“I could not have imagined the effect that Catholic faith would have on my marriage. I could not have imagined how I would come to regard my wife with so much more dignity.”
…Catholicism might look good on paper, [my wife, a Catholic revert] thought, but it never worked out in real life. And there is real truth in this criticism. There are many Catholics who do not cooperate with grace, who do not have faith, and who make little attempt to follow Church teaching. I have had fellow Catholics who advised me to avoid confession, to disbelieve Church teaching about marriage and sex, and even to divorce my wife.
There were many times in my marriage when what sustained me most of all was the example of my parents. Though my parents were not Catholic, they lived the most important Catholic truth about marriage better than many Catholics do: They were dead set against divorce, no matter what. Burn your parachute; hang on like mad; and do whatever it takes to stick in there. Without that example, I do not know if I would have made it.
Inspired by my parents, I had to look deeper and deeper to find the grace necessary to live that demand. Ultimately, that search led me and my wife to the Catholic Church. It is no credit to me; I really credit my wife with having the courage and conviction to take up the Faith with both hands, to plunge into the depth of the sacraments, to embrace the Cross, and to strive for a life of contemplative prayer. She cooperated with grace, and the result was the transformation of everything.
There has been a lot of conversation recently about the Catholic doctrine on marriage, including about how strictly pastors should insist on the Church’s “hard teachings.” But let me tell you this: The hard teachings saved me. I did not know about nuance or mitigating circumstances. I did know that I had a moral obligation to save my marriage or die trying. Had I really believed there was any other permissible option, my marriage would not have survived — and I am so glad that my marriage survived.
Why does Christ call Christian couples to such a high standard of fidelity, even to the point of embracing the cross of suffering? The reason is that Christian marriage is no mere human contract. It is a mystical participation in the sacrificial, self-giving love of Christ for His Church (Eph. 5). It is a special vocation to holiness, an ecclesial state in the same way that priesthood or religious life is an ecclesial state. Christian marriage participates in the sacramental mission of the Church to bring Christ to the world.
Spouses are therefore the permanent reminder to the Church of what happened on the Cross; they are for one another and for the children witnesses to the salvation in which the sacrament makes them sharers.41
Anders, Dr. David. The Catholic Church Saved My Marriage: Discovering Hidden Grace in the Sacrament of Matrimony (p. 162-163). Sophia Institute Press. Kindle Edition.
“In 1930, the Anglican Church’s Lambeth Conference resulted in a statement that made a seismic shift in Christian thinking and practice by opening the door to allowing contraception and allowing remarriage after divorce. Pope Pius XII knew this required a response to let the world know that the Catholic Church had not and would not follow suit. The result was Casti Connubii, a wise and beautiful encyclical letter about Christian marriage.
The pope reaffirmed the Church’s opposition to divorce and to birth control, but he also acknowledged that these standards are difficult. The Holy Father did not offer an easy solution; on the contrary, he freely admitted that many Catholics find them impossible. The fault, however, does not lie with God but with us. Pius cited the Council of Trent, which teaches that God never demands the impossible of us: He always supplies the necessary grace.
If God supplies the grace, then why do some Catholics find the moral demands of marriage to be impossible? The pope’s answer is astonishing for its realism and honesty. They find it impossible, he says, because they do not cooperate with grace. They do not live the faith generously. They are unwilling to sacrifice. If they do not do everything in their power — if they select only those parts of the Faith they like, or if they do not give themselves to prayer and the sacraments — then the grace of matrimony will be an unused talent hidden in the field (see Matt. 25:14–30). The pope explains:
Nevertheless, since it is a law of divine Providence in the supernatural order that men do not reap the full fruit of the Sacraments which they receive after acquiring the use of reason unless they cooperate with grace, the grace of matrimony will remain for the most part an unused talent hidden in the field unless the parties exercise these supernatural powers and cultivate and develop the seeds of grace they have received. If, however, doing all that lies with their power, they cooperate diligently, they will be able with ease to bear the burdens of their state and to fulfill their duties. By such a sacrament they will be strengthened, sanctified and in a manner consecrated.39
Catholics who reject Church teaching and do not vigorously practice their Faith simply should not expect grace from the sacrament. It may sound harsh, but they should not be surprised if their marriages fail. On the other hand, Catholics who believe the Church and practice their Faith can be confident that God will supply the necessary grace.
What is necessary in order to cooperate with the grace offered in the sacrament of matrimony? This is something that Pope John Paul II wrote about extensively. In his apostolic exhortation Familiaris Consortio, he explains that couples must accept and follow Church teaching on human sexuality, prayer, and the sacraments. He writes:
There is no doubt that these conditions [for receiving the grace] must include persistence and patience, humility and strength of mind, filial trust in God and in His grace, and frequent recourse to prayer and to the sacraments of the Eucharist and of Reconciliation. Thus strengthened, Christian husbands and wives will be able to keep alive their awareness of the unique influence that the grace of the sacrament of marriage has on every aspect of married life, including therefore their sexuality: the gift of the Spirit, accepted and responded to by husband and wife, helps them to live their human sexuality in accordance with God’s plan and as a sign of the unitive and fruitful love of Christ for His Church. (33)
…Married love does not exist for the purpose of romantic gratification. Married love exists “to lead the spouses to God” and to strengthen them in the “sublime office of being a mother or a father.”40
Anders, Dr. David. The Catholic Church Saved My Marriage: Discovering Hidden Grace in the Sacrament of Matrimony (p. 160-161). Sophia Institute Press. Kindle Edition.
33 Augustine, On Christian Doctrine, trans. D. W. Robertson (New York: Macmillan, 1958), 65.
39 Casti Connubii, no. 41.
40 Gaudium et Spes, no. 48.
Catholic humor: “What are the seven Sacraments? Baptism, Eucharist, Confirmation, Reconciliation, Anointing of the sick, Holy orders and….(wait for it) martyrdom (Marriage) 🙂 LOL.”
“Marriage is an adventure. Like going to war.” -GK Chesterton
“Francis de Sales is another saint and Doctor of the Church who warned against the danger of Catholic superstition. His great book Introduction to the Devout Life begins by dismissing superstitious forms of religious life. True devotion, he teaches, is not found specifically in the multiplication of prayers, fasting, self-denial, or gifts to the poor. True devotion, rather, is founded in love toward God and neighbor:
“All true and living devotion presupposes the love of God; — and indeed it is neither more nor less than a very real love of God, though not always of the same kind; for that Love, one while shining on the soul, we call grace, which makes us acceptable to His Divine Majesty; — when it strengthens us to do well, it is called Charity; — but when it attains its fullest perfection, in which it not only leads us to do well, but to act carefully, diligently, and promptly, then it is called Devotion.“34
…The Catholic Church saved my marriage by teaching us how to think about marriage, parenthood, and the moral life. The Church saved us by offering us grace in the sacraments. She saved us by proposing the saints as models of holiness. She saved us by sending wonderful priests to accompany us in our struggles, religious who served our family, and friends in the Faith who loved us. But none of that would have worked if the Church had not also taught us how to pray.
…The point of life is ennobling spiritual friendship with God and neighbor. We cannot possibly achieve that goal without a willingness to embrace suffering — even the suffering of an unhappy marriage.
…the Catholic Faith asks something of us that is far more mysterious and more difficult: The Church asks us willingly to endure some suffering even when there is no promise of tangible benefit. But what She does promise is that this suffering can be redeemed beyond time and space and in ways we cannot presently understand.
…I mentioned that some parts of Catholic tradition are applicable to anyone, but other parts cannot be accepted without embracing the whole Catholic worldview. The Catholic teaching on suffering is one of those parts that does not make sense without belief in God, the Church, the sacraments, and the Catholic plan of salvation. It lies right at the mysterious heart of Catholic spirituality. But it is also the Catholic teaching that is most sublime and elevating, and that has the greatest capacity to transform our lives.
How can willingly endured suffering radically transform our lives? Answering this question takes us into the core of the Catholic Faith — into the Eucharist, the communion of saints, penance, purgatory, indulgences, and all those beliefs and practices that non-Catholics find so difficult. It also carries us straight to Christ and to salvation.
Jesus said, “Whoever does not bear his own cross and come after me, cannot be my disciple” (Luke 14:27). To appreciate fully the Catholic teaching on suffering, we must understand why Jesus died on the Cross and how the benefits of His death and Resurrection are communicated to us. We must understand how our suffering, willingly and faithfully endured, connects us to Christ. In so doing, we will also better understand our connection to Our Lady of Sorrows, the Blessed Virgin Mary, who also willingly endured suffering. She is the model Christian, who prayed, “Be it done to me according to Thy word” (see Luke 1:38).
Why did Christ die? We need to understand the depth of Catholic doctrine on this subject to appreciate the Church’s teaching on suffering. One of the most common questions I have gotten in my work in Catholic radio is this: “Since Jesus paid the penalty for my sins on the Cross, why should I have to do anything to be saved? Why should I have to suffer?”
Protestants and Catholics have very different ideas about the death of Christ, and the problem is that many, and perhaps most, people know only the Protestant doctrine. Growing up Protestant, I learned that my sin moved God to anger and that His wrath had to be appeased by blood sacrifice. My church taught that the Crucifixion was a vicarious punishment: God agreed to punish an innocent victim, treating Him as if He were guilty of my offense. In exchange, if I had faith, I would get off scot-free. All my sins are “paid for,” and there is nothing left for me to do.
Protestants use the theological term “imputation” to describe this exchange: God “imputes” my sin to Christ, treating Him as if He were guilty, and He in turn “imputes” Christ’s righteousness to the believer, treating him as if he were innocent. This is the core theological difference between Protestants and Catholics, and it is what grounds the Protestant doctrine of salvation by faith alone. It is also what makes it very difficult for Protestants to appreciate the Catholic understanding of suffering.
If this is what Christ’s death means, then the Catholic teaching on suffering really does seem absurd. Even if I suffer for righteousness’ sake, the Protestant thinks, I can’t add anything to the death of Christ. Faith alone connects me to Jesus, and Jesus has already “paid it all.” Why should I bother? It is true that many Protestants have suffered heroically for their beliefs, but the theological dilemma remains. What can suffering do for me if I am connected to Christ by faith alone?
The Catholic Church understands the death of Christ differently. The Bible simply does not describe this ultimate moment as a vicarious punishment imposed by God. Scripture refers to the death of Christ instead as a sacrifice and a ransom, modeled after and in fulfillment of the sacrifices of the Old Testament.
…The heart of sacrifice is not vicarious punishment, but willingly giving up something of value. It was costly for the Jews to give up goats and bulls. It is even more costly to give up my pride, my lusts, or even my own self-determination. Mary gave up the right to direct her own life when she gave her fiat to the angel of the Lord. This is what Jesus meant when He said, “I have come . . . not to do My will, but the will of Him who sent Me” (John 6:38). [Ed. so are we!]
