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Why the Church has sacraments Print
Year of Faith
Thursday, Oct. 18, 2012 -- 12:00 AM

By Abbot Marcel Rooney, OSB

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When the Second Person of the Blessed Trinity became incarnate on earth, in Jesus Christ, He became the most perfect Way that the God could communicate with us humans.

God had communicated since the creation of human beings. God did this, first of all, through nature: human beings could simply look on the greatness of the natural world about them and be led to the knowledge of God.

Choosing a people

But God chose to communicate even more deeply. He did this by calling a people to Himself, by choosing a people to receive His special love and care. That people was Israel.

God showed His special love and care by freeing the people from slavery in Egypt; by caring for them as they crossed the desert to arrive at the homeland God had chosen for them; by giving them the sacred Law which would govern the relationship God would have with this, now His, Chosen People. (We find the core of this story in the Old Testament.)

God became man

It is to this People that God then chose to come in an altogether extraordinary way: by coming Himself, by becoming man, in Jesus, the Christ.

Through Jesus, God could and did now describe and manifest the divine Kingdom — the ultimate goal which the divine Plan had established as the future of all creation and of humanity.

Jesus laid the groundwork while He was present on earth. Then, in accord with the Father’s will, He gave Himself up to suffering and death to free mankind from sin and death, and thus to save mankind and open the gates of the Kingdom to us.

God proved His love for Jesus and mankind by raising Him from the dead. His resurrection is a very special manifestation of God’s love for humanity: God will not allow the flesh of Jesus to know decay — and thus has given us all a sign about our future glory in our risen bodies. (We find the core of this part of the story in the New Testament.)

Founding the Church

In order to continue the proclamation of the Kingdom and continue to manifest God’s saving love on earth, Jesus founded a Church, beginning with the few disciples whom He had called to be with Him during His earthly ministry. The purpose of the Church is to carry on the Word and the Work of Jesus throughout all time and space.

The wonderful way that the Church makes known God’s Word and Work — in effect, the way which the Church carries on the life and love of Jesus for mankind — is to use the very means of creation which God has always used in order to manifest divine life and love.

Sacraments: outward signs of divine reality

In other words, the Church speaks to the world and brings God’s Kingdom to the world by using words and things which are congenial to all the world. These words and things make up what we call sacraments.

They are earthly, “outward signs,” but they convey a divine, deeply inward and spiritual reality — the very reality of God giving divine life and love to those who receive them.

It takes the gift of faith to accept and understand them. But through them, the Holy Trinity, and Jesus, the Trinity’s Spokesman, can continue to contact every person of faith on earth throughout all of history. Hence, they are very important realities indeed.

The most important of these earthly and human realities become the point of the deepest encounter of God and humanity — for example, water, oil, fire, touch, and word. It is these elements that the Church will use for meeting God in Jesus and the Holy Spirit.

These will be the fundamentals which will make up the sacraments. Future articles will discuss each of the sacraments, so that we might gain a deeper understanding of them, and hence of God’s great love for humanity — which should lead us then to deep gratitude for such love, such life given to us so freely by God.


Abbot Marcel Rooney, O.S.B., is president of the Orate Institute of Sacred Liturgy, Music and Art, resident in the Madison Diocese. The Institute is devoted to helping people understand more and pray better the sacred liturgy.