Fr. Charles Irvin, Diocese of Lansing at 402-A E. Madison Street, DeWitt, MI 48820 US - The Sacraments - Their Meaning
|The Sacraments - Their Meaning|
A BRIEF THEOLOGICAL OUTLINE OF THE SACRAMENTS
Rev. Fr. Charles E. Irvin, M.B.A., M.Div., J.D.
Retired Priest of the Diocese of Lansing
Note: This is only a sketchy outline needing to be fleshed out. I certainly do not represent this as anything at all complete. It is simply an aid to be used in exploring more deeply the subjects and ideas put forth. Hopefully it will provide the user with a contextual framework from in which to develop further the ideas I have set forth here for discussion.
SACRAMENTS: IN GENERAL
- God - A Community of Persons
- In this course on the Sacraments we begin without arguing about whether or not there is, in fact, a God. Likewise, the existence of God as Father, Son and Holy Spirit is taken as a datum given to us by Jesus Christ. There is no point in arguing about those givens here. That discussion is in another area of theology, namely the nature and content of Revelation.
- Sacramental theology raises to the level of apprehension (but not comprehension) the dynamic relationships between the Persons of the Blessed Trinity. They are distinct but not separate Persons. We can distinguish between them but we can never separate them.
Theological Note: Whenever God acts in and through a Sacrament, He acts triunely. He always acts as He is, namely the Three acting through and in One.
- Theology appropriates certain activities to each of the Persons of God, but always holds that they act in their unity as the Trinity.
- Ultimately God is simple, not complex. (cf. St. Thomas Aquinas). PARADOX: Complexity points to simplicity, to the balanced tension between the simplicity of unity and the complexity of interdependence. For an outstanding example, consider Einstein's famous equation E=mc2.
- Scriptural sources for the Persons of the Trinity in their inter-relationships:
- Being made in the image and likeness of God, what constitutes "being a person", a person in being, an existential person? What constitutes an existing person whose personhood is sustained and nourished in life by be-ing an "I" in relationship to a "thou"? Note that couching the concept in the present tense active is deliberate because it is a more apt description of the reality.
- Philosophical insight is like a searchlight piercing into the darkness. In its beam we can see reality that's outside of us. Our minds may then reach out to apprehend that reality existing "out there". Different philosophical systems attempt to give us insight into what it means to be a human person: a) Objectivism, b) Subjectivism, c) Essentialism (Aristotle and Aquinas), and d) Existentialism, and Personalism (Pope John Paul II).
- In Theology we identify two major faculties (facilities or powers) of humans that existentially set them apart from all other living creatures and make them uniquely and specifically persons, namely the powers of KNOWING and LOVING, the qualities of Mind and Heart. These are powers of the human spirit. Our destiny is to know and love God face to face; our first glimpses of Him are seen in the faces of those around us, especially those who know us and love us.
- What does it mean to have a body? What does a body do for you?
- Psychology tells us that we are psycho-somatic beings.
- Theology tells us that we are body/spirit beings.
- Our bodies locate us in the material mode of existence in which we measure things by the criteria of time, space, weight, etc. Spiritually our bodies are vehicles of inter-personal communication, of inter-personal communion. Hence community and communion are THE essential elements of the Church. Holy Communion constitutes our faith community, constitutes the Church.
- The basic reality of our humanity is expressed in this diagram:
SPIRIT/BODY <------------------> SPIRIT/BODY
Heart / \Heart
- What does the Incarnation mean?
- What does Christ's Resurrection mean in terms of our own humanity? Where is Christ's body after His resurrection?
- What does Christ's Ascension "to the right hand of the Father" mean? Is His Ascension a departure or an inauguration?
- How are we to understand the term "salvation"?
- Explain the distinction between the terms "salvation", "redemption", "justification" and "sanctification".
- Explain the distinction between the terms "faith", "religion" and "Church".
- Explain the distinction between "belief" and "creed".
Sacraments (the Great Eastern Churches refer to them as The Mysteries) are the actions of the Person who is God the Son reaching out to touch us and become one with us through His Body in the power of His Spirit. In His humanity He is the Christ - God's Anointed One. He is the Jesus of Nazareth who, raised from the dead in the power of the Holy Spirit, becomes the Christ of faith, the Spirit-Filled and glorified Christ whom God has anointed to bring His presence and life to us, to live within is, in our own humanity.
Sacraments are the great signs given off by the risen Body of Christ. They are "outward and visible signs communicating an inner spiritual grace", instituted by Christ to communicate His Holy Spirit into us.
- Bodies give off signs (body language) revealing the mind and heart (spirit) of the person acting within and through those signs. What is a kiss? Try to define one! Definitions collapse; a kiss is a "sacrament", something that we can only describe, never define. Only symbolic language is strong enough to carry the weight of the Reality within them; definitional language lacks the power to convey the total weight.
- Jesus Christ is continually redeeming humanity both collectively and individually. He has not redeemed us, He is redeeming us. He is always in being, is-ing, in our humanity now. He is always forgiving, sacrificing, and offering Himself to us in His Body, the Church. And, in turn, He is gathering us into one holy union and presenting us to His Father.
- Note the play on these words: present/gift/gratia/grace.
- There is only one sacrifice of Jesus Christ. Why? Because it isn't over yet! We call the Last Supper "Last" because another one can't follow it; it's still happening!
- God is pure Act; He is utterly simple; God is simply is-ing. In Hebrew His name is: I AM WHO AM.
Theological Note: The Transitus Christi denotes the movement, the transformation, the change and the transition of Christ. In becoming humanity He does not lose His divinity; in His return to divinity ("at the right hand of His Father") He does not lose His humanity. From Abraham and the Exodus until now, pilgrimage and movement and transition and change are all occurring. Sacraments are moments when we can enter (actively and personally) by our own free choice into the dynamic, on-going and never static activity of Christ returning us to His Father in His resurrected and Spirit-filled glorified humanity.
Axiom: We can only respond to God's initiative and God's invitation. He loves us first. In His reaching out to us He has set up the way back to Him. Therefore we cannot chart our own way to God (the Tower of Babel), we can only respond to His invitation and attend His banquet. We are not in control - He is. We can only respond in Christ to His offer.
The Church and the Church's Sacraments come from above, from God, and they retain their own integrity (and truth) apart from any perceptions or decisions on our part. We do not determine for ourselves what their reality truly is. God does! Being invited guests to the Lord's Messianic Banquet we only discover their reality and inner truth.
- There is only One Sacrament, namely the one sacrificing Christ.
- Why, then, do we speak of seven Sacraments? In biblical symbolism the cardinal number SEVEN denotes perfection. ("Seventy times seven times..." meaning you can't get any better than that!)
- Sacramental actions communicate the spirit of the person giving them, and these actions allow the spirit of the person giving to enter into the spirit of the person receiving. We will, therefore, never understand sex until we understand Holy Communion! Read, now, 1 Corinthians 6:12-20. Sexual intercourse creates a bond a part of which will always remain, even though we walk away from the other into whom we have given our spirit. That is why so-called "casual sex" eventually destroys the one engaging in it. Why? Because such persons literally lose their selves in frittering them away. They no longer possess integral (hence truthful) selves worth giving! With the loss of their integrity their currency has been devalued.
- The Church as the Body of Christ is the prolongation and continuation of the Presence of God in our humanity, a Presence of the Spirit who transforms our humanity into Christ's transcending humanity, His Spirit-filled humanity risen from the dead.
- The Old Testament's marks of the Messiah are these: He would be King, Prophet and Priest.
- In Christ's Holy Spirit the Church ordains (orients or orders) through Holy Orders. Persons in Holy Orders are the Church's overseers and teachers (bishops) giving ordination (directedness and purpose), in turn, to the faith community.
- The Church is ordered, oriented by God, to bring union and peace, the peace that flows from union. It's mission is "re-ligio" and "at-one-ment". The function of the priest is to bring Holy Communion to us, a holistic and whole-some communion between man and man, man and his world, and man and God. Religion is to "re-ligament" and to restore bonding and oneness in a fractured and broken world. Note the play on the words: (heal=whole=wholesome=holy). Holy Communion means a "whole common union".
