Archives for October 2011

Sacramental validity

Sacramental Validity

Sacraments are outward signs, instituted by Christ, that give sanctifying grace. They are a huge gift to the Church that build and sustain us. Some time ago, I discussed the basics. In understanding the sacraments, we also see that certain requirements must be met for validity. That is, to receive the intended graces, the sacrament must meet certain requirements.

Various causes may render a sacrament invalid such as some defect in the matter, form, minister or recipient. One very interesting requirement is intent. If the intent is absent then the sacrament is not received.

For example, if a priest were to demonstrate the sacrament of baptism for an RCIA class. He might pour water over an unbaptized person and say the trinitarian formula – “I baptize you in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.” Since his intent was to demonstrate the process and not actually baptize the person, the sacrament is not received and the person remains unbaptized.

Another example: an engaged couple is asked to recite their vows in Church the week before their wedding for a movie documentary. A participating priest expects the couple to receive the Sacrament of Matrimony the following week, but unbeknownst to him, they can not wait any longer. Before the ceremony the couple discuss their intent to marry then. Are they married? Probably! While a terrible idea, this appears to be valid because in the case of matrimony, the couple administer the sacrament – they marry each other. The priest or deacon only assist and act as a witness. If everything else is in order (per the Church, not the state), they would be married by their intent. Sure, this is an unlikely and contrived example, but illustrates the point!

This raises another good question, who exactly administers the sacraments? For the most part it is a priest acting in persona Christi (in the person of Christ). In other words, it is Christ himself administering the sacrament through the priest. When we receive the Sacrament of Reconciliation (i.e. “confession”) and the priest says “I absolve you from your sins” it is NOT the priest who is absolving your sins. He is not God. Rather, by virtue of Holy Orders it is Christ acting through the priest who absolves you.

Of the 7 sacraments, Confirmation, Eucharist, Reconciliation, and Anointing the Sick require a priest with faculties to administer. Only a bishop may administer Holy Orders (ordain a priest or, with the permission of the pope, another bishop).

Christ Himself created His Church and gave her authority. That authority has been passed by the Apostles, the initial recipients of this authority, in an unbroken chain to today’s bishops. We refer to this as Apostolic succession. Faculties are legal instruments under cannon law that grant permission to ordained priests to perform certain actions such as administering certain sacraments. Priests and deacons receive faculties from their bishop (and at his pleasure, may be removed).

There are only three levels of Holy Orders: deacon, priest and bishop. All bishops are first priests and all priests are first deacons. Faculties increase from one level to the next. Only bishops have full faculties, priests generally have the faculties of bishops except Holy Orders (ordination) and deacons generally have the faculties of priests outside of acting in persona Christi.

Deacons can hatch, match and dispatch (sometimes referred to as carried, married and buried). Those are not the formal terms, of course! Deacons can baptize, assist at / witness marriages and perform funerals. They are also ordinary ministers of Holy Communion and can preach the Gospel.

Baptizing, if done with intent in the proper form, can be done by anybody in extraordinary circumstances. That includes non-Catholics and even non-Christians. The Church therefore recognizes the baptisms of other Christian communities, properly performed. We see their baptism as sacramental, even if they do not. Although they are not in full communion with us, through their baptism they join us in the Communion of Saints, the Church Militant, the Body of Christ.

Likewise, when two baptized people validly (per the Church, not the state) marry each other, their marriage is sacramental. The Church also recognizes the validity of proper (per the Church, not the state) non-sacramental marriages (e.g. one or both parties are unbaptized). BTW, I stress “per the Church, not the state” because sadly, the state and secular society in general increasingly have little idea what marriage is.

The validity of marriage is a big topic that I will save for a future post.

7 Quick Takes Friday (set #43)

7 Quick Takes Friday

This week: God in the streets of New York City. What the mainstream press is talking about when they say “sectarian violence.” The magical stethoscope. Covering the Pope: a guide for journalists. Tracking the anti-Catholic bias of the mainstream media. The Susan B. Anthony list recognizes a true, enduring friendship.

— 1 —

God in the Streets of New York City is another wonderful production of Grassroots Films:

— 2 —

In the mainstream press you will sometimes hear of “sectarian violence”, if anything at all. These are usually code words for Christian persecution. It is widespread and and growing. If you are interested in who is being persecuted and who is doing the persecution, read Raymond Ibrahim’s piece for Catholic Lane.

