Sacramental theology is the systematic study of the sacraments based on reflection on the liturgical celebration of these rites throughout history and on the insights of theologians and other teachers in light of the magisterium. At given historical periods certain theological points came to be emphasized, sometimes for polemical reasons, and assertions of the magisterium clarified issues of conflict. The following overview is divided into historical periods. In each section attention is given to those aspects of the ritual enactment of the sacraments in that period that required particular theological reflection and to assertions of the magisterium, which assertions are best understood in their historical context. That the contemporary period is treated more fully reflects the disciplinary complexity and richness of sacramental theology today and the significant contributions made to the discipline since Vatican II. For more information on specific rites recourse should be made to articles on particular sacraments and to the historical evolution of the liturgy.
The Church's magisterium has never given a definition of the term "sacrament." In its teaching at the Councils of Trent and Vatican II there is insistence on certain essential characteristics of "sacraments" but no authentic
binding definition. Succinctly put, sacraments are visible signs chosen by Christ and celebrated ritually in the community of the Church to draw the Church into an experience of Christ's paschal mystery by means of liturgical actions enacted through the power of the Holy Spirit under the agency of the Church's ordained ministers. The word "sacrament" is the English equivalent of the Latin sacramentum, which, in turn, is one of the renderings of the Greek word for "mystery." Thus an understanding of "sacrament" demands some appreciation of the significance of "mystery." beginning with the Scriptures.
Scriptural Data. The biblical authors have written about what have come to be called sacramental celebrations either directly in describing liturgical rites or indirectly when emphasizing aspects of the biblical experience of God. This follows from the very nature of revelation itself as the intervention of God in human history. In sum the fulfillment of the event of revelation is
Christ, toward whom the Old Testament leads. Among others there are at least three essential aspects of the biblical witness that ground the Church's experience of this revelation in sacramental liturgy. (1) God spoke and acted among the chosen people of Israel. The repeated proclamation of God's word through the Scriptures characterizes every act of liturgy and sacrament. This derives from the biblical experience of God and the codification of God's revelation in the Scriptures. (2) The corporate nature of God's revelation to a chosen people and the corporate response of that people to God through conversion to biblical faith ritualized in liturgy and (what have come to be called) sacraments derives from the biblical witness. Israel's and the Church's nature as a corporate entity is an essential principle for understanding sacraments. (3) A further foundation for understanding liturgy and sacraments derives from the Hebrew notion of "memorial" wherein events of saving history, although accomplished once for all (ephapa ), are perpetuated and thus experienced in the present which present experience leads to yearning for their fulfillment in the future (the time of their fulfillment). Corporate ritual acts of memorial, recalling God's intervention in saving history in the Scriptures (mirabilia Dei ) are centered on the Exodus and Christ's dying and rising (i.e. his paschal mystery). The contemporary rediscovery of the Jewish background to Christian liturgy in terms of "corporate person" and "memorial" (anamnesis ) as well as the study of specific rites and texts in the Scriptures lead to a revitalized theology of sacraments as corporate actions and events of salvation.
Among the several senses in which "mystery" was used in the Old Testament two are especially important for our purpose: (1) the divine plan for the salvation of the human race and (2) the revelation of this plan to Israel. As used in the Gospel, "mystery" refers to the coming of the messianic kingdom in Christ. The gospel parables of the kingdom furnish some indications about what this divine reality is; in the writings of Paul the meaning of "mystery" is most fully developed. For him it includes: the divine plan of salvation in Christ; this plan hidden before creation; its manifestation by the Spirit through the Prophets and Apostles; Christ, who is the mystery manifested in His Incarnation and glorification; and Christ in us who receive salvation here and now, which salvation is to be completed at the end of time. The early writers of the Church both presumed and retained the various meanings of "mystery" found in Scripture.
In pagan writings sacramentum was applied to the rites of Christian initiation but by no means exclusively. Etymologically, sacramentum is derived from sacrare, meaning a person or thing constituted by divine right, a function reserved for public authority, the one who performed the consecration, the consecration itself, the person or thing consecrated, and the means used to effect it. The oath taken by soldiers was a sacramentum as they called upon the gods in binding themselves to service. This is an instance of an initiation with religious significance. Sacramentum was used also of the money placed in a sacred place by litigants. While the word "sacrament" had many meanings in Scripture and early ecclesiastical writings, the two concepts of a sacred secret and its manifestation are central.
Sacraments and the Paschal Mystery. From the moment of the Incarnation Christ the priest offered all He did in honor of His Father for the salvation of the human race. This priestly work was one of worship. All pointed to the "hour" of Christ, the hour to which reference is made throughout His life as not yet having come. This hour was the Pasch of Christ, His passing over from mortal life through death to resurrection and glory. It was the summit of His redeeming work.
Leo I once said, "What was visible in Christ has passed over into the Sacraments of the Church" (Sermo 74; Patrologia Latina 54:398). What was visible in Christ was His loving worship of His Father, in view of which the Father raised Him from the dead and in so doing brought into existence a race of which Christ, the second Adam, is Head. This is the Church, the community of the redeemed. The greatest evidence of Christ's loving worship is His Pasch. This event was the birth of the Church of the New Testament. From the time of Christ's Resurrection what had been accomplished in His mortal body continues in His Body, the Church. The visible Church is thus the sign of Christ in our day. What eyewitnesses saw in Him while on earth is now manifested in the Church. The dominant note of Christ's life was His worship of the Father. The dominant note of the Church is likewise the worship of the Father through the Son in the Holy Spirit. This worship is the summit and fount of all the Church does according to Vatican Council II (Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy 10). The Church's worship is centered in the Sacraments. In these acts Christ's redemptive work of worship continues to render salvation present.
Having been raised from the dead and seated at the right hand of the Father, Christ is the accepted sacrifice, the lamb, immolated and glorified, the heavenly sacrifice. Christ in heaven is ever making intercession for us. Since we must come in contact with this accomplished salvation if we are to be part of the race of the second Adam, this heavenly worship becomes visibly present in the Church through the Sacraments. They are the means by which people are drawn into the Pasch of Christ, once and for all accepted by the Father, operating among us through the power and work of the Holy Spirit. They are the means by which the Church brings to fulfillment the Redemption accomplished in Christ.
Patristic Period. The earliest ecclesiastical writers were guided by the needs of their times, principally people's preparation for the acceptance of Christ and the refutation of errors. Not surprisingly, the rites of Christian initiation (Baptism and Chrismation, later termed Confirmation) and its completion in the Eucharist were their main subject. The earliest of these writers include Justin, Irenaeus, the Shepherd of Hermas, and the author of the Didache. Some of these writings were principally apologetic, for example the defense of the Church's use of material creation in sacraments as opposed to those Gnostics or Manichees who shunned such usage and respect for created things. Tertullian wrote on Baptism and Penance, and the church order The Apostolic Tradition (traditionally attributed to hippolytus) furnishes information regarding Christian practices, especially initiation and the Eucharist.
With the advent of the controversy on rebaptism of heretics came a considerable number of writings on this sacrament. The great catechetical works of SS. Gregory of Nyssa, Cyril of Jerusalem, and Ambrose are devoted mainly to initiation. Other writers do not present specialized or systematic works on the Sacraments but reflect contemporary teaching and practice. A chief exemplar of the kind of sacramental theology in the patristic era comes from St. augustine. In his conflict with the Donatists he delineated aspects of baptismal theology that had not caught the attention of previous writers. For Augustine the term "sacrament" is used in a variety of ways and three classes of things are called sacraments:(1) religious rites of both Testaments and of paganism,(2) symbols or figures, and (3) revealed teachings of the Christian religion. These meanings are not mutually exclusive; the rites of the Old Testament are said to be symbols of those of the New. All Sacraments are related to the great sacrament-mystery, Christ and the Church. In connection with subsequent developments the following aspects of Augustine's teaching are significant: Sacraments are sacred signs; they bear a similitude to those things of which they are Sacraments; they are celebrations commemorating an event in such a way that what is signified is received. A different trend is seen in Isidore of Seville, who stressed the secret nature of the Sacraments as being concerned with hidden realities rather than the characteristics that Augustine noted and especially those that speak of them as signs.