- Liturgy is the public act of the People of God, the Body of Christ, bringing Christ's humanity (our humanity integrated into His) back to our Father - His Father and yours and mine. Christ's humanity was Spirit-filled in the resurrection; it is that Humanity into which we are baptized. And it is that Humanity, that Body and Blood, that we receive in Holy Communion.
- The Holy Spirit is communicated through a community. Without genuine community, without openness and wholeness, the liturgy is voided of the Spirit Who gives us the power to transform our lives and be agents of Christ's transforming power in our world. Where there is no community spirit, Sunday worship becomes dull, drab and lifeless!
- The ecclesia, namely the "called out and unified assembly", comes from above; it is not the creation of men and women, rather it is formed in the response of men and women to God's gathering-in Holy Spirit. It is when we open ourselves to God that the Holy Spirit assembles us, unites us, and causes us to be the Ecclesia, the Church, the Mystical Body of Christ.
- If Christ is essential to the plan of God, then so is the Church! Without the Ecclesia where would the risen Body of Christ be located and therefore available to us? While it is true that God is everywhere it is nevertheless likewise true that the Church is the privileged locus of the Risen Christ among us.
- The Church is communitarian because God is Trinitarian. It takes several in order to make one-ness, and it takes more than one to know love - and to live in love!
- The Church is the Eucharist and the Eucharist is the Church! The effect of the Eucharist is the corporate reality of our union, our one-ness, and our communion with Christ and with each other. There is no other Church! There is no other risen Body of Christ!
- THE ROLE OF WATER IN SALVATION HISTORY:
- Water is at once life giving and death dealing.
- (Read Genesis: 1:1-2) The waters of Genesis: beyond human control; chaos, bringing despair; symbolizing DEATH and DESTRUCTION.
- To get the feeling, visualize yourself on a small ship at sea in a terrifying storm. It doesn't matter at that point how much money you have in the bank, what your political connections might be back on shore at home, what your I.Q. is, what fame you have, or whether you are "successful" or not. You are helpless and powerless; your fate rests solely in the hands of the master of the ship. And who is the Master? He is GOD. And that's the point of the first verses of the Book of Genesis!
- Genesis 1:1-2 is a simply statement that God is the Master of Spaceship Earth. We must depend on Him or die! Outside of the Ark we die in the stormy waters of Chaos.
- After the breakdown of the primal integrity and wholeness of the world, the breakdown resulting from the sin of Adam and Eve (for sin is that which destroys integrity and breaks down our bonding with others and the Other that is God) the floodgates of Chaos were opened.
- The Flood is both death dealing and life giving. The Ark floats on top of the waters of chaos and God enters into the work of making a new creation. [This is the second - some number it the third - creation account in Genesis]. Sin brings chaos by disordering the original order and integrity placed by God in the life of His creation. Because of human sinfulness we are all born into it and must be rescued from it by God because we cannot rescue ourselves any more than a drowning person can rescue himself all by himself.
- Note that WORK is not a curse, it is a blessing. God "works" to bring about Creation. Jesus Christ is about the "work" of our redemption. Works can be (and are when joined into God's work) salvific.
Theological Note: God is always acting. God never gives up; He is always starting over again. Human sin is not more powerful than God's love for His creation and His personal love for His children. God's love is infinitely more powerful than anything sin can accomplish within us.
- Noah and his wife, plus mated twos of every living creature, are the new Adam and the new Eve through whom God enters into a new creation. Read Genesis, Chapters 6, 7 and 8. Those who acknowledged God's role rode out the storm and entered upon a new world, His new creation.
- Today's storms are ecological disaster, nuclear destruction, energy depletion, exploitation, militarism, racism, sexism, nihilistic individualism and all of those evils that drown our lives in chaos as a direct consequence of our radical disorientation from the God whose Presence and order and purpose are found in Nature.
- Sin is in our origins, hence the theological term: Original Sin. It is still at work within us today! By ourselves alone we cannot rescue ourselves from drowning in it.
Theological Note: Original Sin did not corrupt us; God's original blessing is underneath all the ash and debris that are the resultants of our sin. Sin is NOT more powerful than God's goodness. Original sin did, however, weaken us; it wounded us; its force is still at work deep within us - inclining us toward self-centeredness, selfishness, ego-centric individualism, and disregard for the good of others, along with disregard for the well-being of the world around us.
- (Read Exodus 14) By passing through the waters of the Red Sea the People of God were liberated from their Egyptian bondage and captivity. Once again, as in the Ark, God incorporated His People into a community, this time by giving them the Law and covenanting Himself to them. Baptism, then, takes us through all of those historical waters and into a new life, a new relationship with God.
Theological Note: The Ten Commandments are not simply "do's" and "don'ts". They are, rather, the principles that bond people together in community. Violate them and you attack that which bonds folks together in families and in communities.
- While the Israelites wandered for 40 years in the desert they were given WATER from the rock which Moses struck with his staff. This water was, of course, life giving water; a gift from God to sustain us in His life which He shares with us when we life in His community of life. [Note that the inner life of God is precisely that, namely a community of Persons who empty their life into each other in order that they may all, together, have life].
Theological Note: Life can never be found in isolation, all by ourselves. Life can only be found by sharing with others in community, in communion, in the common-union that is our bonding together in love. We are saved by belonging to a Community.
- Our first "bonding", our first Covenant with God, comes to us from Mt. Sinai. Later on in the New Testament we find other significant "mountains", namely the Mount of the Beatitudes, the Mountain of the Transfiguration, Mount Zion (Jerusalem & Golgotha), and the Mount of the Ascension, all of them recalling the original mountain from which God's Presence came to us, Mt. Sinai.
It is significant that Christ was crucified on the "mountain" that is Golgotha, and from his pierced side flowed out blood and water, another of all of those waters into which we are immersed in the waters of baptism.
- (Read Joshua 3 and 4), the JORDAN CROSSING. It is through water that God's people entered the Promised Land. That's why Catholic churches have holy water available to the faithful at the doors through which they enter into the House of God, reminding all who enter of the waters of baptism and all of the other waters though which our humanity passed in the history of our salvation. It also accounts for the renewed emphasis on the baptismal font that we find in newly built and newly renovated Catholic churches.
- Read Ezekiel 36:23-27. The possibility of a New Covenant is prophesied, the old ones having been abandoned by us through human sinfulness. Here we find the cleansing action of water. And we find John the Baptist using water as a cleansing agent in his baptism of repentance and conversion.
Theological Note: By entering into the baptism of John the Baptist Jesus plunges Himself (drowns Himself) in all of human history and in all that it means to be human, even into the condition of sin, that is to say, the condition of being alienated from God our Father. Jesus "takes on" sin, though He Himself remains personally innocent of committing sin, and experiences the depth of human alienation from God our Father.
- JEWISH BAPTISM: The baptism employed by John the Baptizer signified a conversion, a moving from one version of living to another version of living. It implied a total change in life-style; an entirely new version of living. It meant moving from living in sinful practices (hence dis-integration with God) to a restoration of integrity or truthfulness in living. It implied moving from brokenness and living a fractured life to wholeness or holiness. [Heal = whole = holy].
- Note the Jewish practice of washing with water prior to eating and worshiping. Baptism washes us in preparation for the coming of the Messiah into our lives, prior to our sharing in the Messianic Banquet, prior to our coming into God's Presence.
- Converts to Judaism were inserted into the Exodus Event by passing through water. What a Jew received through natural birth, a convert to Judaism received through waters that immersed them into the Exodus Community.
Theological Note: Hence Christian Baptism brings us through death and into life. Not only does it take us through the waters of death, in births us in the waters, the womb waters of Holy Mother Church, the waters of life. Christian Baptism brings us entrance into that common union, that community that is founded, flows from, and is nourished in the Sacrament of Holy Communion, a sharing in the very Life of the Messiah. Thus the rationale for infant baptism. Baptism initiates us into the Life of God; it brings us to the threshold of Holy Communion. Once again, it is to be noted that we are saved by belonging to a Community. We are not saved in our isolated, individualistic, autonomy, much to the chagrin of our intellectual arrogance.
- The Exodus Event was re-present-ed, made present to us again. For a Jew remembering wasn't simply a recollection or a recalling or a mere bringing back into awareness again. For a Jew a memorial was making the individual present again into the historical event.
Re-membering is making one a member again.