…The death of Christ was not a vicarious punishment that satisfied the wrath of an angry God, but the ultimate act of self-giving, of martyrdom, and of testimony to the truth for love of God and neighbor. And therefore, it was infinitely meritorious.
How does the death of Christ benefit us? If it was not a vicarious punishment imposed by God, then what does it do for me? Let’s focus on three things that Scripture teaches on this subject: First, Christ’s death is an example to us; second, Christ’s death merits for us the forgiveness of sins and the gift of the Spirit; and third, we die with Christ in baptism and are born again with Him to new life.
…The Catholic Church sees the death of Christ as a mystical sacrifice that pleases God and transforms us. When we are joined to Christ through faith and baptism, we die and rise with Him; our hearts are changed; we receive the gift of the Holy Spirit; our sins are forgiven; and we receive power to live a holy life in imitation of His. We receive salvation because we can now say, along with Jesus and His Mother, “Be it done to Me/me according to Thy word. I have come not to do My/my will, but the will of Him who sent Me/me(Ed. capitalization for the Lord).”
God redeems suffering that is willingly endured for righteousness’ sake. That is the message of the gospel and that is what the death of Christ means. The power of salvation that flows into us in the sacraments is the power to embrace noble suffering for the love of God.
How do we embrace that power and make it our own? Now we are coming to the real heart of Catholic prayer and the sacramental life — and the profound difference between Catholicism and other forms of Christianity. The message of the gospel is that we “become Christ” (Ed. metaphor, not literally Jesus, but in imitation of Jesus). His life is not merely imputed to us; rather, it becomes ours, inwardly transforming us. And this can happen only through prayer. (Ed. cf Rm 8:26)”
Anders, Dr. David. The Catholic Church Saved My Marriage: Discovering Hidden Grace in the Sacrament of Matrimony (p. 148-154). Sophia Institute Press. Kindle Edition.
34Francis de Sales, Introduction to the Devout Life, ed. W. H. Hutchings (London: Rivingtons, 1882), 2–3.
“…Christian marriage is an ecclesial state, like being a monk, a nun, or a priest (CCC 1631). It exists not only for the good of the spouses, but for the good of the whole Christian community.
Christian marriage is also different because it is a sacrament — a symbol of a supernatural reality, a symbol through which God promises to bestow His grace on us. What is being symbolized in the Christian sacrament of marriage is not romantic love or even the perfect love of the Blessed Trinity, but the sacrificial love of Jesus Christ’s suffering and death for the sake of His bride, the Church. Christ gave His life to bring His spouse to God.
Furthermore, the effect of the grace that is given through the sacrament of marriage is not to enable or to facilitate romantic love. God gives grace in the sacrament of marriage to enable the spouses to love sacrificially, to bear wrongs, to forgive offenses, to be chaste, to welcome and educate children, and perhaps even to die in the service of one’s family…
What does it even mean to say that a marriage is not “valid”? What on earth is “validity”? In a broad sense, something is valid if it works, if it brings about its intended effect. Philosophers speak of an argument being valid if its conclusion follows logically from its premises. In law, a valid contract is one that is legally binding. The celebration of a sacrament can also be understood as valid or invalid. In Catholic theology, a valid sacrament brings about its intended effect. An invalid sacrament (which is really no sacrament at all) does not.
Marriages, therefore, can be valid or invalid. In a valid marriage, the parties really do incur the duties and obligations of marriage and accrue its benefits, privileges, and rights. An invalid marriage is not really a marriage at all. The moral rights, duties, and benefits of marriage do not flow from it, and civil law, if it is to be just, ought not say otherwise.
The idea of validity is implicit in contemporary debates about so-called gay marriage. One side imagines that marriage is simply a right extended by the state that can be applied to any two (three? four?) people who want social privileges attached to their romantic relationships. By contrast, the defenders of tradition hold that marriage is something intrinsically and necessarily connected to our nature created as male and female. The state can no more convey the right to marry to same-sex couples than it can square the circle. Marriage is not just any kind of union. It is the kind of union naturally fulfilled in the procreation of children.26…
…New Catholics are often surprised to learn that the Church does not see it this way (Ed. that nothing else matters but their own will, their choice to get married civilly, at least, outside the Church]. Marriage is not simply a cultural construct that means whatever we want it to mean. It is not simply the desire for children or for intimacy that creates the conditions for marriage. Rather, marriage is something that derives from the natural law. When it comes to marriage, the Church does not arbitrarily create the conditions for validity. The conditions for a true and valid marriage flow from our nature created as male and female.27
The Church does not invent or impose those conditions. She merely recognizes them. It is not only to Catholics that She speaks, and it is not only about Christian marriage that She teaches. The Church has authority from Christ to judge all moral questions, including the validity of natural marriage.28 The Church discerns and teaches those moral norms that emerge not only from revelation but also from natural law.29
The case is a bit different with respect to Christian marriage. Christian marriage presupposes the conditions for a valid, natural marriage, i.e., one man and one woman united indissolubly for life for the good of the spouses and the bearing and raising of offspring. But Christian marriage is also an ecclesial state. It grants certain rights and privileges within the Church…
…It is important to be precise: To say that a sacrament is invalid does not mean that the persons involved have been denied all grace. God can always extend grace if He chooses. In fact, the prompting and nudging toward faith or holiness that Catholics call actual grace routinely occurs outside the sacraments, as Christ draws people to receive the grace of baptism. (Baptized people also receive actual graces.) But the habitual grace made available through the Christian sacrament of marriage cannot be presumed apart from a valid sacrament. An invalid marriage cannot give rise to sacramental grace.
-Anders, Dr. David. The Catholic Church Saved My Marriage: Discovering Hidden Grace in the Sacrament of Matrimony (p. 120-123). Sophia Institute Press. Kindle Edition.
26 Patrick Lee and Robert P. George, Conjugal Union: What Marriage Is and Why It Matters (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2014), 47.
27 “The personal bond of marriage is established precisely at the natural level of the male or female mode of being a human person.” Pope St. John Paul II, “God Himself Is the Author of Marriage,” L’Osservatore Romano, English ed., February 7, 2001, 3, posted at EWTN, https://www.ewtn.com/library/PAPALDOC/JP2MATR.HTM.
28 See Code of Canon Law 747.2; Veritatis Splendor, no. 110.
-cf Sanctity and Success in Marriage, DeBlanc, Rt. Rev. Msgr. Irving A. And Schavilla, Norma L., ~pp 88 – 94, National Catholic Conference on Family Life, Washington, D.C., (c)1956
by Henry V. Sattler, C.SS.R.
“Effects of Sacramental Grace
The question that now faces us is what are the proper effects of this sacramental grace? What precisely does it do? Sacramental grace, first, “makes the receiver of the sacramental grace a habitual connatural agent, so that he can place acts in keeping with the end of the sacrament at will and ex officio.”9 What does this mean? Take an example. Suppose I could talk through a dog as a ventriloquist. The action of the animal would not be changed. Suppose I could talk through that dog, using its voice. The dog would then be an instrument. Suppose I could raise the dog above its nature so that it could talk at will. The dog would then become a habitual agent of speaking, something not natural (super-natural to a dog) to it but made as though natural by my gift. Since there are many strictly human actions that might become supernatural to a dog — so there might be many different “graces” given to it. So in a similar fashion, but in an inexpressibly superior way, man is raised to perform different “divine” actions through the various sacramental graces. When a confirmed person, for example, bravely confesses Christ, or a priest consecrates at Mass, each one acts officially and as the agent of a special supernatural act. And that act flows from them “connaturally,” as the ordinary human act of speaking flows naturally from a human being. Tremendous thought, this! By sacramental grace, truly do actions flowing from divine life come from us effectively as our thinking, and loving come from our ordinary human nature!
Secondly, sacramental grace remedies in us the defects which remain in us from past sin, both original and personal (actual).10 Original sin has destroyed the integrity of the human person, has made it difficult for all the human powers to work together for good. Though original sin has been wiped out by Baptism, its effects will remain with us. This is true of our own personal sins. Even after they have been wiped out in the confessional and by Penance; indeed, even after a life of virtue, sin leaves in us marks or wounds, weaknesses, that remain….
…Thirdly, sacramental grace brings with it the right to those actual graces necessary to stimulate us to perform supernatural acts in accordance with our needs. If you remember, “actual grace is a supernatural help of God which enlightens our mind and strengthens our will to do good and to avoid evil.”12 Actual grace is a kind of needle which pushes us towards good and away from evil wherever needed to further the end of the respective Sacraments.13 This means that not only does sacramental grace officially constitute a person as supernatural action, not only does it bring remedies to the weakness incurred by sin, but it also gives to the receiver of a Sacrament a right (a right freely conferred by God) to actual pushes from God in the proper direction!
Sacramental Grace in Marriage
This lengthy theological discussion on the nature of sacramental grace is necessary if we are to draw any practical fruits from the awareness of the sacramental graces of matrimony.
“The sacrament of marriage is the imprint of God on the souls of the married couple, not merely in order to deify their life in general, but in order to deify their union . . . The sacrament of marriage is thus not merely a religious act sanctifying a human one, it is a seed sown in the soul and bearing fruit through the whole of married life, giving life to all its acts and sentiments . . . it is a predisposition to holiness placed in their souls by God on the day of their wedding.”
Man and wife are united in God: this last expression can be interpreted in a very strict sense, for the action of the sacrament being a unique divine action in the souls of each of them, and sacramental grace being a reality in their souls, one can truly state that they have something in their souls which really unites them, which constitutes a principle of unity, and that this unifying action is a divine action. The sacrament of marriage is thus in a sense a deifying of the conjugal union . . . “14
The sacramental grace of Matrimony then takes a Christian marriage out of the realm of the natural and makes the married couple connatural principles of supernatural action. In Casti Connubii Pius XI says, quoting the Council of Trent:
“. . . By raising the Matrimony of His faithful to the dignity of a true sacrament, [Christ] made it a sign and source of that peculiar internal grace by which ‘it perfects natural love, confirms an indissoluble union, and sanctifies both man and wife.'”
And in the same encyclical:
“. . . As Saint Augustine teaches, just as by Baptism and Holy Orders a man is set aside and assisted either for the duties of Christian life or for the priestly office and is never deprived of their sacramental aid, almost in the same way (although not by a sacramental character) the faithful once joined by marriage ties can never be deprived of the help and binding force of the sacrament.”