One of the customary ways for the Church to speak of the sacramental rites (especially from the Middle Ages onward) is that they are comprised of two elements: matter and form. Attention is often drawn to scripture's reference to two elements in five of the Sacraments (Eph 5.26; Jn 3.5; Mt 28.19; Acts 8.14–17; Mt 26.26–28; Jas 5.14; Acts 6.6; 1 Tm 4.14). Reflecting on these passages and on the sacramental rites themselves, theologians have observed these as parallel realities in the visible rites. The early Fathers before Augustine distinguished these two elements as objects (res, such as water, oil, bread) and prayers that sanctified them. Later this distinction was expressed in the terms "word" (verbum ) and "element." Augustine furnished the formula that was the basis for later comment: "The word comes to the element and a sacrament results" (In Ioh. hom. 80.2; Patrologia Latina 35:1840). It should be noted that by verbum Augustine did not exclusively mean essential words such as the words of consecration. Studies indicate that the patristic understanding of verbum was very comprehensive (see Fransen).
Early Medieval Period. In the centuries immediately following Augustine there was little advance in the study of Sacraments in general. From the 9th through the 11th centuries attention on sacraments focused on Eucharistic controversies over how to describe the reality of the symbolic presence of Christ in the Eucharist. Important authors of this century were paschasius radbertus, ratramnus of corbie, lanfranc, and berengarius of tours. In the 12th century the movement of synthesis began; the outstanding names are those of hugh of saint-victor and peter lombard. It was Lonbard who introduced the term "cause" into treatises describing what sacraments accomplished. Lombard's summary of Catholic teaching, Liber Sententiarum, was the most widely followed in the commentaries of subsequent theologians. With regard to the Eucharist the terms of the debates in these centuries ultimately concerned the polarities of empty symbolism and crass realism. The patristic language that sustained a Eucharistic presence which was both real and symbolic was hard to sustain in succeeding centuries. (It remains the challenge for the Church in any age.)
The codifying of the theology of the Sacraments at this period was a masterful accomplishment. The teaching found in Scripture and in the treatment of the earlier periods was arranged in a system (e.g., Lombard's Liber ). Questions that had not been posed previously began to suggest themselves. With the search for a definition of "sacrament," notes common to all seven rites began to be observed. It was only at this time that the tract "sacraments in general" came to be written. Matters that had been implicit in much that the Fathers, especially Augustine, had said were examined and explained at greater length. Thus the great summae were not merely compilations of familiar material but thrust ideas forward, especially in the area of speculative theology. Largely because the liturgy was celebrated in a language foreign to the people's vernacular and was done by clerics on behalf of a (largely passive) faithful the liturgy as a prime influence on the theology of sacraments was severely diminished.
Scholastic Period. With the systematic treatment of the 12th and 13th centuries the terms "element" and "word" were replaced with "matter" and "form." These were borrowed from hylomorphism, in which material beings were spoken of as explainable according to an undetermined principle and one that specifies it.
St. Thomas explains the analogous use of these terms as follows. Words can be used in diverse ways to signify different mental concepts, and thus we express our thoughts more distinctly by words than in other ways. In sacramental signification the meaning of sensible objects used (matter) is determined by words (form) just as, according to hylomorphism, the undetermined element (matter) is determined by its form. The water in Baptism, for instance, can of itself signify ablution or cooling, but with the addition of the baptismal formula it becomes evident that this use of water signifies spiritual cleansing (see Aquinas, Summa theologiae 3a, 60.6). Together the two elements in Sacraments compose one sign.
The common use of this convenient terminology has often given the impression that the only part of the sacramental sign that is of real importance is that which composes the essential matter and form, that is, the minimum words absolutely required that the Sacrament be truly such. It is the more limited understanding of the term "form" as the absolutely essential words together with the presence of suitable "matter" that became the framework in which questions of the validity of Sacraments were judged. However this emphasis led to a lessening of appreciation for the whole sign, all that the Church does in her sacramental worship and the importance of the acts of the person involved in sacramental encounters. Happily, a corrective is afforded with the revival of a fuller understanding of the sacramental sign and the reflection of this renewal in the Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy of Vatican Council II.
Another influence of this era was the work done in the canonical field. In the collections of the 11th and 12th centuries, chief among them the Decree of Gratian, there is much that is theological and notably influential on the presentation of sacramental teaching. [see gratian, de cretum of (Concordantia Discordantium Canonum).]
The 13th century brought the greatest of the scholastic writers, St. thomas aquinas, disciple of St. albert the great. The astounding influence of St. Thomas upon Catholic sacramental theology, even today, through his own writings and those of contemporary commentators on him (e.g., Karl Rahner, Edward Schillebeeckx and to an extent Louis-Marie Chauvet) can be explained only by his unusual combination of qualities (see thomism). Another school of theology arose about the same time and developed into a system called scotism or the Franciscan school, the chief personalities of which were alex ander of hales, St. bonaventure, and John duns scotus.
One of the most important issues to emerge from Lombard through the great Scholastics was how to describe that sacraments effect what they signify. Lombard is the first author to use the word "cause" to describe the effects of sacraments (Summa Sententiarum 1, IV). The Sacraments of the New Law are unique among signs because of their causal efficacy. To understand this causality properly it is necessary to remember that sacraments are signs, and they cause grace precisely in accord with their nature. They effect what they signify (Summa theologiae 3a, 62.1); they are signs that cause what they signify and cause by signifying.
Since the 13th century, at least, it has been common to express the unique efficacy of the Sacraments in the phrase ex opere operato, an expression adopted by the Council of Trent (H. Denzinger, Enchiridion symbolorum 1608). Its meaning is that the grace given is the effect of the rite. What it highlights is the fact that grace is a gift of God, not the accomplishment of human effort on the part of the minister or the one who receives the Sacrament. It is meant as a corrective of the view that holds that the Sacraments are only external signs of grace received through faith. The Council of Trent defined the operation of the Sacraments by saying that they contain the grace they signify and confer it on those properly responsive (ibid. 1606).
It is commonly admitted that the phrase ex opere operato has often been misinterpreted in such a way as to make the Sacraments seem mechanistic means for obtaining grace rather than as encounters with Christ's saving action in the power of the Holy Spirit. A helpful insight has been afforded in the observation that the phrase is parallel to ex opere Christi (Fransen 17–22).
This doctrine was never meant to imply that the believing Church does not have an essential role to fulfill in his own sanctification. Without our response to Christ's saving actions (ex opere operantis ) sacraments are not true to their nature as effective signs. But to say that the response of humans in sacraments is a requisite for grace is not the same as saying that the effect of the Sacraments is our work. Whatever grace we receive sacramentally is Christ's gift, but as in every gift, it must be willingly received; when one does not respond to Christ's action, there is no effect.
Theologians have long speculated on the manner in which the Sacraments confer (Trent conferat ) or cause grace. This effort has resulted in many theories. It is common teaching today that any suggested explanation must present the Sacraments as more than mere occasions on which God gives grace, for this latter explanation does not seem to do justice to the evidence of Scripture, tradition, and the statements of the Church. The two main divisions of opinion from the Scholastic era are the theories of physical and moral causality. In addition, individual writers have proposed distinct explanations of their own [see L. Billot, De Ecclesiae Sacramentis (Rome 1931) 52–144; Van Roo 263–348].
