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제목 On the Sacraments in general(2016-09-10)
작성자 관리자 작성일 2016-09-12



On the Sacraments in general(2016-09-10)


My dear brethren,
We have seen that the path to Heaven is that of the Commandments of God, and that we can follow that path by the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, and that He gives His grace especially through prayer and the Sacraments. So after having explained the workings of grace last month, we now study the Sacraments. Truly our Lord Jesus Christ is the Word of Eternal Wisdom: all what He did is perfectly done and wisely done. He provided superabundantly and marvellously for our salvation, especially through the Sacraments.


The Sacraments are sacred sensible signs instituted by our Lord Jesus Christ to signify and produce grace for our salvation. Our Lord Jesus Christ has instituted seven Sacraments: Baptism, Confirmation, Holy Eucharist, Penance, Extreme Unction, Holy Orders and Matrimony. Since the very purpose of the Sacraments is to give grace, that is to give us Divine Life, a participation in the life of our Lord Jesus Christ, Jesus living in us, only our Lord Jesus Christ could institute the Sacraments. He is the one who established these signs, and gave them their efficacy, and gave them to the Church for the salvation of souls.


These signs are most sacred, most holy, because they are means for our salvation, means for us to find God, to be united with God Himself! Therefore, these signs should be treated with all the due reverence for holy things: to desecrate a sacrament is a mortal sin, the mortal sin of sacrilege. In order to administer these signs in a most holy manner, the Catholic Church has surrounded them with ceremonies that prepare us to receive them worthily and that manifest the many graces contained in these sacraments. These ceremonies are called “the Liturgy”. Over the centuries, the Church has kept the best prayers and ceremonies, to such a point that the Liturgy of the Catholic Church has become a great treasure: it is like a most beautiful shrine for marvellous pearls. The antique spirit of the Church is to keep these holy institutions that were passed on to us from the Fathers of the Church: this is the Tradition of the Church, a great treasure. The modern assaults upon the Liturgy has dilapidated this treasure and has impoverished the ceremonies of the Church in an appalling manner. There is need of a return to that holy Tradition, to these treasures fruits of centuries of holiness.


The first purpose of these ceremonies is to deal in a holy manner with holy things; they are not merely instructions: hence the language in which they are done is not a problem; a sacred language such as Latin helps for more reverence and achieves its main purpose. With the use of a missal, the faithful can easily follow the prayers and understand them.


These sacred signs, the Seven Sacraments, are “sensible” signs: they can be seen, heard, sometimes touched. This is quite an important aspect of these signs. The Catholic religion, the true religion, is the religion of the Word Incarnate: the Son of God became man for our salvation; He took a visible body, a sensible body, a body like ours, “and the Word was made flesh and dwelt amongst us” (Jn. 1:14) Our Lord Jesus Christ is truly Emmanuel, i.e. “God with us”, the true God who became visible, sensible, touchable by us. Thus St John, the beloved disciple who reclined his head on the Heart of Jesus during the Last Supper, wrote: “That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we have looked upon, and our hands have handled, of the word of life: for the life was manifested; and we have seen and do bear witness, and declare unto you the life eternal, which was with the Father, and hath appeared to us: That which we have seen and have heard, we declare unto you, that you also may have fellowship with us, and our fellowship may be with the Father, and with his Son Jesus Christ. And these things we write to you, that you may rejoice, and your joy may be full”(1 Jn. 1:1-4).


Thus that sensible contact with Jesus is most important: it gives us both some certitude of the action of God in us, and a great consolation for His presence. The Sacraments continue this contact with our Lord. As the woman who touched the helm of the garment of our Lord from behind, those who come in contact of our Lord through the Sacraments do receive great graces. St Thomas Aquinas teaches that the Sacraments are sensible for three reasons: 1/ because all human knowledge starts from the senses, and from the data of the senses we then can abstract intellectual ideas and develop our spiritual knowledge above it. 2/ Because of sin, man was fallen and loved earthly things, hence God puts the remedy where we had fallen, in sensible things in order to lift up from hence to the spiritual things. 3/ Because of the Incarnation of our Lord, as explained above. Man had sinned by pride, hence the remedy for sin includes the humility of finding it in sensible things, i.e. lower things. Those who claim “to go straight to God” and for this motive refuse those sensible signs of the sacraments lack of the humility required by the Incarnate Word, who humbled Himself even to the death of the Cross to save us from sin and its pride.


These Sacraments are signs: they signify first and foremost the grace that is given, but – and this is the most important aspect of the Sacraments of the New Law – they are efficacious signs: that is, they effect what they signify; they have received from our Lord Jesus Christ the power to effect what they signify: our Lord Jesus Christ uses them to produce and increase sanctifying grace in our soul and to give us an overabundance of actual graces. The Church teaches that the Sacraments are efficacious “ex opere operato”, i.e. from the very fact that they have been done, grace is given. Thus from the very fact that the water of baptism flowed upon a baby while the priest pronounced the words of Christ “I baptise thee in the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Ghost”, we know the child’s original sin has been washed and his soul has been filled with sanctifying grace and he became an adoptive child of God, member of Christ and temple of the Holy Ghost!


