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11 February 2012

Sacramental Theology

A recent paper submission:

Far from doing “anything” or somethings, the sacraments of the Church do, in actuality, everything.  Yet, at the same time, without the response of those participating in the sacraments themselves, they might be thought (incorrectly, yet not unreasonably) to do nothing.  Sacraments make present the grace of Christ in a profound and visible way through the symbols employed therein.  They also manifest the unity symbolized by those gathered to celebrate the sacrament.  More finely: they symbolize and make present Christ and the unity of the Body of Christ (Power, esp. 474).  In this configuration, the presence of Christ in a sacrament claims an objective status; while the desired unity and the changes required from participants tend toward subjectivity.

Any formulation of the sacraments must attempt to explain the tension between these two realities.  Even in the final estimation, however, such a difficulty cannot be worked out to a satisfactory end.  Kelleher, echoing Chauvet, points out that these intricacies actually find their convergence in the ecclesial subject, the Church (192).  Here one finds a sensible synthesis of the objective and subjective – the unmerited actions of God and human response, mediated through the Church’s ritual/symbolic actions in the sacraments. This realization builds upon Irwin’s plea for an “either/or” sacramentality that recognizes both the graced nature of the world as well as its inherent need for renewal through the saving actions of Christ (Irwin, 204).

Such a model admits the grace “produced” in the sacraments requires a receiver to achieve its true goal (Chauvet).  Simultaneously, the free gifting of the sacraments mirror God’s overwhelming beneficence in all things and thus give us both the model and means for attempting to manifest these same divine characteristics. In the final consideration, recognition of the mystery involved in the sacraments preserves the objectivity of the gift given, while also recognizing the particularity necessary in each human subject to receive the same gift.  

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