1 Learning Objective : The learner is invited to comprehend the theological meaning of sacrament through the lens of sign and symbol, community, Jesus, rite and ritual, authority, mysterion, and trinity. ONE : Summary Sacraments : include signs and symbols that lead us to a greater awareness of and relationship to God are celebrated in community Where two or three are gathered in my name there am I in your midst. are a celebration of the presence of Christ Christ in the past, Christ now, and Christ in the fullness of God s kingdom in the future involve rites and rituals that allow us to enter into prayer and worship and therefore enter into closer communion with God are rooted in the actions and values of Christ, who gave us the authority and challenge of being his witness in today s world are full of mystery we will never be able to fully comprehend the gift of God s son Jesus to redeem us are entrusted to us, the Church, to proclaim God s love and power to all celebrate the goodness of God in creation are a celebration of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit Sacraments are efficacious signs of grace, instituted by Christ and entrusted to the Church, by which divine life is dispensed to us. CCC# 1131 TWO : Reflection This ACTIVITY can be done in silence first and then shared, in a journal, or verbally, depending on the dynamics of your family. When I think of the word sacrament, the words and images that immediately come to mind are If asked to define sacrament, I would say it means.
2 THREE : Generalization S Signs and Symbols A Always Connected to Community C Christ Centered R Rites and Rituals A Authority M Mysterion E Entrusted to Us by God N Natural, of Nature T Trinity As a family, explore the meaning of sacrament by visiting our central theological understandings of sacrament. S Symbol and sign. What is the difference between sign and symbol? A sign has only one assigned meaning to it when we see a stop sign we know it means stop. Symbols, on the other hand, have multiple meanings. They convey more than information. Symbols bring us into touch with the familiar and the mysterious simultaneously. A wedding ring is a symbol of such multi-layered meaning. At its most basic level it is a sign that the person wearing it is not a single person. But its meaning doesn t stop there. It has deeper meaning and special memories for the person wearing it, as well as for the person who gave it. In addition, it has different meanings and evokes memories for the person who sees it. At the same time, it is symbolic of the mystery of love between two people who become symbols for others of the mystery of the eternal love of God for his people. In a very real sense, the symbols which are the heart of the Church s sacraments are not primarily objects but actions. The symbols of the sacraments are all expressions of human activity a bath, a meal, an embrace, a laying on of hands, a touch, a rubbing with oil. They do for us what words alone or abstract thought cannot do. They put the coming of God in our lives into body language. The symbolic acts at the heart of the sacraments help us break open and share with one another the common human experiences through which God becomes present to us. (Sandra DeGidio, O.S.M., The Seven Sacraments Symbols of God s Care) The liturgical celebration involves signs and symbols relating to creation (candles, water, fire), human life (washing, anointing, breaking bread), and the history of salvation (the rites of Passover). Integrated into the world of faith and taken up by the power of the Holy Spirit, these cosmic elements, human rituals, and gestures of remembrance of God become the bearers of the saving and sanctifying action of Christ (paragraph #1189). (Catechism of the Catholic Church )
3 A Always connected to community. Sacraments do not happen only to the individual. Sacraments can be understood completely only in relation to the Body of Christ, which is the Church. St. Paul s metaphor of the Church as a body made up of many parts is significant in terms of our understanding of sacraments. Remember, Christian sacraments grew out of an experience of the living Christ by his followers who shared that experience in word and deed. Today Christ lives in us, the Church. He is experienced when the Christian community lives his values and celebrates the lived reality of his presence among us. We, like the first followers of Jesus, break bread and share it, pray for each other, lay hands on one another in love, heal and forgive. In so doing, we help strengthen the Christian community and offer a model for the building up of the whole human family. (Sandra DeGidio, The Seven Sacraments-Symbols of God s Care, Catholic Update # C0483, 1983) It is the whole community, the body of Christ united with its Head, that celebrates. Liturgical services (including the celebration of sacraments) are not private functions but are celebrations of the Church which is the sacrament