Proponents of physical causality teach that the sacramental rite is directly involved in the infusion of grace in a manner analogous to that in which an instrument, such as a pen or a brush, is said to be the cause of an effect, the written page or picture. Adherents of this school of thought see St. Thomas as their model (Summa theologiae 3a, 62). Physical causality is divided into dispositive and perfective. The first considers the action of the sacramental rite as terminating in a physical disposition exigent of grace. The latter posits a physical influence in the rite that reaches efficiently to the grace itself.
Those who teach moral causality think of the Sacraments as effecting God's granting grace by reason of their inner worth as actions of Christ, in view of which grace is infallibly infused by God (B. Leeming 283–381).
With the summae of the 12th and 13th centuries the first systematic definitions appear. Chief among these is that of St. Thomas Aquinas, "A Sacrament is a sign of a sacred thing in as much as it sanctifies" (Summa theologiae 3a, 60.2).
St. Thomas speaks of the Sacraments as signs of three things: the Passion of Christ, grace, and glory (ibid. 3a, 60.3). In this teaching he shows himself to be in accord with the descriptions of the Sacraments in Scripture, where they appear as signs of Redemption. The clearest instance is Romans 6, in which Baptism is described as our burial and resurrection with Christ. In this and the other Sacraments Christ's work of redemption becomes ours sacramentally, that is, through the signs of that salvation; and by reason of this we are given God's life, grace. Again, since grace is the seed of glory and the ultimate effect of what Christ does sacramentally is our glorification, each Sacrament is a sign of this culmination of the Christian life. St. Thomas's teaching that the Sacraments are signs is obviously in keeping with the patristic descriptions (especially from St. Augustine) which speak of them as belonging to this genus. It is true that with the development of scholastic theology attention was drawn to the fact that these signs are causes of the grace they signify. However, in his treatment St. Thomas kept the proper balance, seeing them as signs that cause and that do so in accord with their nature as signs.
One of the contributions of scholastic reflection and the systematic presentation of sacramental doctrine during the 12th and 13th centuries has been the distinction of three elements in the Sacraments: (1) the sign that causes and is not itself caused, that is, the rite itself called sacramentum tantum; (2) the sacramental grace that is signified and caused but does not signify and cause, that is, the res tantum; (3) the element that is both signified and caused (by the sacramentum tantum ) and itself signifies and causes the res tantum (in conjunction with the sacramentum tantum ), that is, the res et sacramentum, or symbolic reality. The precise identification of this last in each individual Sacrament need not be introduced here; it is sufficient to mention that it is generally taught that such a "middle term" does exist in each of the seven. For Baptism, Confirmation, and Holy Orders the res et sacramentum is the sacramental character. While variously described, sacramental character refers to sacraments which cannot be repeated and to the fact that these sacraments configures one to Christ in a particular way (belonging, ministering).
The distinction among the three elements is helpful in speaking of the difference between a Sacrament that is merely validly received and one that actually imparts grace, or is fruitful. Whenever the minimum conditions on the part of the recipient are realized, presuming all else to be present on the part of the minister and the rite itself, the Sacrament is truly received; that is, the res et sacramentum is verified even if, through lack of disposition, grace is not infused.
For the valid and fruitful reception of Baptism in the case of an infant, no personal act is required since such is manifestly impossible. In adults there can never be a validly received Sacrament without a willingness to encounter God (at least an "habitual" intention) and, in all Sacraments other than Baptism, the previous reception of this initial Sacrament. For the Sacrament to attain its purpose, the infusion or increase of grace, there must be, in the Sacraments of Baptism and Penance, a true sorrow for sins and in the other five the life of grace. It is customary in theological circles to speak of the absence of a requirement in the recipient as an obstacle (obex ); one that prevents valid reception is an obstacle to the Sacrament and one that prevents fruitful reception is an obstacle to grace. In speaking of the Sacraments, it is ordinarily presumed that the conditions necessary for the reception of this grace are verified; only then does the sign fulfill its function of granting a share in God's life. There are, however, certain factors that give rise to exceptional circumstances in which the full effect is frustrated. To understand these it is necessary to speak of the distinction between valid and fruitful reception.
Theologians speak of the reviviscence of Sacraments. This refers to the situation in which a Sacrament, validly received, is unfruitful because of an obstacle to grace. In some instances the grace of the Sacrament is obtained subsequently when the defect of disposition is supplied (Schillebeeckx 147–152).
The Council of Florence in 1439 issued the Decree for the Armenians, containing a summary of sacramental teaching; it was an excerpt from the bull Exsultate Deo of Eugene IV. The decree is taken almost word for word from a work of St. Thomas, De articulis fidei et eccleside sacramentis. These decrees helped to frame assertions about sacraments in general which would result from the deliberations at the Council of Trent.
Reformation. It was not until the 16th century at the Council of Trent that the Church defined the truth that there are seven Sacraments of the New Law, no more or no less (H. Denzinger, Enchiridion symbolorum 1601). The reasons for this late official statement were mainly the gradual development of the term "sacrament," which was for centuries applied to many things other than the seven saving rites of the New Law and the absence until this time of a challenge of the sacramentality of some of them.
The formula that there are seven and only seven Sacraments of the New Law was first set down in the 12th century as a result of the theological reflection and systematic presentation that commenced at that time. Before it had been determined what a Sacrament (in the sense limited to the seven saving rites of the New Law) consisted in, but it was impossible to enumerate those to which such a definition applied uniquely. There were from the beginning the seven saving rites, but they were not distinguished as "Sacraments" in our present sense of the word until a definition of this term was crafted. In the course of the development of sacramental theology it became evident that these seven rites, which had existed from the beginning, held a unique place in the economy of salvation. The delineation of the number seven began only with Peter Lombard. The number symbolism of seven (three plus four) is important. In some medieval authors "three" signified the Trinity, hence the divine part of the sacraments. "Four" delineated either the four directions (north, south, east, west) or the seasons (spring, summer, fall, and winter). Thus the divine and the cosmic were combined to reflect on the description and nature of "seven" sacraments. (Leeming 553–589).
That all the Sacraments of the New Law were instituted by Christ is a dogma of the Church (H. Denzinger, Enchiridion symbolorum 1601). Theologians differ about how to describe Christ's instituting the sacraments; commonly they distinguish between "explicit" and "implicit" or "immediate" and "mediate" institution. In these categories the New Testament evidence of baptism in water and sharing the eucharistic bread and cup are taken as evidence of "explicit," "immediate" institution. The other sacraments are deemed implicitly instituted by Christ; the Church was responsible for delineating how these sacred rites derived from Christ.
Modern Period. From the time of the great scholastic theologians there many definitions of sacrament have been suggested, but these have been in general reflections of the teachings of the masters. In the 1960s attempts were made at more comprehensive definitions in terms of Christ and the Church, e.g., those of K. Rahner and E. Schillebeeckx. This reexamination of the notion of Sacrament provides definitions that expressly mention elements such as personal encounter, the ecclesial dimension, and worship, which had not received proper attention in previous attempts to describe the sacramental mysteries. It is this new insight that is apparent in what Vatican Council II's Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy says: "The purpose of the Sacraments is to sanctify participants, to build up the body of Christ, and, finally, to give worship to God; because they are signs they also instruct. They not only presuppose faith, but by words and objects they also nourish, strengthen, and express it; that is why they are called 'Sacraments of faith.' They do indeed impart grace, but, in addition, the very act of celebrating them most effectively disposes the faithful to receive this grace in a fruitful manner, to worship God duly, and to practice charity" (59).