Theological Note: The profound meaning of Christ's command at the Last Supper, "Do this and remember me" now begins to become evident! Enormous theological realities are hidden within the words of the priest at Mass when he utters the words of the Messiah: "Do this in remembrance of me". It is Christ Who, in the Mass, is making us a part of Him again, to sanctify us and take us back home to His Father in heaven!
- A Jewish ceremonial washing was the re-entrance into the waters of Genesis and Exodus in order that the person might thereby be prepared to offer sacrifice to Yahweh. The convert was baptized in order to be inserted into the historical events of the Jewish Community.
The repenting sinner who was already Jewish (like those who approached John the Baptizer) was reinserted into those saving events of Yahweh in Salvation History.
- Con-version = living a new version of life with God, replacing an old version of living life apart from God. This movement can only be done with God.
- The Exodus Event was re-present-ed, made present to us again. For a Jew remembering wasn't simply a recollection or a recalling or a mere bringing back into awareness again. For a Jew a memorial was making the individual present again into the historical event.
- OTHER NOTIONS OF WATER IN SALVATION HISTORY:
- It was seen as a cleansing agent; it does, after all, remove dirt! But the cleansing part is of much lesser significance than the fact that it is both death dealing and life giving.
Theological Note: It was only when sin was seen as a "black mark" or a "stain" on one's soul that the waters of Baptism were seen as "washing away Original Sin". But that is a theologically weak understanding both of sin and of the sacramental effect of the waters of Baptism. Much more profound realities are in force here, namely incorporation into the Spirit-filled, glorious and risen Humanity of Christ.
- In an arid and dry land it water was a fantastic symbol of LIFE! In an arid environment water is the stuff of life itself; it is absolutely essential for life. In such a situation one is truly saved by water.
- Waters of the Jordan: This is precisely where Jesus begins His public ministry. Those waters represent the Genesis waters, Exodus waters, and the waters through which Israel entered into the Promised Land. They are at the threshold of the Kingdom. Christ's baptism by John the Baptizer immerses Christ in our human origins, our sin and our history. Spiritually we are Jews, descendants of Abraham. Abraham is our father in faith. From Abraham and the history of his descendants we can claim the Promise which God gave to all mankind. Note the family tree of Christ presented by Matthew in his Gospel and contrast it with the family tree presented by Luke in his Gospel. Ask yourself why one traces Jesus' origin from Adam and the other from Abraham?
- THE MEANING OF THE SACRAMENT OF BAPTISM:
- What does Baptism mean to you? What does it do for you?
- Who is acting in Baptism? Why?
- Does it simply take away Original Sin? (And just what is Original Sin?)
- What happens to you as a person as a result of Baptism?
- What happens to babies who die without having been baptized?
- Baptismal waters are death-dealing as well as life-giving. How does this paradox apply to your life?
- SPIRIT - WHAT IS IT
- Stated ever so simply and concisely, the things of the spirit are the things of the mind and the things of the heart. They are non-material realities, realties not made of atoms and molecules, but which are nevertheless materialized and realized (made present and "real" to us) through our human bodies.
- (Here read the Prologue to John's Gospel). It takes a human body to make present that which is spiritual. It is only through human flesh and blood that the Spirit comes into us; through which we encounter the Presence (God).
- TRANSFORMATION THROUGH THE SPIRIT:
- Friendship cannot be given unless the recipient is willing to receive it. Transformation, a change in the form of our lives, is an inner reality that gives us the ability to receive the spirit that is the mind and the heart of another person - along with giving our spirit to another.
- In order to identify myself through love with a friend I must yield my whole self to him and not merely know about him or be merely spatially present to him. I must allow his mind and heart into mine, and I must empty mine into his. Our attitudes are changed only when we assimilate the attitudes of others who are "significant others" for us, and allow them into us.
- Affecting the consciousness of another is a presence quite different than mere location next to him or mere partnership in working toward a common goal. Transformation occurs when our attitudes are not only touched but affected by life-directions and attitudes that come to us from the outside, and we allow them to change ours - and consequently our lives. That is only achieved through the surrender of our pride and the surrender of our autonomy to the other, in this case the Other that is the Holy Spirit. This is the only way that the Holy Spirit can transform us by His Personal presence.
Theological Note: Submission means "standing under the mission" of another. Submission to the Holy Spirit places us under the Holy Spirit's mission, or purpose, or directed activity.
- GRACE = gratia = gift. We express our love for each other through the giving of gifts, through giving each other "presents" thus making ourselves present to each other. Presence comes through presents or gifts of love. Thus, a gift becomes a sacrament of self-communication or self-donation.
Theological Note: This is the inner life of the Holy Trinity. Furthermore, it is the life in which the Holy Spirit is IS-ing. Just as the Persons of the Holy Trinity are present to each other totally and infinitely, so also we live "in the image and likeness of God" by living in that gracious way via participation in the ultimate reality that is God.
- The Holy Spirit forms us into the Sonship of Christ, thereby drawing us and uniting us to the Father. The Holy Spirit raised Jesus from the dead into a New Humanity. The Holy Spirit impelled and moved Jesus into His public ministry, into his mission into our world to bring healing and wholeness to is fractured brokenness. In the Resurrection the Holy Spirit raised Jesus of Nazareth to be the Christ of glory.
Confirmation is the act of the Church confirming that this can be so (and is so in fact) within us because, if we respond to God's offer, we share in the Life that is living within the Body of Christ. We submit ourselves to His action and present ourselves to God in Baptism in order that we might be confirmed as God's sons and daughters in His Son. In so doing we acknowledge, confess and witness that we have a Father who gives us life, along with a destiny and purpose in life, and who thereby invests us with dignity and meaningfulness in our living out life.
- THE RITE OF CONFIRMATION:
- Proclamation of God's Word from Holy Scripture.
- Imposition of hands - a sign of embrace, intimacy, reconciliation, love and communion.
- Chrismation - Anointing with Chrism in order to effect our "being made over into Christ." We are literally Christ-ed, Christened (conformed into Christ), by the power of the Holy Spirit.
- Kiss of Peace - Again a sign of the Presence of the Spirit, the One who is Love, in a sign of peace and communion.
- THE EFFECTS OF CONFIRMATION:
- Christ acting through His Body, the Church, confirms and seals what happens in Baptism and is radically a part of baptism. Christ's humanity was, by the power of the Holy Spirit, raised from the dead into a new Humanity by the power of the Holy Spirit in God's New Creation. The Garden of the Resurrection becomes the Garden of Eden for God's new creation. Note that God's life-giving Holy Spirit was at work in both. And note, too, His workings in both the Garden of Eden and the Garden of the Resurrection.
- The one confirmed is "ordained" into the Priesthood of the Faithful, into the total reality of Christ living in His Body, the Church; one is ordained into acting in Christ's Priesthood upon human history and in our world. Thus there is an ordering, an orienting, an ordaining into Christ's mission as King, Prophet and Priest in all of humanity.
- The Holy Spirit confers an office on the one confirmed, the office of being a public witness to the power of God at work in the Risen Christ present now in the world in His Body, the Church. The one confirmed becomes a communicator of the Spirit of Christ, an animator of God's Life in our humanity.
Theological Note: Opening ourselves in Confirmation to the inner transforming power of God's personal Presence within us at the more profound levels of our own being, we are in-spirit-ed, inspired, such that our attitudes, our patterns of living, and our perceptions and understandings of human reality can be transformed. Thus, by the power of the Holy Spirit, we may have "eyes to see and ears to hear" the marvelous deeds of God and His saving acts in our own personal lives, in the world around us, and in human history.
When a priest is ordained or a bishop is consecrated they are anointed with Chrism and given an ordination, an orientation, a "directedness" in life to fulfill a function, namely that of making Christ present to us.
When Kings and Queens were crowned they were anointed with Chrism and given an "ordination" to bring the Peace of God into their kingdom, as well as to hold the common-wealth in God's reign. They were to fulfill the priestly function of bringing their people into community, into a holy communion between themselves and with God.
- SCRIPTURAL NOTES:
- GENESIS - Note the action of God's Spirit in creation.
Breath = life; God breathes life into Adam and into Eve.
