NAVIGATION: You are presently looking at Part 2
In this second commentary on his new series exploring the meaning of Sacraments today, Tom McMahon, starts in a logical place — with some definitions and a little bit of the history as to how we came to have the Seven Sacraments we have today.
All aboard the Polar Express…
Please read the fine print on your ticket. It is from Michael Morwood's "From Sand to Solid Ground":
"We are living through the greatest shift ever in Christian thought. New images of our universe and our planet, along with knowledge about the long, slow development of life on this planet provide us with a new context in which to understand the divine presence we call God always present and active everywhere. Reflection on the universality of this presence leads to further reflection on and renewed appreciation of Jesus as revealer of this mysterious presence in our everyday living and loving, rather than on Jesus as the mediator between us and a faraway deity. A Church always in need of renewal must engage, at all levels, this shift in images and thought if it is to have integrity and relevance in the twenty-first century."
Thank you, Michael for your sobering words of wisdom …all aboard! Our train of thought is about to leave, passing through old religious stations; fasten your spiritual seat belts as there may be some bumps; we will, with a few glimpses into history, look back.
First to Webster's Dictionary:
SACRAMENT … a military oath of allegiance, an oath from sacer, sacred; #1 meaning: in ancient Rome the military oath taken by every Roman soldier, pledging him to obey his commander and not to desert his standard. #2 in Christianity, any of certain rites ordained by Jesus (7 cf. below) (#3 and 4 repeat #2); #5 something regarded as having a sacred character or mysterious meaning; #6, a symbol, sign or token; #7 a solemn oath, promise, or pledge as one ratified by a rite.
Throughout this series I will intertwine the concept of Roman oath, mystery, obedience, sacredness, grace, and the heavy influence of the old Roman world.
How does an object become sacred?
SACRAMENTAL SIGN POSTS (#6): This third generation native son of San Francisco enjoys taking visitors on tours of what Herb Caen called Baghdad by the Bay. When I recently toured Chris Diamond, from Vancouver B.C. and Editor of Corpus Canada, I took him to the usual sacramental places that appear on postcards (token), those identifiable places that uniquely mark San Francisco; we drove/wound down slowly flower bedecked Lombard Street, the crookedest street in the world and we stopped at Mrs. Coit's Tower whose husband was a local fireman and whose fire hose monument quietly is known to us scalawag natives as the defiant City's phallic symbol. Many more sacred sign-stopping places are on my tour which I gladly offer to any of my readers (within reason); my point here is to look at my use of the words, sacred and sacramental. How does an object become sacred? It is sacramental by it very existence. The Golden Gate Bridge is by far the best known special structure that advertises San Francisco. My widowed mother took us four kids to watch it being built in the 1930's; its extra special for me … this sacred sign gives forth the great message of American — know- how and doggedness; it was built during the Great Depression and the money provided by "ordinary Joe and Mary San Franciscans who mortgaged their homes to buy the construction bonds. The old San Francisco community had savvy. A sacrament has to say something special.
Six Trentan sacraments hae no scriptural or historical relationship to Jesus…
The Council of Trent, circa 1542-1577, in addressing the chaotic spiritual crisis of the Middle Ages whittled down 120 confusing sacred signs finalizing the seven major sacraments we learned in the Baltimore Catechism. You remember them well, having memorized at the time of your first communion. …… The three that left a special mark on your soul and were never to be repeated, Baptism, Confirmation, and Holy Orders … and then Anointing of the Sick (Extreme Unction before Vatican Two), Matrimony, Penance (Confession in the past and now called Reconciliation) and of course Communion. The Baltimore Catechism, taking its substance from the times of the French Revolution, tells us that a sacrament is "an outward sign instituted by Christ to give grace". The institution by Christ bit supposedly gives us the sacredness. Six Trentan sacraments have no scriptural or historical relationship to Jesus; in my book Eucharist slips in as an outside dark horse.
As the bishops of Trent minimized the spiritual value of over 100 signs that had accumulated over the centuries and had become in scattered places sacred to the people the Council deemed the little signs sacramentals … palms, crucifixes, holy water, you name it, etc … placing on them lesser value; they raised the status of the seven to major importance. Can one image the screaming and yelling of the merchants as their tokens fell in financial value and the ministers of the church took over the sacramental field.
