Monday, June 27, 2016

The Sacraments of Initiation

“The sacraments of Christian initiation - Baptism, Confirmation, and the Eucharist - lay the foundations of every Christian life” (CCC, 1212). Each build upon the other, assisting us in grace in our climb towards Christian perfection. As a child's nutrition begins with his or her mother's milk, and then moves on to solid food, so does the Christian grow in holiness and participation in Christian life through these Sacraments. Eastern Christians will combine the Sacraments of Initiation into one rite, which the Western church also does during the Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults, but the Western church will typically spread the Sacraments out over several years when dealing with the young. “By means of these sacraments of Christian initiation, they thus receive in increasing measure the treasures of the divine life and advance toward the perfection of charity” (Ibid.).

Baptism is our entry into the Body of Christ; as circumcision was a sign of God's covenant with his people (Gen 17:10), we enter the New Covenant through a circumcision not made by human hands (Col 2:11), but a circumcision of the heart, by the Spirit (Rom 2:29); thus, we are born again of water and the Spirit (Jn 3:5). We are baptized by one Spirit and thus enter one Body (1 Cor 12:13), having our sins washed away (Acts 22:16), being buried with Christ in baptism and therefore being raised with him at the Resurrection (Col 2:12). Being baptized into Christ, we have clothed ourselves with Christ (Gal 3:27) and whoever believes and is baptized will be saved (Mk 16:16). We enter into the People of God, becoming sons and daughters of Abraham (Gal 3:29), grafted onto the olive tree of Israel to share in the richness of God's promises (Rom 11:11-24).

From the earliest writing of the Church, the Fathers of the faith described the Sacrament of Confirmation as distinct from baptism, symbolized by the laying on of hands (CCC, 1288) and the anointing with perfumed oil, also called chrism (CCC, 1289). St. Cyprian of Carthage wrote in AD 253, “It is necessary for him that has been baptized also to be anointed, so that by his having received chrism, that is, the anointing, he can be the anointed of God and have in him the grace of Christ (Epistle 69:2).” When the apostles in Jerusalem had heard that Samaria had received the faith, Peter and John traveled there and laid their hands on them, and they received the Holy Spirit (Acts 8:14-17). Ananias was sent to Saul (Paul) of Tarsus, laying his hands on him, and invoking the name of Christ that Saul be filled with the Holy Spirit (Acts 9:17). The author of Hebrews referred to the laying on of hands as part of the “mature doctrines of Christ” (Heb 6:2) and when Paul was in Ephesus, he laid hands on the disciples there; they were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to prophesy and speak in tongues (Acts 19:1-6). Strengthened by the Sacrament of Confirmation, we invoke the Holy Spirit, first come upon us in Baptism, for the seven gifts of the Spirit promised to us: wisdom, understanding, counsel, knowledge, fortitude, piety, and fear (awe) of the Lord (1 Cor 12:4-11).

The culmination of the Sacraments of Initiation, and the end to which all the Sacraments point, is the Holy Eucharist, which is truly the Body, Blood, Soul, and Divinity of Jesus Christ (Jn 6:1-71). “Those who have been raised to the dignity of the royal priesthood by Baptism and configured more deeply to Christ by Confirmation participate with the whole community in the Lord's own sacrifice by means of the Eucharist” (CCC, 1322). The Eucharist is the source and summit of the Christian life (CCC, 1324) in which we unite ourselves with the heavenly liturgy in anticipation of eternal life (CCC, 1326). In the Eucharist, the People of God (those on Earth, in Purgatory, and in Heaven) are united to each other; Benedict XVI said, “Christ and my neighbour are inseparable in the Eucharist. And thus we are all one bread and one body. A Eucharist without solidarity with others is a Eucharist abused” (10 Dec 2008). We eat Christ's flesh and drink his blood to fulfill his commandment to do this in his memory (Lk 22:19), proclaiming the Lord's death until he comes again (1 Cor 11:26).

God does not want anyone to perish (2 Pet 3:9), desiring that all be saved and come to the knowledge of the truth (1 Tim 2:4). St. Seraphim of Sarov said that the goal of a Christian's life is “the acquisition of the Holy Spirit” (Alfeyef). As a Christian journeys through the Sacraments of Initiation, he or she ascends a ladder towards holiness in a life of grace, reaching for the fullness of the Christian life, bringing us “into communion with the Divine nature, animating, deifying, and restoring us to life eternal” (Ibid.).

References

Alfeyef, H. (1998). Membership of the body of Christ: sacraments of initiation. Retrieved from http://www.apostoliki-diakonia.gr/en_main/catehism/theologia_zoi/themata.asp?cat=dogma&main=SK_texts&file=15.htm

Benedict XVI. (2011). The mystical body of Christ comes alive in the sacraments. Retrieved from https://www.ewtn.com/library/PAPALDOC/b16stpaul16.htm

Catechism of the Catholic Church (2011). Retrieved from http://www.vatican.va/archive/ccc_css/archive/catechism/ccc_toc.htm

Cyprian. (253). To Januarius and other Numidian bishops, on baptizing heretics. Retrieved from http://www.newadvent.org/fathers/050669.htm

Holy Bible, Revised Standard Version – Catholic Edition. (San Francisco, CA: Ignatius Press, 1966).