JMC : The Catholic Religion / by Charles Coppens, S.J.

The Sacraments.

We shall treat in distinct chapters of 1. The Sacraments in general, 2. Baptism and Confirmation, 3. The Holy Eucharist, 4. Penance and Extreme Unction, 5. Holy Orders, 6. Matrimony.

The Sacraments in General.

227. The mission of the Church is twofold, to teach and to sanctify mankind. As she must teach the minds by speaking outwardly to the ears of the body -- for "faith cometh by hearing" (Rom. X, 17) -- so she sanctifies the souls by outward means, appointed for this purpose by her Divine Founder. Such, for instance, is Baptism: "Teach ye all nations . . . baptizing them" (Matt. XXVIII, 19). These outward signs instituted by Christ to effect inwardly the grace which they signify, are called "Sacraments". They have been called by sacred writers: "precious vases of the Blood of Christ", "fountains of eternal life", "streams of Paradise"; their most common name for many centuries was "mysteries" because they contained a hidden meaning not revealed to the uninitiated.

The peculiar nature of a Sacrament consists in this, that the outward sign, in virtue of its institution by Christ, effects the grace which it signifies. It does so by its own efficacy, ex opere operato, as theologians call it, and not through the piety of the minister nor of the recipient, which would be called ex opere operantis. Thus if a wicked man baptizes an infant, the same effect is produced as if a saintly priest did the act. Of course, God alone can thus make a human act an instrument of sanctification. Therefore the Church does not claim the power of instituting Sacraments; and the Council of Trent denies that she has any power over their substance. Few of the Protestant sects regard the Sacraments as any more than reminders which at most suggest to the recipients such acts of virtue as will benefit their souls.

228. As in the case of paper money the material is of little value, nor need the government stamp nor the official signatures be elaborate, but the wealth of the country is pledged to redeem it, and this fact gives it all its value; so the actions done by the human ministers of the Sacraments may he brief, and the words pronounced few, but the treasure of Christ's Sacred Blood is thereby applied to the soul. Moreover, Christ is really the principal Minister of the Sacraments; and for this reason their efficacy is not lessened by the sinfulness, or even the want of faith of the visible minister. This was defined at Trent. And as early as the third century St. Cyprian was taught by Pope St. Stephen that the Sacraments conferred by heretics are valid if no other hindrance exists; and St. Augustine asserted against the Donatists that the sinfulness of the minister does not invalidate them. But, of course, the minister must intend to do what the Church does; else he would not act as her minister in this matter, nor as the deputy of Christ; and therefore he would not confer the Sacrament.

229. The outward sign instituted by Christ is, in every Sacrament, composed of two elements, namely, some action done and some words pronounced. The action done is called the matter, and the words spoken are the form; and the union of the two is required to constitute the Sacrament. Thus in Baptism, the washing with water is the matter, the water being called the remote matter, and the washing the proximate matter; and the form is the words: "I baptize thee in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost". The washing and the words together signify the cleansing of the soul by the power of God. Since, therefore, the conferring of grace has thus been attached by Christ to definite signs, any substantial change in these frustrates the act. But what will make a change substantial? Since the Sacraments are intended to be administered by sensible men under the guidance of the Church, it is for the Church and common sense to judge of this. Thus, for the matter of the Holy Eucharist, that is wine which common sense calls wine; and whenever, in any Sacrament, the rubrics of the Church are substantially observed, the validity is known to exist. For otherwise the Church would have lost her means of sanctification; and thus the powers of hell would have prevailed which Christ has pledged Himself to prevent (Matt. XVI, 18). The Sacramental signs instituted by Christ are accompanied by ceremonies instituted by the Church; these do not belong to the substance of the Sacraments.

