Sacramentalism

Jul 16th, 2009 | By | Category: Blog Posts

Sacramentalism is a soteriological position according to which the Christian sacraments are intrinsically efficacious means of grace. It is primarily, though not exclusively, by means of the sacraments that the covenant-making, covenant-keeping God accomplishes his salvific purpose of uniting all things in Christ (Ephesians 1:7-10).

The sacramentalist affirms that God extends saving grace to mortal men by means of the sacraments of the Church, according to his sworn word of promise, because of his infinite love and mercy, through the Incarnation, Passion, Resurrection, and perpetual priestly Mediation of his only-begotten Son, Jesus Christ. This grace inwardly changes men by configuring them to Christ, purifying them of their sins, and blessing them with the gifts of divine filiation, justification, eternal life, spiritual strength, etc.

Those who reject this position have all sorts of opinions about the sacraments, but they are one in denying that the grace of God is objectively given in the Christian sacraments. Therefore, they deny that the sacraments themselves are unbreakable promises of God. For non-sacramentalists, the crux of our inward configuration to and union with Christ must be found elsewhere. This “elsewhere” turns out to be a moment of faith alone, wherein “faith” is interpreted as a psychological event to which the sacraments are extrinsically related, e.g., as mere symbols, signs, and/or seals of grace.

The sacramentalist, on the other hand, believes that the Christian sacraments are rooted in and flow from the Incarnate Son and Word of God, who is immortal for our salvation. The mystery of salvation, which consists of the loving union of God and man, is not an abstraction worked out in isolation from the material world. Believing in Christ, stepping into the divine life by “the obedience of faith,” is not merely a private, mental event. Rather, the life of grace, from baptism to eternity, is a family matter, lived in the communion of saints as fellow members of the Church, which is the mystical Body of Christ. It is therefore a theological mistake of the first order to oppose salvation by faith in Christ and salvation by means of the sacraments which Christ gave to the Church.

According to the Catechism of the Catholic Church,

Sacraments are “powers that comes forth” from the Body of Christ, which is ever-living and life-giving. They are actions of the Holy Spirit at work in his Body, the Church. They are “the masterworks of God” in the new and everlasting covenant. [1116]

The following verses from the Gospel of Luke are referenced in the footnote to this paragraph of the Catechism:

On one of those days, as he was teaching, there were Pharisees and teachers of the law sitting by, who had come from every village of Galilee and Judea and from Jerusalem; and the power of the Lord was with him to heal. (5:17)

And all the crowd sought to touch him, for power came forth from him and healed them all. (6:19)

But Jesus said, ‘Some one touched me; for I perceive that power has gone forth from me.’ (8:46)

The Christian sacraments cannot come into being, or be, or be administered apart from Jesus Christ. Sacramentalists maintain that Our Lord instituted seven sacraments, which are constituted by specific material things (e.g., bread, wine, water, oil) together with his unbreakable word of promise. Jesus commanded his Apostles to administer these holy mysteries for the salvation of the world, until his coming again. The sacraments show forth and extend the new creation in Christ Jesus by communicating nothing other than the life of the Incarnate Word to mortal men, thereby transforming and translating the citizens of the world, of whatever tribe or tongue or station of life, into sons of God and citizens of the heavenly Kingdom.

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  1. After reading this article I am hoping you might be able to help me understand a couple passages of Scripture. The first is from Ephesians 1:13-14 “and you also were included in Christ when you heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation. Having believed, you were marked in Him with a seal, the promised Holy Spirit, who is a deposit guaranteeing our inheritance until the redemtion of those who are in God’s possesion – to the praise of His glory.” This indicates we are saved after hearing the word of God, Romans 10:17. Romans 10:9-10 speaks about “with the heart one believes unto righteousness, and with the mouth confession is made unto salvation” I am just an individual that has a relationship with God. My hope is that because of this relationship, my life would demonstrate my love for Jesus Christ. Love is not just an emotion but it is a call to action. If this is truly the case then it is not an invisible relationship, rather one that is lived out daily. I certainly enjoy my time of communion with Him, but according to what I read in His word it doesn’t bring salvation. That comes from a belief within my heart, and no amount of food and drink forms a belief in my heart.

  2. Hi David:

    Check out the Gospel of John: ” No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draw him, and I will raise him on the last day.
    45
    It is written in the prophets: ‘They shall all be taught by God.’ Everyone who listens to my Father and learns from him comes to me.
    46
    Not that anyone has seen the Father except the one who is from God; he has seen the Father.
    47
    Amen, amen, I say to you, whoever believes has eternal life.
    48
    I am the bread of life.
    49
    Your ancestors ate the manna in the desert, but they died;
    50
    this is the bread that comes down from heaven so that one may eat it and not die.
    51
    I am the living bread that came down from heaven; whoever eats this bread will live forever; and the bread that I will give is my flesh for the life of the world.”
    52
    The Jews quarreled among themselves, saying, “How can this man give us (his) flesh to eat?”
    53
    Jesus said to them, “Amen, amen, I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you do not have life within you.
    54
    Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him on the last day.
    55
    For my flesh is true food, and my blood is true drink.
    56
    Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood remains in me and I in him.
    57
    Just as the living Father sent me and I have life because of the Father, so also the one who feeds on me will have life because of me.
    58
    This is the bread that came down from heaven. Unlike your ancestors who ate and still died, whoever eats this bread will live forever.”

    As you can see, belief and the eating of the flesh of Jesus are intimately related. I don’t want to go into the details of this relationship here, but I think it is clear that to reduce salvation to something that does not include the (at least typical) necessity of eating Christ’s flesh would do injustice to his words: “Amen, amen, I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you do not have life within you. Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him on the last day.” Note also that, as the NAB explains: “Eats: the verb used in these verses is not the classical Greek verb used of human eating, but that of animal eating: ‘munch,’ ‘gnaw.'”

    Sincerely,

    K. Doran

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