Not only does Matrimony make the married pair officially supernatural in action, but it provides them with the remedies against the wounds of personality caused by sin. The “cussedness of human nature” left by original sin, the pettiness, the angers and tensions found in marriage have an inherent remedy in sacramental grace. Even the weaknesses incurred by personal sin, the hungers created by unchastity both in and out of marriage, the infidelities to parental obligation which leave marks of desire and parental sloth are met by the repentant husband or wife with special helps to overcome them.
“Thus if they should have been unfaithful to each other or to their duties, no matter for how long, through penance they can always have recourse to this inexhaustible source of sacramental grace, to find in it the means of regaining sanctification through renewed love and appreciation of the ideal to which they are called.”15
Lastly, “the sacrament of marriage confers a strict right to all the actual graces necessary to lead a Christian conjugal life. It also confers the right to all the material and spiritual helps required for the establishment of a home.”16
Since actual grace “enlightens the mind and moves the will,” a married couple can expect God to inspire them to know what they should understand and do in a given case and to strengthen their will to carry it out. This means that in the questions asked by the couple of themselves, in the questions asked by the children, a married pair who stir up the grace of God in them can await with certainty the right answers. It means also when they feel inadequate to the task of the moment they can expect new courage to be available to them.
“By these gifts the parties are assisted not only in understanding, but in knowing intimately, in adhering to firmly, in willing effectively, and in successfully putting into practice, those things which pertain to the marriage state, giving them in fine right to the actual assistance of grace, whensoever they need it for fulfilling the duties of their state.”(Casti Connubii)
This, then is the meaning of sacramental grace in marriage. It is the special mode of Sanctifying Grace which makes the receiver a habitual connatural principle of supernatural action in Marriage — which means that the love, and love-making, and housekeeping and work and worry of marriage are all deified. Further, sacramental grace in marriage brings with it remedies for the weakness of human nature, even for those weaknesses suffered as a result of the infidelities of the married couple. Lastly, it brings a right to the stimulus of God toward knowing the right answers and acting according to them.
Cooperation with Grace
Why, then, with all the tremendous beauty and power of Matrimony’s sacramental grace, do so many Christian marriages fade so far from the ideal?
Because “fruitful reception of a sacrament does not conclude the Christian’s duty — it is still up to him to cooperate with the power the sacrament gives . . .”17
Pius XI notes very strongly: “Since men do not reap the full fruit of the sacraments . . . unless they cooperate with grace, the grace of matrimony will remain for the most part an unused talent hidden in the field unless both parties exercise these supernatural powers . . .”
Husbands and wives must carefully cooperate with sacramental grace by prayer, by frequenting the other Sacraments, by meditating on the nobility of their state, by constantly reminding themselves and each other to depend upon this supernatural reality in their lives. It is imperative, also, that they strive earnestly to preserve Sanctifying Grace within their souls, since sacramental grace is but a mode of Sanctifying Grace.
“Another thing worth impressing on the faithful is the importance of conserving or regaining the state of grace, not only for its own sake, but also in order to be assured of sacramental grace. For, according to the more probable opinion, upheld by the majority of theologians, sacramental grace is contingent upon the possession of sanctifying grace.”18
Yet, despite the need of preserving Sanctifying Grace, it should be a consoling thing to a married person to realize that, though grace may be lost when mortal sin is committed, it all returns, with all the special helps of sacramental grace, when Penance returns the Prodigal home.
Let me conclude this entire presentation with the stirring appeal of Pius XI to married people:
“Let not, then, those who are joined in matrimony neglect the grace of the sacrament which is in them; for, in applying themselves to the careful observance, however laborious, of their duties they will find the power of that grace becoming more effectual as time goes on. And if ever they should feel themselves to be overburdened by the hardships of their condition of life, let them not lose courage, but rather let them regard in some measure as addressed to them that which Saint Paul the Apostle wrote to his beloved disciple Timothy regarding the sacrament of Holy Orders when the disciple was dejected through hardship and insults: ‘I admonish thee that thou stir up the grace which is in thee by the imposition of my hands. For God hath not given us the spirit of fear; but of power, and of love, and of sobriety.'”
9 Everett, op. cit. p. 118. John of Saint Thomas, Cursus Theologicus, IX, d. 24, a. 2, n. 13.
10 Saint Thomas, Comm. in Sent. IV, d. 7, q. 2, a. 2, q. 2, ad. 2., XXVII de Veritate, a. 5, ad. 12., Summa Theol. III, q 62, a 2, ad. 2.
12 Baltimore Catechism No. 3, q. 113.
13 Shea, op. cit. pp. 119, ff.
14 Jacques Leclercq, Marriage A Great Sacrament, (Dublin; Clonmore & Reynolds, 1951), pp. 29-30.
15 M. M. Philipon, The Sacraments in the Christian Life, (Westminster; Newman Press, 1955), p. 220.
“Catholics understand faith differently. In Catholic doctrine, faith is a human act — a decision we make to believe what God has revealed about Himself. Now, God certainly helps the soul to believe. I don’t believe without God’s help, but believing remains something that I do. Faith is not a “blind impulse of the mind,” but a considered judgment that Christ and the Church are credible and trustworthy.
The Bible compares our relationship to God to human marriage, an analogy that helps us understand something about the relationship between faith and reason. Marriage can be a very rational decision, but it still takes trust. If a man decides that his fiancée is trustworthy, then getting married is very reasonable. But how can I find out if my fiancée is trustworthy? I can find reasons to trust my fiancée, but in the end, it’s not the sort of thing I can demonstrate with a mathematical proof. In the end, I must decide whether to trust her and get married based on the available evidence. The Catholic Church says faith is like that. There are good reasons for faith, but in the end, you must still decide.
Why does this difference matter? As a Presbyterian, it was very important for me to say that “I knew for sure” about everything: “Are you sure you are going to Heaven? Are you sure that you are saved? Are you sure the Bible is God’s word? Are you sure there is a God?” In all these cases, the Calvinist might consult rational arguments, but ultimately, he trusts the “witness of the Spirit.” In the end, his certainty comes from subjective religious experience.
In my formation as a Calvinist, I had developed the habit of identifying my emotional life with the activity of the Holy Spirit. But I was growing to doubt this idea of the “witness of the Spirit.” I didn’t know if I could be “sure” ever again. Without that certainty, I did not see how I could ever commit myself to a religious tradition. This is where St Thomas Aquinas helped me the most.
Thomas helped me see that the content of Christian faith can really be divided into two categories: There are things that we can know with certainty from reason and argument, and there are things that we believe simply on the authority of Christ and the Church. Furthermore — and this is important — there are good reasons to trust Christ and the Church. We do not just believe. These distinctions are very important to understanding what faith should feel like, or whether it should feel like anything at all.
Authentic Catholic philosophers such as St. Thomas work very hard to prove parts of the Christian faith, but they also admit freely that we can accept other parts only on authority. The Calvinists I studied with did not divide the content of the faith in this way. They considered the faith as a whole, and they dismissed purely philosophical accounts of God, the soul, or the moral life. They were not just uninterested in proving the content of even one part of Christian faith but were skeptical that setting out to do so could be valuable at all.
I recall the very text that changed my mind about becoming Catholic. Here is the essential passage from Thomas’s De veritate (On Truth):
“We are moved to believe what God says because we are promised eternal life as a reward if we believe. And this reward moves the will to assent to what is said, although the intellect is not moved by anything which it understands. Therefore, Augustine says: “Man can do other things unwillingly, but he can believe only if he wills it.”” (14.1)
In one sense, I felt a tremendous disappointment when I read this text. I saw in a flash what St. Thomas was challenging me to do: take responsibility for my belief or unbelief. I could wait a lifetime for God to compel me to believe — and I would likely die without faith. Or I could also respond freely to His invitation to believe. It was disappointing because I realized that I could never achieve the kind of certainty that comes from an immediate and intuitive experience. But it was also liberating, because I finally saw clearly that this is not a bad thing. When I read this passage, I had an epiphany more powerful than the loss I felt on the day my faith first slipped away. I saw clearly how faith could be a rational possibility without being rationally compelled.
Again, it was rather like marriage. It is not irrational to marry a woman, especially one who has demonstrated her trustworthiness. Does my wife really love me? Will she be faithful forever? Can we get over our conflicts and make a life together? What will happen if I apologize? Will she forgive me? Can I ever be happy with this woman? These questions all have answers, but they are not the sort of thing that admit of mathematical certainty.
Catholicism is similarly an invitation to a kind of relationship and a way of being in the world. Above all, I think Catholicism is an invitation to believe that our moral convictions and our desire for meaning correspond to something real — something, or rather Someone, so real that He became incarnate in the world, taking on flesh in the womb of a virgin. You can’t get more real than that.
There are good reasons to believe in the Incarnation; Catholic theology calls them the “motives of credibility.” The fulfillment of prophecy, the miracles of Christ, His Resurrection, and the profound moral influence of Catholicism on world history all testify to the truth of Christian claims. Do these reasons compel me to believe? Obviously they do not; there are many people who consider these reasons and still do not have faith. I must choose what position I will take on life, and whether to accept or to resist the arguments in favor of Christ.
The great existential challenge in the world today is whether there is any meaning at all. Childlessness, suicide, and euthanasia are depopulating whole societies that have given up on life and prefer to die quietly in bed. Japan now sells more adult diapers than baby diapers. Russia has more abortions than live births. Where would I stand? Is there any truth? Is there any love that endures? Every fiber of my being said yes. Yes, to reason; yes, to love; yes, to hope; yes, even to suffering.
I knew I had to become a Catholic.”
Anders, Dr. David. The Catholic Church Saved My Marriage: Discovering Hidden Grace in the Sacrament of Matrimony (pp. 100-103). Sophia Institute Press. Kindle Edition.
“The Catholic ideal of married life is rigorous and difficult. Catholic spouses are to surrender their own selfish interests in service to a transcendent goal — to bring one’s spouse and one’s children to God. Sometimes that self-surrender calls for enormous and painful sacrifice, just as Jesus sacrificed Himself on the Cross for the sake of the Church. Most importantly, the Catholic Church recognizes Christian marriage as a sacrament, which means that God promises us the grace to meet those difficult demands.
Early Protestants, on the other hand, simply denied that marriage is a sacrament. Instead, they threw up their hands and asserted that the demands of Catholic marriage were too difficult. Therefore, they called for a relaxation of those demands and an end to the Church’s control over marriage. Protestant thought went on to emphasize more strongly the sexual dimension of married life, and eventually the romantic element as well, while deemphasizing the role that suffering plays in union with God.
My Protestantism offered me little solace in the face of a hopeless marriage, but Catholicism seemed to offer me a way to reconceive my suffering. Suffering willingly embraced becomes sacrifice, and sacrifice can bring a deeper experience of God’s grace….