Though it is Christ who acts in the Sacraments to transform us into His Body, He does this through His Spirit. The New Testament clearly speaks of the Holy Spirit as guiding Christ throughout His mortal life. Through His passover from the flesh through death to glory, Christ made it possible for humans to be enlivened by this same Spirit. "For the Spirit had not yet been given, since Jesus had not yet been glorified" (Jn 7.39). The gift of the Spirit was as the soul of the Church. "After Christ's glorification on the cross, His Spirit is communicated to the Church in an outpouring, so that she and her individual members may become more and more like to our Savior" (Pius XII, Mystici corporis 56).
The liturgy is the exercise of the priestly work of Christ; that is, it is the exercise in the Church of those acts of worship by which salvation comes to us. This salvation is the work of the Spirit. In Biblical terms this means that the Redemption, which Christ accomplished for the entire human race, may be described as the gift of the Holy Spirit. Since the Sacraments are the chief acts of the liturgy, they are the principal means by which we are given the Spirit.
Because the Sacraments are the main actions by which Christ's priestly work of worship and salvation begun at the Incarnation continues in our times, Christ is the principal priest in every sacramental action, as Vatican Council II makes clear (Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy 7). Because the plan of Redemption is a sanctifying work in which humanity has an essential part, the sacramental system is constituted by human's sharing in Christ's powers in the Church. Christ alone can offer the saving worship that makes us one with the Father; since the Resurrection He offers it sacramentally through the willing cooperation of His Church.
Within that Body Christ consecrates certain members that they may bring into the midst of the congregation his saving acts of worship. Such are called ministers of the Sacraments. Their very name implies that they are Christ's agents for the benefit of the Church and, ultimately, of all people. There is no question that salvation could take place otherwise; but given God's plan, so considerate of our nature, the Church possesses his acts through the sharing by her members in his powers. This participation comes through Baptism and Confirmation, on the one hand, and by Holy Orders, on the other. Only those who share in Christ's priestly powers through sacramental characters can be the instruments by which Christ worships with his Church and thus sanctifies participants. For marriage Christ acts through the priesthood of the laity. For all others, save Baptism in exceptional cases, the minister is one who has received Holy Orders. Since every sacramental action is at once an act of Christ and his Church, those who perform these sacred rites are ministers of the Church as well as of Christ. Even in the case in which a non-Christian baptizes, there must be present the intention (at least implicit) of doing what the Church does.
It is God's plan that humans be saved through the divine-human Jesus Christ. In Sacraments God works through the human nature of Christ's ministers. This is not possible without the willingness of humans to serve in this way; ministers must exercise their powers by free choice. The Sacraments are not magic. In the course of theological history many distinctions have become accepted as guides to judging the presence of the requisite human freedom in ministers or what is called their intention. It is agreed that they must at least intend to perform the rite as a sacred action. This requirement is spoken of as the presence of internal intention. Anything less is insufficient (external intention). There are also distinctions regarding the intensity of intention: actual, elicited at the time; virtual, previously elicited by continuing to influence action; habitual, previously elicited but not consciously operating; interpretative, a supposition on the part of others regarding the mind of another. For the administration of Sacraments, it is said that actual or virtual intentions are required; for their reception a habitual intention suffices. The discussion regarding sufficient intention is obviously the result of a desire to set minimum guides to assure the essential conditions of sacramental acts; they were never meant as models of Christian response. The greater our openness to God, the closer we have Christ's mind in us, the nearer we are to a proper attitude.
Each of the Sacraments is meant to give, restore, or intensify the Christ-life in His members. Each does so in a particular way indicated in the sign that constitutes it. This sacramental grace is the immediate end of each sacramental encounter, and its ultimate end is the glory of which grace is the seed. (see grace, sacramental for a scholastic presentation of this topic.)
Vatican II. The theological foment and liturgical movement prior to Vatican II helped to refocus attention on sacraments as the church's chief means "to sanctify participants, to build up the body of Christ, and, finally, to give worship to God; because they are signs they also instruct. They not only presuppose faith, but by words and objects they also nourish, strengthen, and express it; that is why they are called 'Sacraments of faith.' They do indeed impart grace, but, in addition, the very act of celebrating them most effectively disposes the faithful to receive this grace in a fruitful manner, to worship God duly, and to practice charity" (59).
The Church prolongs the priestly mission of Jesus Christ mainly by means of the sacred liturgy. Once Christ had passed over through death to the life of glory, His worship of the Father was definitively accepted. Nothing could be added to this perfect atonement. Yet everyone must be drawn into this worship if they are to live the new life. For us, then, the eternal worship, forever accepted by the Father in the Resurrection and Ascension, is made present on earth. This takes place in and through the Church; the acts of this worship are primarily the Sacraments, centered in the Eucharist. Since the Resurrection true Christian worship (the saving worship of Christ) consists in the sacramentalizing of the heavenly worship that Christ is forever offering at the Father's right hand. This sacramental worship is made ours when Christ acts in and with His Church. As He worshiped the Father while on earth and thus saved all peoples, so He now offers this same worship in the Church.
The Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy ushered in a new era for the church's celebration of the liturgy and sacraments. Its first chapter offers both a synthesis if what the liturgy is and does (nn. 1–20) and general principles for the reform of the liturgy (nn. 21–46). Chapters 2 to 7 specify the areas where liturgical reform is necessary and offer general principles for this task. Clearly this Constitution, the other decrees from Vatican II and the theological preparations for the council mark a watershed in the church's self understanding in general and for liturgical-sacramental theology in particular.
Bibliography: j. auer, A General Treatise of the Sacraments and The Mystery of the Eucharist (Washington 1995). l. bouyer, Liturgical Piety (Notre Dame, Ind. 1955). a. chupungco, Sacraments and Sacramentals, v. 4 (Handbook of Liturgical Studies; Collegeville, Minn. 2000). j. daniÉlou, The Bible and the Liturgy (Notre Dame, Ind. 1956). c. davis, Liturgy and Doctrine (New York 1960). g. l. diekmann, Come, Let Us Worship (Baltimore 1961). e. doronzo, Tractatus dogmaticus de sacramentis in genere (Milwaukee 1946). r. duffy, "Sacraments in General," in Systematic Theology, v. 2, eds. f. fiorenza and j. galvin (Philadelphia 1991) 179–210. p. f. fransen, Faith and the Sacraments (London 1958). j. finkenzeller, Die Sakramente im allgemeinen. Band IV. Handbuch der Dogmengeschichte (Wien 1982). b. leeming, Principles of Sacramental Theology (new ed. Westminster, Md. 1960). a. g. martimort, The Church At Prayer (Collegeville, Minn.1986). j. h. miller, Signs of Transformation in Christ (Englewood Cliffs, N.J. 1963). k. rahner, The Church and the Sacraments, tr. w. j. o'hara (New York 1963). a. m. roguet, Christ Acts Through the Sacraments (Collegeville, Minn. 1953). e. schillebeeckx, Christ: The Sacrament of the Encounter with God (New York 1963). c. s. sullivan, ed., Readings in Sacramental Theology (Englewood Cliffs, N.J. 1964). c. vagaggini, Theological Dimensions of the Liturgy, tr. l. j. doyle (Collegeville, Minn. 1959). w. a. van roo, De sacramentis in genere (2d ed. Rome 1960). h. vorgrimler, Sacramental Theology, tr. l. maloney (Collegeville, Minn.1992).
