Sacramentality in the Catholic Faith
By Sister Katie Eiffe, CSJ | Contributing writer
If you are a faithful reader of the Catholic Sun, you know that the Bishops of the United States have called all of us to embark on a program of Eucharistic Revival over the next three years.
In part, the Bishops are responding to a recent poll which indicated that a majority of people in the United States who identify as Roman Catholics do not believe in the Real Presence of Christ in the Eucharist. We in the Diocese of Syracuse joined with Catholics around the country in beginning the Eucharistic Revival with a Eucharistic Procession on Corpus Christi weekend in June.
This article is the first in what will be a monthly series in the Sun about our belief in the Real Presence of Christ; hopefully it provides a deeper understanding of and love for the gift of the Eucharist.
As Roman Catholics, we identify seven ritual actions of the Church as Sacraments: Baptism, Penance (or Reconciliation), Eucharist, Confirmation, Matrimony, Holy Orders and Anointing of the Sick.
In fact, however, our “sacramental system” is based on what theologians call the “Sacramental Principle.” Broadly speaking, that principle can be explained by the following:
God is the creator of all that is.
Scripture tells us that “God looked at everything He had created, and found it very good.”
Since God is the creator of all that is, God can reveal God’s self through any created reality — any person, place or thing, event, taste, touch, sound, smell — and God chooses to do so.
God reveals God’s self in countless ways and multiple experiences … and continues to do so in our lives. God revealed God’s self in a burning bush to Moses; in a small, quiet whispering sound to Elijah; through an angel to Mary and to Joseph; in a flash of light to Saul who became Paul; and in hundreds of other ways to people throughout salvation history — and ultimately, of course in the person of Jesus. But God continues to reveal God’s self to us, now. Who among us has not thrilled to a beautiful sunrise or sunset, or the birth of a child or grandchild, or the experience of healing, or the presence of a cherished friend, or the words of wisdom from a pastor or pastoral minister … or multiple other experiences in our lives. Maybe we have even thought to ourselves as we looked back on those experiences, I felt God’s presence!
Those experiences are experiences of sacramentality. (Notice the small “s.”) As the poet Gerald Manley Hopkins so beautifully put it, “The world is charged with the grandeur of God.”
Over the years, theologians pondering such wonders have identified multiple signs, symbols and rituals as sacramental. In the fifth century, Augustine defined a sacrament as “a visible sign of invisible grace”… and he identified over 300! It was not until the Council of Trent in the 16th century, that the Church formally recognized the number of Sacraments as the seven we know today. (Notice the capital “S.”)
Years ago, when I was teaching a course on the Sacraments, I researched definitions of the term itself — and in my limited research, I found 19 different definitions! You might remember learning this definition: “an outward sign, instituted by Christ to give grace.”
In this series, we will explore more deeply our understanding of Sacraments in general, with a particular focus on the Eucharist.
Sister Katie is the diocesan Vicar for Religious and Director of Synodal Planning.