I started thinking about the differences between Protestant and Catholic notions of sex and marriage. I discerned four major differences between the two traditions:
1. The Catholic tradition opposes both contraception and sodomy in marriage. Most Protestants allow them.
2. The Catholic Church exalts virginity, celibacy, and perfect continence over marriage. The Protestant tradition has always rejected this.
3. The Catholic Church does not allow Christian divorce and remarriage. Although Protestantism values lifelong fidelity in a broad sense, Protestant tradition has always allowed divorce in at least a few circumstances, such as adultery.
4. The Catholic Church regards Christian marriage as a sacrament that conveys grace. As a sacrament, Christian marriage (not all marriage) ought to be governed by Church law.
Protestant tradition, rather, has always asserted that God ordains marriage, but not as a sacrament. For Protestants, marriage is a civil institution rightly governed by civil law. Protestants and Catholics have different views of marriage, I came to understand, because they have different views about the foundational concepts of morality, spirituality, salvation, and human happiness. Catholics believe that the ultimate end of human life is loving union with God and neighbor. Aided by grace, we ought to bend every fiber of our being toward that end. Catholic ideas about marriage and contemplative life reflect that lofty calling.
The Protestant tradition also extols loving union with God but has always been more skeptical about the Christian’s moral potential. Catholics take quite seriously Christ’s command to “be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect” (Matt. 5:48). Relying on God’s grace through prayer and the sacraments, and through diligent cooperation with grace, Catholics believe that all God’s commands can be obeyed. By contrast, the Protestant tradition teaches that sin always remains and that perfect holiness in this life is impossible. Early Protestants argued, therefore, that we ought to relax the discipline of Christian life (including marriage) to accommodate human weakness…
Catholic marriage: “It is a love which is total — that very special form of personal friendship in which husband and wife generously share everything, allowing no unreasonable exceptions and not thinking solely of their own convenience. Whoever really loves his partner loves not only for what he receives, but loves that partner for the partner’s own sake, content to be able to enrich the other with the gift of himself.” –Pope Paul VI, encyclical letter Humanae Vitae (July 25, 1968), no. 9.
If you approach married life in that way, it becomes impossible to objectify your spouse for your own gratification. Instead, you beg for God’s grace and bend every fiber to order your life toward this transcendent goal. You would be willing to bear suffering, abstinence, and abnegation if they serve that great good. You would, in fact, learn to imitate Christ…
The ideal of celibacy reminds all Christians that the goal of life is spiritual friendship, not personal aggrandizement or pleasure seeking. A few Christians can take up that life in radical detachment from the world, but many more Christians live spiritual friendship through marriage.
The Christian ideal of marriage was very different from the ancient Roman practice. Pagan society expected chastity of women, but not of men. Roman men were allowed prostitutes and concubines, and then to avoid the unwanted consequences of such promiscuity they resorted to forced abortions, infanticide, and rudimentary and extremely harmful contraceptives. Women suffered disproportionately from these practices, which became one of the reasons Roman women were more likely than men to become Christian. The Catholic doctrine on chastity was liberating.
The Catholic Church advocated personal commitment to God over all other social commitments, even for women. This was a particularly radical idea in patriarchal Rome, where women were expected as a matter of course to acquiesce to the will of men. The Church, however, venerated virgin martyrs, such as St. Lucy, who went to their deaths for refusing to marry against their will. Unlike many other cultures of the era, canon law has refused from the very beginning to recognize the validity of forced marriage.
“How beautiful, then, the marriage of two Christians, two who are one in hope, one in desire, one in the way of life they follow, one in the religion they practice. They are as brother and sister, both servants of the same Master. Nothing divides them, either in flesh or in spirit. They are, in very truth, two in one flesh; and where there is but one flesh there is also but one spirit. They pray together, they worship together, they fast together; instructing one another, encouraging one another, strengthening one another. Side by side they visit God’s church and partake of God’s Banquet; side by side they face difficulties and persecution, share their consolations. They have no secrets from one another; they never shun each other’s company; they never bring sorrow to each other’s hearts. Unembarrassed they visit the sick and assist the needy. They give alms without anxiety; they attend the Sacrifice without difficulty; they perform their daily exercises of piety without hindrance. They need not be furtive about making the Sign of the Cross, nor timorous in greeting the brethren, nor silent in asking a blessing of God. Psalms and hymns they sing to one another, striving to see which one of them will chant more beautifully the praises of their Lord. Hearing and seeing this, Christ rejoices. To such as these He gives His peace. Where there are two together, there also He is present; and where He is, there evil is not.” –Tertullian, “To His Wife,” in Treatises on Marriage and Remarriage, Ancient Christian Writers Series, no. 13, trans. William P. LeSaint, S.J. (Westminster, MD: Newman Press, 1951), 35–36.
…The differences between Protestant and Catholic teaching on marriage have their roots in two fundamental issues. First, the Protestant Reformers thought that Catholic teaching on human sexuality was just too difficult. Second, the Reformers resented the authority that the Catholic Church exercised over Christian marriage. The way they tried to solve these “problems” theologically was to naturalize Christian marriage, removing it from the realm of the supernatural. A major part of the Reformation, therefore, was an attack on the sacramentality of Christian marriage.
The Reformers never denied that God instituted marriage at the creation of Adam and Eve. They simply denied that Christ elevated marriage to a sacrament. “Marriage is a good and holy ordinance of God,” Calvin wrote, “and farming, building, cobbling, and barbering are lawful ordinances of God, and yet are not sacraments.” –Institutes of the Christian Religion, 4.19.34.
…In 1 Corinthians 6, St. Paul teaches that Christians must not engage in sexually immoral behavior. That is not terribly surprising. What is surprising is the reason he gives. “Do you not know that your bodies are members of Christ?” Paul writes, “Shall I therefore take the members of Christ and make them members of a prostitute? Never!” (1 Cor. 6:15).
In this text, Paul teaches that a Christian’s very body has been permanently changed in a way that identifies him with Christ and thereby affects his sexuality. The Christian literally carries the body of Christ with him into the marriage bed. While I found the idea to be somewhat arresting, I quickly saw that it had profound implications for the doctrine of marriage. If two baptized people got married, then Christ would necessarily be implicated in a very profound, very intimate way in their union.”
Anders, Dr. David. The Catholic Church Saved My Marriage: Discovering Hidden Grace in the Sacrament of Matrimony (pp. 53-56, 58-59, 63-64, 67-68). Sophia Institute Press. Kindle Edition.
“I hoped one of us would get hit by a bus. (I didn’t care which one.)…Murder, maybe. Divorce, never.”
“Thomas à Kempis, the author of The Imitation of Christ, once wrote that it is pointless to debate brilliantly about the Trinity if, by being an arrogant ass, you are displeasing to the Trinity[, and] that is [also] the Catholic point of view.”
“I once asked an attorney who handled both criminal defense and divorce cases if he was ever afraid to defend murderers, rapists, and other serious offenders. “Oh, no,” he said. “Often, you are the only person supporting the accused and they are genuinely grateful. What really scares me are the divorces. You wouldn’t believe how vicious these people can get.””
“With God’s help, prayer is a battle against ourselves. Prayer is where we cast off self-deception, artifice, pride, and egotism. Prayer is where we learn to stand naked before God and transparent to ourselves. Prayer is where we take up the Cross of Christ, allow ourselves to be slain, and entrust our resurrection to God alone.”
“The Church, for a Catholic, is a divine reality, the presence of Christ in the world…The Catholic Church sees Herself as the living embodiment of Jesus, as Christ’s real presence in the world. “Whoever beholds the Church,” said St. Gregory of Nyssa, “beholds Christ.”
…How could something so human — so full of incompetence and flesh and pride and ambition — be the living presence of God in the world?…
I caught a glimpse of something I had never seen before. Salvation isn’t just about going to Heaven when you die, escaping the world, or simply having a personal relationship with Jesus. It’s about being Christ in the world, embracing life with both hands, and raising it all up with as many people as possible in transcendent joy. “Whoever beholds the Church beholds Christ.” That mediocre priest, that baby, that grandmother, that college student, and even that corrupt medieval pope: Could God be present in that? Could a man love that?…
Being Catholic — being Christ in the world — doesn’t exempt you from flesh and blood, even from ambition, pride, and sin…It is a life visibly marked out by and for transcendence.”
“In Catholic thought, contemplation means having a deep, intuitive, almost experiential awareness of God through the life of prayer…the Church teaches that marriage is also a kind of full-time Christian spirituality, and one that offers a deep, interior experience of God.
Keeping this mystical dimension of marriage in view is absolutely necessary if we are to understand how to approach suffering in marriage. For many people today, the fact of personal pain would seem to justify almost any decision meant to relieve that pain. Are you in a difficult marriage? Then why not leave and try something else? Have you discovered that your sexual urges don’t line up with the demands of heterosexual or monogamous marriage? Why deny yourself satisfaction? But the Catholic Faith teaches that such suffering can be supremely meaningful, leading even to a mystical union with God.
One of my major concerns in writing this book is to urge suffering couples to a vigorous practice of the Catholic Faith. My hope is that Catholic couples will discover new strength for their marriages and that non-Catholic couples will consider what the Catholic Faith has to offer…my aim is to point married couples beyond the tools of psychology or natural marriage and to help them embrace a transcendent vision of Christian conjugal life….
I saw our lives potentially bound together through the mystery of suffering, and reshaped through the mystery of redemption. I felt that the universe was giving me a choice: Will you embrace suffering and redemption, or will you shelter yourself through the pursuit of pleasure?…
But I was coming to realize how the Protestant understanding of grace, assurance, faith, and salvation obscured my awareness of myself. Protestant teaching asserts that everything we do is sinful, but everything is forgiven — if we are “saved.” This is not a doctrine that encouraged me in critical self-examination or growth in virtue. By focusing so heavily on my general depravity, sinfulness, and inability to save myself, I felt strangely freed from responsibility to root out individual faults.
In studying Luther and Calvin, I found, however, that my experience was not unique. John Calvin was a man who confessed the sinfulness of humanity but was incapable of confessing his own personal fault. In tens of thousands of pages of material by and about him, I do not recall Calvin ever admitting wrong, apologizing, or taking responsibility for failure. Calvin divided the world into the elect and the reprobate, the pious and the impious — and he was always on the right side while his enemies were always on the wrong side.
Unlike Calvin, Luther had a tormented conscience; he felt he could never do anything right, and it was this profound guilt that drove him to concoct his new theology. Luther was so convinced of his ineradicable corruption, guilt, and sinfulness that he despaired even of God’s grace to change him. Even to try could lead only to frustration. The solution for Luther was not to focus on ethical behavior toward others but on absolving one’s own conscience.
It really is an extraordinary position. “Whoever wants to be saved,” Luther said, “should act as though no other human being except him existed on earth.” In an important sense, the Reformation doctrine of grace flows from this one man’s attempt to assuage his conscience. Luther articulated a brand-new theology, one that simply denied human freedom and insisted that man plays no role in his own salvation.