Contemporary Sacramental Theology . Contemporary sacramental theology continues to be influenced by the seminal works of E. Schillebeeckx and K. rahner who reinterpreted classical Catholic teaching on the seven Sacraments (particularly that of Thomas Aquinas) in terms of the important shift in systematic theology at the time, the turn to the subject. Here the seven Sacraments are appreciated as encounters with Christ as the basic sacrament (Schillebeeckx) in the context of the Church as foundational sacrament (Rahner). Their emphasis on symbolic causality and on the active engagement of participants in sacraments helped to overcome lingering quasi-magical understandings of ex opere operato causality.
More recently sacramental theologians have critiqued and moved beyond these approaches by giving new interpretations to classical Catholic sacramental teaching, thereby indicating that the context and method of modern Catholic systematic theology has moved significantly beyond preconciliar parameters. The following factors (among others) have fostered a significant reshaping of contemporary sacramental theology: the recontextualization of sacraments within a broad notion of sacramentality and ecclesiology, the postconciliar liturgical renewal, increased ecumenical dialogue, and the influence of sacramental practice on sacramental theology (including the work of liberation theologians). Other voices from systematic theology which today influences sacramental theology are Hans Urs von balthasar, Henri de lubac and Louis Bouyer. Von Balthasar emphasizes a soteriology focused on the cross as the manifestation of divine love and the bride/bridegroom imagery of salvation through Christ. Thus he finds the Church's form in complementarity of Mary's spirituality to the pastoral office, especially expressed in the office of Peter.
Sacramentality. Major advances have recently been made in recontextualizing the celebration of the seven Sacraments. Historical studies on patristic sacramental catecheses reveal a broad notion of sacramentality within which the rites of initiation were placed. The gestures, symbols and texts of the rites themselves were the basis of explanations of sacraments founded on the notion of creation and human life as disclosive of God's presence, which presence is particularly experienced through the sacramental use of symbols, gestures, and texts. Studies on the evolution of the term "sacrament" and the determination of the number seven have disclosed that prior to the mid-12th century the rites now designated as sacraments were often listed alongside other things such as the Paschal Mystery itself, liturgical seasons, rites for the dedication of a church, etc., all of which were called "sacraments," thus indicating even here a wide notion of what was sacramental.
Basing themselves on an incarnational approach to theology in general, contemporary sacramental theologians have come to emphasize all of life as disclosive of God's presence. Where the linking of the human and the Christian life (or secular with the sacred) has been a hallmark of Rahner's theology in general (often pointing to Jesus as the paradigm of the one who fully realized this fusion), it clearly marks some of his essays in which liturgy and sacraments are understood as part of the continuum of the graced life experienced in all of life as well as in sacraments specifically. This insight has led contemporary sacramental theologians to emphasize the life setting and life relation of sacraments in such a way that the experience and discovery of God's presence, as offered in human life, is established as the necessary setting for engagement in specific sacramental activity. Here liturgy and sacraments function as strong moments of encounter with God but they are not exclusive channels of grace. Similarly sacraments are seen as privileged but provisional experiences of God's presence which will be finally and fully realized only in the kingdom. They are regarded as unique but not the exclusive locus for communicating with God who is revealed in all life.
Closely allied with this is an appreciation of the role of creation in liturgy and sacraments as well as the sacramentality of creation itself as foundational for the very celebration of liturgy and sacraments. One particular contribution of the structure of Catholic sacramental engagement and living in contemporary theology is to a theology of creation itself and issues raised by ecology and environmental theology today. In addition the eschatological nature of sacraments and the pilgrim nature of the Church as emphasized since Vatican II has helped theologians to reemphasize how sacraments are intense experiences of the risen Christ and the kingdom while also serving to point believers beyond the present sacramental experience to a yearning for their full realization in God's kingdom. The former exclusive emphasis on seven Sacraments has thus been transcended in favor of appreciating sacraments as important for, but not the exclusive means of, experiencing God in the many signs and symbols of the divine in human life.
K. Osborne, among others, approaches sacraments from the perspective of the life contexts for sacraments and thus offers a kind of phenomenology of sacramental activity. In this perspective notions of initiation, dining, forgiving, and service are discussed as the setting for the Sacraments of Baptism, Confirmation, Eucharist, Penance and Holy Orders. In addition stress is placed on sacraments as interpersonal activities in which human subjects are engaged. (He relies on the important work of M. Heidegger, M. Merleau-Ponty and P. Ricoeur to establish the philosophical foundation for this dynamic notion of sacrament.) In addition, in Osborne's view Jesus is the revelation of God for humanity, and sacraments function as means of continuing to experience this revelation in the Church. Hence he sees a close connection between the humanity of Jesus and engaging in sacraments.
Bibliography: k. osborne, Sacramental Theology. A General Introduction (New York 1988); Christian Sacraments in a Postmodern World. A Theology for the Third Millennium (New York 1999). k. w. irwin, "The Sacramentality of Creation and the Role of Creation in Liturgy and Sacraments," in Preserving the Creation (Washington 1994) 67–111. k. rahner, "Considerations on the Active Role of the Person in the Sacramental Event," Theological Investigations, v. 14 (New York 1976) 161–184; "On the Theology of Worship," ibid., v. 19 (New York 1983) 36–76.
Ecclesiology. While Rahner has made a lasting contribution to contemporary sacramental theology through his understanding of the Church as at the heart of all sacramental activity, more recent sacramental theologians place less emphasis on Rahner's way of relating sacraments to the institutional Church in favor of placing stress on sacraments as the corporate engagement of local communities in expressions which are corporate and communal experiences of the presence of God. Here local church communities are the real locus of sacramental activity; the Church universal is understood as the communion of these local communities. Rahner's later comments on the world Church serve well as a way of speaking about the communion of local churches. Some have critiqued both Rahner and Schillebeeckx for overly optimistic appreciations of the world in which sacraments take place and for a notion of the way Church and sacrament relate that does not emphasize the Church's prophetic and active involvement in the world. Political theologians especially have moved beyond such passive notions of Church to those which are more politically attuned. Such influences are clear in contemporary sacramental theology, particularly in the work of liberation theologians.
Theologians such as E. kilmartin nuance the understanding of the Church as the continuation of the Incarnation (which understanding has found its way into sacramental writing that emphasizes Christ and Church as sacrament) and make a clear distinction between the Incarnate Logos and the Church, since the Church is the gathering of the new people of Christ in the Spirit. Most important here is the emphasis on the presence and role of the Spirit in the Church, which understanding has been notably absent or unemphasized in many Western ecclesiologies.
Bibliography: e. kilmartin, "A Modern Approach to the Word of God and Sacraments of Christ," The Sacraments: God's Love and Mercy Actualized, ed. f. eigo (Villanova 1979) 59–109. r. vaillancourt, Toward A Renewal of Sacramental Theology, tr. m. o'connell (Collegeville, Minn. 1979).
Liturgy and Sacramental Theology. For centuries, scholastic theological understanding that prevailed from the medieval period through the modern era separated liturgy from sacramental theology. Liturgy concerned the celebration (texts and rubrics) of the sacraments, and sacramental theology concerned the dogmatic meaning of sacraments. This separation was reflected in the post-Tridentine liturgical rituals and manuals of theology; the former were rubrically and textually precise (requiring strict conformity) while the latter were most often neo-Scholastic treatises largely devoted to issues that were controversial at the time of the Reformation and Trent (such as proving the number of seven sacraments from Scripture, the nature of causality, the right intention of the minister, etc.). In the present liturgical renewal where sacraments are celebrated in the vernacular by using rituals whose texts are readily comprehended and whose symbolic actions are readily entered into provides the opportunity to reunite liturgy and sacramental theology in such a way that the liturgy can once again become an important locus theologicus. The establishment of a proper hermeneutic to interpret the liturgy is crucial so that its orientation toward comprehension, participation, and symbolic expression is respected.
