Carolyn Zimmer – Blog Post 2

by Feb 11, 2024Students

               In the American Church today, it is easier than it should be to understand the sacraments as religious rites of passage. After all, when you have a baby, you put him or her in a pretty, white outfit, have him or her baptized, and then celebrate with a party. For First Communion, you put the child in a pretty, white outfit (or black suit), he or she receives Communion, and then you celebrate with a party! When a Catholic adult gets married, the bride wears a pretty, white dress, the groom a black suit, they get married, and then you celebrate with a party! Are we noticing a pattern? It seems the sacraments can be summed up in pretty outfits, parties, and presents, oh my! Don’t get me wrong, the outfits, parties, and presents are not the problem. The problem is a shallow understanding of what the sacraments truly are, but to attempt to understand that, we must take an enormous step backward… “enormous” like, to the dawn of creation kind of enormous.

               The Church teaches that God created the cosmos ex nihilo, which means freely, out of nothing[1]. The traditional understanding is that, although Adam and Eve did reject God during the fall, the first creatures to fall were the angels. Lucifer rebelled against God (and apparently had some followers). Bouyer’s understanding is that after the angels fell, God created the earth. He posits that evolution, in all its messiness and progress, is actually a reflection of the angelic battle between good and evil going on in the immaterial world.[2] Bouyer explains that the materiality of the world is what “allows contact with the cosmos”[3]. Man emerges as one in God’s image and likeness as an intended redeemer of the fallen cosmos. We all know how that turned out with Adam and Eve! Humanity rejects the opportunity to choose obedience and instead joins Lucifer in his rejection of God.

Bouyer explains that from the very beginning, the cosmos appears as “a celebration of uncreated glory… [it] exists only for the glory of the creator.”[4] But the entire cosmos, and therefore all of materiality, was made for the glory of God. In that way, all of creation is sacramental. Joseph Ratzinger explains that, “…things are more than just things: …they are signs whose meaning extends beyond their immediate sensorial power.”[5] Humans are unique in that we are made in the image of God[6]. St. Paul shows us in the New Testament that “…only human life can express the ultimate meaning of the created world in its entirety and its unity…”[7] This is why Christ came. God transcended his transcendence and took on materiality, the broken materiality that had been battered by sin, and he redeemed it. Bouyer explains, “The Son, model and principle of all things, by becoming flesh in fallen mankind and making his own death of man and of the whole universe, returns the world and man to the praise of divine glory. He thereby gives back life to all flesh and the light of glory to every being.”[8]

Our materiality was restored, not only the humanity that was always intended to bring glory to God, but in his gift of the Spirit, the sacraments allow materiality to be something more. They allow us to transcend our materiality to relate to God and the rest of the cosmos. We become what we were always intended to be: creation in God. The sacraments unify the cosmos; the multiplicity of the materiality being unified in the cosmos is a participation in the Trinity, in which there is a multiplicity of persons whilst being a unity of one God. This is done, not as an afterthought or a consolation prize. Rather, the signs and materiality chosen in the sacraments were created entirely for this purpose from the beginning[9]. God’s own interior life is now (in some ways) and will be fully expressed and fully lived out in the created order.[10] Bouyer notes, “Through sacramental participation in the Savior’s glorifying cross, mankind thus joins the faithful angels, themselves forever celebrating, from the first moment of creation, the Ancient of Days.”[11]

We can see that although the sacraments can appear as mere religious rites of passage, we know that they are so much more than that. Instead of being mere ceremonies, they are our avenue to the inner-life of the Divine. Lemna explains it best and is worth quoting at length:

“Christ unites himself to human nature in the hypostatic union and joins us personally to his eternal being, which is one with the Eucharist of the Church. He brings us and the cosmos with us in Wisdom into the very heart of the personal, paternal source of divine and created life. The Eucharistic liturgy of the Church is not only a sharing in the primordial and cosmic liturgy; it is a ‘recapitulation’ of it in Christ’s eternal canticle of thanksgiving to the Father. Through the human being, an angel of substitution, Christ completes, in a transfiguring way, the liturgical mission of both humanity and angels.”[12]

Let us, then, partake in the sacraments with the joy that comes with participation in the Trinity, and take on the daunting task of teaching our children to do the same with renewed vigor.

[1] CCC, 296

[2] Bouyer, Cosmos, 223

[3] Bouyer, Cosmos, 210

[4] Bouyer, Cosmos, 200

[5] Ratzinger, Theology of the Liturgy, 158

[6] Genesis 1:27

[7] Bouyer, Cosmos, 90

[8] Bouyer, Cosmos, 107

[9] Bouyer, Cosmos, 104

[10] O’Malley, “Chapter 18: Wisdom in the Trinity” lecture

[11] Bouyer, Cosmos, 202

[12] Lemna, The Apocalypse of Wisdom, 327