Now, to say that Luther and Calvin were flawed men is not surprising or informative. We could say that about anyone. Far more important to me was what I learned about how their flaws worked their way into Protestant theology, and ultimately into my life. There were cracks in the foundation of my religious tradition and those cracks found their way into my heart.
What does all this have to do with my marriage? I was discovering that my Protestant theology did not provide an adequate moral compass, sense of hope, or spiritual inspiration to meet the challenges of marriage. My historical studies further shook the foundations of my worldview, challenged me to deeper self-examination, and forced me to explore new answers to my moral malaise.
I became convinced that Reformation theology advanced neither Luther nor Calvin, as human beings, toward holiness. I began to see their theology, rather, as a highly sophisticated form of self-justification. In one sense this was an easy conclusion to reach, since I found in Luther and Calvin the very same flaws I found in myself. Therefore, if I was going to advance out of my morass, I was going to need different guides. Eventually, these concerns pushed me to seek holiness in the Catholic tradition and in the Catholic sacrament of marriage.
The intellectual history of Protestantism became for me a mirror in which to contemplate my own moral and spiritual dilemma. My tradition formed me to expect absolute assurance about salvation, regardless of my own behavior. Revealed in the lives of my Protestant mentors, though, I began to see how this attitude could have harmful effects not only on marriage, but on all manner of social relations.
I came to believe that my mentors and heroes in the faith had been worse than socially awkward: They had been dangerous ideologues, immune to criticism, utterly cocksure, and willing to impose their views with deadly force. This discovery was disquieting, to say the least. I always thought Catholics were the tyrants and ideologues, leading crusades and inquisitions and so forth, but now I was seeing the seed of interpersonal tyranny in my own tradition…
The Puritans of New England attempted to build an entire civilization on the distinction between the elect and the reprobate. Around the same time, the Westminster Confession of Faith (1647), which was composed in England to provide an authoritative guide for building such a Protestant civilization, promised that the elect can have an “infallible assurance” of their election.
In Protestant thinking, “elect and reprobate” is not the same thing as “good and bad.” Instead, it is having “true faith” that distinguishes the elect from the reprobate. The elect, by virtue of having accepted that faith, can be infallibly certain that they are elect, even when their lives are morally disordered in other ways. Put crudely, you can meet an arrogant, self-righteous, lecherous egotist who knows for sure that he is one of God’s elect, destined for Heaven.
I was that egotist.”
Anders, Dr. David. The Catholic Church Saved My Marriage: Discovering Hidden Grace in the Sacrament of Matrimony (pp. 8, 11, 13, 29-30, 34-35, 44, 49-51). Sophia Institute Press. Kindle Edition.
I know it is difficult for others to understand how the well catechized Catholic sees and understands the Church. The Church, herself, is a sacrament. Not a club. Not an association. Not something convenient, social, or popular to belong to, rather, the Church is an absolute necessity and vehicle for salvation. Extra ecclesiam nulla salus.
“Basing itself on Scripture and Tradition, the Council teaches that the Church, a pilgrim now on earth, is necessary for salvation: the one Christ is the mediator and the way of salvation; He is present to us in His body which is the Church. He Himself explicitly asserted the necessity of faith and baptism, and thereby affirmed at the same time the necessity of the Church which men enter through baptism as through a door. Hence they could not be saved who, knowing that the Catholic Church was founded as necessary by God through Christ, would refuse either to enter it or to remain in it.” (CCC 846)
Both CCC 847 and Gaudium Et Spes 22, regarding salvation outside the Church, say, basically, “may”, “ought”. They do not say “will”, “shall”, 51% chance, or any other equivocation from the original formula of Extra ecclesiam nulla salus. And while Mt 18:18, and God gives His authority to His Church, His continuing presence on earth, God does not give away His power to save whomsoever He shall choose, whensoever He may choose. He is God. His Church recognizes this.
Actual & Sanctifying Grace
While belonging to the Church is a “necessary” vehicle, Mt 7:21. Therefore, all before baptism bear the deficiency of original sin, baptism is regenerative in grace. It is grace, sanctifying grace, to be in “the state of grace”, conscious of no mortal sin unrepented and absolved of, that makes us acceptable to God, to be in, to remain in the presence of God after death. God in His infinitely brilliant, beyond comprehension brilliance, where no sin cannot be unconsumed, does not tolerate less than His own grace in His presence. My mother would call her children, I assume my sister, too, but there was never much question about her, but definitely her sons and regularly ask, “(Name) are you in the state of grace?” Lovingly, like a mother who says, “If my children lose their faith, I have failed as a mother” would do. Right? Everybody knows what that’s like. Right? Everybody got those calls from their mothers. Right? 🙂
Sanctifying grace stays in the soul. It’s what makes the soul holy; it gives the soul supernatural life. More properly, it is supernatural life.
Actual grace, by contrast, is a supernatural push or encouragement. It’s transient. It doesn’t live in the soul, but acts on the soul from the outside, so to speak. It’s a supernatural kick in the pants. It gets the will and intellect moving so we can seek out and keep sanctifying grace. You can obtain supernatural life by yielding to actual graces you receive. God keeps giving you these divine pushes, and all you have to do is go along.
Sanctifying grace implies a real transformation of the soul. Recall that most of the Protestant Reformers denied that a real transformation takes place. They said God doesn’t actually wipe away our sins. Instead, our souls remain corrupted, full of sin. God merely throws a cloak over them and treats them as if they were spotless, knowing all the while that they’re not.
But that isn’t the Catholic view. We believe souls really are cleansed by an infusion of the supernatural life. Of course, we’re still subject to temptations to sin; we still suffer the effects of Adam’s Fall in that sense (what theologians call “concupiscence”); but God has removed the sins we have, much like a mother might wash the dirt off of a child who has a tendency to get dirty again. Our wills are given the new powers of hope and charity, things absent at the merely natural level.
He sends you an actual grace, say, in the form of a nagging voice that whispers, “You need to repent! Go to confession!” You do, your sins are forgiven, you’re reconciled to God, and you have supernatural life again (John 20:21–23). Or you say to yourself, “Maybe tomorrow,” and that particular supernatural impulse, that actual grace, passes you by. But another is always on the way, God is never abandoning us to our own stupidity (1 Tim. 2:4).
Once you have supernatural life, once sanctifying grace is in your soul, you can increase it by every supernaturally good action you do: receiving Communion, saying prayers, performing corporal or spiritual works of mercy. Is it worth increasing sanctifying grace once you have it; isn’t the minimum enough? Yes and no. It’s enough to get you into heaven, but it may not be enough to sustain itself. The minimum isn’t good enough because it’s easy to lose the minimum, due to our original sin. Our defect, not God’s. Our defect in preternatural justification, holiness, and grace lost in original sin.
We must continually seek God’s grace, continually respond to the actual graces God is working within us, inclining us to turn to Him and do good; even as original sin causes tempts us to turn away and do evil. This is what Paul discusses when he instructs us: “Therefore, my beloved, as you have always obeyed, so now, not only as in my presence but much more in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling; for God is at work in you, both to will and to work for His good pleasure. Do all things without grumbling or questioning, that you may be blameless and innocent, children of God without blemish in the midst of a crooked and perverse generation, among whom you shine as lights in the world, holding fast the word of life, so that in the day of Christ I may be proud that I did not run in vain or labor in vain” (Phil. 2:12–16).
Sacraments as primary vehicles of grace
BALTIMORE CATECHISM #3
LESSON 13 – ON THE SACRAMENTS IN GENERAL
Q. 574. What is a Sacrament?
A. A Sacrament is an outward sign instituted by Christ to give grace.
In Catholicism, the seven sacraments are the primary vehicles of grace. To be deprived of them is a serious matter to Catholics for the above stated reasons. If, like in Japan, where for 200 years hidden Catholic communities maintained the faith from the seventeenth century when Catholicism was made illegal in Japan, and clergy expelled, until the nineteenth century when hidden Catholic communities who had kept the faith in Nagasaki and Imamura without clergy were rediscovered by returning missionaries, Catholics would believe God would supply the necessary graces for salvation in the absence of the sacraments.
However, as a means of censure, prohibition of the sacraments could mean the endangerment of one’s soul. Interdict today, it has a long history and technicalities, has the effect of forbidding the person or community, often referred to as “personal” or, in the case of a community, “local”, interdict from celebrating or receiving any of the sacraments, including the Eucharist, or to celebrate the sacramentals. One who is under interdict is also forbidden to take any ministerial part (e.g., as a reader if a layperson or as a deacon or priest if a clergyman) in the celebration of the Eucharist or of any other ceremony of public worship.
However, in the case of a ferendae sententiae interdict, as opposed to latae sententiae, or automatically, similar to excommunication, ferendae sententiae interdict is one incurred only when imposed by a legitimate superior or declared as the sentence of an ecclesiastical court, those affected are not to be admitted to Holy Communion (see canon 915), and if they violate the prohibition against taking a ministerial part in celebrating the Eucharist or some other ceremony of public worship, they are to be expelled or the sacred rite suspended, unless there is a grave reason to the contrary. In the same circumstances, local ordinaries (bishops) and parish priests lose their right to assist validly at marriages.
Automatic (latae sententiae) interdict is incurred by anyone using physical violence against a bishop, as also by a person who, not being an ordained priest, attempts to celebrate Mass, or who, though unable to give valid sacramental absolution, attempts to do so, or hears a sacramental confession. Automatic interdict is also incurred by anyone falsely accusing a priest of soliciting sexual favors in connection with confession or attempting to marry while having a perpetual vow of chastity.
An interdict is also the censure that canon law says should be imposed on someone who, because of some act of ecclesiastical authority or ministry publicly incites to hatred against the Holy See or the Ordinary (Bishop), or who promotes or takes up office in an association that plots against the Church, or who commits the crime of simony.
“Many saints have lived through tumultuous times—much like our own. Look no further than the fourteenth century; it seems to bear a striking resemblance to our present state of affairs. In fact, a quick read through one saint’s writings and you would think that she was living today.
Saint Catherine of Siena was born in the middle of the fourteenth century when the black death swept through Europe. Italy was far from united at the time, for all of the city states were embroiled in near ceaseless warfare (of smaller or larger scale) with one another.
At times, the Pope was even placing cities under interdict so that there were many who could not receive the Sacraments on account of their rebellious leaders. Saint Catherine was sometimes called on to act as an intermediary in these conflicts, such as when she traveled to Avignon in order to convince the Pope to lift the interdict on Florence.