230. There are other observances, called Sacramentals, most of which are instituted by the Church and not directly by Christ, in order that the faithful, by the devout use of thenm, may obtain actual graces and other favors of soul and body. They do not produce grace by their own efficacy, ex opere operato, but by the devout acts of those who use them, ex opere operantis; and these acts are made specially efficacious by the prayers of the Church, asking God to grant those favors. For instance, St. Liguori says: "Many private prayers do not equal in value one only prayer of the Divine Office, as being offered to God in the name of the whole Church" (apud Lambing, Sacramentals, p. 33). The principal Sacramentals are the prayers of the Missal and Breviary, and the blessings of the Roman Ritual; in particular "the Our Father", the Sign of the Cross, the approved Litanies, the "Angelus", the use of holy water, of blessed ashes, candles, palms, beads, scapulars, the "Agnus Dei" etc.

231. The Council of Trent has defined that there are seven Sacraments, neither more nor less. Prescription was clear on the subject; for it had been the teaching of the whole Church for centuries, and had never been questioned before the Reformation. that each of these seven rites was a Sacrament, and these alone. Still the 25th of the Thirty-nine Articles of the English Establishment acknowledges only two Sacraments, Baptism and the Lord's Supper. Of the other five it says: They "are not to be counted for Sacraments of the Gospel . . . . for they have not any visible sign or ceremony ordained of God". We shall prove the contrary when treating of the Sacraments severally. But we may here remark that Anglican Orders can have no efficacy if the ceremony used in conferring them is not ordained of God (n. 270). Of the other Protestant sects some admit two Sacraments, and others none whatever.

232. Among the seven Sacraments, two can lawfully be received while the recipient is in the state of mortal sin, so that he may enter by them upon the state of grace, namely Baptism and Penance. These are therefore appropriately called "Sacraments of the dead". In Opposition to them, the other five are styled "Sacraments of the living". To receive any of the latter kind in mortal sin would be a sacrilege. Still if the recipient does not suspect his sinful state, and is truly sorry for all his mortal sins, the act would, of course, not be a sacrilege nor a formal sin. Nay more, since the Council of Trent teaches that the Sacraments infallibly confer grace on those who do not put an obstacle to its reception -- and such a man appears to put no obstacle, -- it is the prevalent opinion of theologians that he would receive the grace. In respect to Extreme Unction, one of whose purposes is the remission of sin, it is commonly held that it has this power.

233. The Fathers teach, and the Council of Trent has defined, that Baptism, Confirmation, and Holy Orders can be received only once, because they imprint on the soul of the recipient an ineffaceable mark, called the Sacramental character or seal. Thus the Apostle says: "God hath sealed us, and given us the pledge of the Spirit in our hearts" (2 Cor. I, 22). This character may be considered as a badge, or rather as an honorable brand, indicating the function in the army of Christ to which each person has been admitted; it remains forever as a mark of honor to the just, or a source of confusion to the traitor who deserts to the enemy.

234. All the Sacraments, if properly received give sanctifying grace, or increase it if it exists already in the soul. Besides, since each Sacrament is instituted to supply some special need of the Christian life, each produces a peculiar effect of its own, which is styled its "Sacramental grace". This disposes or entitles the soul to receive such actual graces as the special purpose of each Sacrament requires. For instance, in Confirmation actual graces are obtained which will aid, when cases of need arise, boldly to profess the faith.

But suppose Confirmation were received unworthily, the graces are not gained, and yet the Sacrament cannot be repeated. Are the needed graces then irretrievably lost? The common opinion is that the Sacrament, which was, as it were, dead owing to the state of mortal sin in which it was received, "revives", as it is called, as soon as the soul regains spiritual life. This "reviving" probably takes place for all the Sacraments that cannot be repeated, and also for Extreme Unction and Matrimony, which cannot be repeated at pleasure.

235. The person on whom a Sacrament is conferred is called the subject of the Sacrament. He must, in general, have some kind of intention to receive the benefit. Yet an infant or an idiot from birth, can validly and licitly receive Baptism and Confirmation. In the Eastern Church to-day, and formerly in the Western Church also, a consecrated Particle was given to every infant after Baptism. Those who have lost the use of their senses can licitly and validly receive Baptism and Extreme Unction if they previously desired to do so; and some writers think it is enough if they had sorrow for sin and desired generally all necessary means of salvation.

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