WHAT IS A SACRAMENT?
Father James Chelich – January 2001 (revised 2007)
“…know that I am with you always…”
The angel spoke (to the women)…Go quickly and tell the disciples: ‘He has been raised from the dead and now goes ahead of you.’ Matthew 28:5-7
Jesus said to them: “Go and carry the news to my brothers that they are to go to Galilee, where they will see me.” Matthew 28:10
On the morning of his resurrection Jesus promised to go ahead of his disciples in their journeys and that he would be present with them in all things. Jesus kept this promise from the beginning. St. John tells us he manifested his presence to the apostles that evening in the upper room. (John 20:19f) St. Luke tells us of another event that very day:
Two of them that same day (Easter day) were making their way to a village named Emmaus…Jesus approached and began to walk along with them. However, they were restrained from recognizing him…As evening drew on, they pressed him to stay with them. When he had seated himself with them to eat, he took bread, pronounced the blessing, then broke the bread and began to distribute it to them. With that their eyes were opened and they recognized him; whereupon he vanished from their sight…They got up immediately and returned to Jerusalem…They recounted what had happened on the road and how they had come to know him in the breaking of bread. Luke 24:30-35
Jesus repeated his promise to be present with his disciples just before he ascended into heaven. The promise was spoken on the mount of the ascension and recorded in the last verses of the Gospel of Matthew:
Go, therefore, and make disciples of all the nations.
Baptize them in the name of the Father, and of the Son,
and of the Holy Spirit. Teach them to carry out everything
I have commanded you. And know that I am with you always
until the end of the world. Matthew 28:19-20
The word, “sacrament,” is the English form of the Latin word, “sacramentum,” which means “vow”. A sacrament is a vow. Specifically, it is Jesus’ vow, “to be with you always until the end
of the world.” (Matthew 28:20)
In the Book of Psalms there is a prophesy. The Savior who one day
is to come into the world says: “My vows to the Lord I will pay in the presence of all his people. In the courts of the house of the Lord.” (Psalm 116:18-19a) This prophesy is fulfilled by Jesus, the Savior who has come into the world. In every celebration of the sacraments Jesus is actually present and stands in the assembly of his disciples. In every celebration of the sacraments, Jesus both fulfills and renews his vow to be present with his disciples always.
The Sacraments are the ways Jesus established to manifest his real presence to his disciples. These manifestations of his presence among his gathered disciples are immediate and personal.
In the Sacrament of Baptism it is the hand of Jesus who pours the water over the believer to be baptized. He cleanses her soul from sin with his own blood “shed for the forgiveness of sins” (1 John 1:7) and regenerates her soul’s capacity for communion with God (Titus 3:5).
By his power Christ is present in the sacraments,
so that when a man baptizes it is really Christ himself who baptizes.
(St Augustine as cited in Vatican Council II, – SC)
In the Sacrament of Confirmation it is Jesus who receives the candidate’s profession of faith. His hand sets the “seal” on the soul of the believer (Eph 1:13). He personally breathes into him the power of the Holy Spirit to stand as a witness in the world (John 20:22). He said:
I will send the Paraclete to you…When He comes,
being the Spirit of truth he will guide you to all truth. John 16,13
In the Sacrament of the Eucharist, Jesus is present with his disciples today as he was with the disciples on the road to Emmaus. Jesus, the great High Priest (Heb 9:11-28), stands at the altar and consecrates the bread and wine into his body and blood, just as he did when he was with the apostles at the Last Supper. It is he who gives it to his disciples to eat, that he might live in them and they in him (John 17:22f). It is he who is really present and personally says:
“Take this and eat it…this is my body”…
“All of you must drink from it…for this is my blood,
the blood of the covenant, to be poured out in behalf of many
for the forgiveness of sins.” Matthew 26:26-28
My flesh is real food and my blood real drink.
The man who feeds on my flesh and drinks my blood
remains in me, and I in him. John 6:55-56
We know his presence today as they knew him then, “in the breaking of bread.” Saint John, writing in exile, opens the Book of Revelation by telling us that it is the Lord’s Day. Presumably he and those who were with him, were either celebrating or had just celebrated the Eucharist. They would have done this in the manner Jesus ordained at the Last Supper. They would have received what Jesus says is “my body” and “my blood.” Jesus appears to Saint John and says:
Here I stand, knocking at the door. If anyone hears me calling
and opens the door, I will enter his house and have supper with him and he with me.” Revelation 3:20
Jesus’ words are spoken to John within the context of the Eucharist. Jesus’ words are about the Holy Eucharist John has just received: “It’s really me! I am here at the door of your heart – present here out of love for you. Open your heart and let me in.”
The mode of Christ’s presence under the Eucharistic species is unique…In the most blessed sacrament of the Eucharist “the body and blood, together with the soul and divinity, of our Lord Jesus Christ and, therefore, the whole Christ is truly, really, and substantially contained. Catechism of the Catholic Church #1374
In the Sacrament of Reconciliation Jesus is present and receives the declaration of sin from the penitent personally. It is he who absolves the sin and restores the sinner to the innocence of a child of God.
In the Sacrament of the Anointing of the Sick it is Jesus who anoints
and it is Jesus who bestows physical, mental and emotional healing,
exactly as he did on the roads of Galilee and the streets of Jerusalem
2000 years ago (Luke 4:40).
In the Sacrament of Marriage Jesus gives a Christian man and woman to each other, for they belong to him. (1 Cor 6:19-20) He is the first spouse of each of their souls (2 Cor 11:2). He joins himself to their union personally as the third partner in their marriage. From him they will draw strength to be faithful to each other and be fruitful together.
In the Sacrament of Holy Orders Jesus configures the soul of a man
to himself in such a way that the man becomes an outward sign and instrument of Jesus’ presence and action in the celebration of the sacraments. Jesus said: He who hears you, hears me. Luke 10:16
Christ is present in the sacrifice of the Mass…in the person of his minister, “the same (Christ) now offering through the ministry of priest, who formerly offered himself on the cross.
(Council of Trent, Decree on the Mass)
In the Sacraments Jesus fulfills his vow to be present to his disciples by manifesting his true and real presence. He also renews his vow and personally assures his disciples that he is present with them always. The community of disciples know the presence of Jesus, their Lord in the Sacraments and celebrate his faithfulness to all his promises.
Through the Sacraments of the Church
Jesus Creates a Sacrament for the World!
The Sacraments are the ways Jesus established to manifest both his real presence in the Church and the fact that it is He who is acting in his Church. What, then, is He doing? He is creating the Church! In Baptism he regenerates whole members for himself. In Confirmation he empowers these members. In Reconciliation he cleanses the members of his body. In the Anointing he heals his members. But it is in the celebration of the Eucharist that Jesus personally stands at the altar and creates his mystical Body, the Church (see 1 Corinthians 12:12-30 and Colossians 1:18). He joins us to himself as living members of his body by giving us his flesh and blood, thereby making us flesh of his flesh and blood of his blood. We are made “the Church of the living God” (1 Timothy 3:14) by Him, of Him and through His own sovereign acts. This is the Catholic understanding of what the Church is and how it is made. In this way the Church, the members in union with the head (Col 1:13-18), becomes the “sacrament” of Jesus for the world: the outward sign of His presence and action in the world.
The essence of Sacrament is the reality of Jesus’ presence in the midst of his disciples, doing exactly what we see him doing in the pages of the Gospels: re-generating, healing the members of his body, creating and sustaining his body, the Church.
Sacraments are the outward signs Jesus instituted (established) to evidence his real presence and activity in the assembly of his Church.