we carry this life ‘in earthen vessels,’ and it remains ‘hidden with Christ in God’ (2 Corinthians 4:7). We are still in our ‘earthly tent,’ subject to suffering, illness, and death (Colossians 3:3). This new life as a child of God can be weakened and even lost by sin” (CCC 1420). Aside from providing forgiveness of sins, the Sacrament of Penance heals the spiritual wounds caused to the sinner by the act of sinning. However, in addition to the spiritual wounds incurred by the penitent, the Church also suffers wounds from the penitent’s sins (CIC 959). The Sacrament of Penance, then, reconciles and heals the Church as well as the individual.

Unction of the sick is clearly the most directly connected to the healing ministry of Christ. However, while it has a physical dimension, it also intends to address the spiritual effects of illness as a sacrament of “strengthening, peace and courage to overcome the difficulties that go with the condition of serious illness or the frailty of old age” (CCC 1520). Anointing also benefits not just the individual but the whole Church by building up and strengthening, by extension, anyone in the community who comes together to celebrate this rite with the infirm. As the Catechism notes, those who receive the Sacrament of Anointing “contribute to the good of the People of God” (CCC 1522). Both sacraments, then, contribute to the healing of individual and community through God’s grace.

Explain Private penance (500–1000 A.D)?

While confession as part of the sacrament of reconciliation has always been a private affair (CF 1606), penance following confession of grave sin after baptism was only undertaken under rare circumstances and in most regions only once in a person’s life (CCC 1447). This public penance was very rigorous and frequently lasted for years before a penitent was reconciled with the Church. The process tended to be so rigorous that people either did not attempt it or waited until they were on their deathbed to request reconciliation (at which point it would not be denied except by certain rigorists). Celtic monks in Ireland developed a habit of private penance that accompanied their habitual private auricular confession, often coupled with spiritual direction (CCC 1447). These confessions often included serious sin and were increasingly followed with private penance and reconciliation, not just once in one’s life but “repeatedly for any sin at any time.” While bishops were the ordinary minister of reconciliation in the ancient practice, priests more and more became the ordinary ministers and offered absolution and reconciliation following penance. While this penance was made in private, it was still quite rigorous, and the monks devised a system of penances based on the Celtic penal system that imposed specific penalties for certain sins, mitigated by the penitent’s depth of contrition.

When the Celtic monks went to the European continent as missionaries, they took this practice of private confession and penance with them, and it became a common practice, much to the dismay of many bishops. The practice was condemned by at least one regional council. However, by 800 AD or so, this method of reconciliation had completely supplanted the older rite. By 1000 AD, confessors had modified the rite more to provide reconciliation prior to completion of penance. At the Fourth Lateran Council in 1215, this rite was made the de-facto standard when it was mandated to be done once a year for serious sin.

What is the meaning of “second conversion”? (CCC 1427-1429)

While baptism is the normal means for remission of sins for those being initiated into the mysteries of the Church, reconciliation is the normative means for reconciliation of baptized Christians (CCC 1497; CIC 960) since the Sacrament of Baptism cannot be repeated (CCC 1280). Baptism, then, marks the first conversion. Reconciliation with the Church follows repentance, which is the second conversion, coming like baptism through water in “the tears of repentance” (CCC 1427) as St. Ambrose aptly described.

The term “conversion” comes from the Latin translation of the Greek term “metanoia” (μετάνοια), which means “to change one’s mind,” repentance, correction, or reorientation. This choice of terms seems particularly fitting in that the common term used for “sin” in the New Testament, “hamartia” (ἁμαρτία), which means “to miss the mark.” Metaphorically, this image suggests the sinner as an archer who has “missed the mark” and turns back or corrects his sin. Theologically, the sacrament reinforces the need for the daily conversion that we all need to come to complete perfection in Christ. Quoting Lumen Gentium, the Catechism notes, “This second conversion is an uninterrupted task for the whole Church who, ‘clasping sinners to her bosom, [is] at once holy and always in need of purification, [and] follows constantly the path of penance and renewal’” (CCC 1427). It is fitting, then, as the Medieval Fathers came to recognize, that reconciliation requires renewed and repeated conversion of heart. This understanding also conforms more completely with Christ’s insistence in Matthew 18:22 that we forgive our brother not merely seven times, but seventy times seven.

What are the parts of the Sacrament of Penance?

