Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Christ, the Holy Spirit, and the Church (CCC 748-962; 1113-1134)
CCD Class Six

Jesus said that He is the Way, the Truth, and the Life, that no one could come to the Father except through Him. (Jn. 11:25-26; 14:6) Jesus not only taught, He established the Church as His Holy Bride, two become one, and He gave us the sacraments, which are administered by the Church, so as to help us come to the Father and be redeemed and sanctified.

Man was created as a social creature, intended to exist in relationship, not in solitude. Thus, Christ also established the Church so that we might fulfill our purpose of being in communion with each other, as well as Him. To be one with Jesus means to be one with the one holy Church, which is also the Body of Christ. Accordingly, we see that Jesus Christ and the Church are absolutely necessary for salvation.

In establishing the Church, from the Greek word Kyriake, meaning “what belongs to the Lord,” which is also called an ecclesia in Latin, “an assembly set apart,” Jesus called certain men as apostles, which is from the Greek for “emissary.” To the Apostle Peter, who was the first Pope, Jesus gave a special supreme authority. The original Apostles later appointed successors, whom we know today as bishops, and assistants, such as priests, who have the authority and power of teaching and administering the sacraments in persona Christi. Each bishop is the spiritual shepherd for a specific area, which is called a diocese, and he in turn delegates certain authority to pastors over a smaller area, which is called a parish.

To guide and protect the Church and us, Jesus sends us His Holy Spirit, thereby assuring that He will be with us to the end of time. By His Holy Spirit, Jesus provides us graces, both sanctifying and actual, including the graces of the sacraments. We are not merely spiritual, but also bodily creatures, who experience things and know things by the senses of our bodies. To help us understand the reality of the provision of certain graces, Jesus instituted the sacraments. A “sacrament” is an outward visible sign of the invisible reality of grace being imparted. A sacrament is also an efficacious sign, that is, a sign that brings about that grace. By the use of certain words and matter upon the body, we are thus able to know and understand that the Holy Spirit of Christ is acting upon us. Without such an outward, tangible sign, we might not fully realize or appreciate that God has done anything or that we have actually received these graces.

Jesus gave the authority to confer the sacraments on the Church. However, it is Christ who acts in the sacraments and communicates the sanctifying grace they signify, not the priest or bishop administering them. Thus, the efficacy of the sacraments does not depend upon the personal holiness, or lack thereof, of the minister. On the other hand, the fruits of the sacraments do depend on the dispositions of the one who receives them.

(1) Sinful man is redeemed and saved from death by the Crucifixion and Resurrection of Jesus. In Baptism, one is immersed into this death of Christ, so as to rise again with Him. This baptism of the Triune God gives us sanctifying grace, so that the stains of Original Sin and individual sin are wiped away, and we are initiated into the communion of the Church. (Mt. 28:19) As Abraham was marked with the sign of the covenant, so too is the soul of the baptized person marked with the indelible seal of Christ.

(2) In Confirmation, we receive the power of the Holy Spirit to be witnesses for Christ in love and truth. The Holy Spirit descends upon us, completing and bringing an increase and deepening of baptismal grace. Just as when the Spirit descended upon the faithful at Pentecost, we too are given the strength and grace and perseverance to go out and spread the Good News and even endure persecution. (Acts 1:8; 2:11) If even only as a seed, the Holy Spirit, if you accept Him, will dwell within you and graces will grow within you, and, like the Apostles, disciples, martyrs, and saints, you will be able to do that which is impossible to do on your own. The water and chrism oil of the sacraments of Baptism and Confirmation are sanctified by Jesus and the Cross. The very being of recipient is radically altered as he or she is anointed and joined with the Christ, which is Greek for “anointed one.”

(3) Baptism cleanses us of Original Sin, but it does not abolish the weakness of our impaired human nature nor our inclination to personal sin. If we examine our conscience and confess our personal sins with a contrite heart and a determination to avoid further sin, through the Sacrament of Penance, by the Crucifixion and Resurrection, we are absolved of our individual sins and reconciled to God. Furthermore, grace is given, if we accept it, to avoid further sin. (Jn. 20:22-23)

(4) While He was present amongst us, Jesus healed many who were sick. After Pentecost, Peter and the other Apostles similarly healed the sick. The Anointing of the Sick is a sacrament of healing, if not physically, then spiritually. Mostly, the Sacrament prepares us for the final journey in order to join God in heaven. (James 5:14-15) This sacrament confers a special grace which unites the sick person more intimately to the Passion of Christ. It gives comfort, peace, courage, and even the forgiveness of sins if the sick person is not able to make a sacramental confession.

