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CEREMONY

75

Once the sacraments are seen as moments in God's action manifest in history and as vehicles of personal action, expression, and mutual encounter, the nature of sacramental causality begins to need review. The sacraments are indeed moral causes of God's redemptive grace insofar as they express the intercession of Christ and the prayer of the Church. But as embodiments of God's saving action gracing man, they are also efficient causes. Their efficiency is intimately intertwined with their significative quality. In signifying, the sacraments cause grace. The sacraments should not be conceived as signs (whether things or actions) which happen to he used by God to confer grace, so that a kind of dualism is ascribed to the sacraments: on the one plane of visible reality are the sacramental words, actions, and objects; on another plane is the invisible action of God conferring grace. Sacramental action is not a smoke screen behind which supernatural grace-giving action occurs. The sacraments do not signify God's grace-giving action and the grace which results merely by reason of a pre-established harmony set up by Christ when he instituted the sacraments. No, the sacraments are the visible aspect of God's redeeming grace. God's action gracing man embodies itself in word, gesture, and the use of things, even as it embodies itself in the hu¡ manity of Jesus. When the divine action gracing man is present, it is present visibly, and its visible aspect signifies its presence to men. The visible aspect which signifies can be present only if that which it signifies is present, for it is by nature the visible side of this invisible grace. Some theologians propose a new kind of "symbolic causality" to explain this sacramental efficacy which is inextricable intertwined with the sacraments' signifying. Whether or not one believes that we have to speak of a new kind of causality to describe the efficacy of the sacraments, a pastoral conclusion of considerable importance flows from this new awareness of the intimate relationship between the sacraments' signifying function and their conferral of grace. Obscure, unintelligible, sloppily or indifferently performed

Profile for Chicago Studies

Spring 1968  

Volume 7:1

Spring 1968  

Volume 7:1

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