To be valid and efficacious, the sacrament of penance requires of the penitent three primary actions or “matter”: contrition (or repentance), confession, and satisfaction (CCC 1450). The first of these is contrition. This contrition is not mere emotion but a decision or conviction about the sinful act, a detestation of the act one has committed, and a firm amendment to turn from that sin. Contrition can be perfect, in which one is moved to sorrow through love of God and at having offended Him (CCC 1452) or can be imperfect, in which one is moved through fear of eternal punishment or the ugliness of sin itself (CCC 1453). The latter form is also called “attrition.” While perfect contrition can result in forgiveness of mortal sin when accompanied by a firm resolution to confess, attribution requires sacramental confession before mortal sin can be forgiven. Without contrition, perfect or imperfect, there is no forgiveness of sin. As Pope John Paul wrote in “Reconciliation and Penance,” [T]he essential act of penance, on the part of the penitent, is contrition, a clear and decisive rejection of the sin committed, together with a resolution not to commit it again,(185) out of the love which one has for God and which is reborn with repentance.”

Next, the penitent must confess all known mortal sins. In order to make an adequate confession, then, one must perform a “diligent self-examination” of conscience. The canons of the Council of Trent make note of the necessity of confession to a priest, even of sins against the ninth and tenth commandments, noting “for these sins sometimes wound the souls more grievously and are more dangerous than those which are committed openly” (CF 1626; CCC 1456; CIC 988.1). There is no obligation to confess venial sins, but it is encouraged as it helps us to “form our conscience, fight against evil tendencies, let ourselves be healed by Christ and progress in the life of the Spirit” (CCC 1458).

Finally, the penitent must make satisfaction. The confessor assigns some form of penance (CIC 981). This penitential act has several important functions, the first of which is reparation. The penitent must try to repair any harm done, if possible, when our sins have harmed a neighbor (CCC 1459). However, penance is also reparative in that it attempts to address the wound or disfigurement of the soul—the temporal effects of sin. Penitential acts must keep in mind the personal circumstances of the sinner and be directed toward the penitent’s spiritual welfare (CCC 1460; CIC 981). In addition, penance should help to destroy a penitent’s attachment to sin and to build up believers by repairing and healing spiritual wounds and configuring us to Christ.

The minister of this sacrament, who must be a priest or bishop, provides absolution to the penitent. While the acts of the penitent are considered the matter of the sacrament, the minister’s action is the form (CF 1612). Priests cannot deny or defer absolution if the three actions of the penitent are present and the penitent’s disposition appears to be correct (CIC 980). The minister of this sacrament and anyone who assists (such as an interpreter), are strictly bound to secrecy in regards the content of any penitent’s confession (CIC 983), nor is a confessor permitted to using knowledge gained in the confessional “to the detriment of the penitent” (CIC 984).

Anointing of the Sick

Explain Mark 6:13 and James 5: 14–15.

Mark 16:13 and James 5:14–15 are two of the clearest examples of how a sacrament can be both implicitly and explicitly instituted by Christ. This fact is important for the Sacrament of Anointing in particular because it is one of the sacraments that is not recognized by our Protestant brothers and sisters. Yet scripture itself supports this sacrament quite clearly. First, there is no doubt the Christ Himself healed. His response to the disciples of St. John the Baptist make this evident as Christ holds His acts up as evidence of His messianic role (Matthew 11:4–6). In addition, He sends out His Apostles to heal as well (Matthew 10:1). So first Christ demonstrated how it was done, and then He commanded them to do it. Clearly, the Apostles had a mandate to heal.

In the Gospel of Mark, we get an indication of the sacramental use of oil as part of this healing mission: “And they cast out many demons, and anointed with oil many that were sick and healed them” (6:13). In this instance, we have the Apostles, commanded by Christ to heal, going and doing what they are commanded using a matter common to their culture as a healing medium. Oil had been used for centuries for healing and soothing, so it was only natural to connect this matter with the prayerful actions of the Apostles in effecting the sacrament.

In the First Letter of James, the Apostle tells the elders in the tribes of the Dispersion to heal in the following fashion: “Is any among you sick? Let him call for the elders of the church, and let them pray over him, anointing him with oil in the name of the Lord; and the prayer of faith will save the sick man, and the Lord will raise him up; and if he has committed sins, he will be forgiven” (5:14–15). Again, as with Mark 6:13, anointing with oil is specifically mentioned, along with prayer. In both, the matter used for anointing is mentioned, as is the effect (res) of the sacrament. The Council of Trent cited both Mark 6:13 and James 5:14–15 in their doctrinal statement concerning the Sacrament of Extreme Unction: “By these words, as the Church has learned from Apostolic Tradition handed down and received by her, he teaches the matter, the form, and the proper minister, and the effect of the salutary sacrament” (CF 1636).