of unity, namely the holy people united and organized under the authority of the bishops. #1140) C Christ. Sacraments celebrate Christ s life. Each of the sacraments has a foundation in the life and ministry of Jesus. Each relates to stories and teachings of Jesus. For example, Baptism calls to mind the baptism of Jesus in the Jordan, and the way Jesus gathered a community around himself. It also reminds us of the command of the risen Lord to carry the gospel to others and to baptize them. Eucharist reminds us of the Last Supper and other meals Jesus shared. Reconciliation reminds us of Jesus invitation to forgive one another, and of the way he forgave those who put him to death. (Joseph Martos, What Are Sacraments?, Catholic Update #C0895,1995) Jesus words and actions during his hidden life and public ministry were already salvific, for they anticipated the power of his Paschal mystery. They announced and prepared what he was going to give the Church when all was accomplished. The mysteries of Christ s life are the foundations of what he would henceforth dispense in the sacraments, through the ministries of the his Church, for what was visible in our Savior has passed over into his mysteries. #1115) R Rites and rituals. Each of the 7 sacraments has defined rites and rituals for its celebration. All of the rites contain prayers, scripture readings, and one or more ritual actions sign of the cross, anointing with oil, pouring of water, exchange of rings, etc. Ritual is important to us in our Catholic tradition it helps us to enter into the dance of the celebration, the heart of prayer, without thinking about the various steps of the dance or the responses of the prayer.
4 CCC# 1131 defines sacraments as efficacious signs of grace, instituted by Christ and entrusted to the Church, by which divine life is dispensed to us. The visible rites by which the sacraments are celebrated signify and make present the graces proper to each sacrament. They bear fruit in those who receive them with the required dispositions. ) A Authority We baptize, marry, heal, reconcile, all through the authority of Christ bestowed upon us. Authority in the Catholic Church is based on the authority of Jesus himself and his commission to his disciples; All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything that I have commanded you. And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age (Matt 28:18-20). In the New Testament this authority is dispersed in a variety of gifts given to different persons apostles, prophets, teachers, workers of miracles, healers, administrators, and those who speak in tongues all of which were manifestations of the Spirit for the common good. These were all forms of service to build up the body of Christ. Authority in the New Testament is service. (Richard McBrien, Encyclopedia of Catholicism, p.122). Accordingly, just as Christ was sent by the Father so also he sent the apostles, filled with the Holy Spirit. This he did so that they might preach the Gospel to every creature and proclaim that the Son of God by his death and resurrection had freed us from the power of Satan and from death and brought us into the Kingdom of his Father. But he also willed that the work of salvation which they preached should be set in train through the sacrifice and sacraments, around which the entire liturgical life revolves. #1086) M Mysterion. Mysterion is the Greek word for sacrament that we find in the bible. Mysterion is usually translated in our English Bibles by the word plan. The wonderful mysterious plan that God had before creation began to take flesh in Jesus and to draw all of creation into unity and a harmony so spectacular and breath taking that the very idea is too wonderful for us. This plan is something we never fully understand. This is the fundamental meaning of sacrament found in the bible. When the language of the Church changed from Greek to Latin, the Greek word mysterion was sometimes translated by the Latin word sacramentum; it is in this word that we find the biblical roots of the word sacrament. (Thomas Richstatter, Sacraments: It All Starts with Jesus, Catholic Update #C0893, 1993)
5 E Entrusted. We, the church have been entrusted with keeping the dreams of God alive through making present in prayer, ritual, and action the saving actions of Jesus Christ. Christ is the original sacrament. Christians believe that the most important and decisive way God has reached out to the world in love is in the incarnation of Jesus Christ. In Jesus God became a real, flesh-and-blood human being. It is through Jesus, who was fully God and fully human, that we have been put into relationship with God and God s love. In a real sense the sacraments continue the work that Jesus accomplished while on earth. Vatican II teaches that the purpose of the sacraments is to make people holy, to build up the body of Christ, and finally to give worship to God. It is through the sacraments that the Church