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Embracing Both Sacrament and Sacramental Effect PDF Print E-mail
Written by Sherry   
Friday, 06 February 2009 05:54
From the Commonweal blog comes this beautiful and challenging prayer from St. Thomas Aquinas which poster Robert Imbelli prays before Mass:

O almighty, everlasting God, behold, I draw near to the Sacrament of your only-begotten Son, our Lord Jesus Christ.

I draw near, as a sick man to the Physician of life, as one defiled to the Fountain of mercy, as one blind to the Light of Eternal Splendor, as one poor and needy to the Lord of Heaven and Earth.

Therefore I implore you, in your infinite goodness, that you would graciously cure my sickness, wash away my defilement, give light to my blindness, enrich my poverty, and clothe my nakedness, so that I may receive the Bread of Angels, the King of Kings, and Lord of Lords, with such contrition and devotion, such purity and faith, such purpose and intention, as to attain the welfare and salvation of my soul.

Grant me, I beseech you, to receive not only the Sacrament of the Body and Blood of my Lord, but also the very Reality and Strength of the Sacrament.

O most gracious God, grant me so to receive the Body of your only begotten Son, our Lord Jesus Christ that very body which he took of the Virgin Mary, that I may be truly incorporated into his mystical body, and so numbered among its members.

O most loving Father, grant me at last to behold unveiled and forevermore your beloved Son, whom, in my pilgrimage, I receive now beneath the veil of this blessed Sacrament.

Who lives and reigns with you in the unity of the Holy Spirit, God, forever and ever. Amen.

I gotta point out the obvious here because we sometimes get such stunned reactions from pastoral leaders when we mention this during Making Disciples.

This is intentional reception of the Eucharist. Note that St. Thomas distinguishes between the physical reception of the sacrament and the reception of the "reality and strength" of the Sacrament. There is nothing magical or unconscious going on here. When faith and positive disposition (actively disposing oneself toward change in anticipation of receiving the grace to actually change) meets the grace of the sacrament, we begin to experience actual transformation.

St. Thomas understood this principal very well: Here is his classically "Thomistic" evaluation of the question,

Article 9. Whether insincerity hinders the effect of Baptism?

Those of you who have read the Summa know how the drill goes:

A summation of the question, 3 objections to possible responses to the question, then the tell-tale "on the contrary, I answer that . . ." statement of Thomas's own take on the question, then three replies to the preceding three objections. (No gentle Thomistic readers, I don't know the official terms.)

For the sake of brevity, I'll just quote Thomas's "on the contrary" and his reply to the first objection:

Article 9. Whether insincerity hinders the effect of Baptism?

"I answer that, As Damascene says (De Fide Orth. ii), "God does not compel man to be righteous." Consequently in order that a man be justified by Baptism, his will must needs embrace both Baptism and the baptismal effect. Now, a man is said to be insincere by reason of his will being in contradiction with either Baptism or its effect. For, according to Augustine (De Bapt. cont. Donat. vii), a man is said to be insincere, in four ways: first, because he does not believe, whereas Baptism is the sacrament of Faith; secondly, through scorning the sacrament itself; thirdly, through observing a rite which differs from that prescribed by the Church in conferring the sacrament; fourthly, through approaching the sacrament without devotion. Wherefore it is manifest that insincerity hinders the effect of Baptism.

Reply to Objection 1. "To be baptized in Christ," may be taken in two ways. First, "in Christ," i.e. "in conformity with Christ." And thus whoever is baptized in Christ so as to be conformed to Him by Faith and Charity, puts on Christ by grace. Secondly, a man is said to be baptized in Christ, in so far as he receives Christ's sacrament. And thus all put on Christ, through being configured to Him by the character, but not through being conformed to Him by grace."

The quick and dirty summary: if we receive a sacrament without personal faith as adults, it is possible that we *might* receive the character of a sacrament like baptism or confirmation without receiving the grace.

The implications for our personal spiritual lives (and mine in particular) and for our current pastoral practice in RCIA, confirmation prep, etc. is stunning. And unnerving.

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