Grace is given in the sacraments, unless one puts an obstacle to grace: for instance, if one hides a mortal sin in the sacrament of penance, such hiding is an obstacle to grace, and one then does not receive grace but rather commits a sacrilege. Grace is received by all those who do not put obstacles, but one receives more when he is better disposed. The more fervently we come to the sacraments, the more grace we receive. This is the reason why Holy Mother Church wants to prepare us to a good and fervent reception of the Sacraments by the beautiful Liturgy with which she surrounds them. This is the reason why it is important to prepare oneself for a good confession, and a general confession well prepared in a retreat is very useful. May we always prepare ourselves with great fervour to benefit fully from these marvellous source of grace!


What do they signify? St Thomas teaches that they signify three spiritual realities: first the special grace itself, which they produce and give. Thus for instance the Sacrament of Baptism signifies the washing of sin; the Sacrament of confirmation the strengthening of the Christian as a soldier of Christ anointed for the fight as sportsmen are massaged for their performance; the sacrament of Holy Eucharist signifies the feeding of the soul nourished by the precious Body and Blood of our Lord Jesus Christ; etc.


But secondly the Sacrament signify the source of grace, which is the Passion of our Lord Jesus Christ: thus St Paul says that “by Baptism we are buried together with Christ into death” (Rom. 6:4). By confirmation, we are marked with the very sign of the Cross in a most visible way: on our forehead! The Holy Eucharist not only signifies but also makes present the very Sacrifice of the Cross on our altars, with the separate consecration of the Body and of the Blood of Christ, signifying the full separation which occurred on the Cross. The Sacrament of penance unites our penance and sufferings with those of Christ crucified. Etc.


And thirdly the Sacraments signify the final purpose of grace, which is the eternal glory to which they lead us. Thus we receive at Baptism that white garment, required in order to partake in the Heavenly banquet (Mt. 22:12). The sacrament of marriage signifies that spiritual wedding of the soul with Christ, perfect union with God, in which eternal beatitude consists.


The Church teaches that the Sacraments are necessary for salvation. Our Lord Jesus Christ is very explicit concerning baptism: “Amen, amen I say to thee, unless a man be born again of water and the Holy Ghost, he cannot enter into the kingdom of God” (Jn. 3:5). Similarly for the Holy Eucharist: “Amen, amen I say unto you: Except you eat the flesh of the Son of man, and drink his blood, you shall not have life in you” (Jn. 6:54). If one has fallen into mortal sin after Baptism, he also needs the Sacrament of Penance: indeed our Lord Jesus Christ did not say in vain: “Whose sins you shall forgive, they are forgiven them; and whose sins you shall retain, they are retained” (Jn. 20:23). If he gave such a wonderful power to his Apostles, to bishops and priests, it is in order that it be used by the faithful! Though the Sacraments of Confirmation and Extreme Unction are not as absolutely necessary, yet if anyone would fail to receive them out of grave neglect or contempt, he would be guilty and could not be saved. Lastly, the Sacraments of Holy Orders and of Matrimony, though not necessary to each individuals, are necessary for the Church as a whole: there is need of priests, and need of good Catholic families sealed by the Sacrament of marriage.


All the Sacraments were personally instituted by our Lord Jesus Christ: thus the Church teaches that He instituted Baptism when He was baptised in the Jordan; He instituted Confirmation on the day of Pentecost; He instituted the Holy Eucharist during the Last Supper, and also He instituted the Holy Priesthood during the Last Supper when He said “Do this in commemoration of me”, thereby empowering his Twelve Apostles and their successors to do what He had just done, i.e. transubstantiating the bread into His Body and the wine into His Blood. He instituted marriage at Cana; He instituted Extreme Unction when He sent His apostles for their mission commanding them to anoint the sick; He instituted Penance on the day of the Resurrection when He gave His Apostles power to forgive sin.


Now this is very important: only our Lord Jesus Christ can institute the Sacraments, because He alone has the power to give them their efficacy. And the Church defined that our Lord Jesus Christ has instituted seven Sacraments, no more no less. Protestants claim that there are only two Sacraments; they reject Confirmation, Extreme Unction, Marriage and especially Penance and Holy Priesthood: this is a very grave mutilation of the work of our Lord Jesus Christ; it is explicitly against the Scriptures, and against the very testimony of early Church.