continues here and now to incarnate Christ s presence in the world. We baptize, forgive, heal, and bless all in the name of Christ. We are entrusted to continue his work on earth. (Mark R. Francis, C.S.V., Have Sacraments Changed? Catholic Update # C0997, 1997) Thus the risen Christ, by giving the Holy Spirit to the apostles, entrusted to them his power of sanctifying; they became sacramental signs of Christ. By the power of the same Holy Spirit they entrusted this power to their successors. #1087 ) N Natural, of nature. All of the sacraments use symbols and actions that are natural to humans and occur naturally in our world. We anoint with oil, created from fresh grains like canola or fruits like olives. We baptize in water, which we daily use to bathe and to quench our thirst. We exchange rings made of natural metals from the earth when we wed. We celebrate Eucharist using the fruits of bread and wine. The actions in our sacramental celebrations are not foreign to our every day lives rubbing with oil, eating and drinking, blessing and caressing. Through sacraments we celebrate the goodness of God present in all God s creation including humanity. In human life, signs and symbols occupy an important place. As a being at once body and spirit, man expresses and perceives spiritual realities through physical signs and symbols. As a social being, man needs signs and symbols to communicate with others, through language, gestures, and actions. The same holds true for his relationship with God. #1146 God speaks to man through the visible creation. The material cosmos is so presented to man s intelligence that he can read there traces of its Creator. Light and darkness, wind and fire, water and earth, the tree and its fruit speak of God and symbolize both his greatness and his nearness. #1147 )
6 T Trinity. We baptize in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. We bless wedding rings and exchange vows in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. We anoint and lay hands in healing in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. We celebrate sacrament in the name of our God who unselfishly loves us God so loved the world that he gave his only Son. John 3:16. We celebrate sacrament in the name of Jesus who makes the love of God visible. We celebrate sacrament in the name of the Holy Spirit, who gifts us with the ever present love of Father and Son. In the Church s liturgy the divine blessing is fully revealed and communicated. The Father is acknowledged and adored as the source and the end of all the blessings of creation and salvation. In his Word who became incarnate, died, and rose for us he fills us with his blessings. Through his Word, he pours into our hearts the Gift that contains all gifts, the Holy Spirit. #1082 )
7 FOUR : Experience Gather your family during or after a meal, or on an evening after other activities are done before bedtime. Ask your children about sacraments use the questions listed below and ask them to identify which they think are true and which are false. 1. Sacraments celebrate Jesus in our midst. Answer: True Whenever we celebrate sacraments, we celebrate the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus. 2. Sacraments have a definite start and end point. Answer: False The rite for each sacrament has a beginning and ending but the living of sacrament happens before the rite, during the entire rite, and continues after the rite has ended. For example, a couple preparing for marriage begins to celebrate the sacrament of marriage as they get to know each other and prepare for their public commitment. They celebrate the sacrament as they profess their vows in public; and they continue to live out and renew their understanding of the sacrament of marriage long after the celebration of the rite has ended. In a sacramental celebration we are celebrating what God has been doing, what God is presently doing, and what God will continue to do. (Kenan Osborne, Sacramental Theology: A General Introduction, New York:Paulist Press, 1988, p.65) 3. Sacraments are celebrations of God s grace. Answer: True Sacraments allow us to become conscious and aware of God s greatest gift : the creative, sustaining, loving presence of God Grace is not so much something that is given but someone who is experienced as present. (Richstatter, Thomas, Sacraments It All Starts With Jesus, Catholic Update # C0893, 1993) 4. Sacraments point to something in the past, celebrate something real in the present, and point to a hoped for future. Answer: True For example, Baptism remembers Jesus calling people to follow him in the past, we call people to follow Jesus today, and we look forward to the day when all will be united in the body of Christ. (Martos, Joseph, What are Sacraments?, Catholic Update C0895, 1995) 5. All of the sacramental rites include readings from scripture. Answer: True Scripture is an important and non removable element of all the sacramental celebrations.
