Monday, July 19

Sacraments, part the second

Following the earlier discussion, and in reflection of some valuable and useful dialogue that I have had with some clergy on the matter, I would like to continue the analysis of the sacraments. Sacraments split into two significant and important categories. In the first category are those which invite the Spirit to affect a particular change. The most prominent example of this type is the Eucharist, wherein the miracle of transubstantiation is accomplished. Other examples include the sacraments of Extreme Unction and Penance (which I feel more comfortable referring to as Reconciliation), wherein the mercy of Divine is invited. These are what I would consider to be 'private' sacraments, meaning that, whether or not they are performed in public, they are a mystical experience which is profound and private (between the Divine and the recipient of the sacrament).

The other type of sacrament are those which affirm and acknowledge what has already happened. These are rites which involve all those in attendance (and even those not directly in attendance) and reflect that the congregation recognizes and the work that the Divine has wrought in the recipient(s). Examples of this would be both ordination and confirmation. The Ontological changes which occur in the recipient are real and manifest, but occur independent of the rite proper. These sacraments are 'public' sacraments, a message to those in the parish and beyond that the Spirit is alive and active in these people and what they are doing. The sacrament of matrimony is also a public sacrament, which leads us to same-sex marriage.

I know from personal experience that I was married before we stood in front of the preacher...just like we were no longer married long before we visited the lawyer. In a similar analogy, the degrees I hold did not confer knowledge and if the granting institutions had decided that, for administrative reasons, I should not receive the diploma, that would not mystically 'remove' what I had learned. In a similar manner, if someone has had an ontological change which marks them as confirmed or ordained, then a church denying those sacraments to that person doesn't impact that change in the least. The public sacraments are more about the community and their views towards de facto matters than it is about the 'recipient' and the Divine.

I briefly touched on the 'matter' of the sacraments and mentioned that I have a small beef with the idea that certain things must be present for the sacrament to 'work'. The point behind the materials is that they hold symbolism in the minds of those participating in the ritual and, as such, the validity of the materials is a human, not a divine, limitation.

For the baptists, as an example, the body and blood are saltines and grape juice. To use wine (or actual bread) is entirely outside their cultural heritage and the imbibing of alcohol is taboo in their faith line. For some (including one of our priests), medical concerns prohibit the use of what is standard in our faith, being wheaten bread and wine. Does this mean that cornbread and grape juice invalidates the sacrament? Certainly not on God's side of things, as omnipotence is not constrained by such things.

In a similar vein, my mind runs to the 'forms'. If practical or accidental concerns change the specific form of the ritual, but the essence of the rite is preserved, the only constraint that I see is that on the human end of things. A word changed and a pause altered doesn't prevent the Divine from working. That thought extends to most all of liturgy (IMHO) and provides a much greater latitude for the Spirit to work.

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