Co-Workers of the Truth 6/7

Benedict XVIIs it not presumptuous to suppose that the sprinkling of a little water can have a decisive effect on a person’s whole existence?  Or the laying on of hands by the bishop that we call Confirmation?  Or the annointing with holy oils by which the Church escorts a sick person on the last journey? 

And even priests have begun, here and there, to question whether that laying on of hands by the bishop that we call Holy Orders can really constitute an irrevocable covenant that binds an individual for the rest of his life or whether the meaning of this rite has been overrated; for existence, with its always uncommitted future, its unpredictability and its new and pressing vicissitudes, is never the same from day to day; it cannot be sealed in a rite. 

The concept of the indelible mark that such sacraments imprint on the soul seems, to our contemporaries, to be a very strange and mystical philosophy.  For them, human existence is always open; it grows by making decisions, and cannot be sealed forever in a single rite.  It goes without saying that similar notions arise also in connection with the sacramental character of marriage; even the Eucharist is not entirely free of such questionings. 

What are we to say?  Is the continuation of the sacraments in our time just a concession to the past?  What precisely do we do when we celebrate the sacraments of Jesus Christ?  If he understands the matter rightly, one who enters the Church to celebrate her sacraments does not do so because he thinks that God, who is a spirit, has need of material instruments in order to touch the human soul.  On the contrary, he does so because he knows that as a human being he can encounter God only in a human manner that is, in the company of other human beings, in the body, and in the history.  And he does so because he knows that, as a human being, it is not his to decide when, how, and where God will manifest himself to him, that he is rather one who receives, who has been given what he cannot produce for himself, namely, the power that represents the fullness of the sovereign freedom of God, who himself determines the manner of his presence.

From: Die sakramentale Begrundung christlicher Existenz, pp.6ff

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