Sacraments then and now

A look at how the sacraments have changed according to liturgical needs.

The Catholic Church holds that sacraments (from the Latin sacramentum—‘holy thing’ are vital in the economy of salvation. They are celebrations which, provided a minimal requirement for validity in matter and form is satisfied, always confer grace where the recipient imposes no obstacle to God’s gift.

The usual definition of a sacrament is an ‘external sign of inner grace, instituted by Christ, bestowing divine life upon us’.

We know that the sacraments and the grace they confer are necessary to salvation, and yet we also know that God is not limited. How are we to understand that? We know that the efficacy of a sacrament does not depend on the holiness of the minister, only on right intention, the power to confer the sacrament, and correct matter and form. The power is not always that of the ordained priesthood—the ministers of matrimony are the man and woman celebrating it, the ministers of baptism can be themselves unbaptised! How can this be?

We know that the sacraments are from Christ, that they are unchanging and unchangeable, and yet we will be aware that in our archdiocese there has been a recent change to the order of reception and age of recipient of the sacraments of initiation. If we were a little over 100 years old we would be aware of a profound change in the age of first reception of the eucharist. If we were a little over 1 000 years old we would be aware of a change in the form of reception of the sacrament of penance. Despite these changes the substance of the sacraments remains the same. Are we comfortable with the distinction?

Communio Hutt Valley adult education offers a course of presentations at Ss Peter and Paul Parish hall, Lower Hutt, designed to address the modern understanding of the sacraments in the light of the second Vatican Council’s teachings and the church’s ever deeper reflection on and development of doctrine.

Sessions begin Thursday, 11 October, and continue weekly for six weeks, from 7pm to 9pm. Presenters are Sr Margaret Butler, Dr Anna Thompson, John Kleinsman and Fr James Lyons. All are welcome.