8 6. To be valid, sacraments have an ordained person who is the minister of the sacrament. Answer: False In the sacrament of marriage it is the bride and groom who are the ministers of the sacrament. The priest or other presider, wedding attendants, and the congregation are witnesses and supporting members of the community. The sacrament of baptism may be ministered by a non-ordained person in extreme situations such as serious illness or death. 7. Jesus set out the details of the sacraments before he died. False The word sacrament is a Latin word and not even found in scripture. Jesus did not define the sacraments as we now know them (by their 7 names and their rites). Jesus instituted the sacraments through the gift of his life. The sacraments flow from the very meaning of Jesus life, from his values and teachings. He saw very basic values and experiences (forgiveness, concern for the sick, marriage, service) and he raised those values and experiences to new levels. He transformed those ordinary values into spiritual values by helping people see God s love made visible through the living of those values. (DeGidio, Sandra, The Seven Sacraments Symbols of God s Care, Catholic Update #C0483, 1983) 8. All sacraments involve the use of symbols. True light, water, oil, rings, etc.!
9 FIVE: Apply Applying What I Have Learned 1. How has this learning program deepened your own understanding of the sacraments? What new insights did you discover about the sacraments something that you did not know before? 2. How can you use your new insights in your own life? How has this learning program prepared you to teach others about the sacraments? What would key points would you emphasize in teaching others (e.g., children, teens, adults, families) about the sacraments?
10 SIX : Application Sacrament is such a complex, dynamic reality that no one is really going to be able to define it adequately. Think, for example, of how you would define Thanksgiving dinner at Grandmother s, or the high school prom or the final game of the World Series. These dynamic ritual celebrations are more verb than noun. Definitions are impossible; even lengthy, detailed descriptions fail. After all the defining and describing are over, we are left with; well, you would have to be there! Sacraments are like that. To understand them fully you have to experience them in person. (Thomas Richstatter, Sacraments- How Catholics Pray) In light of this learning session on sacraments, highlight the definition below that best summarizes for you what sacrament means: 1. A sacrament is a festive action in which Christians assemble to celebrate their lived experience and to call to heart their common story. The action is a symbol of God s care for us in Christ. Enacting the symbol brings us closer to one another in the Church and to the Lord who is there for us. (Tad Guzie, The Book of Sacramental Basics. New York:Paulist Press, 1981, p.53) 2. Sacraments are symbolic actions manifesting the offer of God s saving love for us in Christ and through the Spirit in the Church. In the sacraments, we respond to God s self giving and draw closer not only to God but also to one another in the Church. (Richard M.Gula, S.S., To Walk Together Again. New York: Paulist Press, 1984,p.77) 3. CCC# 1131 defines sacraments as efficacious signs of grace, instituted by Christ and entrusted to the Church, by which divine life is dispensed to us. The visible rites by which the sacraments are celebrated signify and make present the graces proper to each sacrament. They bear fruit in those who receive them with the required dispositions. 4. Sacrament is one of the seven principal liturgical rites of the Church through which participants experience the love and power of God (grace) that flows from Christ s Passion, death, and Resurrection. (Richard McBrien, Encyclopedia of Catholicism, p.1146) How would you now define sacrament?
11 Family Prayer Creator God, Loving Jesus, Energizing Spirit, You are always present to us when we seek you. Help us to continue to celebrate your presence through the sacramental moments of our ordinary lives and in the times when we gather as family, and with our church family, to pray through the seven sacraments. Help us to be your sacrament in the world giving witness to all of the great magnitude of your love for all people. AMEN. Resources for Further Study DeGidio, Sandra, Sacraments Alive, Mystic CT: 23 rd Publications, 1991 Osborne, Kenan, Sacramental Theology: A General Introduction, New York:Paulist Press, 1988 Richstatter, Thomas, Sacraments-How Catholics Pray. Cincinnati: St. Anthony Messenger Press, 1995