Chapter 1. The Sacraments Continue the Work of Christ. Knowledge of God, Part I. Revelation
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“Through an utterly free decision, God has revealed himself and given himself to man. This he does by revealing the mystery, his plan of loving goodness, formed from eternity in Christ, for the benefit of all men. God has fully revealed this plan by sending us his beloved Son, our Lord Jesus Christ, and the Holy Spirit.” (CCC 50)
“At various times in the past and in various ways, God spoke to our ancestors through the prophets; but in our own time, the last days, he has spoken to us through his Son, the son that he has appointed to inherit everything and through whom he made everything there is. He is the radiant light of God’s glory and the perfect copy of his nature.” (Hebrews 1:1-2)
Types of Special Revelation
God speaking through the prophets of the Old Testament
Jesus Christ: “Mediator and Fullness of All Revelation”
God has said everything in His Word
Whereas God spoke indirectly through the prophets in the OT, He speaks definitively through his “one, perfect, and unsurpassable Word” (CCC 65).
“In giving us his Son, his only Word (for he possesses no other), he spoke everything to us at once in his sole Word - and he has no more to say…because what he spoke before to the prophets in parts, he has now spoken all at once by giving us All Who is His Son.” (St. John of the Cross)
Jesus Christ: “Mediator and Fullness of All Revelation”
There will be no further Revelation
“The Christian economy, therefore, since it is the new and definitive Covenant, will never pass away; and no new public revelation is to be expected before the glorious manifestation of our Lord Jesus Christ.” - Dei Verbum
While complete, not explicit
“Yet even if Revelation is already complete, it has not been made completely explicit; it remains for Christian faith gradually to grasp its full significance over the course of the centuries.” (CCC 66)
According to its etymology the Latin word ‘sacramentum’ means a sacred or holy thing.
(1) In Roman profane literature the oath of loyalty taken by a soldier and the oath in general were called sacramentum.
(2) In Roman legal language the word sacramentum means a pledge deposited in the Temple by disputing parties.
(3) In the Vulgate, sacramentum is the rendering of the Greek musth/rion (mysterion). The word means something hidden, secret; in the sphere of religion it signifies the Secrets of God and in particular the mystery of the Redemption by Jesus Christ.
(4) The Church Fathers apply the word both to the Christian religion viewed as a whole, that is, as congeries of doctrines and institutions, and to individual doctrines or liturgical institutions for ceremonies of Christianity.
Tertullian (c. 160-235 CE) used the ‘sacramentum’ to describe Christian baptism, evoking the sense used in Roman military terminology to signify an oath of loyalty
Augustine (354-430 CE), proceeding from the specific concept “token” gives the following definition: Saramentum, id est sacram signum (City of God); “Sacrament, it is a sacred sign.”
The theologians of Early Scholasticism, particularly Hugo of St. Victor and Peter of Lombard, perfected the Augustinian definition of the concept of defining a Sacrament not merely as a sign but also as a cause of Grace.
2. Explanation of the Doctrine
The Sacrament of the New Covenant is an effective sign of grace instituted by Christ.
The Roman Catechism defines a Sacrament as “a thing perceptible to the senses, which on the ground of Divine institution possesses the power both of effecting and signifying sanctity and righteousness.”
The expressions matter and form in the Aristotelian sense are only analogously applied to the parts of the sacramental sign insofar as “the thing” by itself is something undefined, and “the words” define it. The parts do not conjointly make up a physical unit like the parts of a corporeal being, but are joined by a moral unity only. Thus it is not necessary they coincide absolutely in point of time; a moral coincidence suffices, that is, they must be connected with each other in such a fashion, that according to general estimation, they compose a unitary sign.
The Sacraments of the New Covenant contain the grace which they signify and bestow it on those who do not hinder it. (De fide.)
While the Reformers recognized a subjective psychological efficacy in the Sacraments, the Catholic Church teaches that the Sacraments have an objective efficacy, that is, an efficacy independent of the subjective disposition of the recipient or the minister.
In order to designate the objective efficacy Scholastic Theology coined the formula: Sacramenta operantur ex opere operato, that is, the Sacraments operate by the power of the completed sacramental rite.
The formula “ex opere operato” asserts, negatively, that the sacramental grace is not conferred on the ground of the subjective activity of the recipient, and positively, that the sacramental grace is caused by the validly operated sacramental sign.
It is not the case, however, that the disposition of the recipient does not affect the communication of grace; it is just that disposition is not its cause.
All the Sacraments of the New Covenant confer the Sanctifying Grace on the receivers (De fide.)
Those Sacraments, which, per se, that is, corresponding to the determination of their purpose, confer Sanctifying Grace for the first time, or restore lost Sanctifying Grace, are called Sacraments of the Dead (Baptism, Penance). Those Sacraments which, per se, increase Sanctifying Grace, already present, are called Sacraments of the Living.
Each individual Sacrament confers a specific Sacramental Grace.
As there are various Sacraments having various aims, and as the differences in the sacramental signs also point to a difference in the effecting of Grace, it must be assumed that each individual Sacrament, corresponding to its special purpose, confers a special or specific sacramental grace.
C. Measure of the sacramental grace
Each individual Sacrament has the power of itself to bestow the same measure of grace on all recipients, though the subjective dispositions of the recipient in the case of adults means that a varying measure of grace ex opere operato is received.
All Sacraments of the New Covenant were instituted by Christ. (De fide.)
2. Immediate Institution
Christ instituted all the Sacraments immediately and personally.
Immediate institution by Christ signifies that He determined the specific sacramental operation of grace and ordained a corresponding outward sign for the distinguishing and production of this operation of grace.
Christ fixed the substance of the Sacraments. The Church has no power to alter them. (De fide.)
The matter and form of the Sacraments are beyond revision insofar as the Sacraments themselves are essentially tied to the moment and determination of institution by Jesus Christ and only He has the power to alter what He has instituted.
The primary minister of the Sacraments is the God-Man Jesus Christ.
St. Paul says of Christ Himself that He purifies the persons being baptized by the laver of water (Eph. 5:26). The human minister is only the servant and representative of Christ: I Cor. 4:1; II Cor. 5:20
The secondary minister of the Sacraments is man in the wayfaring state.
3. Conditions for the Worthy Reception of the Sacraments
In the case of adult recipients moral worthiness is necessary for the worthy or fruitful reception of the Sacraments. (De fide.)
4. Revival of the Sacraments
The Sacraments of Baptism, Confirmation and Consecration, when they are received validly but unworthily, revive after the removal of the moral indisposition, that is, the sacramental grace is conferred subsequently.
A. Primitive Era - Before the Fall, humanity existed in perfect union with God; thus, the institution of visible means of grace were not necessary.
B. Era of the Natural Law - In human history before the revelation of the Law, children were liberated from original sin by a “nature-Sacrament” that consisted in an act of faith in God and (at least implicitly) a future redeemer. This was later extended to include circumcision in the period of Abraham to Moses.
C. Era of the Mosaic Law - Circumcision and other types for the Sacraments of the New Covenant were celebrated not for the communication of grace but for the purpose of ritual purity according to the Law.
2. Efficacy of the Pre-Christian Sacraments
The Old Testament Sacraments, wrought, ex opere operato, not grace, but merely an external lawful purity.
Thus, the Sacraments of the Old Testament point to the riches of the coming Messianic era.