— 3 —

Magic stethoscope exposes what is really inside:

— 4 —

The Catholic Herald has published How to distort papal media coverage. It is a tongue-in-cheek guide for covering anything related to the Catholic Church and distorting it to make the Church look as bad as possible. It would be hilarious if it were not so very, very true.

Spotted by Father Z

— 5 —

I often lament the sorry state of “journalism” in the mainstream media (MSM). The anti-Catholicism bias is unrelenting, not only in articles related to Christianity or the Church, but in so many unrelated pieces where the “journalist” feels compelled to throw-in an anti-Catholic dig.

There is a website for that. Dave Pierre’s does a great job exposing this blatant bias (as if they cared). Typical is the New York Times (Father Zuhlsdorf calls them “hell’s bible”) coverage of Pope Benedict‘s historic visit to Germany.

— 6 —

We all value a true friend. Someone we can always count on. Someone who can count on our loyalty, no matter what. The Susan B. Anthony List recognizes one such enduring friendship:

Spotted by Matthew Archbold

— 7 —

Saturday Evening Blog Post

Elizabeth Esther kindly hosts a feature she calls The Saturday Evening Blog Post. Published monthly every first Saturday, it features the best post in the preceding month on each of a few dozen Christian blogs. The “best” entries are chosen by the authors themselves (so they should know!).

It is a great way to discover new blogs. Be sure to check-it out. My entry this time was There are no clocks in heaven.

Some random thoughts or bits of information are worthy of sharing but don’t warrant their own full post. This idea was started by Jennifer Fulwiler at Conversion Diary to address this blogging need. So, some Fridays I too participate when I have accumulated 7 worthy items. Thank you Jen for hosting this project!

The body

The Body

A few weeks ago I explored the nature of the soul. Created by God at our conception (or at least, very close to our conception), the human soul is never created without the body (always created at the moment of conception).

This is the difference between us and angels. Angels are pure spirits. They never had and never will (as far as we know) have bodies. We do. We start life with our body, leave it upon our death and are reunited with our glorified bodies at the general resurrection.

Our resurrected body is “us,” not some different body. It is the natural “home” for our soul. It is not however, as it appeared at any point during our mortal life. There is much theology on this, but Catholic Answers apologist Father Vincent Serpa explains it succinctly:

The Church teaches that at the resurrection the bodies of the just will be re-modeled and transfigured to the pattern of the risen Christ. Like his body, our resurrected bodies will be those of a person in his prime. They will be incapable of suffering. They will have a spiritual nature – not that they will be pure spirit, but they will be like that of Jesus, who could penetrate closed doors after he had risen. They will have a new agility in that they will be able to obey the soul with great ease and speed – so that when the spirit is willing, the flesh will no longer be weak! Our bodies will be free from all deformity and will reflect God’s beauty to the degree that our souls do.

Our souls are unique and so is our body. Both are a gift from God. In our mortal state, each body has unique, lifelong DNA from the moment of conception. It is intertwined with and tightly united to our soul. It is the physical temple of the Holy Spirit, belonging to Christ and not our own to use or abuse however we please.

Proper respect for our body means we will care for it as best we are able (hygiene, healthcare, nutrition, exercise, etc.). Likewise, our body is not a sexual playground. We are to live modest, chaste lives – sharing the gift of our body with no one other than a spouse.

Finally, when our mortal body dies, dignity and respect must continue. It must be buried or interred within a mausoleum. Cremation is permissible, but under no circumstance may remains be scattered, turned into jewelry or the like.

The human body shares in the dignity of “the image of God”: it is a human body precisely because it is animated by a spiritual soul, and it is the whole human person that is intended to become, in the body of Christ, a temple of the Spirit:

Man, though made of body and soul, is a unity. Through his very bodily condition he sums up in himself the elements of the material world. Through him they are thus brought to their highest perfection and can raise their voice in praise freely given to the Creator. For this reason man may not despise his bodily life. Rather he is obliged to regard his body as good and to hold it in honor since God has created it and will raise it up on the last day.

CCC 364