Despite these many tribulations, the Catholic Church and her members persevered through this period of upheaval and uncertainty. And how did they do it? We can look to St. Catherine as a model. Her response to all of the troubles in the world was to implore the Lord to act through his Christian servants, both lay and ordained. She prayed for their renewed fidelity to the vocation God had given them. Whenever she prayed thus, she never failed to include herself as needing the same help she was asking for others.
Saint Catherine’s humble trust in God can serve as an example for us during these uncertain times. Below is an excerpt from a prayer that she said on Passion (Palm) Sunday in 1379, a little more than a year before her death at the age of 33. Perhaps you will find her centuries-old appeal to resonate with the needs of our present day and age.
I have one thing to ask of You.
When the world was lying sick
You sent Your only-begotten Son
and I know You did it for love.
But now I see the world lying completely dead—
so dead that my soul faints at the sight.
What way can there be now
to revive this dead one once more?
For You, God, cannot suffer,
and You are not about to come again
to redeem the world
but to judge it.
shall this dead one be brought back to life?
I do not believe, oh infinite Goodness,
that You have no remedy.
Indeed, I proclaim it:
Your love is not wanting,
nor is Your power weakened,
nor is Your wisdom lessened.
So You want to,
and You know how
to send the remedy that is needed.
I beg You then,
let it please Your goodness
to show me the remedy,
and let my soul be roused to pick it up courageously.
Response: [St. Catherine pauses here to listen to the Lord’s response.]
Your Son is not about to come again
except in majesty,
as I have said.
But as I see it,
You are calling Your servants christs,
and by means of them
You want to relieve the world of death
and restore it to life.
You want these servants of Yours
to walk courageously along the Word’s way,
with concern and blazing desire,
working for Your honor
and the salvation of souls,
and for this
patiently enduring pain,
from whatever source these may come.
For these finite sufferings,
joined with their infinite desire,
You want to refresh them—
I mean, You want to listen to their prayers
and grant their desires.
But if they were merely to suffer physically,
without this desire,
it would not be enough
either for themselves or for others—
any more than the Word’s Passion,
without the power of the Godhead,
would have satisfied
for the salvation of the human race.
Oh best of remedy-givers!
Give us then these christs,
who will live in continual watching
for the world’s salvation.
You call them Your christs
because they are conformed with Your only-begotten Son.
Ah, eternal Father!
Grant that we may not be foolish,
or see so darkly
that we do not even see ourselves,
but give us the gift of knowing Your will.
I have sinned, Lord.
Have mercy on me!
I thank you,
I thank you,
for You have granted my soul refreshment—
in the knowledge You have given me
of how I can come to know
the exaltedness of Your charity(love)
even while I am still in my mortal body,
and in the remedy I see You have ordained
to free the world from death.”
-“Prayer 19” in The Prayers of Catherine of Siena, trans. Suzanne Noffke (San Jose: Authors Choice Press, 2001), 212-15.
When Mayne was born, King Henry VIII, who had broken England’s communion with the Holy Father in 1535. His son and successor, Edward VI (1547-1553), had persisted in the schism. Edward’s successor was his Catholic sister Mary (1553-1558), who restored England to the Catholic Church. Mary’s death, however, ended the prospects of a Catholic England. At the beginning of her reign, her sister Queen Elizabeth I (1558-1603), a Protestant, reversed Mary’s restoration of Catholicism. The Act of Supremacy of 1558 had reestablished Elizabeth as head of the English church, and the Act of Uniformity of 1559 had made Archbishop Cranmer’s Book of Common Prayer the only lawful liturgical book in England. Like her father Henry VIII, Elizabeth brooked little opposition. Catholic priests who had been educated and ordained at William Allen’s seminary for English priests at Douai, in Belgium, particularly incensed her regime. Priests who had been in the country during the reign of Mary (1553-1558) were grudgingly permitted their lives; émigré priests, however, were hunted down and disembowelled.
The religious reign of terror of the regime forced the vast majority of Englishmen, Catholic though they were in their religious preferences, to conform to the “Elizabethan Religious Settlement.” Pockets of Catholics nonetheless soldiered on. As the scholarship of Eamon Duffy shows very clearly, Cuthbert Mayne’s native shire of Devon was particularly loyal to Catholic Christianity. Mayne was raised by an uncle, a priest who had conformed to Anglicanism. Mayne was likewise ordained a priest of the Anglican Church at about eighteen years of age. After ordination, he studied at Oxford University. By 1570, Mayne had received a Master of Arts degree, and in the meantime made the acquaintance of Edmund Campion, a Jesuit. Campion and other Catholics at Oxford had made a deep impression on Mayne, who came to believe in the truth of Catholic Christianity.
From the new seminary for English Catholic priests at Douai, in Belgium, Campion wrote and encouraged Mayne to emigrate and study there for the priesthood. In 1573, Mayne was formally received into the Catholic Church, and became a seminarian. By 1576 he was ordained, and became the fifteenth of the Douai priests to return to England.
-Golden Manor house, Cornwall, UK, ancestral home of Francis Tregian
A Catholic estate-owner by the name of Francis Tregian accepted Mayne as a member of his household. Mayne served outwardly as Tregian’s steward, while secretly ministering as priest. Protestant locals must have grown suspicious and reported the possibility of a Catholic priest in Tregian’s household to the authorities, and pursuivants, as Elizabeth’s secret religious police were known, arrested Mayne for having a copy of the Agnus dei written on a parchment he wore around his neck. Late medieval English Catholics often wore prayers around the neck, as protection against sin and misfortune, a practice Protestants despised as superstition.
The conditions of Mayne’s imprisonment were appalling. Since the case against him was weak, prosecutors were in no hurry to file formal charges against him. In the end, was indicted for “crimes” he had committed while a prisoner. The government accused Mayne of advocating for the papal supremacy among his fellow prisoners, and of having celebrated the Mass in his cell.
While awaiting trial at the circuit assizes in September, Mayne was imprisoned in Launceston Castle. At the opening of the trial on 23 September 1577 there were five counts against him: first, that he had obtained from the Roman See a “faculty” (or bulla), in violation of, the Statute of Praemunire and 13 Elzabeth I, c. 2, making it treason punishable by death to bring into England papal bulls, to possess them, or promulgate them, such as the one in the possession of Cuthbert Mayne containing absolution of the Queen’s subjects; second, that he had published the same at Golden Manor, ancestral home of his friend, host, protector, and benefactor, Francis Tregian, one of the wealthiest men in Cornwall; third, that he had taught the ecclesiastical authority of the pope and denied the queen’s ecclesiastical supremacy while in prison, a violation of 5 Elizabeth I, c. 1, against maintaining and defending the authority and the power of the Bishop of Rome in print, writing, words, or deed ‘making it treasonable to: maliciously, advisedly, and directly publish, declare, hold opinion, affirm or say by any speech express words or saying, that our said sovereign lady Queen Elizabeth during her life is not nor ought not to be Queen of this realm of England and also of the realms of France and Ireland; or that any other person or persons ought of right to be King or Queen of the said being under her Majesty’s obeisance…it also being treason to call the monarch a heretic, schismatic, infidel, or usurper.’ , and 23 Elizabeth I, c. 1, ‘That all persons whatsoever, which have or shall have, or shall pretend to have Power, or shall by any Ways or Means put in Practice to absolve, persuade or withdraw any of the Queen’s Majesty’s Subjects, or any within her Highness Realms or Dominions, from the their Natural Obedience to her Majesty: (2), Or to withdraw them from that Intent from the Religion now by her Highness Authority established within her Highness Dominions, to the Romish Religion, (3) or to move them or any of them to promise and Obedience to any pretended Authority of the See of Rome, or to any other Prince, State or Potentate, to be had or used within her Dominions, (4) or shall do any overt Act to the Intent or Purpose; and every of the shall be to all Intents adjudged to be Traytors, and being thereof lawfully convicted shal have Judgement, suffer and forfeit, as in Case of High Treason.’; fourth, that he had brought into the kingdom an Agnus Dei (a Lamb of God sealed upon a piece of wax from the Paschal candle blessed by the pope) and delivered it to Francis Tregian; fifth, that he had celebrated Mass.
Mayne answered all counts. On the first and second counts, he said that the supposed “faculty” was merely a copy printed at Douai of an announcement of the Jubilee of 1575, and that its application having expired with the end of the jubilee, he certainly had not published it either at Golden (the manor house of Francis Tregian) or elsewhere. On the third count, he said that he had asserted nothing definite on the subject to the three illiterate witnesses who swore to the contrary. On the fourth count, he said that the fact he was wearing an Agnus Dei at the time of his arrest did not establish that he had brought it into the kingdom or delivered it to Tregian. On the fifth count, he said that the presence of a Missal, a chalice, and vestments in his room did not establish that he had said Mass.
Irregularities of procedure plagued the case against Mayne, but the government was determined to take his life, and the court condemned him to death. Mayne responded, “Deo gratias!”
The day before his execution, the government offered to spare his life in exchange for acknowledgement of the queen’s supremacy and renouncing Roman Catholicism, by testifying against Tregian and revealing other Catholics. Declining both offers, he kissed a copy of the Bible, declaring that, “the queen neither ever was, nor is, nor ever shall be, the head of the church of England”
The following day, Mayne was hanged for about one minute, cut down still alive, most sources say unconscious since his head had hit the scaffolding with such a force it knocked his eyeballs from their sockets, and butchered. Pope Paul VI canonized him in 1970. No one whom Mayne, the first of the Elizabethan priest-martyrs, received into the Catholic Church ever relapsed. Not even persecution could rob his ministry of its fruits. He was the first seminary, as opposed to religious order priest, or proto-martyr, for secular/seminary priests to be martyred in England.
-skull of St Cuthbert Mayne, Carmelite Convent, Lanherne, Cornwall, UK
-reliquary of St Cuthbert Mayne in situ, sitting above the coffin detritus in the grave identified as that of Captain Gabriel Archer, Jamestown, Virginia, USA. In the harsh winter of 1609-1610, settlers at Jamestown placed a small silver case with a slide opening etched with a single letter ─ M ─ carefully on top of a white oak coffin and then covered it with the hard, cold dirt of the New World. Inside the silver encasing were seven bone fragments and two lead ampulae filled with water, oil, dirt, or blood.
-reliquary after preservation. The fine silver work of the hexagonal tube is juxtaposed with the crudely made M, scratched on the slide opening.
