The Sacraments of Jesus Christ (Sacramentology)

By Rev. Fr. Oliver Onah

The Institution and Efficacy

In one of my annual leaves which I spent in one of the biggest cities in this country, I received one of the rudest shocks of my life. After preaching a Sunday homily which featured the Sacraments of Christ prominently, a worshipper came to me and said; "Fr, your homily on the Sacraments was a beautiful one but my problem is that I know a minister who is not worthy to approach the Sacraments not to talk of administering them."

The person did not present me with any yardstick for measuring the moral worthiness of a person in relation to the Sacraments. Whether the judgment was arbitrary or statutory was beyond me. Meanwhile, my shock was not mainly on the unworthiness of the minister but on the abysmal level of ignorance in this Christian.

For this person I think, everything about the Sacraments namely, the institution and the efficacy originate from the minister without any reference to Jesus Christ. This being the case, it is a false position (see below).

Sacraments of the New Covenant are efficacious signs and instruments of divine grace, instituted by our Lord Jesus Christ as ways to heaven. That is to say, they have their origin in Christ; they are external sensible signs and they confer the grace of salvation on the recipient.

There are seven Sacraments namely: Baptism, Confirmation, Holy Eucharist, Reconciliation, Extreme-Unction, Holy Orders and Matrimony. Generally, all of them confer grace on the recipient. Individually, each of them confers a specific grace that distinguishes it from another. The criterion for the conferment of grace by these Sacraments has led the adversaries of the Catholic Church to myriads of false positions.

The following are some of the adversaries and their false positions.

(1) All the Protestants negate the efficacy of the Sacraments in the order of grace.

(2) The Anglicans and the Modernists reduce the Sacraments to pure empty signs.

(3) The Donatists negate the Catholic doctrine of the sacramental efficiency and maintained that the efficacy of the Sacraments depends on the faith, and by the virtue of the minister and of the one who receives them, even the faith and the virtue should act as moral force in God in order to obtain the grace through the rite of the Sacraments.

(4) Martin Lurther maintained that the Sacraments were instituted for re-animating the faith and inculcating hope because, by virtue of these, God covers us with the mantle of the merits of Jesus Christ, that is, with a grace that is purely extrinsical.

The Catholic Church in her Councils radically condemned and dismissed the above errors by dogmatically stating that the Sacraments are instrumental efficient causes of the grace.

That is to say, the error of the adversaries (and of course my client in the opening paragraph of this work) is that they believed that the Sacraments work "ex opera operantis",(or opus operantis) i.e. according to the moral and spiritual wavelength of the minister, such that if the minister is morally unworthy, the Sacrament is empty.

But the theological truth is that the Sacraments derive their efficacy "ex opera operato" (or opus operantum) i.e. independent of the minister's or recipient's moral status but from valid performances of the rites of the Sacraments under the supreme mandate of Jesus Christ who instituted them. That is not to say that the minister should just make due with "ex opera operato".

Christ always requires a holy instrument and he should try to be so. By and large, it is wrong for parishioners to be moving from one parish to another to attend a more holy Mass, obtain a more holy blessing, get a more holy and miracle-working water, get baptized or wedded by a holier priest and so on.

The Mass celebrated by a priest ordained today is the same as that celebrated by the Holy Father, the Pope.

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