Noah and the Ark; God sends a wind and the waters of chaos subside. See Genesis 8. Note that it's an EAST wind. In biblical symbolism, anything coming from the East is good, (e.g. the Magi at Christ's birth, and so forth.)
- EXODUS - It is a wind, the "Breath of God", that parts the waters of the Red Sea. See Exodus 14:21.
- GENESIS - Note the action of God's Spirit in creation.
Theological Note: One has to distinguish between wind as a force of death and wind as a source of life (just as with water) which is seen as both death dealing and life giving. Wind also denotes the Presence; thus Moses meets God at the top of Mt. Sinai in the midst of a storm (cf. Exodus:18). The Presence comes to the Apostles at Pentecost in a great wind. Elijah discerns God's voice in a subtle little whisper of wind (cf. 1 Kings 19:9-13).
- Other actions of the Spirit:
- Prophetic Freedom: People filled with the Spirit speak out boldly. See Luke 1:41-43; 2:25-32; 2:36-38; and 3:21-22.
- Power to Forgive Sins: Read John 20:19-24.
- Commissioning by the Spirit: Christ's mission, His "being sent" is found in Matthew 4:1-11; Mark 1:9-13; Luke 4:1-38, Luke 10:16-23; John 1:32-34; Isaiah 42:1-4 and Isaiah 61:1-2.
- Pentecost Prefigured: See Jeremiah 31, 32 & 33. Also Ezekiel 37. Note Joel 3 in connection with Christ's crucifixion.
- Bonding Into a Community: Compare Ezekiel 37 with Acts 2:1-4. Baptism into the Christian Community is followed by the laying on of hands in order to communicate and pass on the Community's Spirit. See Acts 11:11-18
Theological Note: It can be seen, now, that Confirmation confers an Office in the Church upon the person confirmed, namely the responsibility to go out of our own private "upper rooms" and into the world to communicate the Spirit, namely the life, the mind and the heart of Jesus Christ to those around us in the public square. The actions of the Spirit will, depending upon our response to Him, begin to manifest themselves in our lives - and in the world around us.
- The words "Mass", "Eucharist" and "Holy Communion" are used interchangeably. In their celebration we are at core of the Church; they are the central act of the Body of Christ which is the Church. The Eucharist constitutes the Church.
- SCRIPTURAL SOURCES:
- The entire 6th Chapter of St. John's Gospel sets forth the theology of the Eucharist, of Holy Communion. In connection with John 6 one must also read 1 Corinthians 10:14-44 and 11:17-34.
See also Matthew 26:26-28; Mark 14:22-24; Luke:22:19-20.
Compare Mark 14:24 with Isaiah 42:6, 49:8 and 54:10. (One of the images of the Messiah was that he was to be the Suffering Servant).
- St. John writes in terms of close intimacy with the Lord. In St. John's vision receiving the Eucharist is receiving the very inner life (Spirit) of the Risen Christ. (cf. John 6:55+). The gift of life is there but in sustained and mutual intimacy, not in momentary fleetingness. We are to receive our daily Bread in an enduring relationship of intimacy, not just in a momentary one. The relationship is mutual, not simply one-sided; likewise it is not merely physical but also personal and spiritual.
Theological Note: Because the Resurrection has transformed the humanity of Christ to make Him a "life-giving Spirit", the early Christians quite easily thought of the Eucharist as a festive meal in which Christ was among Christians as the Host serving and caring for His guests. Christ is the Lord of the Supper who gathers His guests from the highways and by-ways so that they might enjoy the hospitality and the nourishment that He offers to all who hunger and thirst.
Since the resurrected Christ of glory remains fully human, even as He "sits now at the right hand of the Father", He represents the whole of humanity in offering prayer and homage to the Father. Thus the central Person in the early Eucharist was Christ the High Priest, who mediates the Church's offering of thanks and glory and the gift of our humanity to the Father.
- The Eucharistic Liturgy is the core act of the Church, the central action of the Spirit-filled Christ incorporating (viz. "making into a body") our humanity into His Humanity now glorified, and returning us all in Him to His Father. For this to happen the Eucharist must, of necessity, BE in truth the Body and Blood of the risen Jesus.
The Eucharistic Liturgy makes the Church be-come as well as BE. Thus the Ecclesia (the assembled in the Spirit) makes the Eucharist and the Eucharist makes the Ecclesia! ("ecclesia" means "the called out and assembled").
The Mass is our common-union, our Communion in Christ. It is the re-presenting-ing of all of Salvation History, the re-presentation of the Jewish Testament's Covenant, Sacrifice, and Passover. It is the celebration of the greatest act of God in Jewish history, His liberating them. It is our sharing in the Exodus, our passage through the forces of sin and death into life, into Divine Life in the Messiah.
- Each generation of humanity enters into the bitter experience of slavery, deep alienation, estrangement, and loss. Each generation has a need to escape from the vicious cycle of hate, oppression, violence, isolated individualism, and sin. People around us are estranged, crippled, held captive and paralyzed in self-destructive life patterns, leading lives that are unmanageable and out of control. The need for a Higher Power in each one of our lives is quite self-evident.
- (cf. Exodus 13:3-10) God comes in the Exodus as supremely freeing. The Jewish Passover Seder is a celebration of freedom.
Theological Note: God's greatest attribute is His freedom. He comes to give us freedom, His freedom, the freedom to accomplish good. Yahweh's name is itself elusive and hence free. He is not bound. He talks to us of future events as if they were present actualities. What could be more free? He commands the impossible - and all becomes possible by His command. He is passionately concerned about the freedom of men and women. In Christ Jesus His concerns are made concrete, human, real, social, political, economic, personal, and communal. Jesus is a terribly political person. Remember that Pontius Pilate ordered Him crucified precisely for political reasons!
- The greatest liberation we can possibly experience is to be free from the interior passions, drives and compulsions that enslave us. In order to be genuinely free, we must be free both to do and not to do. The freedom that God gives us the freedom to choose the good, along with the freedom to do what is good. Christ the Lord, the Kairos (divinized Lord of the Cosmos), Christ as humanity Spirit-ized, comes to us to give us our daily Bread in order that we might be nourished, sustained, and strengthened in the exhausting effort of living, and in the draining struggles to transform our attitudes both within our selves and in those around us.
Historical Note: The Jewish Pesach, Pasch, or Passover, offered by the fathers of families, is what they call the Feast of the Unleavened Bread. The bread of affliction eaten on the night of the Passover was eaten without the sign of sin (leaven). Here leaven is seen as insidious.
The Passover is eaten to recall the Jews' slavery in Egypt and their passage into freedom in the Community of the Covenant formed by God at Mt. Sinai. The Passover is a celebration of freedom, the freedom God gives to His children of the Covenant. (See Exodus, 12:1-20; 24:3-8. Compare with Jeremiah 31:31-34 and the Messiah's New Covenant.)
- Exodus 16:4-18 reveals that as we wander in our time through the wasteland of shattered modern lives (cf. T. S. Eliot's poem, "The Wasteland"), and as we are touched by the power of evil in our day, we need to be strengthened and nourished by the power of God. God's actions are continuous and ever present. Holy Mass, therefore, is celebrated each day that we may receive the Manna bread from heaven. (Note the one day in the year when Catholics do not celebrate Mass and do not receive Holy Communion.)
- Liturgical Note: The Structure of the Eucharistic Liturgy:
- First of all there is KERYGMA, the Proclamation of the Paschal Mystery, the Proclamation of the Transitus Christi (the Transition of Christ) from death into life. This is presented to us in the recalling of Salvation History, the re-membering of us into God's saving deeds in human history, all of which is integral with the readings from Holy Scripture.
- The Jewish synagogue service consists in an opening greeting and prayer. Readings from Scripture are then shared, each followed by a response from the Psalms. After a sequence of these readings and songs the rabbi gives a teaching. This is essentially the structure of the Liturgy of the Word found in each and every celebration of the Catholic Mass.
- There follows the Offertory in which we offer to God sacrificial gifts from our material goods, signifying that all we own and possess we hold as His stewards. Relinquishing control over them in offering them as sacrificial gifts brings us into the realization that all of our material goods are, after all, God's in the first place!