(5) Man, male and female, is not merely a relational creature, but a spousal creature made in the image of God, who exists as a loving communion of persons in one being. Similarly, in the Sacrament of Matrimony, a man and woman are two made one in a communion of persons by the power of the Christ’s Holy Spirit of Love. (Gn. 1:28, 2:24; Mt. 19:4-6) This communion of persons is not only unitive, but fruitful and procreative, just as the love that is God is unitive, fruitful, and procreative.

(6) Those who do not marry are still, by human nature, called to love. We all exist to love and be loved in truth. Thus, if we are not called to marry, we may receive a calling to follow Christ. By the Sacrament of Holy Orders, instituted by Jesus calling His apostles, the Church is passed on to the generations throughout time. (Mt. 16:18-19; Jn 15:16) The one priesthood of Christ is made present in this ministerial priesthood. The anointing by the Spirit in ordination to this priesthood seals the priest with an indelible, spiritual character that configures him to Christ the priest and enables him to act in the name of Christ the Head. Episcopal ordination of a bishop as a successor of the Apostles confers the fullness of the Sacrament on him, including the offices of teaching, sanctifying, and ruling.

(7) In the most obvious sense, Jesus is with us in the Eucharist. (Lk 22:19-20; Jn 6:48-58) The Eucharist as the source (beginning) and summit (end) of the Faith, inasmuch as this Blessed Sacrament is the Real Presence of the Body and Blood of Jesus, even though under the appearance of bread and wine. In the Eucharist, the substance is transformed, that is to say, the fundamental basis of its being. This genuine transformation is called transubstantiation. As described by Pope Benedict, Christ takes possession of the bread and the wine, and He lifts them up out of the setting of their normal existence into a new order. Even if, from a purely physical point of view, they remain the same, they have become profoundly different.

Through the Eucharist in the one Mass, according to His Word, Jesus is with us, not merely spiritually or theoretically or as a philosophy, but physically, such that we, as bodily creatures who experience things through our senses, can be united with Him bodily as well as spiritually.

In a profoundly intimate way, we take His glorified Body and Blood into our bodies. The encounter with Jesus in the Eucharist is not the encounter of a friend or a mentor or a teacher. It is a parental and spousal encounter. It is because the Eucharist is the Real Presence that such an encounter is the most intimate of intimate touchings. The person literally takes Christ within him- or herself both bodily and spiritually, so as to become one with Him in a mystical fashion, as in marriage, which also involves entering into another bodily and spiritually so as to become one in a communion of persons (unitive) and so as to receive life (procreative).

Only in this way is the totality of our person, body and spirit, able to be one with Him, Body and Spirit, fully and completely. Again, because we are creatures of both spirit and body, to receive Him in the entirety of our person, it is essential that we also experience the Body and Blood of Christ, which can be received only at Mass, in addition to His Spirit, which can be experienced at home. In this way, the Eucharist can truly be called Holy Communion.

The consecration of the bread and wine at Mass to become the Blessed Sacrament is not a re-sacrificing of Jesus. There is only One Mass, and there is only One Sacrifice, which is re-presented, that is, presented again. Remember, God transcends time and space, so that, not only does He extend across our concept of linear time, but for Him, specific points in time continue to exist forever. Thus, the Passion and Crucifixion were not isolated events in some distant past. Rather, His sacrifice is an on-going event. He is not crucified again and again, but is one sacrifice. He is perpetually being scourged, eternally on the Cross. In the Mass, in some mystical but true way, we transcend space and time and are made present at the Last Supper, we are made present at the foot of the Cross. And because we partake of His glorified Resurrected Body and Blood, so too are we made present at the Resurrection, and made One with He who rose to eternal life.

The Church was established not only to confer the sacraments, but to teach and proclaim the Faith to the faithful and the entire world. For example, at Mass, we also celebrate the Liturgy of the Word, and thereafter receive, in the homily, a teaching on the readings.

Jesus not only calls certain men to be priests and bishops, who sustain and hand on the Faith, He also calls some to be religious sisters, who dedicate themselves to the Lord like Mary and Martha. He told his apostles and disciples to spread the Good News and convert all nations, and He sent the Holy Spirit at Pentecost to guide and protect this apostolic Church always, so that not even the gates of Hell would prevail against Her -- One Holy Church that exists universally, that is, "catholic" -- not only in history, but eternally and transcendent, not only horizontally, across nations, but vertically, a communion of the faithful in this world with the faithful in purgatory, and God and interceding saints in heaven above.

The Church, as Bride of Christ, who abides with us always, is protected by the Holy Spirit and is necessarily perfect, just as Her Spouse, Jesus, is perfect. And like Jesus, the Church does not hate; She has only love for all, including sinners. Members may and do sin, and in doing so, they may cause scandal, leading others to question the Faith or the Church, or to fall away from the Church. As members of the Body of Christ, we must be very careful in our words and actions, so that we do not reflect poorly on the Church and cause scandal.

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