Except for marriage the clergy had total monopoly, they being at the time "the other Christ". The gigantic task ahead was to sell these seven major signs to a vastly illiterate people who were served by a pathetically ignorant clergy. I would see down into the 1960's the monetary abuse of the people by a clever clergy concerning the sale of these instruments of grace, foremost being the Mass stipend; the seminary separated clerics from ordinary life and was the key to highlighting Holy Orders (set that man apart and educate him … he's special and needed for salvation); the way into the family was an emphasis on infant baptism. The two sacraments that really took off, becoming pillars of 20th century Roman Catholicism were/are Holy Orders (priesthood) and Baptism, Communion joining the mix in the peoples' lives with Pius the Tenth in 1910 ordering Eucharist to be given to children at the early age of five or six.
When I entered institutional ministry in 1954 and up until Vatican Two in the '60's EASTER DUTY was an easy sermon subject, all Catholic ears being carefully attentive: a Catholic retained his/her good standing in the church by going to communion once a year during what was called the Easter Season — 450 years after Trent the Eucharist was used as the sacrament of "pledge of loyalty to the commander" with a total misunderstanding of the word obedience. There was ambiguity and clerical discussions whether Easter Duty entailed confession, yet given the circumstances of strict Irish guilt morality and only once-a-year confession it was best to enter the confessional box just for safety sake (the all knowing and seeing God in the Sky had the heavenly computer always scanning … it got booted up as far back as Trent). In the 1950's the issue of birth control haunted the Catholic conscience along with other genital Asian practices learned in the Korean conflict.
Paucity of understanding morals…
There was a paucity of understanding morals and the search was often on for the liberal confessor; Bernard Haring gave us CHRISTIAN RENEWAL IN A CHANGING CHURCH, 1964, (I have an autographed copy) and Volume 1 and 2 of FREE AND FAITH FUL IN CHRIST in 1978. I am sure few bishops ever cracked the covers, as well as the old time pastors; most to this day have learned little since the day they left the seminary.
The word OBEDIENCE is poorly handled in Webster's, the definition betraying the military like power force the hierarchy has had on subjects since the Middle Ages (shut up and pay up); in St Benedict's original 4th century rule a monk pledged to listen wholeheartedly to his superior (obedience), not necessarily agreeing and there was always room for discussion even from the youngest. When pledging allegiance as I put my hands into the Archbishop's at the time of my ordination I knew nothing of listening and discussion; it was a one way street. When I realized that my bishop chose to remain ignorant in spite of Vatican Two I became aware I was no longer bound by my oath of obedience. In a gathering of 100 clergy in 1970 Archbishop Joe McGucken had then Msgr Norman McFarland (later bishop) lecture the priests that "the will of God was the will of the bishop"; the priests were humiliated and shocked. One sole voice ended the meeting with the word BULLSHIT! As the Archbishop exited and passed me he said "my Father, you are so frank" and I replied with a smile "and sometimes, Archbishop, brutally honest". Joe and I were friends, my first meting him at the Winter Olympics in Squaw Valley in 1960. He was the classic bishop of old caught and frozen in the cross hairs of evolutionary education.
As the Polar Express moves on let me leave my readers with two questions:
Re-read Michael Morwood's challenges, as quoted at the beginning of this commentary, and ask if Trent's seven lock into Michael's vision?
"We are living through the greatest shift ever in Christian thought. New images of our universe and our planet, along with knowledge about the long, slow development of life on this planet provide us with a new context in which to understand the divine presence we call God always present and active everywhere. Reflection on the universality of this presence leads to further reflection on and renewed appreciation of Jesus as revealer of this mysterious presence in our everyday living and loving, rather than on Jesus as the mediator between us and a faraway deity. A Church always in need of renewal must engage, at all levels, this shift in images and thought if it is to have integrity and relevance in the twenty-first century." [Michael Morwood, "From Sand to Solid Ground"]
Tom, here in San Jose, often wondering where the Holy Spirit is driving the polar express? Hey, doe this engineer have a license? 04/06/2008
NAVIGATION: You are presently looking at Part 2
Image Credits: The graphic of the Phoenix lander which has recently touched-down on Mars was sourced from www.ian.cz/redsys/upload/612712-32036.jpg. Click on the other images to see the original source.
What are your thoughts on this commentary?