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September 19, 2005

Ch. XXVI. Q. 141. What does the term Sacrament signify in theological use?

IN THEOLOGICAL use the term Sacrament signifies an outward and visible sign by means of which an internal and invisible grace is conveyed to the soul.1

2. The term Sacrament, sacramentum, was applied in classical Latin to military oaths. It came naturally to be applied by the early Fathers, therefore, to the baptismal vow, and to the baptismal rite; and finally to the other Christian rites which resemble Baptism in being means of internal grace. The word also signified, in classical Latin, a sacred pledge, thence something guarded sacredly, and finally a secret or mystery. The Fathers accordingly applied the word to the Gospel and to the means of grace. The Greeks to this day call a Sacrament a Mystery,μυστήριον.2

3. Both East and West agree in applying the terms Sacrament and Mystery to seven rites, viz.: (a.) Baptism, by which we are incorporated into the Mystical Body of Christ: (b.) Confirmation, by which we receive the Holy Ghost and His sevenfold gifts: (c.) the Holy Eucharist, by which we are fed with the Body and Blood of Christ, and approach God acceptably: (d.) Penance, by which penitents are absolved from post-baptismal sin and restored to grace: (e.) Order, by which the Apostolic Ministry is perpetuated and sanctified: (f.) Matrimony, by which the union of man and woman is sanctified: (g.) Unction, by which the sick are healed or enabled to bear the agony of death. Whatever opinion may be held as to the propriety of this use of the term Sacrament, we may not deny the truth which such usage is intended to teach, viz., that the seven rites above mentioned are visible signs by means of which internal grace is imparted.3

4. The most common division of the Sacraments is into greater and lesser Sacraments. The greater ones are Baptism and the Holy Eucharist, and are so called because (a.) their outward signs are contained in the Gospel: (b.) they alone are generally necessary for salvation. Certain Anglican writers use the word Sacrament in such sense as to include these peculiarities in their definition of it. Such writers naturally deny that there are more than two Sacraments, although compelled to acknowledge that other rites are also means of grace. Our difference with them is chiefly verbal. We prefer that use of the word, and consequently that enumeration of Sacraments which scientific theology, both East and West, has adopted.4

5. Order, Matrimony and Unction are called particular Sacraments, because they are not general in their application but suited to especial estates or conditions of life. Baptism, Confirmation, and Order are also distinguished from other Sacraments as conveying spiritual character—i.e., stamping the soul with an indelible mark by which it is permanently distinguished in the spiritual world. Such Sacraments are administered once for all, and cannot be repeated.5

6. The institutions of the Old Covenant did not convey internal grace to the soul, but symbolized and promised it simply. The Christian Sacraments, however, "effect what they figure," and are true instruments whereby internal grace is imparted. They are therefore called "effectual signs of grace" (Art. XXV).6

7. It is fitting that grace should be conveyed by means of visible signs, because (a.) man is so constituted that he lays hold of the invisible by means of the visible: (b.) The grace of the Sacraments, although imparted to the soul primarily, affects the body as well, and prepares it for the resurrection: (c.) The heavenly source of grace is the Manhood of Jesus Christ, in which a visible Flesh and an invisible spirit are united. It is important to remember that the present application to us of what Christ has done for us requires our mystical union with Him and contact with the quickening virtue of His perfected and glorified Body. The Sacraments are suitable means whereby God has provided this union for the accomplishment of and virtue-imparting contact. They are complementary to the Mysteries of the Incarnation, and are, therefore, sometimes called the extension of the Incarnation.7

1 Grueber's Seven Sacraments, esp. p. 1: Forbes' 39 Arts., XXV: Cat. of Nic. Bulgaris, pp. 2-25: Moschake's Cat., §§ 37- 44: Moehler's Symbolism, §§ 28-31: Schouppe, X, 1-54: Dix's Sacramental System: Norris' Rudiments of Theol., I. vi: Blunt's Theol. Dic., "Sacraments": Elmendorf, Elem. Moral Theol., 557, 558.

2 Grueber, p. 1: Nic. Bulgaris, 2-4: Schouppe, X. 21-33.

3 S. Thos., Sum. Th. III. 65: Nic. Bulgaris, 7, 8, 24, 25: Grueber, 14-25: Percival, 112: Forbes, 446-453: Schouppe, X. 54-54; 163-171: Dix, 79-81.

4 Kingdon's God Incarnate, p. 137: S. Thos., III. 65. 4: Grueber, 25-29: Pusey's Second Letter to Newman, 91-95: Dix, Lec. III.

5 Mason's Faith of the Gosp., IX. 4: Nic. Bulgaris, 22--24: Grueber, 38-41: Schouppe, X. 152-l59, 179-190: Blunt's Theol. Dic., "Character": S. Thos. Sum. Th. III. 63.

6 Grueber, 57-63, Percival's Digest, 114: S. Thos. Sum. Th., Ill, 62. 6.

7 Grueber, p. 83: Mason's Faith of the Gosp., IX. 3: Nic. Bulgaris, 4-7: Dix's Sacramental System, Lec's. I, II: Kingdon, 136, 127, 133, 134, 137, 138, 169-171: Hookers Ec. Pol., V. 57: S. Thos. Sum. Th., III. 60. 4,5: 61.

Posted by Trevor at September 19, 2005 10:38 AM