Explain the fruits of this sacrament (CCC 1520–1523).

The doctrinal statement of the fourteenth session of the Council of Trent enumerates the various effects of this Sacrament. Among these effects are the forgiveness of sins and expiation of the effects of sin, comforting and strengthening the soul to awaken awareness of Divine mercy, protection against the temptation of the devil through this strengthening, and “when expedient for the salvation of the soul,” physical healing (CF 1637). The Catechism reinforces this conciliar teaching as well:
This grace is a gift of the Holy Spirit, who renews trust and faith in God and strengthens against the temptations of the evil one, the temptation to discouragement and anguish in the face of death. This assistance from the Lord by the power of his Spirit is meant to lead the sick person to healing of the soul, but also of the body if such is God's will. Furthermore, ‘if he has committed sins, he will be forgiven.’ (CCC 1520)


While the council’s statement reveals well the individual effects of the Sacrament of Anointing, the current Catechism elaborates on the effects of this sacrament to reveal its communal effects.

The Catechism brings out the way in which this sacrament unites the suffering of the sick person with Christ’s Passion. Christ in His suffering and dying transformed the very nature of suffering and its meaning. Suffering, particularly when it is engaged in this sacrament, allows the infirm to participate in “the saving work of Christ” (CCC 1521). As a work for the sake of the salvation of others, this suffering is an “ecclesial grace” and “contributes to the good of the people of God.” In this sacrament we can see the Church and the communion of saints working for the sanctification of all (CCC 1522). Finally, this sacrament prepares those who are dying for their final journey. As the sacramentum exuntium, this anointing (when given along with reconciliation and the Eucharist) prepares those who are dying, conforming them more perfectly to Christ and sealing them, in a similar fashion to the sealing they receive in the initiatory sacraments (CCC 1523–24).

Holy Orders

What are the objections made by the Protestants in opposition to the Catholic view of the Sacrament of Holy Orders?

Perhaps the most common argument that Protestants make in opposition to the Catholic view of the Sacrament of Holy Orders is that the ordained priesthood appears to interject a layer of mediation between God and man. Christ, they say, made the whole Levitical system of sacrifices and ritual law unnecessary to mediate between and God and man. People, then, can all go directly to Christ rather than through an intermediate. In addition, Protestants often see the law and the priesthood as being part and parcel of the same system, and they quote St. Paul in Romans 3:20 and Galatians 2:16 as clear indications that the Law does not save and that the Levitical priesthood is not only unnecessary but abolished by Christ. Based on these narrowly interpreted passages, Protestants do not see in scripture any ordination that sets apart or indelibly marks a man for service in a unique way to the Church. In most Protestant denominations, ministers are primarily a professional class that performs a function, with no notion of permanence in vocation.

In addition, some Protestants (particularly evangelical Lutherans) reject the sacerdotal framework of the ordained priesthood. This rejection is undoubtedly based on Protestants’ mistaken connection between the ordained priesthood of the Apostolic churches and the Levitical priesthood, with its repeated propitiatory sacrifices. However, the priesthood of the Church is not of the same character of the Levitical priesthood, but is a sharing of the High Priesthood of Christ in the Order of Melchizedek (Hebrews 6:20) and an exercising of Christ’s own priesthood. While the Levitical priests offered repeated propitiatory sacrifices, the ordained priests of Christ offer only a re-presentation of Christ’s atoning sacrifice offered once and for all (CF 1548).

Who instituted the sacrament of Holy Orders and how?

Christ Himself instituted the Sacrament of Holy Orders, in two tiers. First, He established the office of the episcopacy by selecting twelve apostles, the leader of whom was Peter, and Christ gave to him the keys to the kingdom with the power to bind and loose (Matthew 16:18–19). This passage closely parallels another in Isaiah (22:22) in which stewardship over the House of David is assigned to Eliakim. Christ later extended this power of binding and loosing to all of the Apostles (Matthew 18:18; John 20:23). The terminology of “binding and loosing” originates with the rabbis of the time period and refers to their power to impose and lift bans on members of a synagogue. In Christ’s Church, these terms came to refer to the authority of bishops to bind and loose sins (in the Sacrament of Reconciliation), as well as to excommunicate (CCC 1444).

