Skip to comments.Fourth Sunday After Easter; Excerpts from The Liturgical Year by Dom Guéranger, O.S.B
Posted on 04/23/2005 8:54:55 PM PDT by Mike Fieschko
From catholichaven.org, here is part of Dom Guéranger's commentary. The rest is at Fourth Sunday After Easter.
OUR Jesus has organized his Church, and confided to his Apostles the sacred deposit of the truths which are to form the object of our faith. We must now follow him in another work, of equal importance to the world, to which he gives his divine attention during these forty days: it is the institution of the sacraments. It is not enough that we believe; we must, moreover, be made justâthat is, we must bear upon us the likeness of God's holiness; we must receive, we must have incorporated within us that great fruit of the redemption which is called grace; that thus being made living members of our divine Head, we may be made joint-heirs with him of the kingdom of heaven. Now it is by means of the sacraments that Jesus is to produce in us this wondrous work of our justification; he applies to us the merits of his Incarnation and Sacrifice, but he applies them by certain means, which he himself, in his power and wisdom, has instituted.
Being the sovereign master of his own gifts, he can select what means he pleases whereby to convey grace to us; all we have to do is to conform to his wishes. Thus, each of the sacraments is a law; so that it is in vain that we hope for a sacrament to produce its effects, unless we fulfil the conditions specified by our Redeemer. And here, at once, we cannot but admire that infinite goodness which has so mercifully blended two such widely distinct operations in one and the same actânamely, on the one side the humble submission of man, and on the other the manificent generosity of God.
We were showing, a few days back, how the Church, though a spiritual society, is also visible and exterior, because man, for whose sake the Church was formed, is a being composed of body and soul. When instituting the sacraments, our Lord assigned to each an essential rite; and this rite is outward and sensible. He made the Flesh, which he had united to his divine Person, become the instrument of our salvation by his Passion and Death on the Cross; he redeemed us by shedding his Blood for us: so is it in the sacraments; he follows the same mysterious plan, taking physical things as his auxiliaries in effecting the work of our justification. He raises them to a supernatural state, and makes them the faithful and all-powerful conductors of his grace, even to the most intimate depths of our soul. It is the continuation of the mystery of the Incarnation, the object of which is to raise us, by visible things, to the knowledge of things invisible. Thus is broken the pride of Satan; he despised man because he is not purely a spirit, but is spirit and matter unitedly; and he refused to pay adoration to the word made Flesh.
Moreover, the sacraments, being visible signs, are an additional bond of union between the members of the Church: we say additional, because these members have the two other strong links of unionâsubmission to Peter and to the pastors sent by him and profession of the same faith. The Holy Ghost tells us, in the sacred Volume, that a threefold cord is not easily broken.[Eccles. iv 12.] Now we have such a one; and it keeps us in the glorious unity of the Church: hierarchy, dogma, and sacraments, all contribute to make us one Body. Everywhere, from north to south, and from east to west, the sacraments testify to the fraternity that exists amongst us; by them we know each other, no matter in what part of the globe we may be, and by the same we are known by heretics and infidels. These divine sacraments are the same in every country, how much soever the liturgical formulæ of their administration may differ; they are the same in the graces they produce, they are the same in the signs whereby grace is producedâin a word, they are the same in all the essentials.
Our Risen Jesus would have the sacraments be seven. As at the beginning he stamped the creation of the visible world with this sacred number, giving six days to work and one to rest, so, too, would he mark the great spiritual creation. He tells us, in the Old Testament, that Wisdom (that is, himself, for he is the Eternal Wisdom of the Father) will build to himself a house, which is the Church; and he adds that he will make it rest on seven pillars.[Prov. ix 1.] He gives us a type of this same Church in the tabernacle built by Moses, and he orders a superb candlestick to be provided for giving light, by day and night, to the holy place; but there were to be seven branches to the candlestick, and on each branch were to be graven flowers and fruits.[Exod. xxv 37.] When he raises his beloved disciple to heaven, he shows himself to him surrounded by seven candlesticks, and holding seven stars in his right hand.[Apoc. i 12, 16.] He appears to him as a Lamb, bearing seven horns, which are the symbol of strength, and having seven eyes, which signify his infinite wisdom.[Apoc. v 6.] Near him lies a Book, in which is written the future of the world; the Book is sealed with seven seals, and none but the Lamb is able to loose them.[Ibid. v 1, 5.] The disciple sees seven spirits, burning like lamps, before the throne of God,[Ibid. iv 5.] ready to do his biddings, and carry his word to the extremities of the earth.
Turning our eyes to the kingdom of Satan, we see him mimicking God's work, and setting up a seven of his own. Seven capital and deadly sins are the instruments whereby he makes man his slave; and our Saviour tells us that when Satan has been defeated and would regain a soul, he brings with him seven of the wickedest spirits of hell. We read in the Gospel that Jesus drove seven devils out of Mary Magdalen. When God's anger bursts upon the world, immediately before the coming of the dread Judge, he will announce the approach of his chastisements by seven trumpets, sounded by seven angels;[Apoc. viii 2.] and seven other angels will then pour out upon the guilty earth seven vials filled with the wrath of God.[Ibid. xvi x.]