Significant attempts to recover the lex orandi were made by liturgists from the 1960s on, notably by A. sch memann, L. Bouyer and A. Kavanagh. Often these proposals resulted from serious historical scholarship on the evolution of the rites and prayers that comprised Christian sacraments. At the same time, however, this approach often limited the appreciation of liturgy only to the meaning of the texts of liturgical prayers, which content could then be used to help establish the theology of a particular sacrament. More recent work on the relationship of liturgy and sacramental theology emphasizes the context of liturgical celebration as an essential component for a proper interpretation of these texts. Recalling this context helps to respect the nature of such texts as oriented more toward evocation than information, toward poetic imagery than dogmatic precision, and toward metaphorical expression than theological accuracy. In this respect a combination of the kind of excellent historical research on liturgy and its meaning done by R. Taft and the theological reflection on sacraments from a theological and liturgical perspective by E. Kilmartin would exemplify the way liturgy is being restored as a proper locus theologicus.
The nature of the postconciliar liturgical reform, where variety and flexibility in the selection of the texts used as well as the option of adding freely composed comments during the liturgy (as well as the difference between what the rites say and what actually occurs in liturgy), makes the task of establishing the actual composition of the liturgy of the sacraments more difficult than it was before Vatican II. Even more pertinent is the emphasis given to greater communal involvement in symbol, gesture, and music as constitutive of sacramental liturgy. Thus it is imperative that a hermeneutic be developed which incorporates these liturgical factors.
In addition, where formerly the move was from liturgy to sacramental theology, contemporary liturgical theologians increasingly call for a reciprocal approach to liturgy and theology whereby advances in theology (e.g., grace, ecclesiology, Christology, Trinity) are incorporated into the liturgy. While some of this has already occurred in the revised rituals which contain many images for Christ and the Church which go beyond those found in the former rituals (precisely because of advances in Christology and ecclesiology), an ongoing assimilation into the liturgy of advances in areas of theology is possible because the present revision of liturgy is oriented toward ongoing inculturation and indigenization (Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy nn. 37–40). Such an approach would also help to insure that elements of the former discipline of sacramental theology derived from doctrinal sources would continue to be operative in a liturgical-sacramental theology. Hence most contemporary sacramental theologians favor the collapse of the division between liturgy and sacramental theology with liturgy appreciated as a foundation for this theology. Along with the revival of interest in liturgy as a theological source has been the revival of interest in certain of its component elements among which are the word, symbol, ritual and the arts.
Bibliography: m. collins, "Critical Questions for Liturgical Theology," Worship 53 (July 1977) 302–317. a. houssiau, "La liturgie, lieu privilegie de la theologie sacramentaire," Questions liturgiques et paroissiales 54 (1973) 7–12. "La redecouverte de la liturgie par la theologie sacramentaire (1950–1980)," Maison Dieu 149 (1982) 27–55. k. irwin, Liturgical Theology: A Primer (Collegeville 1990); "Context and Text," Method in Liturgical Theology (1994). a. kavanagh, On Liturgical Theology (New York 1984). g. lukken, "La liturgie comme lieu theologique irremplacable," Questions liturgiques et paroissiales 56 (1975) 97–112. g. wainwright, "Der Gottesdienst als 'Locus Theologicus,' oder: Der Gottesdienst als Quelle und Thema der Theologie," Kerygma und Dogma 28 (1982) 248–258. Doxology (New York 1980).
Word. Recent interest in the dynamism of the scriptural word (seen for example in narrative and story theology) parallels a renewed understanding of the way the scriptural word functions in sacramental liturgy. When communities gather for sacraments they gather to engage in acts of memory, which acts are specified in the recalling of the Church's common story and the ritual engagement in that story through symbol and blessing prayers. Thus the restoration of the liturgy of the word to all sacramental rituals has led theologians to develop a theology of sacraments based on the notion of engaging in acts of memory through word and symbol.
K. Rahner asserted that the word of God constitutes the basic essence of the sacrament and that with this as foundation, symbols used in sacraments have the secondary function of illustrating the significance of the word. Here the exhibitive and performative nature of the word is emphasized and sacraments can be said to effect what is signified in the proclaimed word (to adapt an adage from conventional sacramental theology). Seen from this perspective the restoration of a liturgy of the word for each sacrament makes both a liturgical and theological statement about the primacy of the word and the nature of sacramental engagement as requiring that the word be seen as foundational to all liturgical-sacramental activity. In addition, such an appreciation of the operation of the word in sacraments requires that the act of preaching serve as an important link joining word and sacrament, otherwise the two parts of one sacramental act can remain separated in practice as well as in theory.
Closely allied with this understanding of Scripture in the liturgy is an appreciation of how language in general functions in sacraments. Exhibitive and performative understandings of sacramental language mark the work of L.-M. Chauvet and B. R. Brinkmann (among many oth ers) and point to the creative and sustaining aspects of religious language. The evocative and effective aspects of sacramental words legitimately precedes but necessarily leads to consideration of liturgical symbols or actions. The differentiation of blessing prayers from orations, as well as comments and instructions from greetings and dismissal blessings helps not only in celebration by determining which texts to proclaim and which to speak, it also helps in an appreciation of the act of worship as involving many languages (including silence and singing) all of which converge in an act of worship where language functions to effect the reality of sacrament.
Bibliography: b. r. brinkmann, "On Sacramental Man," Heythrop Journal 13 (October 1972) 371–401; 14 (January 1973) 5–34; 14 (April 1973) 162–189; 14 (July 1973) 280–306; 14 (October 1973) 396–416; "Sacramental Man and Speech Acts Again," Heythrop Journal 16 (October 1975) 418–420. l.-m chauvet, Du symbolique au symbole. Essai sur les sacrements (Paris 1979), tr., Symbol and Sacrament (Collegeville, Minn. 1991–95). k. rahner, "What is a Sacrament?," Theological Investigations, v. 14 (New York 1976) 135–148.
Symbol and Aesthetics. Concomitant with an emphasis on symbol in theological discourse in general has been a reemphasis on the essentially symbolic nature of the liturgy as reflected in the writings of such sacramental theologians as W. Van Roo and D. Power (who rely on the works of S. Langer, C. Geertz, P. Ricoeur, L. Gilkey and A. Vergote). Central to this recovery is the characteristically Catholic view of creation that sees the mediation of the divine through created matter and human interaction, which elements are essential aspects of sacramental activity. (Here Schillebeeckx's work on an incarnational and christological approach to sacraments should be recalled.) In sacramental discussions in particular symbols are understood less as objects (the unfortunate legacy of the late medieval and Tridentine approach to efficacy and presence) and more as elements of creation or human productivity that are used in stylized symbolic gestures in liturgical rites to mediate and actualize God's presence in the gathered community. Power maintains that an appreciation of symbol in sacramental activity helps to emphasize meaning over objects, human values over utilitarianism, the inner world over the external, and imagination over images alone. Such symbolic actions involve the inherent polyvalent meanings involved in symbols, which meanings affect participants in a variety of conscious and unconscious ways. Hence to engage in symbolic activity is to unleash a power that cannot be reduced to a single meaning.
The use of water, for example, evokes images of washing, cleansing, refreshment, purification, and an end of thirst (hence the continuance of life), as well as images of the uncontrollable force of storms, torrents, the realm of demons, and the place of drowning (hence the loss of life). Even though the sacramental use of water is accompanied by a blessing prayer which recalls scriptural (mostly positive) images of its use in salvation history, which are all brought to bear at this sacramental moment, nonetheless, contradictory meanings will be disclosed when water is used because such meanings are inherent in the use of this symbol.
