PDF Living the Sacraments: Grace into Action

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Confirmation is a strengthening of baptismal grace so the confirmandi can live out their lives in the Church, live the mission of the Church, and evangelize or invite others to join the faith community. In order to receive holy communion, a person must be baptized, have been properly catechized and spiritually prepared, be in communion with the Church, and free from serious sin. The celebration of the Eucharist includes the fundamental acts of Jesus at the Last Supper: He took, he blessed, he broke and he gave, Father Woost said. The Eucharist is what makes us Catholic.

Or as one theologian has put it: Couples should contact their parish at least six months before the wedding date to allow adequate time for preparation. He said members of the faith community help the couple with marriage preparation and some can act as mentors for the couple. In order to be ordained to the priesthood, a young man must be at least 25 years old and a college graduate with a background in philosophy and religious studies, Father Woost said.

In the Diocese of Cleveland, many young men discerning the priesthood attend Borromeo College, a four-year college on the grounds of the Center for Pastoral Leadership in Wickliffe. They attend John Carroll University for most liberal arts courses, but take philosophy and religious studies classes at Borromeo. If the candidate already has a college degree, he will take the required pre-theology courses at Borromeo Seminary and St.

Four to five years of preparation at St.

The Sacramental Life

The first two years of formation are generally academic, followed by a pastoral internship in the third year, during which the seminarian lives at a parish rectory and experiences parish life under the guidance of the pastor. In the fourth year, seminarians petition the bishop in a letter asking to become candidates for Holy Orders.

In the fifth year, they are ordained to the diaconate. The Church requires that they exercise this ministry for at least six months before ordination to the priesthood, Father Woost said. All priests now must earn a master of divinity degree. Most also earn a master of arts degree in systematic theology, Church history, pastoral theology or sacramental-liturgical theology.

After ordination, new priests receive an assignment from the bishop. Most become parochial vicars and receive a parish assignment that is reviewed in about four years. We come before a priest, who is the designated representative of the Church, and openly acknowledge our sinfulness. It is not sufficient that we simply admit our sinfulness to ourselves and in prayer to our Lord — the Apostle James directs us to " confess your faults one to another " Jas.

The Sacraments (An Introduction) - Fr. Rob Galea

Human experience tells us that it is difficult, if not impossible, for us to become adequately aware of the deepest realms of our misdeeds and guilt unless we verbalize them to another. Neither is it adequate that we only generally admit that we are sinful. We must search our lives and our faith deeply, examine ourselves as might the most critical judge, and seek to discover in what ways we may have offended God and our brethren. It is for healing that we come to this Mystery. Our sinful behavior and inadequate faith are symptoms of our sickness. Insofar as we refuse to acknowledge those symptoms to ourselves, our brethren in the faith, and to Christ Himself, we impede our healing.

In the Orthodox rite of Confession, the priests charge to the penitent before his self-examination concludes, "Take heed, therefore, lest having come to the Physician, thou depart unhealed. Mere self-awareness, however, is insufficient. Were it adequate, the lives of many "self-aware" people would be dramatically different. In the Mystery, we are called upon to give up our sinfulness, to let go of it, in humility to allow it to be borne by our Lord.

We must submit it to Him, to the Church, that it may be taken from us, just as a cancerous growth might be taken from us. All too often, there are depths of our being in which we identify with that sinfulness, cling to it, and are quite unwilling to be parted from it — even as we consciously reject it. Confession might well be termed the "sacrament of liberation" — from the bondage to sin which we impose on ourselves in the depths of our being. Consciously, I may identify my sinfulness; I may be "sorry" for my behavior — but I am unable to loose myself from its tentacles with which I ensnare myself and to dissolve the muck with which my being is contaminated.

In this Mystery, our Physician provides a means of healing surgery which can free us from bondage to our false, sinful selves. And I, an unworthy priest, through the power given unto me by Him, do forgive and absolve thee from all thy sins, in the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. The Mystery of Confession is the specific remedy for our sicknesses; it restores us to a state of health in which we can participate fully in the life of the Kingdom.

So it is that it is part of the normal preparation for the reception of the Holy Communion which is the food and drink of that life in the Kingdom. It is here that we partake of bread and wine beyond all mere earthly food, the Body and Blood of Christ our Lord, the Food which is for salvation.

