Carolyn Zimmer – Blog Post 3

by Feb 28, 2024Students

               I want to start by welcoming all of you home to the Catholic Church, and on behalf of our brothers and sisters in Christ, we are so happy you are here. I know you have spent a great deal of time preparing for the sacraments you received on the Easter Vigil in OCIA. You have learned a lot about the Church and her teachings. I would like to take a deeper dive into the sacraments of initiation specifically. Now that you’re here, baptized, confirmed, and receiving the Eucharist, what does it mean for the future of your Christian life? The best place to start is with what actually happens in the sacraments.

               I’m sure you have learned the Catechism’s definition of sacrament. The sacraments are “efficacious signs of grace, instituted by Christ and entrusted to the Church, by which divine life is dispensed to us.”[1] I am by no means suggesting that such a definition is untrue, but I would like to approach the sacraments from a slightly different angle. Not only are the sacraments efficacious signs of grace, the sacraments and their materiality also lead us into a past, make sense of the present, and open us up to a future.[2] The “redeeming action is accomplished on different levels of history – that of the figure, of the reality, and of the sacrament.”[3]

               We often discuss the saving waters of baptism and how baptism is necessary for salvation. Jean Danielou explains that, “the content of saving grace allows us a true participation (koinonia): The two aspects of the sacrament are thus defined perfectly: it is an efficacious symbol of the Passion and the Resurrection, representing them corporeally and actualizing them spiritually.”[4] I know you didn’t disrobe for your baptism, but back in the day, they did. This was to represent taking off the “old man and his works”[5]. You really are a new creation than you were before; Danielou says the “…old man is annihilated by means of the sacrament of water…”[6] This means that, not only are you saved from the eternal consequences of your sin, you also do not have to be ashamed. You do not have to hide like Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden. “[The stripping of garments] means the disappearance of shame proper to sinful man before God, and the recovery of sentiment, opposed to that of shame, of filial trust… which was one of the blessings of man’s state in Paradise.”[7] You are also equipped to fight temptation from the enemy. Early Christians understood the preparation for baptism as a time for attack from Satan; so much so, that baptism involved exorcisms[8]. You are no longer under the mantle of the enemy, no longer slaves to sin. The Israelites walked through the waters of the Red Sea and you entered the waters of baptism and “…the two realities have the same significance: they mark the end of slavery to sin and the entrance into a new existence.”[9] You can live your life now in freedom, without the burden of sin or shame weighing you down.

               What began in you in baptism is sealed and perfected in Confirmation. Danielou explains, “In the same way as baptism configures us to Christ dead and risen again, so Confirmation configures us to Christ anointed by the Holy Spirit.”[10] Many find this confusing. Didn’t you receive the Holy Spirit in Baptism? Yes, you did. Confirmation is a “new outpouring of the Spirit having for its object to bring to perfection the spiritual energies called forth in the soul by baptism.”[11] The saints can help shed some light on what this means. St. Ambrose connects Confirmation with the gifts of the Holy Spirit: “You have received the spiritual seal, the spirit of wisdom and understanding, the spirit of counsel and fortitude, the spirit of knowledge and of piety, the spirit of holy fear.”[12] Cyril of Jerusalem understood Confirmation as relating to the spiritual senses; one was anointed on the head, ears, nostrils, and breast to “mark the awakening of the spiritual senses.”[13] I once heard a priest say that if you want to make chocolate milk, baptism is like adding the chocolate, confirmation is like stirring it up. The Spirit has been given and “set in motion”[14] and as such, you are equipped to go from here and live a life of great faith.

               You are strengthened in the Eucharist like the Israelites were strengthened by the manna in the desert. “There is no question,” says Danielou, “of an aid given by God alone that man could not procure by his own efforts. It is, then, a supernatural grace.”[15] This is not merely a nice, symbolic, gesture. The Eucharist “communicates to you the substance of eternal life.”[16] Not only are you strengthened in your individual walks with Christ, you are also strengthened in the community of believers. “[Christ] wishes to have this fellowship with men of eating at table with them, does it not mark…the will to reunite them around his person?”[17] Danielou asks. He also explains that the meals we read about in the Gospels are the “prefiguration of the admission of the nations to the messianic community which is realized in the Church.”[18] Sharing in the Eucharist brings all people of the Church together for a meal and is a foretaste of the heavenly banquet that we will share with all the saints in glory.

               The Sacraments of Initiation have done more than just granted you entrance into the Church, and their effects can be felt for the duration of your Christian life. Baptism, in addition to saving you from your sins, also allows you to put off your old self, live a life free from condemnation and shame. Confirmation equips you with the gifts of the Holy Spirit and opens your spiritual senses. The Eucharist strengthens you for your walk with Christ, as well as strengthening your relationships with the Church as a whole. As you go from here, be strengthened by the understanding that, in the sacraments, you have all that you need to love God.

[1] Catechism of the Catholic Church, 1131

[2] Dr. Tim O’Malley, The Sacraments and the History of Salvation – Part 1 lecture

[3] Jean Danielou, The Bible and the Liturgy, pg. 87

[4] Jean Danielou, The Bible and the Liturgy, pg. 45

[5] Jean Danielou, The Bible and the Liturgy, pg. 37

[6] Jean Danielou, The Bible and the Liturgy, pg. 77, emphasis mine

[7] Jean Danielou, The Bible and the Liturgy, pg. 39-40

[8] Jean Danielou, The Bible and the Liturgy, pg. 97

[9] Jean Danielou, The Bible and the Liturgy, pg. 88

[10] Jean Danielou, The Bible and the Liturgy, pg. 118

[11] Jean Danielou, The Bible and the Liturgy, pg. 119

[12] St. Ambrose, De Mysteriis, 42; Botte 121 as cited in Jean Danielou, The Bible and the Liturgy, pg. 120

[13] Jean Danielou, The Bible and the Liturgy, pg.120-121

[14] Jean Danielou, The Bible and the Liturgy, pg. 119

[15] Jean Danielou, The Bible and the Liturgy, pg. 149

[16] Ibid.

[17] Jean Danielou, The Bible and the Liturgy, pg. 155

[18] Jean Danielou, The Bible and the Liturgy, pg. 156