Friday, September 18, 2015
Sacraments and Sacramentals
Most priests, like me, don't bless thinks as much we should, we celebrate sacraments but not sacramentals, indeed we seem to have lost the sense of what a sacramental is. This not our Tradition, we are a sacramental Church. The pre-Concilliar rite of blessing was in a sense Eucharistic, it took the mundane and raised it to the holy, it became sacramental, intrinsically different, the post-Concilliar understanding takes the mundane and thanks God for it, and dare I say it, leaves it unchanged. I am not sure what the effect on priesthood and sacramental economy of the Church has been.
'The Tradition' is perhaps best seen in the the pre-Concillior Rite or better still 'Rites' of ordination, or even 'process' or ordination. After admission to the clerical state at tonsure the would be priest (or bishop) would go through various sacramental stages until arriving finally being ordained priest or even bishop. Even after Trent it was not unusual for some men to remain in minor orders all their lives, even some Cardinal Secretaries of State were sub-deacons- it was Vatican II that abolished this ancient process and merely 'institute' to the 'minisitries' of lector and accolyte those preparing for ordination to the major orders - some diocese allow certain men not destined for ordination to receive these ministries.
The important thing was that there was a 'process' of ordination, moving from the sacramental to the sacrament. Generally all orders were conferred by a bishop but in certain circumstances the minor orders could be conferred by a simple priest, for the most part an abbot or prior. There was a sense of gradual unfolding and sharing in the fullness of the sacrament, of the priest or episcopate being approached by steps.
The Rite of Christian Initiation for Adults was an attempt to restore this process to baptism, beginning with being an 'inquirer' and ending with Baptism, Confirmation and Communion.
In the times before the Church defined that there were 7 Sacraments there seems to have been a certain fluidity about what was a sacraments and when it occurred. Penance is an example, often it was process. In the East (some parts still) it is possible to go and confess to holy man or even woman, noted for their powers of spiritual direction, to do a penance they impose, to then receive a certificate which can be presented to priest or bishop who then gives sacramental absolution. In the Celtic scheme of things I get the impression that many monks were penitents who simply stayed doing penance with their spiritual master, a penance agreed by bishops at some synod, hence the Irish tariff penitential system.
There was a not very interesting discussion on one of those liturgical forum about deacons anointing the sick. According to the Epistle of St James it is presbyters, not deacons, who are to be sent for to anoint the sick, of course. However there does seem to be evidence at some period and in some places deacons prayed over and anointed the sick with oil. This might well have been sacramental anointing but not necessarily the sacrament of anointing, of course this was before the Church defined the number of sacraments. At this time of course there is lots more evidence of lay people anointing than deacons anointing but even with a less precise sense sacrament I cannot help thinking that the local priest anointing a sick person with Holy Oil hallowed by the bishop and the proper rites was regarded as higher mystery than granny rubbing a wound with oil from the sanctuary lamp or even oil the priest had blessed or goose fat collected after the Martinmas feast.
With the sick today, though now only a priest is supposed to anoint, before he is summoned the faithful should have been praying and bringing and using sacramentals: water and medals from shrines, thankfully are still normal.
Marriage too seems to have been a sacramental process, often confused and with very local Rites. In England it was only with Ne Temere, promulgated in 1907, that a Catholic marriage had to be conducted according to our Rites and before a Catholic priest. In some places marriage could be as simple as presenting one's wife to the priest in the High Street, or it could be a whole series of sacramentals beginning at an exchange of contracts, but also including betrothal, exchange of vows, nuptial Mass and blessing, with ancillary rites, the blessing of houses or beds, or sheets (and there seem to have been a variety of types marriages too) but each step was more binding and more sacred and each blessing added to the sacredness of the marriage.
Against the rather confusing idea of sacramental marriage one should not forget the Church's place in witnessing, other contracts, vows and treaties, and the reconciliation of enemies and ending feuds, by giving them its blessing, and raising to a sacramental level. Depending on the culture many of these social or civic actions had their own rites and rituals, even their own guilds to safeguard them. There are interesting accounts for example of crusaders vowing to support one another, to share their resources, to fight for one another. to be bound to one other, even to death. It is not a marriage, though like religious vow, it would have been binding, sacramentally
Posted by Fr Ray Blake