“Holding the reliquary in the palm of one’s hand is instructive. It is small, measuring just under three inches in length and an inch and a half in diameter. Conservators at Jamestowne Rediscovery have meticulously restored it, freeing its silver encasement of the green oxidation from sitting in the invariably wet clay soil of James Fort for over four hundred years. It has heft. As it is moved back and forth you can hear and feel that there are loose things inside, imbuing it with a sense of mysterious liveliness. Its slide top has corroded shut. The contents, however, are clear, thanks to CT scans which revealed the bone fragments to be tibia and allowed the conservators, archaeologists, and anthropologists at Jamestowne Rediscovery and the Smithsonian Museum of Natural History to know the exact dimensions of the contents.4 They have created a reproduction, which helps further our understanding of the sealed object (Fig. 3). In essence, the reliquary is a combination object; it holds seven human bones and other effluvia, presumably human.” –https://mavcor.yale.edu/conversations/essays/jamestown-s-relics-sacred-presence-english-new-world
-reproductions of Jamestown, VA reliquary (1609/10) and contents
Relics of Mayne’s body survive. A portion of his skull is in the Carmelite Convent at Lanherne, Cornwall. Christopher M. B. Allison suggests that the silver reliquary discovered in 2015 at Jamestown, Virginia in the grave of Captain Gabriel Archer (died 1609/10) may contain a relic of Mayne.
Litany of St Cuthbert Mayne, Priest & Martyr
Lord, have mercy. Christ, have mercy. Lord, have mercy.
Christ, hear us. Christ, graciously hear us.
God the Father of heaven, have mercy on us.
God the Son, Redeemer of the world, have mercy on us.
God the Holy Ghost, have mercy on us.
Holy Trinity, one God, have mercy on us.
Holy Mary, pray for us.
Queen of the English, pray for us.
Queen of Martyrs, pray for us.
Saint Cuthbert Mayne, pray for us.
Who wast of mild nature and sweet behaviour, pray for us.
Who didst repent of the trappings of false religion, pray for us.
Who didst at length embrace the True Faith, pray for us.
Who didst flee abroad to be priested, pray for us.
Who didst study for the priesthood at Douai, pray for us.
Who wast desirous as a priest to honour God, pray for us.
Who wast desirous to offer reparation for sin, pray for us.
Who wast inflamed with zeal to save souls, pray for us.
Who wast sent in secret to England, pray for us.
Who didst labour in Cornwall, enduring danger and peril, pray for us.
Who didst reconcile so many to the Church, pray for us.
Who wast seized by evil men, pray for us.
Who wast cruelly imprisoned, pray for us.
Who wast wrongfully tried, pray for us.
Who wast unjustly convicted, pray for us.
Who didst refuse to swear the unlawful oath, pray for us.
Who wast condemned to death, pray for us.
Who didst pray so earnestly, pray for us.
Who wast illumined by a great light, pray for us.
Who wast hung, drawn, and quartered, pray for us.
Protomartyr of Launceston, pray for us.
Protomartyr of Douai, pray for us.
Protomartyr of Oxford, pray for us.
Protomartyr of the seminary priests, pray for us.
Of whose converts none ever recanted, pray for us.
Whose relics work miracles, pray for us.
Who dost reign with Christ for ever, pray for us.
All ye holy Martyrs of England and Wales, pray ye for us.
Be merciful, spare us, O Lord.
Be merciful, graciously hear us, O Lord.
From all evil, deliver us, O Lord.
From all sin, deliver us, O Lord.
From the snares of the devil, deliver us, O Lord.
From anger, and hatred, and all ill will, deliver us, O Lord.
From error, dissension, and division, deliver us, O Lord.
From heresy and schism, deliver us, O Lord.
From everlasting death, deliver us, O Lord.
By thine eternal priesthood, deliver us, O Lord.
By that ministry whereby thou didst glorify thy Father upon earth, deliver us, O Lord.
By thine institution of the most holy Eucharist, deliver us, O Lord.
By thy bloody immolation of thyself made once upon the cross, deliver us, O Lord.
By that same sacrifice daily renewed on the altar, deliver us, O Lord.
By that divine power, which thou, the one and invisible priest, dost exercise in thy priests, deliver us, O Lord.
By the triumph of thy grace in all thy holy martyrs, deliver us, O Lord.
We sinners, we beseech thee, hear us.
That thou wouldst deign to rule and preserve thy holy Church, we beseech thee, hear us.
That thou wouldst deign to preserve the Apostolic See, and all ecclesiastical orders, in holy religion, we beseech thee, hear us.
That thou wouldst deign to humble the enemies of holy Church, we beseech thee, hear us.
That thou wouldst deign to grant peace and unity to all Christian people, we beseech thee, hear us.
That thou wouldst deign to recall all the erring to the unity of the Church, and to lead all unbelievers to the light of the Gospel, we beseech thee, hear us.
That thou wouldst deign to send faithful and unshakeable workers into thy harvest, we beseech thee, hear us.
That thou wouldst deign to deliver us from all heresy, faithlessness, and blindness of heart, we beseech thee, hear us.
Son of God, we beseech thee, hear us.
Lamb of God, who takest away the sins of the world, spare us, O Lord.
Lamb of God, who takest away the sins of the world, graciously hear us, O Lord.
Lamb of God, who takest away the sins of the world, have mercy on us.
Christ, hear us. Christ, graciously hear us.
Lord, have mercy. Christ, have mercy. Lord, have mercy.
Our Father… (in secret until)
V/. And lead us not into temptation.
R/. But deliver us from evil.
Ant. Under the altar of God I heard the voice of the slain saying: Why dost thou not avenge our blood? And they received the divine response: Wait yet a little while, until the number of your brethren be fulfilled. (P.T. Alleluia.)
V/. What torments were suffered by all the saints.
R/. That they might securely come to the palm of martyrdom.
V/. The bodies of the saints are buried in peace.
R/. And their names shall live for evermore.
V/. Precious in the sight of the Lord.
R/. Is the death of his saints.
V/. The saints have entered the kingdom with palms.
R/. They have merited crowns of beauty from the hand of God.
V/. O ye Martyrs of the Lord, bless ye the Lord for ever.
R/. O ye choir of Martyrs, praise ye the Lord in the highest.
V/. Thee the white-robed army of Martyrs praise, O Lord.
R/. Thee the holy Church throughout the world doth confess.
V/. Make us to be numbered with thy saints.
R/. In glory everlasting.
V/. O Lord, hear my prayer.
R/. And let my cry come unto thee.
Let us pray.
O God, who didst grant to blessed Cuthbert before the other seminary priests to run the road of torments for the salvation of souls: grant to us in thy mercy, that inflamed with the same zeal for souls, we may not hesitate to lay down our lives for others.
Increase in us, O Lord, faith in the resurrection, who dost work wonders by the relics of thy Saints: and make us partakers of that immortal glory, a pledge of which we venerate in their ashes.
Stir up in us, O Lord, the Spirit that the blessed Martyrs of Douai obeyed: that being filled with the same, we may study to love what they loved, and to do the works that they taught.
O God, who didst strengthen thy blessed Martyrs Cuthbert and his companions with unconquerable courage, that they might fight for the true faith and the primacy of the Apostolic See: by hearkening unto their prayers, we beseech thee to help our frailty, that, strong in faith, we may be able to resist the enemy even to the end.
O God, who didst raise up thy blessed Martyrs Bishop John, Thomas, and their companions from every walk of life to be champions of the true faith and of the Supreme Pontiff: by their merits and prayers, grant that, by profession of the same faith, all may be made and remain one, as thine own Son prayed.
We beseech thee, O Lord, mercifully to receive the prayers of thy Church: that, all adversities and errors being destroyed, she may serve thee in secure freedom.
O God, who dost correct those who have erred, and dost gather those who were scatttered, and dost preserve those who have been gathered together: we beseech thee, clemently pour forth upon Christian people the grace of union with thee, that, rejecting division, and joining themselves to the true shepherd of thy Church, they may be able to worthily serve thee. Through our Lord Jesus Christ thy Son, who with thee liveth and reigneth in the unity of the Holy Ghost, God, world without end.
V/. O Lord, hear my prayer.
R/. And let my cry come unto thee.
V/. By the intercession of blessed Cuthbert, may almighty God bless us, the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Ghost.
V/. And may the souls of the faithful departed, through the mercy of God, rest in peace.
-Agnus Dei discs from the collection of Gary Minella, Queens, New York. The wording on the disc on the left reads: “ECCE AGN DEI … PECC . MUNDI” and “PIUS XI PM … ANNO P XIV MCMXXXV”.
Agnus Dei sacramental
The Agnus Dei is an ancient sacramental―a sacred object, or action, which the believer uses for the purpose of obtaining spiritual favors through the Church’s intercession. It might possibly be the Church’s oldest sacramental. There are historical accounts as to their existence even as far back as the sixth century. However, most people these days are completely unaware of them. In fact, some of the brightest theological minds in the Church have never even seen an Agnus Dei.
The Agnus Dei, whose name means “Lamb of God,” is a blessed wax disc impressed with the figure of the Lamb of God. But just as the St. Benedict Medal is not merely blessed but also exorcised, so too is the Agnus Dei consecrated rather than merely blessed by a reigning pope.
Traditionally Agnus Deis are consecrated only during the first year of a pope’s pontificate, and then again every seven years.
They are either round or oval. The lamb depicted upon them usually bears a cross or a flag. It’s not uncommon that images of saints or the name and arms of the consecrating pope are embossed on the reverse. This sacramental may be worn suspended around the neck or preserved as an object of devotion.
Centuries ago, popes would consecrate these sacramentals on Holy Saturday. They were made of the reworked wax from the previous year’s Paschal candles, to which chrism and balsam was added. Later, the Agnus Deis were consecrated on the Wednesday of Easter week and distributed on the Saturday of the same week.
In recent centuries, the task of preparing them was given to monks and nuns who would similarly collect the previous year’s Paschal candles. Cardinals visiting the pope would be given a disk to mark their visit. The cardinals would then in turn place them in their miter—probably because they didn’t have pockets back then. The Cardinals would then distribute the Agnus Deis to those in need of them.
The sacramental is rich in symbolism, mostly from the Old Testament. As in the Paschal candle, the wax symbolizes the virgin flesh of Christ. This is because medieval people believed that the bee was the only animal that reproduced without the benefit of sexual congress—thus, the fruit of their bodies, the wax, was produced “virginally.”
The lamb bearing a cross embossed on the disk is to remind the Christian of the Mosaic sacrifice in which a lamb was offered to God as an expiation of sins. The lamb’s shed blood would then protect Jewish households from the destroying angel (Exodus 12:1-28). Thus, the Agnus Dei emulates and reflects this blessing protecting the bearer from all malign influences. The prayers used in preparing the wax medallions make special mention of protection against storms, pestilence, fire, floods, and the dangers to which women are exposed during pregnancy and childbirth. In fact, several miracles have been attributed to these sacramentals including extinguished fires and stayed floods. In fact, Pope St. Pius V, fearing that the rising Tiber would flood Rome, threw an Agnus Dei into the river which immediately subsided.