Louis Marie Chauvet has used the category of the symbolic to revivify sacramental theology by emphasizing how Christian existence itself can be view from a sacramental perspective. He critiques traditional emphases on causality in sacraments and prefers a language reflective of the way sacraments and all of life are gifts of God to us. This work stands in line with other postmodern critiques of the Western metaphysical tradition. It also offers fresh ways to understand sacramental theology and the sacramental nature of the Christian life. Another postmodern critic, Jean-Luc Marion offers a sacramental theology relying heavily on openness to the iconic (as opposed to the idol, which for him is some Western pre-occupation with metaphysical systems). He emphasizes God's acts in sacraments as gifts to us, especially as they express the supreme act of self donation and gift to us, the cross of Christ.
Bibliography: l. boff, Os Sacramentos da Vida e a Vida dos Sacramentos. Enscio do Theologia Narrativa (Pietropolis 1975). g. durand, L'Imagination Symbolique (Paris 1968). h.-g, gadamer, Truth and Method (New York 1982). s. langer, Philosophy in a New Key. A Study in the Symbolism of Reason, Rite and Art (Cambridge 1978). j.-l. marion, God without Being (Chicago 1991). d. power, Unsearchable Riches (New York 1984); Sacrament. The Language of God's Self Giving (New York 1999). w. van roo, Man the Symbolizer (Rome 1981).
Ritual. Recent crosscultural and interreligious studies on ritual have produced an increasing body of literature that emphasizes its nature as stylized, repetitious, and familiar communal activity. Authors such as R.
Grimes emphasize the inescapably biological and natural roots of ritual as a rhythmic response to the patternings and events which precede and define human persons and communities. In this perspective Christian sacramental activity is seen to be essential since it mediates Christian identity far more traditionally and clearly than does intellectual assent to theological truths. The effect of Christian sacramental involvement is communal and social cohesion and a reaffirmation of personal and communal identification with Christ.
Sociological studies of initiation rituals, for example, demonstrate the enduring power of religious ritual, the importance of tactility and symbols in ritual, and the deep impact which certain rituals at events such as marriage and funerals continue to have on participants. Not unlike the use of symbols in worship, however, religious ceremonies are often conflict laden because ritual involves power (its use or misuse), and ritual action involves acknowledging who controls and who is controlled through ritual. Sometimes this power serves the function of getting things accomplished; sometimes it can paralyze because of the way it manipulates. Some feminist theologians critique sacramental structures and sacramental activity precisely because of the lack of shared power in the leadership position of presiding.
Christian ritual is the means of reenacting or representing (but not redoing or repeating) the saving event of Christ's paschal mystery. As such it takes an event of the definitive past and makes it operative in a way that involves and incorporates people in the present. Sacraments do this specifically in ways that help to articulate times of the liturgical year and transition times in a person's life such as birth, marriage, and death. Here the writings of A. van Gennep and Victor turner on rites of passage has been somewhat influential on sacramental theologians, chiefly in appreciating the social and crosscultural foundation of much sacramental ritual. Particularly helpful has been the drawing of important parallels between rites of passage and adult initiation. For further discussion, see ritual studies.
Bibliography: r. grainger, The Language of the Rite (London 1974). s. happel, "Speaking from Experience: Worship and the Social Sciences," Alternative Futures for Worship, v.2, Baptism and Confirmation, m. searle (Collegeville 1987) 171–188. ed. s. ross, Extravagant Affections. A Feminist Sacramental Theology (rev. ed. New York 2001). v. turner, The Ritual Process: Structure and Anti-Structure (London 1969).
Ecumenical Sacramental Conversations. Since Vatican II the proliferation and depth of ecumenical dialogue and agreed statements on the sacraments has provided participating churches with significant avenues to explore for sacramental hospitality and eventual reunion. Methodologically these efforts have resulted in moving participants beyond the narrowness of individual confessional explanations of sacraments to the use of terminology and concepts about sacraments taken from those used by other churches either in the past or at present. Most significant has been the movement in the faith and order commission of the world council of churches that has resulted in the publication of the multilateral agreed statement Baptism, Eucharist and Ministry (see lima text).
The Catholic Church has participated in a number of bilateral and multilateral conversations the progress and results of which have been very influential on Catholic sacramental thinking especially on questions of method and language. Initially, impressive results came from international and national bilateral conversations that offered great hope and stimulus toward reunion (e.g., the international and American Lutheran/Roman Catholic dialogues on Baptism and Eucharist as sacrifice, and Eucharist and Ministry) largely because the dialogue enabled participants to differentiate actual from apparent areas of disagreement. However, more recent assessment of this work reveals that some bilateral agreements reflect positions held in common by participating churches, which agreed upon positions are actually inadequate formulations of the theology of the sacrament under discussion. For example, the fact that Lutherans and Roman Catholics can formulate an agreement on eucharistic presence and sacrifice betrays the fact that both churches held similar but inadequate positions on the Eucharist precisely because each found itself preoccupied with these two elements of eucharistic theology exclusive of the wide variety of notions of Eucharist that went unexplored at the time of the Reformation. Some have even remained relatively unexplored in present ecumenical conversation.
Examples of such underexplored categories include the Eucharist and eschatology, Eucharist as the epiphany of the church and Eucharist as the work of the Holy Spirit (which itself would move the discussion away from a Christocentrism in eucharistic theology). Furthermore, more recent work in bilateral conversations has been devoted to issues related to agreements on sacramental theology; examples include the American Lutheran-Roman Catholic statement on justification and the dialogue undertaken by this group on veneration of the saints and intercession on behalf of the present church. The particularly thorny question of how to deal with human mediation in sacraments still remains unresolved between Catholics and Protestants despite the fact that agreed statements on sacraments have been published.
In addition participation in multilateral dialogue and a number of bilateral dialogues has helped participants derive challenge and insight from a variety of churches whose experience and theology has helped to move each from tried and true ways of dealing with differences. For example, ecumenical dialogue on ministry has challenged Catholics to move beyond the terms in persona Christi and in persona ecclesiae in a way that serves to reunite them as complementary and not separate, and in a way that recontextualizes the discussion of the ordained ministry in terms of the ministry of all the baptized. At the same time some recent ecumenical initiatives on sacraments, e.g., American Lutherans and Episcopalians regarding intercelebration and mutual recognition of sacraments, have caused theologians across denominational lines to assess notions of apostolic succession and the role of succession in the enactment of sacraments.
Bibliography: m. fahey, Catholic Perspectives on Baptism, Eucharist and Ministry (Lanham, Md. 1986). Faith and Order Paper 111, Baptism, Eucharist and Ministry (Geneva 1982). f. j. van beeck, Grounded in Love. Sacramental Theology in an Ecumenical Perspective (Washington 1981).
Sacramental Practice and Liberation Theology. The recent attention given to sacramental practice and its influence on the shape of sacramental theology often arises out of pastoral questions about the value of sacraments, the relationship of evangelization and sacraments, the relationship between faith and sacrament, and the question of how to deal with the baptized who no longer profess or practice the faith. The work of the following authors exemplifies the way that such issues of sacramental practice are addressed in contemporary sacramental theology. Most often these authors utilize some form of social science method to deal with sacramental practice which use reflects the attention being paid by sacramental theologians about how to incorporate creatively and constructively the valuable methods of social science research into sacramental theology.
