The celebration of the Christian mystery: Sacraments of Initiation
Jesus Christ has made it possible for us to share in the divine nature by conforming to him through the grace of the Holy Spirit imparted to us through the sacraments.
This is especially true in the case of the sacraments of Christian initiation – baptism, confirmation and the Eucharist. In baptism, the faithful are born anew; by confirmation, the faithful are strengthened; and in the Eucharist, the faithful are nourished by the food of eternal life.
This sacrament is named after its central rite, i.e. the baptizing (from the Greek to “plunge” or “immerse”) of the catechumen. This action symbolizes the person’s “burial into Christ’s death, from which he rises up by resurrection with him, as ‘a new creature.’”
Prefigured in the Old Testament, baptism found its fulfillment in Jesus, who gave his apostles this mission: “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you.” (Mt 28:19-20)
The grace of baptism
One of the two principal effects of baptism is the purification from sins. “By baptism all sins are forgiven, original sin and all personal sins, as well as all punishment for sin.” In baptism, the person truly is reborn with nothing remaining that could impede his or her entry into the kingdom of God. However, temporal consequences of sin remain in the baptized, “such as suffering, illness, death, and such frailties inherent in life as weaknesses of character ... as well as an inclination to sin that Tradition calls concupiscence.”
The other principal effect of baptism is new birth in the Holy Spirit. The baptized person becomes a new creature, “an adopted [child] of God, who has become a ‘partaker of the divine nature,’ member of Christ and co-heir with him, and a temple of the Holy Spirit.” In baptism, the baptized receive the grace of justification. This grace enables the baptized to “believe in God, to hope in him, and to love him through the theological virtues”; gives the baptized “the power to live and act under the prompting of the Holy Spirit through the gifts of the Holy Spirit”; and allows the baptized “to grow in goodness through the moral virtues.”
The sacrament of confirmation is “necessary for the completion of baptismal grace.” In confirmation, the baptized is anointed with oil (a sign of abundance, joy, cleansing, healing, and strength) and is thereby consecrated, or imprinted, with the seal of the Holy Spirit. As Christ was marked with his Father’s seal, Christians are marked with the seal of the Holy Spirit, indicating “our total belonging to Christ, our enrollment in his service forever, as well as the promise of divine protection in the great eschatological [end times] trial.”
The primary effect of the sacrament is the “full outpouring of the Holy Spirit as once granted to the apostles on the day of Pentecost.” Confirmation brings an increase and deepening of baptismal grace. It unites us more firmly to Christ; increases the gifts of the Holy Spirit and renders more perfect our bond with the Church; and gives us a “special strength of the Holy Spirit to spread and defend the faith by word and action as true witnesses of Christ ...”
The sacrament of the Eucharist (from the Greek meaning “thanksgiving”) completes Christian initiation. The Eucharist is “the source and summit of the Christian life.” The other sacraments, along with all the work of the Church in her ministries, are bound up with and oriented toward the Eucharist. “The Eucharist is the efficacious sign and sublime cause of that communion in the divine life and that unity of the People of God by which the Church is kept in being.” In short, the Eucharist is the “sum and summary of our faith.”
Christ’s real presence in the Eucharist
Jesus Christ is present to the Church in many ways: in his word, in the Church’s prayer, in the poor, the sick, the imprisoned, in the sacraments, in the Mass, and in the person of the minister. At the same time, he is most especially present in the eucharistic species, i.e. in the bread and the wine.
The whole of Christ, i.e. his body and blood together with his soul and divinity, is “truly, really and substantially” contained in the most blessed sacrament of the Eucharist. This means that Christ is present in the fullest sense when the bread and wine are converted into his body and blood through the power of the Holy Spirit.
It is important to reiterate that the Church does not use this language to communicate that Christ is present in the eucharistic species in a merely symbolic way. The Council of Trent clearly states that “by the consecration of the bread and wine there takes place a change of the whole substance of the bread into the substance of the body of Christ our Lord and of the whole substance of the wine into the substance of his blood.”
The principal fruit of the sacrament of the Eucharist, or holy Communion, “is the intimate union with Christ Jesus.” This communion “preserves, increases and renews the life of grace received at baptism” and completed at confirmation. It is, indeed, the bread of life that nourishes and sustains us in the Christian life.
The Eucharist also commits us to the poor where, again, Christ is present. Finally, the Eucharist is the sure pledge and clear sign of “the glory to come.” When this “mystery is celebrated, ‘the work of our redemption is carried on’ and we ‘break the one bread that provides the medicine of immortality, the antidote for death, and the food that makes us live forever in Jesus Christ.’”
– Quotes from the Catechism (1212-1405)
The faithful are obligated to take part in the Divine Liturgy on Sundays and feast days and to receive the Eucharist…
a. on Sundays and feast days
b. at least once a month
c. at least once a year
Answer: (c) At least once a year, but the Church strongly encourages the faithful to receive the Eucharist on Sundays and feast days, or more often still, even daily. CCC 1389
Doug Culp is the CAO and secretary for pastoral life for the Diocese of Lexington, Ky. He holds an MA in theology from Catholic Theological Union in Chicago.