It is here that the Body of Christ, the Church, truly finds its oneness, becoming one even as our Lord and the Father are one cf. So central is this Mystery to the life of the Church that in the early centuries of Christian history only baptized believers in good standing were permitted to be present at its celebration. It is no mere symbolic act which is celebrated in the Holy Mystery, but a real presence of and participation in the actual substance of our Lord.

This is a Mystery far beyond human understanding, something which must be experienced to be accepted — but which, paradoxically, can only be experienced by those who accept it. It is one of the supreme ironies of history that the very "fundamentalists" who most adamantly insist upon the literal acceptance of every word of Scripture suddenly wax figurative when confronted with the teaching of our Lord on this matter. Whoso eateth My flesh, and drinketh My blood, hath eternal life , and I will raise him up at the last day.

For My flesh is meat indeed, and My blood is drink indeed. Lest we suppose that in some way we misunderstand, let us be aware that " from that time many of His disciples went back, and walked no more with Him" John 6: To leave no doubt as to His intent, on the eve of His Passion Jesus " took bread and gave thanks, and brake it, and gave unto them, saying, This is My body which is given for you: Likewise also the cup after supper, saying, This cup is the new testament in my blood, which is shed for you" Luke It is apparent that the infant Church at once understood that this was to be a frequently repeated action, for St.

This Mystery is no "mere remembrance. At the one extreme this profound Mystery is reduced to a technical "transubstantiation" effected by the proper person over the proper matter.

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This mentality has often shown itself in the effort to determine how little could be done of the full Liturgy and still have it "work. Equally alien to the Apostolic teaching is the doctrine that Christ becomes present in this act only in the mind of the believer and that in no way do bread and wine become His Body and Blood.

It is obvious that not just any bread and wine constitute the Body and Blood of Christ. There were certainly some ambiguities and even difficulties in the life of the early Church concerning the form and manner of the celebration of this Mystery cf. For the bread and wine brought to the celebration truly to become the Body and Blood, it was necessary that they be offered, that thanks be given for them— and for this thanksgiving to be quite specifically for That which this ordinary bread and wine was about to become.

This prayer is followed by the " Our Father. In both ancient and modern practice, this prayer is preceded by the physical preparation of the bread and the chalice, by the singing of hymns, reading from Holy Scripture, and the proclamation of the Gospel. Just as it was soon apparent to the early Church that this Mystery was not to be celebrated in just any way, so also was it seen that not just anyone was to preside over it. Neither was participation in the Holy Mysteries permitted without preparation.

To this day, Orthodox practice allows participation in the Mysteries only to those who are baptized and chrismated Orthodox Christians; are in unity of faith with the Apostolic Tradition, as expressed in Holy Scripture, Holy Tradition, and the decrees of the Ecumenical Councils of the Church, and the Symbol of Faith the Creed ; have prepared themselves for such participation as the Church provides; and are not canonically restrained from participation on account of some unabsolved grave sin or other impediment.

The Church is concerned that her children not fall into receiving the Body and Blood of the Lord unworthily 1 Cor. In this Mystery we are called upon to become one with Him and one another — truly to be united in the one Body of Christ. The Church is a living body, perpetuated through time and space. No living organic being is formless and orderless — and no more so is the Church. Neither can we here enter into an extended apologetic, citing the extensive writings of the early Fathers of the Church concerning her order and the place of orders within the Body.

But it is necessary that we attempt to sketch the form which became quite clear in the Church before the first hundred years of her life had passed, and the place within that order of sacramental ordination. As this mission was carried out, there came into being many local assemblies of the Church — the faithful in a given place who came together in oneness of spirit with the whole Church to worship and live.

These successors to the Apostles, consecrated by them, clearly stood at the center of life of the local congregations as living links with the Apostles and the other congregations and thereby with Christ Himself. As they neared the ends of their lives and as bishops were needed in other newly-established congregations, they in turn consecrated successors to carry on this living, vital tradition. The bishops, as they came to be called, were the teachers of the faith, the carriers of Tradition, and the living vessels of the Grace which enables the true celebration of the Holy Mysteries.