Among the most poignant critiques of the value of sacraments in general has come from liberation theologians, for example J. Segundo and L. Boff. Writing from a Latin American context, Segundo maintains that the practice of the faith is often not commensurate with the value still placed on engagement in sacraments. Part of Segundo's critique centers around a lack of true evangelization and a sacramental crisis that is part of a broader crisis in ecclesial life itself. He argues that a certain magical understanding of sacraments still perdures, which understanding comes from the conventional understanding of sacramental causality. He argues forcefully for a sacramental practice that links ritual with human experience and for sacramental activity that reflects concern for one another through ecclesial structures such as base communities (see basic christian communities). Segundo asserts that sacraments function as expressions of evangelization for the world, then as celebrations for the Church. Clearly he prefers the witness of sacraments for the world in order to avoid a self-consciousness that dulls the challenge inherent in sacraments. However to understand sacraments as also for the Church can offer as real a challenge so that sacramental celebration leads to sacramental living. In addition, part of the critique by liberation theologians concerns how sacraments and justice as well as worship and mission are (or should be) correlative.
While Segundo offers observations based on a sociological approach to sacramental activity, some have criticized his lack of appreciation that a sociological approach would also affirm the performative character of a ritual, since participants in ritual are themselves changed by a well executed event itself. While not wanting to eliminate or derogate from programs of proper preparation for sacraments and follow up that are thoroughly evangelical and appropriately challenging in terms of living what is celebrated (as seen in the Rite of Christian Initiation for Adults), such programs function most effectively when they derive from and uphold the priority of human engagement in ritual for confirmation and renewal of Christian identity. In addition, some have observed that his emphasis on the liberative and justice aspects of sacraments could be more adequately presented if linked clearly with the eschatological nature of sacraments. Thus the temptation to turn the liberation aspects of sacraments into an ideology would be avoided; sacraments would be seen as both countercultural and as experiences that lead to the fullness of the coming Kingdom.
Writing somewhat later than Segundo, Boff articulates the sacramentality intrinsic to sacraments and what might be called a sacramental ecclesiology. For him sacraments are basic constituents of human life and as such (to use his term) should be viewed sub specie humanitatis (from the perspective of humanity). His sacramental ecclesiology is closely linked with Segundo's emphasis on basic Christian communities; his anthropology of sacraments is reminiscent of foundational insights from both Rahner and Schillebeeckx.
A particularly insightful and creative contribution to a synthesis of sacramental theology for today's Latin American context is found in the work of Antonio Gonzaez Dorado. His intention is to summarize traditional categories of Catholic sacramental theology and to recontextualize them for a church in need of what he term "liberating evangelization." The result is a comprehensive "manual" that transcends the negative aspects of the manual genre as it uses it to offer important insights about what sacraments can offer regarding a re-evangelization of Latin America. His use of important theologians from the tradition, principally Tertullian and SS. Augustine and Thomas Aquinas, helps to ground his thesis in the Catholic tradition. At the same time his insights about these authors, principally their time and place in the church's life (e.g. Tertullian in a time of martyrdom, Augustine in a time of theological and ecclesial difficulties and Aquinas in a time of theological synthesis) help to respect what they say and why they said it in their particular contexts. Such an approach helps to avoid uncritical or overly simplistic summaries of their teachings.
Writing from the perspective of the contemporary church in France, R. Didier addresses a very different phenomenon from these liberation theologians. He addresses the question of people asking the radical questions of what is the value of sacraments for a "post-Christian" constituency which sees little value in rite but which values authenticity in human living. In addressing these issues Didier argues from an anthropological perspective that roots sacramental action in human ritual in general (as noted above). In paralleling sacraments with rituals such as holiday traditions, the ritual of family dining, rites of fall/spring, courtship and marriage, etc., he sees an important anthropological foundation for Christian sacraments where the latter are seen as intrinsic to human nature and hence need to be retained. The conserving and integrating function of ritual is also emphasized. Didier admits, however, that a major factor militating against this conserving function in community is the individualism and privatization that marks many areas of contemporary life. In attempting to address the question of "why sacraments" Didier relies on the insights of other contemporary theologians about the enduring power of symbol, the ecclesial dimension of sacraments, and the importance of balancing Christian sacramental activity with a wide appreciation of sacramentality. In addition, just as a compartmentalization of sacraments from life is inappropriate, so is a notion of sacraments that does not emphasize the mission and justice components of liturgy.
In an American context the sociologist-pastoral theologian P. Murnion has offered a unique way of approaching the question of sacramental theology that returns us to the remarks made at the beginning of this article about sacramentality and ecclesiology. In the present American culture, Murnion argues, there are some "fundamental faults" which the Catholic understanding of sacramentality and ecclesiology can help to address. Part of the importance of this approach is to see sacramental activity in a wide perspective. The faults Murnion delineates are a radical individualism, utilitarianism, materialism, separation of private from the public spheres of action and increased polarizing of classes. His proposed new order to deal with such faults includes a new communitarianism, a new measure of the common good (based on the conviction about the quality of all human life), new emphasis on the integral development of the whole person (intimately tied to the depth and endurance of human relationships), a new symbiosis of private and public life in terms of consistent virtues, and a new sense of unity among all peoples. These, he maintains, can be articulated and upheld most fully by a Catholic vision and a sacramental approach to life. While some have critiqued his approach as not being sufficiently reflective of the variety of peoples in America today (specifically whether these faults exist in Hispanic, black, or other ethnic groupings), at base it offers one way of dealing with the important relationship between practice (in church and in society) and sacramental theology. Murnion's thoroughly incarnational approach to sacramentality provides a new perspective on the christological and phenomenological approach to sacramental theology emphasized by E. Schillebeeckx in the early 1960s.
Conclusion. The complexity of contemporary sacramental theology is evident in the variety of approaches reflected in this modest synthesis. That additional work is needed both on areas reviewed here as well as on correlative areas such as theological anthropology, religious sociology, and liturgy (e.g., relating sacraments to the liturgical year) is clear. The retrieval of the principle that liturgy and sacramental theology are intrinsically connected is a foundational insight for the integrity of any study of the sacraments today. That so much has been accomplished in the past four decades to revive sacramental practice and theology in churches attests to the centrality of liturgy and sacraments in the life of the church. That more needs to be done in a variety of areas attests to the perennial challenge for Catholic theology in any age.
Bibliography: l. boff, Iglesia: Charisma e poder. (Pietropolis 1981, Eng. trans. New York 1985). h. burgeois, "Theologie Sacramentaire," Recherches de science religieuse 72 (1984) 291–318. h. denis, Des sacrements et des hommes. Dix ans apres Vatican II (Lyon 1975); Sacrements sources de vie. Etudes de theologie sacramentaire (Paris 1982). a. g. doraddo, Los Sacramentos del Evangelio: Sacramentologia fundamental y organica (Santa Fe de Bogota 1991). e. kilmartin, "Theology of the Sacraments: Toward a New Understanding of the Chief Rites of the Church of Jesus Christ," r. duffy, ed., Alternative Futures For Worship, v. 1. General Introduction (Collegeville, Minn. 1987) 123–175. p. murnion, "A Sacramental Church in the Modern World," Origins 14 (June 21, 1984) 81–90. a. schmeid, "Perspektiv und Akzente heutiger Sakramenttheologie," Wissenschaft und Weisheit 44 (1981) 17–45. j. segundo, The Sacraments Today, tr. j. drury (Maryknoll 1974). f. tillmans, "The Sacraments as Symbolical Reality of Faith," h. j. auf der maur, et al., eds., Fides Sacramenti Sacramentum Fidei (Assen 1981) 253–276.
[k. w. irwin]
"Sacramental Theology." New Catholic Encyclopedia. . Encyclopedia.com. (February 22, 2019). https://www.encyclopedia.com/religion/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/sacramental-theology
"Sacramental Theology." New Catholic Encyclopedia. . Retrieved February 22, 2019 from Encyclopedia.com: https://www.encyclopedia.com/religion/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/sacramental-theology
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