We, therefore, who are resolved to make sure our election; who desire to possess the grace of our Risen Jesus in this life, and to enjoy his vision in the next; oh! let us reverence and love this merciful seven, these admirable sacraments! Under this sacred number he has included all the varied riches of his grace. There is not a want or necessity, either of souls individually, or of society at large, for which our Redeemer has not provided by these seven sources of regeneration and life. He calls us from death to life by Baptism and Penance; he strengthens us in that supernatural life by Confirmation, the Eucharist, and Extreme Unction; he secures to his Church both ministry and increase by Holy Orders and Matrimony. The seven sacraments supply everything needed; take one away, and you destroy the harmony. The Churches of the East, though severed now for long ages from Catholic unity, retain all seven; and when Protestantism broke the sacred number, it showed in this, as in all its other pretended reformations, that it was estranging itself from the spirit of the Christian religion. No: the doctrine of the sacraments is one that cannot be denied without denying the true faith. If we would be members of God's Church, we must receive this doctrine as coming from him who has a right to insist on our humble submission to his every word. It is to the soul which thus believes that the sacraments appear in all their divine beauty and power: we understand, because we believe, Credite, et intelligetis! It is the fulfilment of the text from Isaias, as rendered by the Septuagint: Unless ye believe, ye shall not understand ![Isa. vii 9.]
Let us confine our considerations, for to-day, to the first of the sacraments -- Baptism. It is during Paschal Time that we have it brought before us in all its glory. We remember how, on Holy Saturday, it filled the hearts of the catechumens with joy, giving them a right to heaven. But the great sacrament had had its preparations. On the Feast of the Epiphany, we adored our Emmanuel as we beheld him descending into the river Jordan, and by this contact with his sacred Body, communicating to the element of water the power of purifying men's souls from sin. The Holy Ghost, in the form of a dove, rested on Jesus' head, and by his divine influence gave fecundity to the life-giving element. The voice of the Eternal Father was heard in a cloud announcing his adoption of all such as should receive baptism; he adopted them in Jesus, his eternally well-beloved Son.
During his sojourn on earth, our Redeemer thus explained the mystery of baptism to Nicodemus, who was a ruler among the Jews, and a master in Israel: Unless a man be born again of water and the Holy Ghost, he cannot enter into the kingdom of God.[St John iii 5.] Here, as in so many other instances, he foretells what he intends to do at a future time; he prepares us for the mystery by telling us that as our first birth was not pure, he is preparing a second or us; that this second birth will be holy, and that water is to be the instrument of so great a grace.
But after his Resurrection, our Emmanuel openly announced his having given to water the power of producing the sublime adoption to which mankind was invited by the Eternal Father. Speaking to his Apostles, he thus gives them the fundamental law of the kingdom he had come from heaven to establish: Going, teach ye all nations : baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost.[St Matt. xxviii 19.] This is the master-gift bestowed on the world by its Redeemer: salvation by water and the invocation of the blessed Trinity; for he adds: He that believeth and is baptized, shall be saved.[St Mark xvi 16.] What a revelation was here! It told us of the infinite mercy wherewith our Creator loved us: it was the inauguration of the sacraments by the announcement of the first of the sevenâof that one which, according to the expression of the holy Fathers, is the gate to the rest.
Let us love this august mystery of baptism, to which we are indebted for the life of our souls, and for the indelible character which makes us members of our divine Head, Jesus. The holy King of France, St Louis, who was baptized in the humble village of Poissy, loved to sign himself 'Louis of Poissy.' He looked upon the baptismal font as the mother who had given him a life incomparably superior to that which made him the son of an earthly monarch: she gave him to be the child of God and heir to the kingdom of Heaven. We should imitate this saintly king.
But observe the exceeding considerateness of our Risen Jesus, when he instituted this the most indispensable of the sacraments. He chose for its matter the commonest that could be, and the most easily to be had. Bread, wine and oil are not so plentiful as water, which is to be found in every place; God made it thus plentiful, that when the appointed time came, the fount of regeneration might be within everyone's reach.
In his other sacraments, our Saviour would have priests alone to be the ministers: not so with baptism. Any one of the faithful, whatever may be his or her condition, may administer baptism. Nay more; an infidel can, by water and the invocation of the blessed Trinity, confer upon others the baptismal grace, which he or she does not possess, provided only that he really intends to do what Holy Church does, when she administers the sacrament of baptism.
Nor is this all. An unbaptized man or woman may be dying, and no one near him to administer this sacrament; he is on the brink of eternity, and there is no hand nigh to pour the water of regeneration upon him; our Saviour has lovingly provided for this necessity. Let this man or woman believe in baptism; let him desire it in all the sincerity of his soul; let him entertain sentiments of compunction and love, such as are required of an adult when receiving baptism; he is baptized in desire, and heaven is open to him.
But what if it be a child, who has not come to the use of reason? Our Saviour's words are plain: He that believeth and is baptized, shall be saved. How, then, can this child be saved? The guilt of original sin is upon it, and it is incapable of making an act of faith. Fear not: the power of holy baptism extends even so far as this. The faith of the Church will be imputed to this child, which the Church is about to adopt as her own: let water be but poured on the child, in the name of the three divine Persons, and it is a Christian for ever. Baptized in the faith of the Church, this child now possesses (and, as we say, personally) Faith, Hope and Charity; the sacramental water has achieved this wondrous work. If the little innocent dies, it goes straight to heaven.
These, O Jesus! are the admirable effects of the first of thy sacraments. How truly does the Apostle say of thee, that thou wiliest all men to be saved![1 Tim. ii 4.] If this thy will be in some without its fulfilment, so that some children die without baptism, it is because of the consequences which sin produces in the parents, and which thy justice is not bound to prevent. And yet, how frequently does not thy mercy intervene, and procure the grace of regeneration for children who, naturally, would have been excluded! Thus, the water of baptism has been poured upon countless babes, who were dying in the arms of their pagan parents, and the angels received these little ones into their choirs. Knowing this, dear Saviour, we are forced to exclaim with the Psalmist: Let us that live bless the Lord![Ps. cxiii 18]