- We then enter into one of the four Eucharistic Prayers, each one beginning with a preface. Each of the Eucharistic Prayers opens with the Anamnesis, the re-membering, the re-presenting of God's saving deeds in human history. The most important part is, of course, the entering again into Christ's act of changing the bread and wine into His Body and Blood, THE greatest entrance of God into our humanity.
- The re-presenting of the Lord's Supper once again is immediately followed by the Epiklesis, namely the invocation of the Holy Spirit by whose power of transformation the bread and wine become the Body and Blood of Christ. Each Mass is another miracle of God acting by His Spirit in Christ in order to transform our existence.
- Theological Note: This invocation of the Holy Spirit's transforming power is called down upon all of humanity, upon all that is common to our humanity, in order that our humanity might be transformed by God, the Holy Spirit, into the Real Presence of the Kairos. All things, St. Paul tells us, are to be transformed and reconstituted into Christ!! God's re-creating and transforming power is at work amongst us reconstituting our bodies as well as our souls, the material order as well as the spiritual order of the entire world. God is at work in our own psycho/spiritual nature as well as in Nature itself. All things are to be reconstituted in Christ.
Scriptural sources: Colossians 1:15-29; Ephesians 1:3-23.
- Liturgical Note: The Structure of the Eucharistic Liturgy:
- THE SACRIFICE OF JESUS CHRIST:
- In Latin the words sacra (holy) and facere (to make) form the basis for the English contraction into the word sacrifice, a word that denotes "to make holy" more than it denotes destruction or annihilation. So, the irrevocable dedication of His risen and Spirit-filled Humanity (and we are composite, organic elements of that Humanity through our Baptism and Confirmation) to the Father through the power of the Holy Spirit is the Holy Sacrifice (the making us holy) of Jesus Christ. It is this that we call the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass.
- It is the Spirit (Love) Who assembles and unites us; he unites us into the assembly, the Ecclesia, crying out within us: "Abba, Father", and melding us into that common/whole communion that is the Holy Communion of Christ. Thus the Sacrifice of Christ that we call the Mass is the atonement (at-one-ment) which makes us whole again with God the Father. Thus the Mass is called the Holy Sacrifice of Jesus Christ, and in it we give thanks (eucharist) and humbly submit ourselves to God's Word and God's Spirit in order to be transformed, in order that Christ's inner attitude might become our attitude. ( See Philippians 2:1-18).
- The obedience of worship consists in this: whereas Adam said "No" to God, Christ the New Adam says "Yes". The fruit of the tree in the Garden of Eden is transformed by the Holy Spirit in Christ into the fruit of the tree of the Cross planted in the Garden of the Resurrection. The fruit of the first tree affected our consciousness of good and evil; the fruit of the second tree heals our power to choose between good and evil, a power that was wounded and weakened by the sin of Adam and Eve. The power that Christ restores in us is the power to freely choose what is good, decent, right and true.
- The effect of Christ's Sacrifice is that He gives us, by joining ourselves into His Humanity, the power to overcome all that alienates and estranges us from each other, and from God. Separated, segregated, fractured and divided we stand in desperate need of a Savior in order to pass-over our spiritual death into the Life of His Spirit. Sin brings with it death; Christ in His Sacrifice brings us the chance and the power to restore us to Life, His risen Life.
- All of this Christ freely chose (as well as the consequences!). He freely chose to become humanity victimized. He then "hands over His Spirit" from the Cross. In making that human choice, God our Father, in the power of the Holy Spirit, causes His Christ to become the Kyrios in the Resurrection.
- All of this is "what happens" in the Mass. Likewise it is Mystery that we enter into when we receive Christ's Holy Communion. For in swallowing the Host we enter into the entire "Something", the inner reality, that is the Mass. While it is true to say that we "receive" Christ in Holy Communion, it is more true to acknowledge that He receives us into His risen life and Spirit-filled Humanity in Holy Communion.
Theological Note: Christ is present to a place more than He is present in a place. The resurrected body of Jesus Christ is free from the spatial boundaries of location. This is not to say, however, that Christ cannot be located. Quite the contrary!
The Life of His Spirit is incarnated into His Mystical Body and He is made present to us and to our world there in His Sacraments. The act of genuflection is our humble act of recognizing that this Reality is among us in the Presence. We genuflect to nothing other than (or less than) the Divine Presence of God in Christ located in the Hosts that convey to us His Presence.
The Church is the privileged locus of the on-going sacrificial act of Jesus Christ. It is the place where the Last Supper (the Transitus Christi and the transforming action of Christ) is celebrated. All that Jesus does is still happening in the Church. The celebration constitutes the Church and the Church constitutes the celebration, for she is the Bride who offers herself to her Bridegroom that He might sweep us up and into her and return us back home to our Father.
All of this is what we celebrate in the one, single Sacrifice of Christ that is the Last Supper and is called "Last" because it still goes on! It is still happening. So it is also called "Last" because there isn't room, or time, for another. For each celebration of Mass isn't another or a "new" sacrifice of Christ. No! Each celebration of Mass is our entering once again into the one, continual saving act of Christ returning all of creation back to the Father. For it is through Him, and with Him, and in Him, that all glory and honor are yours, Almighty Father, forever and ever. Amen!
- SCRIPTURAL SOURCES FOR THIS SACRAMENT:
- Matthew 16:13-19 and 18:18-20; Mark 2:1-17; Luke 7:36-50.
- St. John's Gospel (as always) is special. It is theologically highly developed; sometimes it is referred to as "The Book of Signs". The "Signs" are the seven great miracles reported in St. John's Gospel". Note the continual connection in John's Gospel between physical healing and forgiveness of sin. Indeed, in John, Christ's great ministry is the ministry of reconciliation. Read John 11:1-46 and then read John 20:19-23.
- In St. John's Gospel, forgiveness, deliverance, healing, freedom, and life are all inter-connected realities. The "baptism for the remission of sins" is our immersion into the death/resurrection event of Jesus Christ. All sacraments emerge out of Christ's "baptism" and are constituted by the events of Holy Thursday, Good Friday, and Easter Sunday. Those three sacred days (the Sacred Triduum) constitute the "hour" He spoke of at Cana and the "baptism" in which he longed to be baptized. In them He transmits over into us the Divine Life and Divine Power that is His, His power over life and death, redemption and sin. (Read again John 20:19-23).
- The Big Questions are:
- Why confess to a priest? Why not confess directly to God?
- Why is confession the acknowledgment of our sins and/or sinfulness?
- Why is God's forgiveness mediated through sacramental absolution administered by a priest?
- Why is there expiation for our sins by works of penance?
- Why wouldn't it be more helpful to confess sin to a lay person who has a charism of healing than to confess to a priest?
- The Problem of the Early Church: What do we do with someone who has "left" the community via apostasy, open adultery, murder, or any other serious and public rejection of the Christian way of living? Re-baptism was (and is today) impossible since the Christian Community's covenant commitment in Christ made in baptism always remained in force. Consequently, the Sacrament of Reconciliation (Forgiveness) was given a baptized person who had subsequently alienated his or her self from the Faith Community via notorious sin in order to return him or her to the Source of power, namely Christ's Holy Spirit, and thereby to free him or her from a world of fear, anxiety, suspicion, hate, and division (Hell).
- There developed, even in the earliest times of the Apostolic Church, a ceremony of public penance followed by a ceremony of reconciliation ministered by a bishop. This followed a LONG probationary period of public penance that demonstrated a genuine sincerity in the penitent. Gradually the practice evolved into going to the Bishop privately to receive reconciliation with the Community through his mediatorship.
- The early Christians understood that true conversion was long a difficult process and required the Spirit of the Body of Christ in order to sustain and encourage the penitent.
- Hundreds upon hundreds of years later the Irish monks, who re-evangelized Barbarian Europe of the Dark Ages, introduced their own monastic penitential practices which included lists of sins connected with appropriate lists of penances suited to the degrees of the seriousness of the listed sins! This outraged the Frankish bishops who thereupon called a Council to denounce this "novel practice" of the Irish monks. The bishops felt this monastic practice radically de-formed the previously held and commonly shared practices associated with the Sacrament of Reconciliation.
- THE FUNDAMENTAL NATURE OF THE SACRAMENT OF FORGIVENESS:
Read 2 Corinthians 5:18. The purpose of this sacrament is to celebrate the reconciliation of the individual repentant sinner with Christ living and working through His Body, the Church. The radical paradigm is the Parable of the Prodigal Son.
