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The Sacraments

Embrace them.

February 28, 2023  0


The Catholic Church is in possession of the sacraments, given to Her by Her Bridegroom and Lord as the guaranteed means of making Him "present" to a soul — a transmission, as it were, an infusion, a flooding of grace into the soul when received with the proper disposition. Sacraments as sacraments have always been something of a stumbling block for many of the 40,000 Protestant denominations, to one degree or another, depending on which denomination you're talking about.

Christ instituted seven sacraments, and when Luther felt the need to correct Christ, he cut the list down to five — well, maybe three, then — wait a minute — four seems right, and so on. What Protestantism and even among many malformed Catholics don't get is this: Nature, even fallen, has a certain sacredness to it, and God elevates the underlying nature of that sacredness to its fullness. And therefore, a created thing becomes the instrument, the vehicle, for an even fuller measure of holiness.

Water bears within itself the grace of washing the soul clean from Original Sin. The hand of the priest raised in blessing, accompanied by his voice, bears within it the restoration of that baptized soul — a resurrection from death-dealing sin. The hands of a bishop over the head of a man bring about an ontological change in the man's soul and conform his soul to Christ to perpetuate the Sacrifice of Calvary — one sacrifice for all.

The sacraments take earthly things and make them instruments of holiness in and of themselves. This requires — demands — a Church to ensure the passing on of this for centuries, the making new of all things, generation after generation. Protestantism is organized around the notion of a "personal Jesus," a personal relationship with Christ that doesn't really need a Church. A church or congregation is cool and all, maybe even fun and emotionally supportive, but, in the end, it is not required. Why would it be?

After all, you can read the Bible by yourself. You can pray by yourself. The Holy Spirit can talk to you by yourself and place things in your heart without any need for the Church (an authority) and its "tradition." Or, do you actually stand in need of a church? Aside from your own interior thoughts, how do you know your thoughts about a given Scripture passage are actually true? Is not the very concept of prayer derived from the lived experience of the Church — the community of believers of one mind and heart? "Master, teach us how to pray." (Luke 11:1)

The sacraments keep objective truth squarely before our eyes.

How do you know the "spirit" talking to you "personally" is not the unholy spirit? In short, the idea of a "personal" experience with religion where you essentially make it up as you go along with an occasional vague reference to some quasi-church should make you wonder: Does this idea have it completely backward? There is nothing that goes beyond the subjective, personal opinion, normally based on some emotional stimulation or psychological disposition. It's why St. Paul tells us directly to "discern the spirits" (1 Corinthians 12:10) — because they aren't all good spirits.

The sacraments keep objective truth squarely before our eyes. It's all very much a yes-or-no proposition and therefore easy to grasp and then build from. That water really does wash away Original Sin because of the grace present in it, making visible to our senses the invisible reality. That bread and wine really are changed in substance into Our Lord's Body, Blood, Soul and Divinity. That couple really is now joined in an inseparable bond as Christ is to His Church. "I saw a New Jerusalem, coming down out of Heaven, adorned as a bride for Her Groom." (Revelation 21:2)

Created matter is the reality of a temporal universe. God called it into existence out of nothing, and He blessed it and called it good. Even with the effects of the Fall, God still uses matter to effect His will:

  • "And smearing mud on the man's eyes He said, behold, and His vision was restored." (John 9:6)
  • "Go and fill the jars with water." (John 2:7)
  • "Baptize me, John. We must fulfill all righteousness." (John 1:33)

The sacraments, especially the Blessed Sacrament, are the lifeblood of the Church. And while God is not bound through just the sacraments to impart His grace, He has guaranteed that His grace will always be at work in them. No matter how sinister and evil the minister might be, a hell-bound minister does not prevent God's desire to give His grace to us in the sacraments.

The sacrament itself imparts the grace. It is not a symbol. It is the vehicle by which the grace flows. God has done this to make Himself tangible and accessible, so great is His love for His Church — the Church he died for on Good Friday. Protestant "theology," such as it is, has never grasped the importance of the tangible, material universe. And it never will, because the entire theological system — that heresy's foundation — would be thrown into disarray.

This is likely a knee-jerk response: If Catholics do it, then we object just because Catholics do it. That's not intellectual — it's emotional. Protestantism's entire footing is based on protesting Catholicism, which creates a religion of "cons." It's not so much "we believe this" — it's that "we reject or protest that." Many of the 40,000 denominations, for example, reject either infant baptism, the efficacy of the removal of Original Sin in baptism — or both.

And yet, glaring at them from the pages of Scripture are accounts of baptism, so the Catholic Church's teaching on baptism has to be rejected or protested, and some new innovative understanding is developed in its place that has absolutely no reference point in the first 16 centuries of Christianity. And then, as heresies tend to do, the original followers, after having walked away from the Church, then walk away from each other, as competing personal opinions take center stage.

That splintering continues right up until today. In fact, just last week, perhaps the most famous of all the Southern Baptist congregations, Rick Warren's Saddleback Church (in SoCal), got kicked out of the Southern Baptist Convention over the question of women pastors. And the beat goes on. And you can pick any doctrinal or moral issue you like: the gamut of sexual ethics, divorce and remarriage, the divinity of Christ, worship — any of them — and you will find nothing but a zillion differing opinions rooted in nothing beyond an individual pastor's thought on something.

A little story: My dad — God rest his soul — used to go to the nearby Dunkin' Donuts a few days a week and read a religious book. One day, a local pastor from the "Temple of Christ" came in, decked out in an all-white suit and lots of bling. He walked over to my dad and said, "Good morning. I'm Bishop (whoever)" and my dad, having been a Protestant for his first 25 years and even having gone to Nazarene seminary, said back to him, "Oh, you're Catholic?"

"Bishop" (whoever) responded, "No, I'm (whatever he was)." My dad replied,"Well, you're not a bishop. You can't trace your line back to any of the Apostles." My dad, Russ, was a spunky one. The "bishop" abruptly walked away. Later on, when he would occasionally see my dad at the Dunkin', he would look right past him and ignore him. Oh well.

The sacraments exist to make us right with God.

A bishop becomes a bishop not because of his degrees or the congregation he presides over, but because he was first ordained into the priesthood and then consecrated bishop in succession stretching back 2,000 years to the Apostles. Break that line, and you're on your own. The ministerial authority for the sacraments derives from the bishops — the successors of the Apostles. The power of the sacraments derives from Christ Who instituted them.

In this way, nothing has changed since the first days after the ascension — complete continuity is preserved. Christ is the spiritual power; the bishops are the ministers of that power. The culture is collapsing because, a few centuries back, the original Protestant revolutionaries took an axe to the tree of authority. You cut down legitimate authority, and illegitimate authority will arise in its place, and that illegitimate authority will be rooted in nothing other than the changing sands of time and popular opinion.

The sacraments stand in direct defiance of those tides of change, whether the minister is a monster or a saint. Humans can defy the will of God; they cannot thwart it. This Lent, get to confession — establish the frequent habit. Do not feel you are unworthy and a huge sinner and all that nonsense. If you are in that camp, recall the prophecy from Isaiah 1:18: "Though your sins be as scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they be red like crimson, they shall be as wool."

The sacraments exist to make us right with God and as a means to increase in holiness. Talk about a "personal relationship." Our Blessed Lord Himself comes to each of us personally in the sacraments administered through the Church established by Him for this very purpose. Embrace the gift. Do not leave it unwrapped. As the famous English churchman John Henry Newman famously said, "To be deep into history is to cease to be a Protestant."

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