Wherever true Orthodox Christianity continues to be lived and taught, they continue to fulfil the same function today. While our Lord alone is the head of His Body the Church, the bishop is the head — the center of life and direction — of each local congregation of the Church, usually called a diocese. It soon became apparent that bishops alone were inadequate to the task of the celebration of the Mysteries and teaching the faith in all the places where these were needed, and there came into being a distinct second order, that of priests , extensions of the bishop, to do his work with and for him.

Priests were and are ordained by the bishop. The third principal order of the Church is that of deacons — those appointed to serve. The ordination of the first deacons is recorded in the sixth chapter of the Acts of the Apostles. Their function then and now is to attend to the material works of mercy of the Church and to assist the bishop or priest in the celebration of the Mysteries.

Each of the orders bishops, priests, deacons exists for service to the Church — to provide for the whole Church the Holy Mysteries and to serve as a bearer of the Holy Tradition. This function, which is performed on behalf of and as part of the whole people of God, the Church, is one which cannot be arrogantly claimed by an individual but rather must be bestowed upon him by the action of the Church. For any ordination, Orthodox Tradition clearly insists upon the common action of the bishop, who as the vessel of the sacramental Grace must actually perform the ordination, and of the people as a whole, who must either actually elect the candidate, or during the ordination itself ratify his selection by proclaiming him "Axios" — Worthy!

All ordinations have essentially the same form: The Holy Spirit is not subject to human constraint, but it is apparent to anyone who has experienced the life of Orthodox Christianity that this very Holy Spirit has provided an orderly manner for the continuation in their midst of the Grace of Pentecost for the people of God. This Grace in the Mysteries provides for true spiritual food and drink, forgiveness of sins, healing, and life for the members of the living Body of Christ.

We deceive ourselves if we suppose that apart from this Grace, apart from membership in the Body of Christ, we are assured of life as followers of Christ Jesus and inheritors of the Kingdom of God. The previous chapter discussed Holy Orders; the other is Holy Matrimony. It is sometimes erroneously assumed that all Christians are called to be married unless if this is even considered they perceive some specific call to monastic celibacy — the state of consecrated sexual abstinence.

It may be more legitimately supposed that the contrary is true — for indeed we all enter life as virgins, and are expected by the Tradition of the Church to remain in that state unless and until we are clearly called into marriage and that call is blessed. In general, the Church blesses two paths, both of which find their primary purpose in the struggle for salvation: A legitimate choice for marriage does not come in the form of succumbing to the forces of our sensual nature.


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Rather, it is something to be perceived in prayer and counsel. It may well be accompanied by no overwhelming romantic feelings whatever — indeed, the presence of such feelings can only serve to cloud our ability to discern the genuineness of the call. It is precisely because of this emotional clouding that it is almost always best to seek and hear prayerfully the counsel of hearts wiser and more mature than our own.

The state of marriage is something so central to the life of the Church that her members are normally permitted to marry only other committed believers. It is equally apparent from the Apostolic teaching and the Tradition of the Church that in a Christian context "marriage" has not the same meaning as it does for the world. First and foremost, Christian marriage is an embodiment, an icon of the relationship between Christ and the Church. At the same time and in the same way, it is the simplest, most basic unit of the Church: The bond formed by sacramental marriage is by nature timeless, one which admits of no conditions in either time or behavior.

The Church knows of no such thing as a contract in which are specified the rights and obligations of each partner. The Christian charter for marriage is given us clearly in the Holy Scriptures and in the rite of marriage itself. The Scriptures are perhaps more exhaustive in this area than in any other area of human behavior. We are told at quite some length how husbands and wives are to behave toward one another and their children. Despite the timeless character of marriage, Orthodox Tradition has long recognized that there are circumstances in which there is no hope whatever for a marriage to fulfill even a semblance of its true character.

In such cases, the Church permits the victims of such "dead" marriages to remarry if, in the prayerful judgment of the bishop, the remarriage is justified and likely to be a truly Christian union. The union of man and woman is celebrated with the placing of rings on both, the crowning of both, and the sharing of a cup of blessed wine. The full meaning of this Mystery suggests that both parties to the marriage are truly "members of Christ.