- In our human condition there is always a residual remainder of unredemption within each one of us, no matter how much we may try to overlook or to deny it! Who can honestly claim that he is without sin? The truth is that deathbed confessions are still occurring even though moderns have tried to do away with the idea of sin and punishment for sin and living in Hell.
- We need to do works of penance in order to bring light in the darkness, vision in confusion, love in hate, peace in anxiety, and union in disunion. Conversion means "moving from one version of living to another version." We are talking here more about a way of life than about isolated and individual acts.
- Medieval Monks became a class of penitents for the sake of all of humanity. They set themselves to the task of calling down the power of God's Spirit into the whole vast and complex network of our sin-full human relationships, social order, and culture. The monastery was supposed to be a microcosm of the macrocosm that is God's Kingdom. The monks were supposed to be a model or a paradigm of the way people should relate to one another as well as being a paradigm of the entire social and economic order in the world around them.
Theological Note: God's forgiveness comes first, our repentance follows. God offers, we respond; God proposes, man disposes. Why? Because if a person truly repents deep within his or her heart it is because he or she has hope that change is possible. This hope comes from God; from God's pre-existing gift (or grace) of forgiveness. (Read again, now, the Parable of the Prodigal Son in Luke 15:11-32).
- God's pre-existent forgiveness makes possible human repentance. We can love God only because He loved us first!
- The act of "going to confession", specifically to seek the priest's ministering of sacramental absolution, gives us the concrete and experienced assurance of God's saving action in our time, in our condition, and "where we're at". Jesus Christ acts through His Body, the Church, not to change His Father's mind, but rather to change our minds by revealing to us His saving love.
- When we're in sin we're in a state of confusion, of self doubt, and lack the fullness of freedom because of our insecurity about our selves, particularly in terms of our relationship with God. We live in a deadly (mortal) state of sin; spiritual death has its grip on us and we need resurrection. (Read now in John's Gospel, the first activity of Jesus Christ when He rose from the dead, John 20:19-23, the scriptural grounding for this Sacrament).
- BASIC SCRIPTURAL SOURCES:
Matthew 16:13-19; 18:18-20; Mark 2:1-17; Luke 7:36-50; John 11:1-46; John 20:19-23.
- BASIC ACTION:
The penitent presents himself to the priest or bishop of the Church to receive the action of God's forgiveness through the saving work of Christ the Priest ministering through His Body. The penitent acknowledges his sins specifically and admits his need for reconciliation and penance. Reconciliation with the Body of Christ IS reconciliation with Christ acting through His Apostles (those in Holy Orders) upon whom His Spirit rests. Such a sign effects what it signifies - the symbol becomes the reality (which is true for all of the Sacraments!). But forgiveness is effective only to the degree that the prodigal, the penitent, acknowledges a need to return to the Father's house, change his way of living (conversion) and thereupon live in that set of relationships present in the household of the Father.
Theological Note: Read again the Raising of Lazarus (John 11:1-46) and note that forgiveness, deliverance, healing, freedom and new life are all inter-connected realities. The "Baptism for the remission of sins" is immersion into the death-resurrection event of Jesus Christ so we can be unbound and go free. All Sacraments emerge out of the events and works of Christ in Holy Thursday, Good Friday, Easter Sunday, and Pentecost, the sum being called "The Paschal Mystery". For that is Christ's "hour", the "baptism" He longed for, and the transmission of His power into His Body, the Church. Another definition of the Church is that she is the continuation of the Christ event down through human time and history.
When all is said and done, there is only one Sacrament, Jesus Christ, expressed and mediated to us in seven highly significant ways through His Body, the Church.
ANOINTING OF THE SICK
- SCRIPTURAL SOURCE FOR THIS SACRAMENT: James 5:14-16; Colossians 1:24
- PURPOSE OF THE SACRAMENT:
- The Church brings encouragement, strength, and the support of the Faith Community to the sick person. The one anointed is put into the Presence of the Suffering Christ. This Sacrament is for the sharing the Spirit of the Body with that "cell" in the Body that is sick, sharing the life-giving Spirit Who raised Jesus Christ's humanity from the dead and brought it into resurrected and everlasting life.
- We bring to the person, who is now brushing with mortality and even death, the hope of the Resurrection along with its power to raise us up to a new and higher life.
- In this action, with the laying-on of hands and the anointing with oil, we ordain the suffering person to participate in the sufferings of Christ. Why? For our redemption. (Note that this is the fundament of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.'s theology of "redemptive suffering"). The most powerful prayer of the Church is the redemptive suffering of Jesus Christ; the sick are ordained into it so that their sufferings can be converted into the prayer of the Suffering Servant, our Messiah (cf. Colossians 1:24).
- Human suffering needs to be redeemed, to be transformed from a sign of sin and death into a sign of union with Christ and the way to higher human life freed from sin and death.
- The Sacrament can bring with it the will, the choice, the decision to live. That's why doctors and hospitals like to have it around! Having received the Sacrament an individual might be motivated to live out more fully the life of God in Christ, a life dedicated to the overcoming of sin and suffering, replacing them with His holiness (wholeness) and peace.
- THE EFFECT OF THE SACRAMENT:
- Liberation from humiliation and a sense of being "useless" and a "burden" to loved ones.
- The sacramental action can bring dignity to the sick person, replacing their humiliation with dignity, replacing their sense of being "useless" with a sense of purpose. The Faith Community comes to the bedside of the sick person to elicit a response, to give the ability to respond (hence, to give a response-ability to the person who is sick). The sick person becomes responsible to other "cells" in the Body of Christ, responsible to apply the merits of a faith-full and a hope-full suffering for their redemption and sanctification.
- The anointed becomes "the person on the other side of the Cross" and is joined with Christ on the Cross in redemptive suffering for the sake of the Church. (Read Colossians 1:24-29. Perhaps that mysterious passage will not now be so mysterious!)
- SOME OBSERVATIONS:
- The past practice of the Church was to wait until the onset of death and then call the priest. This turned matters in to a foot-race with the Grim Reaper as the priest desperately dashed to the bedside of the dying person in the hope of arriving before Death did. This didn't exactly make the priest welcome as he entered the door!
- There ought to be a community and/or family expression of ministering this Sacrament to the sick person. That ought to exist first, and then be capstoned by the celebration of this Sacrament.
- Note again: Sacraments do things for us, not for God. Sacraments are events which express our faith position and in their celebration God's power is let loose in our lives. We don't perform a sacramental action and then sit back and expect God to do something for us. No, we respond to what God is already doing for us.
- This is the last reception of Holy Communion for one who is already "on the way" (in via). Consequently this is much more closely associated with the advent of death than is Anointing of the Sick, although the two can certainly be celebrated together!
- Hopefully Viaticum allows us to choose death. Sometimes the dying need to be given permission to let go and to die. "On the night before He died, a death He freely chose, Jesus took bread, said the blessing, broke the bread, and gave it...."
- Holy Viaticum is the last solemn Communion joining the dying person to Christ as He moves once again through His Passover. It is a special sharing in Christ's Last Supper. It brings with it:
- Thanksgiving (Eucharist) for life.
- The promise of the Resurrection; promise of life in the New Creation with the risen Kyrios.
- Surrender to the Father in the total trust of Christ as He died on the Cross.
- All of life is a rehearsal for death. Everyone dies! Our ability to die freely and peacefully depends upon our daily abilities to "die" to a compulsive possessiveness of God's creations. It is the Creator who is ultimately to be sought, not His creations!
- We have to have lived a free life in the freedom of the sons and daughters of God in order to freely will and accept death. Death is purposeful if life has been purposeful. Death is liberation if life has been liberating. This requires a radical commitment to the reign of God (the Kingdom) and it brings with it a liberation from fear, confusion, and liberation from over-anxiety and darkness. It brings a self-identity that has meaning and purpose in living.
Theological Note: The purpose of all of the Sacraments is to allow us to assimilate the values, attitudes, commitments, mind and heart (the Spirit) of Jesus Christ. This all becomes terribly meaningful and comes to a peak in this Sacrament given at the point of death. It therefore requires the support of the faith-full around us in order that we might sustain that self-direction, vision and purpose. Dying people can have the clearest recognition of what is happening and what life is all about. It is their radical ordination into the Priesthood of Jesus Christ.