But in our days we find the opposite error with the Pentecostals, who practically promote an eighth sacrament: they claim that by the imposition of their hands they can give the Holy Ghost: that would be a Sacrament unknown for more than nineteen centuries, a Sacrament unknown by the Scriptures! Hence it is not the “Holy” Spirit whom they give, but rather the “spirit of lies”, the great deceiver! Indeed in the Scriptures there is clearly one sacrament in which the Holy Ghost is given by the imposition of the hands, and that is the Sacrament of Confirmation: BUT it is not given by the imposition of the hands of anybody, but rather by the imposition of the hands of the bishop alone! This is most explicit in the Acts, chapter 8, where we see the deacon Phillip evangelising Samaria, converting many people and baptising them… but not having the power to impose the hands on them to give them the plenitude of the Holy Ghost; hence he sent to Jerusalem and the Apostles Peter and John come and do impose their hands and thereby give the Holy Ghost. This is Confirmation, which only bishops can do, and which can be received only once. What the Pentecostals give is not confirmation, but tantamount to a pretended eighth sacrament, which does not come from Christ and therefore cannot give the Holy Ghost.


Three Sacraments imprint a special character in the soul: the Sacrament of Baptism imprints in us the mark of a child of God; the Sacrament of Confirmation imprints in us the mark of a soldier of Christ; the Sacrament of Holy Priesthood imprints on those who receive it the mark of a minister of Christ. These marks are spiritual and indelible; they will remain for ever, either in heaven for the glory of those who would have lived worthily of them, or in hell for the shame of those who would have lived unworthily of them. These characters are like a constant fountain of grace in the soul, giving us all the actual graces we need to live worthily as children of God, as soldiers of Christ and as ministers of Christ. Truly our Lord Jesus Christ has provided over-abundantly for our salvation!


In each sacrament, the Church distinguishes the “matter”, the “form” and the “minister”. The “matter” is sometimes a material element, such as the water of baptism or the Holy Chrism of Confirmation, sometimes an external action such as the imposition of hand for Holy Orders or the accusation of sin for the Sacrament of Penance (together with contrition and satisfaction), or the bread and wine to be consecrated, etc. The “form” consists in the words of the minister that complete the signification of the sign: thus the words of Baptism make of the pouring of water not a simple bodily washing, but a sacred washing with a supernatural signification. Also the words of the priest absolving sin elevate the acts of the penitent above mere acts of sorrow for sin, empowering them to be actually effective unto the forgiveness of sin. The “form” of a sacrament always consists in some words pronounced by the minister of the sacrament. That minister acts in the person of Christ; thus when the priest says “I baptise thee in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Ghost”, it is our Lord Jesus Christ who baptises! When the priest says: “I absolve thee in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Ghost,” it is our Lord Jesus Christ who absolves the sins; when the priest says: “this is my Body… this is the chalice of my Blood…” it is our Lord Jesus Christ who speaks, and it becomes the Body and Blood of Christ, not the body and blood of the priest.


Thus the minister acts in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ. There is a double consequence from this great truth: first, the minister ought to be holy; secondly, since the efficacy of the Sacrament depends on our Lord Jesus Christ, who is ALWAYS holy, the sacraments remain valid and efficacious even if the minister is not holy. In such a case, then an unholy minister performs a sacrament, provided the Sacrament is properly performed, the person who receives the sacrament does receive all the graces of that sacrament though the minister who administered it without being himself in a proper disposition to perform it does commit a sin. St Augustine says: “Peter baptises, it is Jesus Who baptises through Peter; Judas baptises, it is Jesus Who baptises through Judas!”


In conclusion, we should appreciate these great gifts of our Lord Jesus Christ, appreciate the sacraments that we have received, and live worthily of them. Thus we should always remember our baptism, and live as worthy children of God; we should remember our Confirmation and live as soldiers of Christ, strong against sin and courageous to give testimony to our Lord Jesus Christ, to extend His reign by our good example and charity; we should appreciate above all the Holy Eucharist, the most beautiful Sacrament, the most Holy Sacrament, in which we can unite ourselves fully with our Lord Jesus Christ Himself and always live worthily of Him! We should appreciate the Sacrament of penance, living in the spirit of compunction, faithful to avoid sin in the future and make reparation for the past ones. We show that appreciation of these two sacraments by receiving them often and with fervent dispositions. We appreciate the Sacrament of Extreme Unction by praying for the grace to receive it before our death, and by providing it for our Catholic friends and relatives who are close to death. We appreciate the Sacrament of Holy Orders by praying for priests and being docile to their teaching (when they are doing their duty of faithfully transmitting that which they have received, i.e. the traditional doctrine). You appreciate the Sacrament of Matrimony by “keeping the marital bed undefiled” as St Paul says(Heb. 13:4).
 

May the Blessed Virgin Mary obtain for us the grace to use the Sacraments always with great devotion and gratitude to our Lord Jesus Christ for having given us such marvellous channels of grace, so that we may reach eternal beatitude in Heaven! Amen.


Fr. F. Laisney (sspxasia)