In their writings, Popes Urban V, Paul II, Julius III, Sixtus V and Benedict XIV specifically mention some of the special virtues attributed to the Agnus Dei:
foster piety, banish tepidity, deliver from temptation, preserve from vice, preserve from eternal ruin and dispose to virtue.
cancel venial sins and purify from the stain left by grievous sin after it has been remitted in the Sacrament of Penance.
protection against sudden and spiritually unprovided death. (i.e., securing a happy death)
banish evil spirits.
dispel fears occasioned by evil spirits.
protection in combat, and the power to ensure victory.
protection against poison
protection against the snares of the wicked.
protection against false accusations.
protection against illness and an efficacious remedy against illnesses.
protection against the ravages of pestilence, epidemics and infectious diseases.
protection against bouts of epilepsy.
protection for mothers and babies against peril and provide for a safe and easy delivery.
protection against shipwrecks.
protection against lightning and floods.
protection against hailstorms, tempests, tornados, lightning and hurricanes which are circumvented or dispelled.
that at the sight or touch of the Lamb impressed on these waxen discs, the faithful should be inspired to dwell on the Mysteries of our Redemption recalled by this symbol, be moved to praise, venerate, and extol God’s goodness to us, hoping to obtain pardon for their sins, and to be cleansed from all stain of sin.
protection against poison and its effects.
through Divine Intervention, protection against the snares, wiles and frauds of Satan which should not prevail.
Like all sacramentals, this object serves to remind us of God and His place in our lives. It reminds us to serve Him and love our neighbor. It’s absolutely not a charm or talisman to bring “good luck” or repel evil, as that would be blasphemy. The medal has no intrinsic “magic ability.” (It should be pointed out that all power in the universe is in God’s hands and doesn’t reside elsewhere. In other words, people who claim to have magic powers are deluded or lying.)
To be clear, the Agnus Dei has no power in and of itself. It is, after all, only so much wax. To act as if it’s magical is sacrilege and assuredly the best way to make sure you don’t receive its spiritual benefits. Rather, its graces and favors are due to our faith in Jesus Christ, Our Redeemer, to the efficacious prayers of the pope who consecrated it (James 5:16) and to the abundant blessings which the Church has bestowed upon those who wear and pray with the sacramental.
This sacramental is highly esteemed by the Church and it’s often given to those who are spiritually afflicted or harassed. Considering their holiness and their inherent rarity, limited to the amount of wax salvaged from the previous year’s Paschal candles collected in the churches of Rome, Agnus Deis were greatly cherished by the faithful and passed down from generation to generation. Apparently, they caused so much fear and consternation among the enemies of the Church that Catholic-bashing Queen Elizabeth I of England outlawed their importation into her realm, calling them “popish trumperies.”
Though the origins of the Agnus Dei are lost to history, it’s most likely a Christian substitute for unenlightened pagan charms and amulets. It’s not impossible to think that the Agnus Dei was meant to ween pagans from their peculiar demons and bring them into the Light of Christ. Thus, instead of believing in sympathetic magic somehow “inherent” in their amulets, they were given the Agnus Dei to save them from themselves. If such is the case, we can comfortably trace the origins of the Agnus Dei back to the fifth century, in which we can say that Rome was finally made a Christian city.
From the time of Amalarius (c. 820) onwards we find frequent mention of the use of Agnus Deis. Popes often gave them as presents to monarchs and other distinguished personages. This first historical mention of this particular sacramental describes them as having been made from the previous year’s Paschal candles. Ennoldius (c. 510) specifically mentions that the fragments of the Paschal candles were used as a protection against tempests and blight.
The earliest examples of an Agnus Dei still in existence come from the reign of Pope Gregory XI (AD 1370).
After the shards of the Paschal candles are harvested from Rome’s churches, melted and poured into forms, they are given to the pope and he dips them in water which had been blessed and mingled with balsam and chrism. At that, the Holy Father prays over them, asking God to impart to all those who are given the Agnus Deis true faith and sincere piety.
Once the cardinal or bishop was given an Agnus Dei, they in turn either gave it as a present to someone or, more likely, broke off small pieces of the wax disk so as to make sure as many people as possible could benefit from it. The small piece of wax was then kept in a locket or other suitable container.
Inexplicably, the practice of consecrating the Agnus Dei sacramental was abandoned following the Second Vatican Council. The last pope to consecrate them was Pope Pius XII (r. 1939-1958), who created them in 1945 and 1952.
Perhaps, one day, the Church will reinstitute this beautiful custom. Or perhaps she won’t. Either way, we can still be assured of the pope’s prayers for us, his spiritual children—and, of course, the blessings of Christ and His Mother and, indeed, all the angels and saints. As Christians, we don’t believe in magic. In fact, we have something by far better―salvation.
A papal bull had to be issued several centuries ago warning the Faithful not to buy these sacramental—not because of simony, which is a horrible sin in and of itself—but rather because those being sold were most likely forgeries. Do not procure them from the internet, despite the claims people make there.
A prayer for those who carry or wear an Agnus Dei
Jesus, my Savior, true Lamb of God, Who takest away the sins of the world, by Thine infinite mercy, I beseech Thee to pardon my iniquities. By Thy sacred Passion, I beseech Thee, preserve me this day from sin and shield me from all evil. To Thine honor and glory, I carry about with me this blessed Agnus Dei as a protection to my soul and body, and as an incentive to practice the virtues which Thou hast inculcated, especially meekness, humility, purity and charity.
In memory of that sacrifice of love which Thou didst offer for me and all mankind on Calvary, I consecrate my whole being to Thee. Thou didst die on the cross for love of me; let me die to self for love of Thee! Keep me in Thy love and Thy grace to the end of my life, that I may bless Thee forever with the saints to Heaven. Amen.
The “Agnus Dei” disc dates to the 5th century and was made from the wax of the Paschal candle.
Sacramentals have been part of the Catholic Church in various ways from the very beginning. They are known as extensions of the seven sacraments and naturally flow from them.
Broadly speaking, sacramentals can be any number of actions or blessings that the Church has instituted over the years. The Catechism of the Catholic Church explains how sacramental blessings can be invoked over “persons, meals, objects, and places” (CCC 1671). These blessings call down God’s grace upon a particular individual or object and ask for lasting spiritual protection.
One object of the Church that is among the oldest known sacramentals is the “Agnus Dei” disc. This is a disc of wax with the figure of a lamb impressed upon it. Historically these discs were worn around the neck and were made from the previous year’s Paschal candle. They were originally created on Holy Saturday morning and distributed to the people on the following Saturday.
The tradition dates to around the 5th century, and later the pope was more intimately involved with the sacramental. It became a reserved blessing of the pope, who consecrated these pieces of wax during the first year of his pontificate and every seven years after that. It is believed that Pope Pius XII was the last reigning pontiff to bestow such a blessing.
The sacred wax was a constant reminder of Christ’s Easter victory. According to various papal writings, those who wore it were instructed, “that at the sight or touch of the Lamb impressed on these waxen discs, the faithful should be inspired to dwell on the Mysteries of our Redemption recalled by this symbol, be moved to praise, venerate, and extol God’s goodness to us, hoping to obtain pardon for their sins, and to be cleansed from all stain of sin.”
Below is a prayer for those who wear an Angus Dei sacramental that summarizes the spiritual disposition that the piece of wax was supposed to cultivate in the person wearing it. The prayer can still help us today to meditate on that saving action of the Passion, death and resurrection of Jesus and how that event should influence our lives.
My Lord Jesus Christ, the true Lamb who takest away the sins of the world, by thy mercy, which is infinite, pardon my iniquities, and by thy Sacred Passion preserve me this day from all sin and evil. I carry about me this holy Agnus Dei in thy honor, as a preventative against my own weakness, and as an incentive to the practice of that meekness, humility, and innocence which Thou hast taught us. I offer myself up to Thee as an entire oblation, and in memory of that sacrifice of love which Thou didst offer for me on the cross, and in satisfaction for my sins. Accept this oblation, I beseech Thee, O my God, and may it be acceptable to Thee in the odor of sweetness. Amen.
Some historians place the origin of the Agnus Dei as early as the time of the Emperor Constantine, near the beginning of the 4th century. The discovery of the Agnus Dei in the tomb of the pious Empress Maria Augusta is the strongest evidence of the antiquity of it’s introduction among Christians.
The Catholic dictionary placed the beginning of the custom as early as the time of Pope Zosimus, who ascended the throne of Peter in the year 417. When the Pascal candle was finally extinguished on Ascension Day the people were accustomed to procure small portions of what was left of it and carry them home as a protection against tempests. All authors agree that it was from this custom of the people that the Agnus Dei had it’s origin.
Love & truth,
Summa Catechetica, "Neque enim quaero intelligere ut credam, sed credo ut intelligam." – St Anselm, "Let your religion be less of a theory, and more of a love affair." -G.K. Chesterton, "I want a laity, not arrogant, not rash in speech, not disputatious, but men and women who know their religion, who enter into it, who know just where they stand, who know what they hold and what they do not, and who know their creed so well that they can give an account of it."- Bl John Henry Newman, Cong. Orat., "Encounter, not confrontation; attraction, not promotion; dialogue, not debate." -cf Pope Francis, “You will not see anyone who is really striving after his advancement who is not given to spiritual reading. And as to him who neglects it, the fact will soon be observed by his progress.” -St Athanasius, "To convert someone, go and take them by the hand and guide them." -St Thomas Aquinas, OP. 1 saint ruins ALL the cynicism in Hell & on Earth. “When we pray we talk to God; when we read God talks to us…All spiritual growth comes from reading and reflection.” -St Isidore of Seville, “Also in some meditations today I earnestly asked our Lord to watch over my compositions that they might do me no harm through the enmity or imprudence of any man or my own; that He would have them as His own and employ or not employ them as He should see fit. And this I believe is heard.” -GM Hopkins, SJ, "Only God knows the good that can come about by reading one good Catholic book." — St. John Bosco, "Why don't you try explaining it to them?" – cf St Peter Canisius, SJ, Doctor of the Church, Doctor of the Catechism, "Already I was coming to appreciate that often apologetics consists of offering theological eye glasses of varying prescriptions to an inquirer. Only one prescription will give him clear sight; all the others will give him at best indistinct sight. What you want him to see—some particular truth of the Faith—will remain fuzzy to him until you come across theological eye glasses that precisely compensate for his particular defect of vision." -Karl Keating, "The more perfectly we know God, the more perfectly we love Him." -St Thomas Aquinas, OP, ST, I-II,67,6 ad 3, “But always when I was without a book, my soul would at once become disturbed, and my thoughts wandered." —St. Teresa of Avila, "Let those who think I have said too little and those who think I have said too much, forgive me; and let those who think I have said just enough thank God with me." –St. Augustine