We the living can receive the Presence of God's life from them!
- SCRIPTURAL SOURCES:
- Marriage is not for procreation alone; it is for procreation as well as for the mutual bonding of the partners in love.
- Man and woman are equal partners. Eve being made from Adam's rib means both are made of the same stuff. Furthermore, being someone's "rib" denotes equality and partnership as well as intimacy.
- Man and woman are both images (icons) of God; both reveal the nature of God.
- The creativity of sexual difference and of our reproductive power is "very good", as distinguished from God's creations during the other five days after which God declared them to be only "good".
Exodus, Chapters 19-35
- God's love is expressed for us in that we are "chosen". Being chosen is the same thing as being loved.
The Book of Hosea
- presents a profound image of God's love for us; God marries Himself to our humanity even though we go whoring after other gods. He remains faithful even after our infidelities!
The Song of Songs
- A vivid love song in which God woos us and we woo Him as lovers, as bride and groom.
Theological Note: Christ depicts Himself as the Bridegroom of Israel. Thus he depicts Himself as God, the One who loves Israel, His bride. See Mark 2:18-21; Revelations 19:7 and 21:9.
- Fidelity = Covenant and Covenant = Fidelity. Divorce is an evil, a tearing apart, a separating that is the opposite of the original order of Creation found in the union between Adam and Eve. (cf. TWENTY-SEVENTH OF THE YEAR (Lec.# 141) B-Cycle 6 October 1991).
Matthew 19:1-9; 22:1-14
- Christ restores marriage to the full dignity originally intended by God in Genesis, at the dawn of creation. Furthermore He restores it to the dignity of the Covenant marriage between Yahweh and His people, Israel. Divorce and the breaking of the Covenant went hand-in-hand in the history of Israel.
- This is the great controversial passage when it comes to the alleged subordination of the role of women to that of men. But NOTE that the burden of the passage commands husbands to be servants of their wives! Husbands are servants of wives because Christ, the Suffering Servant, loves His Bride in such a fashion. (Note the washing of the feet at the Last Supper, the "Wedding Feast of the Lamb"). In the Church we do not "lord it over each other" as the pagans are wont to do.
1. Liberating/commitment, freeing/embrace, death/life event. Such is the paradoxical "stuff" of marriage.
2. God's Covenant freed Israel to BE. Love should give us the freedom to be all that we can be, to become greater than we were, to become more of what our self was created by God to be and has the capacity and destiny to be. Energies shift from "the pursuit" of courtship to the growth found in marriage.
3. An Old Testament theme was that Israel was "the virgin Daughter of Jerusalem," and therefore totally open to the implantation of God's seed within her. Hence, the seed that is God's Word becomes flesh through the Virgin Mary in her being overshadowed by the Holy Spirit. In that moment the Christ is conceived in her womb. (Note also the imagery of the Spirit "brooding over the waters" in Genesis and the baptism of Christ in the Jordan). Note also the active Presence of the Spirit in the Church's "birth" at Pentecost!
4. Note too the symbolism of the Easter candle and the baptismal font presented during the Easter Vigil's baptismal liturgy! God impregnates His Bride, our Holy Mother Church, so she is fecund, giving Him children in His New Creation.
- CANA AND THE LAST SUPPER - GOSPEL MARRIAGE BANQUETS
0. On their wedding night, when they went to the bride's chamber and prepared for bed, the groom would get down on his knees and wash his bride's feet. The symbolism was not lost on the apostles when, on the night before He died during the Lord's Supper, Jesus got down on His knees and washed their feet. IT WAS A SHOCK!! He was doing something terribly intimate, even nuptial! Thereupon Jesus stood up, looked them in the eye and declared: "I no longer call you slaves, instead I call you friends." With that he said what grooms say: This is my body, take it. This is my life's blood, mingle it with yours. Thus the Lord's Supper is called "The Wedding Feast of the Lamb."
1. Cana opens (in John's Gospel) the miracles of Christ and lets loose in our world God`s power to change things. The peak is reached in the Lord's Supper, the last of the "Signs" (Great Miracles) of John's Gospel. Christ's "hour" comes and the nuptials between divinity and humanity are consummated.
2. Love means "transforming power" in biblical imagery. Things change when love enters our lives; things change tremendously when Divine Love enters. What was thought to be sterile and what was thought to be impossible becomes now possible!
3. "This is the chalice of my blood" means: "This is the transmission of Divine Power to overcome sin." We no longer need to be steam-rolled by sin - Christ is victim no longer; we no longer need lay down and die in front of the onslaught of hate, prejudice, jealously, infidelity, anger, oppression, militarism, racism, sexism, materialism, consumerism, and all of those other noonday devils that beset us. We need be victims no longer. Read now Psalm 91!
4. This is the New and everlasting Covenant. Hence, once again, no divorce! I will be your God, you will be my people. Even though you turn your back on me, even though you spit on me, crown me with thorns (see Hosea again!) even though you crucify me and let my life and love slowly ooze out of me into the ground, I WILL LOVE YOU!! I will come back out of the grave to love you because nothing can make me not love you. You cannot kill my love.
[It is upon this that all Christian marriage is built.]
Theological Note: Even though we cannot kill Love we can let our relationship with Love die within our self. Hence the opposite of love is not hatred, it is indifference. In His teaching, Jesus continually reminded us that the opposite of faith is not doubt, it is fear. The opposite of love is not anger, it is indifference. There is no greater insult we can offer God than to know that He is offering us His love and His life - and then yawn in His face!
- MARRIAGE AND PRIESTHOOD (1 Corinthians 13:1-13)
0. The husband causes the wife's grace, and the wife causes the husband's grace. Both challenge and summon each other to journey from the "already" into the "not yet". To live up to this passage in St. Paul's letter to the Corinthians seems, in the eyes of the worldly, to be impossible. "With men it is impossible, but with God, all things are possible", Scripture tells us. Only a love that is divine can withstand the tensions of two people living in bonded intimacy of the kind Christ calls us to. Marriage isn't supposed to make them happy, it is supposed to present them with work that will save them. Happiness is a by-product, not the reason for their union. Of course we want married couples to be happy, but God didn't put them on earth to make others happy. He put them on earth to accomplish His purposes.
Like a priest, each is called by God (vocation) to trans-substantiate the substance of human struggles for intimacy. They thereby transform the sufferings found in that struggle. This becomes a Sacrament of God's action and movement. This becomes a Sacrament of His call to intimacy between us.
1. "Every Christian, especially the Christian priest, must be a witness. To be a witness consists in being a living mystery. It means to live in such a way that one's life would not make sense if God did not exist." [Cardinal Suhard, Archbishop of Paris].
2. Christian marriage doesn't make any sense at all unless God exists. Celibacy doesn't make any sense at all unless God exists. Celibacy and marriage are flip sides of the same basic and radical position that we take before Life, Death, Love and Reality. Both demand a radical dependence upon God.
3. There is an intrinsic bonding between love and life. That's why love creates life. Also, there's a deep, intimate, covenant-union, a permanent and ordained pair-bonding between a man and a woman (as distinguished from a boy and a girl) that is intended by the Creator of Life to be the milieu, the ground, in which and upon which babies should be born and thereupon enter into life. Such a pair ARE THE CHURCH, the "domestic Church" for the child which they and God have co-created.
- The Sacrament of Matrimony is, therefore, a Sacrament of the Church. The couple ARE the Church for their baby.
- Just as the Persons within the Holy Trinity authenticate, actuate, and discover who they are in their inter-personal relationships, so also do we (made in the image and likeness of God) discover, authenticate, actuate and cause our selves to be, to exist, in such a milieu.
- Marriage is indissoluble because its sacral and sacred significance is grounded in the indissoluble marriage between Love and Life. It is not conceivable that the Church could ever love any other than her Lord Christ, the Lord of Life.
- SCRIPTURAL SOURCES:
- All references in the Gospels wherein Jesus charges The Twelve with tasks, duties, and "missions" (commissions) them to act in His name.