Like any of the Mysteries, Christian marriage is more than just a celebration of something which already exists. It is also the creation of something — the imparting to the couple of that Grace which transforms them from a couple into husband-and-wife , into the image and reflection of the love between our Lord and His Church.

The two individual lives are bound together in the Church as part of the Body of Christ. The two are no longer two, but one , created a single member of the Body of our Lord, to live a unified life in witness to the oneness to which we are all called in Him. Part of the mission of the Apostles and of the Church is the liberation of the children of the Kingdom from the bondage to sickness, sin, and death which is a consequence of the Fall.

So it was that the Apostles " went out, and preached that men should repent. And they cast out many devils, and anointed with oil many that were sick, and healed them" Mark 6: This mission of healing was clearly, understood by the Apostles, as the Epistle of James witnesses: Let him call for the elders of the Church; and let them pray over him, anointing him with oil in the name of the Lord: The Church continues this mission of healing in the Mystery of Holy Unction — so called from the anointing with blessed oil.

In it, our Lord, our Physician and Healer, ministers to the whole person healing, forgiving, and purifying. While the effects of topical medicine, the technological treatment of some acute manifestation of human disease, may in some cases be impressive, such treatment never ministers to the real problem — to the total sickness of the patient, which arises from his state of fallenness and separation from his Creator. Let this not be misunderstood: Holy Scripture teaches quite clearly that there is no necessary connection between a specific sin and a specific illness; but with equal clarity it teaches that our subjection to sickness arises from our fallen state and our sinfulness as a race.

For true healing to occur, it is necessary that the "treatment" respond to the total condition of the sick man, a condition which originates and is centered in his spiritual disease. If we rely on human wisdom for our well-being, we can reasonably expect simply to go from one sickness to the next — for what human wisdom perceives as sickness is merely the symptomatic manifestation of the real problem.

But if we turn to our Lord for healing, throwing ourselves upon His mercy and submitting ourselves in faith to His Body, we can be quite confident that, even if the superficial manifestations of our disease continue, the real problem is being treated and that its outcome in our lives will be in accordance with His will and purpose. This should not be construed as a rejection of medical intervention and treatment.

But such treatment is not complete unless it is sought in the context of prayerful submission of ourselves to the ministrations of the Holy Spirit. In His love for His people, our Lord has provided in the Church the means for true, total healing. This healing begins at the heart of the problem, in the core of our being; habitual, chronic symptoms may linger on even after healing has begun, annoying and disheartening us in the weakness of our faith.

In obedience to the example and direction of the Apostles, the Church continues to respond to illness with the Mystery of Holy Unction. While Holy Unction may be administered for any serious illness, and as many times as needed for an individual, usually it is given only once for any one illness. Our first response to awareness of our sickness should be to turn to the Body of Christ for healing, seeking the " prayer of faith " which will " save the sick man.

Spectacular healings of superficial symptoms of the inner sickness of man may arise in this context, with the result that those so "healed," like so many of the patients of human medicine, search no further and remain victims of their true inner sickness. The Church does not take this Mystery lightly. In its full form it should be performed by seven priests, but it may be performed by only several or by just one priest.

Seven selections from the Epistles and seven from the Gospels are read, accompanied by seven lengthy prayers for healing, forgiveness and restoration of the sick person. Seven times he is anointed with blessed oil mixed with wine. At the conclusion of the anointings, a prayer for the healing and forgiveness of the supplicant is said while the Gospel-book is laid upon his head in blessing. This ministration of the Church is a source not of mere bodily healing. To wish and seek mere physical well-being is to declare ourselves children of this world. We must content ourselves with a brief indication and description of only a few of these.

We earlier defined "sacrament" as something real that does something that makes a material change in the created order. Sacraments are the continuing, operative form of the act of Redemption, in which spiritual and material reality are alike and together brought into that communion which in its fulfillment is the Kingdom of God. A multitude of actions and created objects participate in this creative process. Perhaps most obvious are the manifold blessings bestowed by the Church upon the Creation in which she exists.

