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CHICAGO STUDIES

The classical theological notion that a sacrament consists of matter (things or their use) and of form (the words of formulae) must be seen in the context of the role of the word of God in salvation history. God's word is enshrined for us in a special way in Sacred Scripture. God's word spoken by the prophets, by Jesus Christ, and by the apostles prompted by the Spirit of Christ are recorded for us in the Bible. The words or formulae of the sacraments are sometimes taken from the Bible, as in the case of the narrative of institution of the Eucharist or the baptismal formula. Sometimes the formulae express the spirit of the biblical word rather than simply appropriate it literally. In any case, the sacramental form or formula has its meaning from its context in the Bible, not apart from the Bible. After all, what would the essential words of baptism mean to someone who knew nothing about the Bible? Our familiarity with the words of the sacraments and their explanation inclines us to forget that the source of their mean· ing is not themselves or even their accompanying gestures and elements, but the word of God. If the formula is the decisive element for the meaning of the sacramental action, and if the formula derives its meaning from the Bible, then the sacramental action will be meaning· ful to those celebrating it only if it is accompanied by the biblical word. The biblical word is necessary for sacramental action to be personal communication between God·in·Christ and man. In emergency, or for canonical purposes, that is, the orderly social life of the Christian community (e.g., determin· ing validity of orders, marriage, and so forth), the minimal biblical word suffices, the so-called form of the sacrament. But normally, when God and Christ approach us personally, they wish to say more to us than a few words whose import is minimal apart from their context. The form alone suffices in emergency because, in the final analysis, the context pre· supposed in the normal celebration of the Church and in the memory of those conferring and receiving the sacrament. The biblical word in some form or other-reading, homily, medi· tative chants, prayers of the Church-necessarily accompanies

Profile for Chicago Studies

Spring 1968  

Volume 7:1

Spring 1968  

Volume 7:1

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