- Matthew 10:1; 10:5; Mark 3:14; 16:15; Luke 6:13, 24:47ff, John 6:67 & 70; Hebrews 4:14-5:10 (But all of chapters 5,6 & 7)
- Documents of Vatican II, Chapter 2, paragraphs 9 & 10.
- The power of offer Christ's Sacrifice: Matthew 26:26-29; Mark 14:22-25; Luke 22:19-21; John 6:51-58. See also 1 Corinthians 11:23-25
- The power to forgive sins: John 20:19-23; Matthew 16:19 and 18:18
The call and mission of The Twelve was distinct from the generic call given to all of the disciples of Christ. The twelve were given special tasks by Christ. Today, the successors of The Twelve Apostles are the bishops. The College of the Apostles is made present among us in The College of the Bishops.
- In the hierarchical order that subsequently developed bishops have general and total responsibility and jurisdiction over the whole Church, functioning as a "college" as did the Apostles. The Bishop of Rome stands in the shoes of Peter and exercises Peter's ministry for the successors of the Apostles. What Peter was for the Apostles, the Bishop of Rome is for the Bishops of the Church.
- Bishops are "overseers", priests are "presidents", and deacons are "servants". "Episcopoi" in Greek means overseers; "presbyteroi" means "elders" or "presiders", and "diaconoi" means "servants".
- In chronological order deacons appeared in the Church before priests. The Apostles ordained seven chosen men to assist them in serving the temporal needs of local faith communities, Hence the name "deacon" for the Greek "diaconoi".
Priests were subsequently ordained to re-present (make present again) the bishop. They were the bishop's alter-ego and presence in the local faith community. The priesthood of a priest is, therefore, a derivative one; he derives it from the bishop who ordained him. All of this powers are delegated powers in terms of their licit use. (Likewise, this is necessarily true for the validity of their use!)
- THE LETTER TO THE HEBREWS:
This is a complete tract on the Priesthood of Jesus Christ.
It distinguishes between a priesthood based on the Law of Moses and the Priesthood of Jesus Christ which is based on the Anointing of the Holy Spirit.
Theological Note: A man is called by God to accept and enter the priesthood, he never takes it upon himself. The decision to become a priest is a joint decision, God's and the individual's. The ordination by a bishop is an act of the Faith Community, hence it is likewise an act of Jesus Christ present and acting upon us in His Body, the Church.
Jesus said: "I have a baptism to be baptized with, and I long for it to be completed." Christ enters into the Genesis waters of chaos and is submerged into the destructive waters upon which Noah's ark floated (the ark later becomes a symbol of the Church). Holy Thursday, Good Friday, Easter Sunday, and Pentecost Sunday are the culminating acts of Christ the Priest, Christ the Prophet, and Christ the King (the Old Testament marks of the Messiah).
- THE ORDER OF MELCHIZEDEK: (See Genesis 14:18; Psalm 110:4; Hebrews 5,6 & 7)
The Prophet Melchizedek is totally unique in the Old Testament. He is the only one to use bread and wine as the elements of sacrifice. His parentage and origins are mysterious (just as Christ's).
Melchizedek is King of Salem. Salem=Shalom, or "Peace". Perhaps he was king of Jerusalem.
A king had a divine mission, an ordination. He was to bring peace to the kingdom through unity (the task of a priest).
- THE WINEPRESS:
This Old Testament image/theme, always associated with the coming of the Messiah, is carried over into Christ. His life, because of the weight of sin, is crushed out and becomes the wine in the Cup of Salvation. Thus Jesus says: "This is the chalice of My Blood, which is shed for you and for all for the remission of sin."
- PRIESTHOOD AND THE MINISTRY OF RECONCILIATION:
- God's People, once scattered, are taken from many occupations, many concerns and interests, many parts of the world and races and nations and ages and cultures. Through the Priesthood of Jesus Christ they are formed into one, unified Ecclesia - a royal nation, a holy priesthood, a people set up on a mountaintop. They are, in their unity and their communion, a Sacrament of the One Sacrament, namely Christ Jesus ministering God's love, compassion, forgiveness, truth, goodness, beauty and grace to us. Indeed it is Christ ministering God's very own inner life to us, God's Spirit to us.
- The Church exists as a "little mustard seed", the "little bit of leaven" in the greater surrounding world. The Church is a sign of hope because the Spirit cries out from within her "Abba", "Papa", "Father", and thus forms the called and assembled into the Body of Christ, the continuation of the Incarnation of God on earth.
- Jesus, acting and working through the Church, offers:
Light in Darkness
Truth in Confusion
Hope in Despair
Peace in Violence
Love in Hatred
Faith in Indifference
Sanctuary in Despair
Power in Weakness
Forgiveness in Denial
- Read: Documents of Vatican II, Lumen Gentium
- The Mystical Body of Christ (1 Corinthians 12:27), the Church, is the Priesthood of Christ made actual for us in our world, in our history, in our time and place.
By Baptism and Confirmation we are ordained into Christ's Priesthood; the community's varied ministries makes us Christ's total ministry. (See Paul's Epistles to the Corinthians).
In Baptism we say "yes" to God in Christ and are baptized into His death (consequently priests wears black) and into His Priesthood (consequently priests wear celebratory vestments). See 1 Peter 2:1-10.
- SOME HISTORICAL NOTES:
- Because of the history of social structures and institutions in Western Europe those in Holy Orders have been in the past "over delegated" with all of the ministries in the Church. That is to say, only the ordained clergy were allowed active roles in ministry and the laity were kept in a state of passive dependency. Obviously this is changing in our day! Lay men and lay women are taking on more and more ministerial roles in the Church. And this is so not out of practical necessity, but because of the work of the Spirit in renewing the Church.
- In the Church of the Apostles until the Dark Ages the local assembly exercised the charism of discernment and chose men to be priests and bishops. These local faith communities then presented the chosen to the bishops for ordination. (Note St. Ambrose of Milan).
The concern of the Early Church was to call men who had a discerned ability of leadership in the local community, a leadership in worship, prayer, and faith, "viri probati" (proven men) who led lives in the pattern of Christ, and who because they were filled with the Holy Spirit had the power to bring men and women into contact with the Risen Christ. This is what was really meant by "the power to consecrate unto the Lord".
Theological Note: No one takes the Priesthood on himself, by himself. One is called by God. But "where" is God to be found? In the place where He said He would be, where two or three are gathered in His name, in the Church. Hence, the Holy Spirit speaking through the people who constitute the Ecclesia, the Assembled, discerned who is called and calls upon the Successors of the Apostles, namely the Bishops, to ordain the chosen to be priests, presiders over the local assemblies (parishes).
Thus in the Mass of Ordination, a representative of the community stands and faces the bishop and says: "Holy Mother Church requests you, Bishop, to ordain ___(name)___ to the Order of (Deacon), (Priest), (Bishop)."
- In the Dark Ages the laity were passive. As a result of the Dark Ages, following the Barbarian Invasion of Rome, bishops became secular and political functionaries as well as exercising their religious roles. Civil Law gave the clergy special privileges such that thy because a separate class in the Medieval social order. The notions of St. Paul and the Early Church about shared ministry and the variety of ministries became totally lost... until our day, and the Second Vatican Council.
Theological Note: Those "in Orders" are initiated into the College of Apostles and their successors in order to discharge the mission given to the Apostles by Christ. Ordination is an orientation, a directedness, a way of life given to the discipline of discipleship. Because Christ commanded and empowered the Apostles to teach, govern and sanctify all nations, those who are Christ's disciples go and do likewise.
- Thus they stand at the altar to bring human life to the Father and bring the Father's life to humanity.
- At the Offertory of the Mass the priest takes the offerings of the people and raises them as gifts to the Father in order that they might be, in the Spirit of Christ, sacralized, consecrated, made "whole" with the givers and with God. Hence they are made whole and are "wholly unto God". What is US, then, is set aside and dedicated unto God and make into His possession. We choose, freely choose, to acknowledge His dominion, His Lordship, over what and who we are.
- The most vital function of a priest is to transform the offerings of the Assembled, of God's People; to transform the people themselves; to (in Christ) call down the Spirit who can change what is secular into what is sacred.
- A priest gives Life in Baptism, restores Life in Reconciliation, sustains Life in Holy Communion; he teaches, governs, and sanctifies. This is why the pious custom has developed in which we call the priest "Father".