Summary: Every denomination has its own take on sacrament, and some deny that there are any sacraments, even Baptism, that are normally required for salvation. But Scripture helps us solve the problem.

Thursday of the 4th Week in Course 2018


The forty years that King David ruled over Israel were looked upon in later centuries as a kind of golden age, one that extended into the early years of his son, Solomon. David was chosen by God through the prophet Samuel because he was a man “after [God’s] own heart.” Now David is never referred to directly in that manner, but Jeremiah later on prophesied that God would raise up shepherds for Israel after His own heart. That means, of course, shepherds who loved the people as much as God loves us. David missed the mark, particularly when he stole the wife of Uriah and had him murdered in battle. All of us miss the mark whenever we sin and fall short of our call. But because of the universality of this rebellion, and our need, God sent an immaculate virgin mother, Mary, and from Her came the immaculate Savior, Jesus. He is one with God’s own heart, God’s own love, because He is God, the second person of the Blessed Trinity. And, as we have often heard, He loved us to the end.

Today’s Gospel shows us Mark’s rendition of the sending of the early disciples to preach repentance and effect healing in the people of Israel. He directs them to drive out demons and to anoint the sick for their healing. It’s interesting that Mark records Jesus saying that they were to go out minimally equipped for personal survival, and particularly to enter their work without bread. A few verses later, they return full of enthusiasm for the good work they had done, and then Jesus takes a few loaves and fishes and feeds five thousand men and an unknown number of women and children with them. It’s Mark’s way of saying that Jesus is the Bread of Life, and prepares us for the institution of the Blessed Eucharist.

So in this short passage in Mark we have allusions to the sacraments of Eucharist and of anointing of the sick. The Church is nothing if She is not sacramental. Before the Protestant revolution, the Church had the seven sacraments, but had not formally defined them in an infallible manner. The question hadn’t come up, because even the Eastern Church practiced all seven, which they call “mysteries.”

The revolution or reformation changed all that. Protestants generally preach what is known as the “priesthood of all believers.” Now Catholics also profess that doctrine, but in Protestant theology that is the only kind of priesthood. There is no sacrament in Protestant churches that sets aside clergy, especially priests and bishops, for reconciliation from sin and the offering of the Eucharistic sacrifice. They deny that the Mass, the Eucharist, is sacrificial, and that priests stand in persona Christi capite, in the person of Christ the Head, when they offer the Mass. So when you chop off the sacerdotal priesthood, you also have to change the character of the sacraments that remain. Baptism is untouched, because in an emergency anybody can administer it, as long as they do so with the intention of doing what the Church does. Marriage is fine, because the man and woman administer it to each other. However most Protestants deny that Marriage is a sacrament. Lutherans are ambivalent about Confession and Absolution, and some practice Anointing of the Sick without claiming it as a sacrament. Every denomination has its own take on sacrament, and some deny that there are any sacraments, even Baptism, that are normally required for salvation.

The confusion about sacraments stems from these pesky Scriptures. There is good justification for all seven sacraments, these gifts of God for our growth and salvation, and the Council of Trent formally stated which sacraments are signs that in themselves confer grace. Here’s another reason to give thanks for the magisterial ministry of the Church, where we can go when we have questions about our relationship with Jesus Christ and the communion of saints. And, of course, to pray for a restoration of Christian unity, which was dear to the heart of the Savior.

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