While nearly any dimension of this Creation may be, and sometimes is, blessed, perhaps the most conspicuous is the blessing of water. In it, the descent of the Holy Spirit upon the waters is invoked in a manner directly analogous to His invocation in the Divine Liturgy. By it, the water so blessed is transformed from mere created water into a vessel of the " rivers of divine Grace " flowing throughout Creation. This water blessed at the Theophany celebration is sprinkled upon the faithful and drunk by them.

It is taken for use in the blessing of homes and other objects. This Blessed water is kept in the church and many Orthodox homes throughout the year. Further, its use is prescribed in the blessing of various objects. The blessed bread is the remainder of the loaves offered at the Divine Liturgy, "prosphora," from which the particles to be consecrated as the Body of our Lord Jesus were taken. These portions of bread are blessed simply by their having been brought into the altar and offered. They are thereby transformed into something which is no longer just ordinary bread, but neither are they the Body of Christ.

They are treated with great respect and partaken of after the Liturgy and at other times "instead of the Gifts" — "antidoron," as they are known.

Sacraments: Dispensing Divine Life

The consecration of a temple church is an unusually elaborate blessing. A building is not just set apart for worship or dedicated in the sense that one might dedicate a building for the purposes of learning or living, but it is actually made what it was not before. It is no longer "just a building" but becomes a focal point, a locus , of the divine presence and Grace.

Its use for any purpose other than that of worship becomes permanently and absolutely inappropriate. It cannot be abandoned to secular purposes or "deconsecrated. As we indicated earlier, the Holy Scriptures themselves constitute a Mystery. Above all else is this true of the Gospels: Even more than the Book itself or the written text which it contains, the proclamation of the word of God is a sacramental act — it has, of itself, power to change those who in faith receive it.

The book itself is placed upon the head of one to be blessed in the Mystery of Holy Unction, in the consecration of bishops, and, less formally, in blessing upon those who celebrate their namesdays or some other special occasion. Just as the word of God has power in and of itself, so also does a name.

In the life of a Christian child, the first event after his birth is his reception of a name. For Orthodox Christians, this act is placed firmly in the context of the Church. The name is given at the door of the temple, and the child brought at once into its midst, there to be dedicated to his Creator.

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The name is normally that of some predecessor in the faith, one of the saints, who thereby becomes a special protector and guide for the child. Many are the instances in which this patronage has had some readily discernible effect on the life of a child. An Orthodox Christian who receives and heeds a call to the monastic life is given a new name upon entering into that state. By the blessing bestowed upon him and the vows he takes upon himself, he is made what he was not before. He takes upon himself and is given a new life, a life dedicated entirely to the service of his Lord.

He renounces all attachments to the things of this world: In his profession, he is given the Grace necessary to this new state. The sacramental character of burial is perhaps less obvious than is that of some other acts, but again there is a conferral of Grace, even as the Christian departs from this world.


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It is not merely in some vague sort of "immortality of the soul" that we as Christians believe but in the resurrection of the whole person. In keeping with this belief, the whole person is attended by the prayers and rites of Christian burial. Even as the body is lovingly cared for in burial, so also in our lives as Christians our worship is a worship involving the whole person. We do not merely think or feel our faith but live it out continually in the action of our bodies.

Such actions as the continual signing of ourselves with the Cross, reverences, and prostrations are not mere dramatic expressions of our faith. They are causative acts that invoke the Divine Grace upon us and our lives. Further, there are the many lesser blessings bestowed upon persons and objects.

Most obvious of these is the blessing of food and drink: Beyond this, we bless houses, crops, animals, water sources — indeed, any object which is part of our life here on earth. Persons may be blessed in preparation for a special task or for a journey. Indeed, we should bless ourselves before beginning any work. Such blessings partake of the nature of Mystery and Sacrament, for they are real and effective means of furthering our "spiritual armor. The icon as a form of the infusion of Grace into our lives forces us to extend our definition of Sacrament.

Our Lord has not left us blind, with no means of perceiving anything of the true reality which lies behind this transient world. Icons — sacred depictions — provide us with windows through which we may perceive something of that reality. The sacramentality of icons becomes apparent if we recognize that an Icon is to an ordinary picture as is the Body and Blood of Christ as we perceive and receive It in the Holy Liturgy to ordinary bread and wine. This brief summary by no means exhausts the specific sacramental acts identifiable in Christian life.