Christ also established another lesser order of service when he chose seventy of His disciples to go out and evangelize (Luke 10:1). These disciples He commanded to go and heal the sick (10:9), but He also implies an authority to bind (10:10–11). These seventy are prefigured by the seventy elders chosen by Moses to assist him and Aaron (Numbers 11). While the twelve Apostles parallel the twelve Patriarchs of Israel, the seventy elders parallel the seventy disciples chosen by Christ. In Acts 14:23, we see Paul and Barnabas appointing elders or presbyters (from πρεσβύτερος) for the various communities they establish. Earlier in the gospel accounts, we see frequent references to the “chief priests and the elders” (Matthew 21:23, 26:3; Mark 8:31, 14:43), so clearly the tradition is established prior to Christ of relating these two roles to each other authority, with the chief priests clearly being of higher rank. In Acts 15, we see a change in this terminology to Apostles and elders, suggesting a supplanting of the authority of the chief priests and reinforcing the higher authority conferred to the Apostles. This authority, of course, is eventually handed on to bishops (επίσκοπος) as the successors of the Apostles. Lumen Gentium states:

They therefore appointed such men, and gave them the order that, when they should have died, other approved men would take up their ministry. Among those various ministries which, according to tradition, were exercised in the Church from the earliest times, the chief place belongs to the office of those who, appointed to the episcopate, by a succession running from the beginning, are passers-on of the apostolic seed. (LG 20)


Lumen Gentium then goes on in section 21 to explain the role of priests as assistants to the bishops. The order of the presbyterate having been established by Christ, it is fitting then that they also share in His priesthood.

The order of the diaconate, although still considered an ordained ministry by the Church (CCC 1570), does not share in the priesthood of Christ but in His ministry of service (CCC 1569). This difference seems particularly fitting given that the institution of the diaconate, if one looks to scripture for evidence, seems to come from a delegation and imposition by the Apostles rather than from Christ directly (Acts 6:2–3). In light of this action by the Apostles, it seems likewise fitting that the imposition of hands during diaconal ordination is performed solely by the presiding bishop and not by any priests also in attendance (CCC 1569).

Explain Apostolic Succession according to the Bible.

Scripture makes clear in the gospels that Christ had many followers or disciples but that He selected twelve who were held in a privileged position (Matthew 10:1–4; Mark 3:14–19; Luke 6:13–16). To Peter, Christ provides a very specific role as “the rock” on which He will build His Church, giving Peter also the keys to the kingdom of Heaven and the power of binding and loosing (Matthew 16:17–19). In Matthew 18:18, Jesus appears to be extending this power to the other disciples, which the Church assumes are the twelve (although the passage does not make this absolutely clear). However, the Church has always understood Matthew 18:18 in light of the power extended to Peter and in the context of the twelve disciples rather than the broader group of disciples who followed Christ (LG 20). To these twelve, Jesus also promised the assistance of the Holy Spirit to guide them in their ministry (John 14:26). Again, in John, Christ confirms the authority of the Apostles to forgive and retain sins (20:22), as well as the role of Peter as the leader of the Apostles (21:15–19).

One of the disagreements many Protestants have concerning the episcopacy is whether the roles of the twelve constitute an actual office, as the Church has always taught. Yet a careful reading of scripture must lead one no other conclusion. In Matthew 16:19, Jesus grants to Peter the keys to the kingdom of heaven, as well as the authority to bind and loose, an authority mentioned previously as one deriving from and essentially supplanting rabbinical tradition: “I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven, and whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.” This passage parallels a similar event in Isaiah 22:22, when the Lord supplants one steward of the house of David and replaces him with another: “And I will place on his shoulder the key of the house of David; he shall open, and none shall shut; and he shall shut, and none shall open.” Peter, acting as Christ’s steward, binds and looses with the authority of Christ.

One of the earliest acts that Peter and the remaining Apostles perform is the selection of a replacement for Judas, citing Psalms as his reason for this action: “For he was numbered among us, and was allotted his share in this ministry…. For it is written in the book of Psalms, ‘Let his habitation become desolate, and let there be no one to live in it'; and 'His office let another take’” (Acts 1:17, 20). They selected Matthias to take Judas’ place as an Apostle. Just as the priesthood of the Jews had a form of succession (albeit one handed on through lineage rather than vocation), the Apostles saw clearly that their office must persist for the Church to be guided until Christ’s return, and clearly this guidance would fall to those put in place as local shepherds of the flock by the Apostles themselves (CCC 1087). While the Petrine and Apostolic offices clearly connote the notion of stewardship (as follows from Matthew 16:19 and its relationship to Isaiah 22:22, and reiterated by St. Paul in Titus 1:7), they also act as shepherds as delegated by the Good Shepherd (John 10:11; John 21: 5–17; Hebrews 13:20).

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