Epiphany : a theological introduction to Catholicism
by Aidan Nichols O.P.
Chapter 9: The Rites of the Church
In the Greek practice, the priest questions the sinner about his sins; in the Slavonic, as in the Latin, the penitent takes the initiative in confessing as he or she desires. Absolution is given "deprecatively" (in a prayer form) in the Greek usage, both deprecatively and "declaratively" (in the form of an assertion) in the Slavonic. Thus the Greek celebrant prays:
And the Slavonic both prays and affirms:
In each case the rite ends with reference to the communion of saints in which both priest and penitent are incorporated, thanks to the character of the philanthropic Lord of the Church.
From ancient times it was customary to ask for the prayers of confessors, just as the entire congregation would pray for the public penitents, offering them the suffragium ecclesiae, the Church's "suffrage" or "kind assistance." (The "confessors" here — the accent is placed on the second syllable — are those who have suffered for the faith. The principle of coinherence immanent in the communion of saints suggests that the closer members of the Church are to God, the deeper their charity, the more they can help their fellows.) The intervention of such holy confessors was taken, then, as justifying a diminution in the time of penance imposed by the Church in view of the sinner's reconciliation with her, and with God.
The first recognizably modern indulgences (i.e., those which correspond in evident form to the present practice of Catholicism) come from the south of France of the eleventh century. There, associated with almsgiving, or a pious visit to the sanctuary, we find the Church making an authoritative intervention, in the name of the communion of saints, in favor of her penitents. Such intercession is also found in the ante-Liturgy of the Eucharist, expressed in the old Latin prayers Misereatur and (significantly) Indulgentiam. The point of the intervention was to grant penitents a remission of the ecclesial penance due, signifying thereby the Church's role as corporate intercessor on their behalf before God. Such remissions derived from the commutation of a period of penance between confession and absolution, but as those two moments were increasingly united in a single rite, the remissions of penance were equally increasingly separated from the sacrament itself. This provided the sphere in which indulgences could operate. In 1215 the Fourth Lateran Council thought if proper to inveigh against "indiscreet and superfluous indulgences," and it was no doubt to avoid their trivialization that thirteenth-century sources insist explicitly that the recipient of an indulgence must be "rightly contrite and confessed." From the thirteenth century on, we find indulgences directed to the faithful departed, on the ground that even among them the power of the keys can operate, though only "deprecatively," per modum suffragei. The temporal penalty that both satisfaction and indulgence are said to remit is, then, both the penance imposed by the Church as discipline and the consequences of sin even after a sinner's conversion in depth. Indulgences exemplify how the Church's role towards sinners extends beyond the confessional: these acts of devotion or gestures of charity or exercises of penitence (all these descriptions can serve here) help relate to sacramental penance the daily penitence called for from the Christian. We should note that there is nothing magical about indulgences; the actualization of the remission which the Church accords depends on the degree of faith, the depth of devotion, and the fervor of charity which the recipient can muster: these are the basis for all union with Christ and his Church.
5. Anointing of the Sick
The reconciling work of Jesus Christ can also be regarded as a healing work. In both cases, the empirical facts — getting Pharisee and tax-collector to sit down together, curing Simon's mother-in-law — always have a parabolic significance. They are not done simply for their own sake, although for their own sake they were worth doing. In such reconciliations and healings in the gospel tradition there is a super-plus, since, as their handing on in the preaching and liturgy of the early Church demonstrates, they are meant to be pointers to a larger reconciliation and healing, that by which Jesus was affirmed as Savior of the whole human race. The evangelists, and notably John, are concerned to underscore this point vis-à-vis those who were satisfied with enjoying the material benefits of signs and wonders. The New Testament basis of the sacrament of the anointing of the sick lies in the Synoptic accounts of the Lord's commissioning of the Twelve for a work of healing, as that is further interpreted in the Letter of James (5:13-16), where the prayer of the Church and anointing with oil by presbyters (the delegated local form of the ministry) are said to "raise up" sick persons and "save" them. Here we have the sacramental instrument of apostolic healing. In the original Greek, both of these "doing-words" are ambivalent in meaning, hovering between physical healing and final salvation — the reconciliation of the whole person with himself, with others, and with God in a definitive fashion.
The shape of the sacrament is already clear. In the language of later analysis, the matter is anointing with (olive) oil, the form a prayer formula determined by the Church. Oil is a food marvelously suited to a ritual of healing, at once a soothing ointment and, in the Arabic proverb, the father of muscle. In Scripture oil connotes consolation, joy, peace, and gladness flowing from God's own abundance and toward human wholeness in him. Perfumed oil, in Jewish tradition, is not only this-worldly in its symbolic resonance, for it brings to mind the "oil of paradise," the restoring of life to the elect at the judgment. The form found in the present Latin Rite has the priest pray,
In the age of the Fathers, Christians saw anointing as, in Caesarius of Arles's phrase, medicina Ecclesiae, "the Church's physic." But soon the sense unfolded that this physical healing was ordered to, and therefore subordinate to, spiritual well-being. The shift of emphasis can be documented in the prayers of blessing the oil of the sick on Holy Thursday — between, for instance, the words "ad refectionem corporis" in the Gregorian Sacramentary and the more comprehensive "ad refectionem mentis et corporis" in its Gelasian counterpart. So a more holistic sense of what Christian healing might be gained ground, though never to the complete exclusion of the idea that actual physical recovery was a possible effect of this sacrament. The very primitive Sacramentary of Serapion, an Egyptian prayer book, has:
Aquinas, in his commentary on the Sentences of Peter Lombard, considers that the sacrament was instituted to provide for spiritual enfeeblement, itself provoked by sin (both original and personal) and aggravated by the demoralizing effects of illness. Such enfeeblement would hinder a sick person from carrying out those acts of faith, hope, and charity that bring about in us the life of grace and glory. Subsequently, the Council of Trent produced on this subject one of its most balanced summings-up of the earlier tradition. The Fathers of Trent distinguished between the habitual and the merely occasional effects of anointing. The first consists in the grace of the Holy Spirit relieving and strengthening spiritually the sick person. In every case, Christ does this work in this sacrament (unless we, the receiving subjects, prevent him). The second category entails pardon and healing. These are not, however, different graces from the first, but the same grace insofar as in particular cases sacramental grace, in order to procure its proper (habitual) effect, must either purify the subject from his sins, or give him physical healing, or both. In other words, there may well be cases where a return to physical health is the fruit of this sacrament. It may be in God's will that a person comes to spiritual health by way of physical.
Anointing, then, maintains and strengthens communion with God and with others at times when that unity is compromised by the debilitating effects of sickness and old age. The tendency of the sick body to become an alien object to the mind is corrected by the grace of the Spirit of Christ. Similarly, the tendency of suffering to make me exclusively attentive to myself and to dislocate my relations with others is rectified by that Spirit, and the anguish of illness, prompted by the experience of finitude and mortality, is also healed as the sacrament enables me to accept the fact that I shall (eventually) die and to accept that fact in a manner both creative and sacrificial, which makes a death a way to God. In this regard, anointing welcomes the Christian into the mystery manifested in the Lord's person as priest and victim.
In the early modem period, and indeed until earlier this century, when grave illnesses were usually short and death-dealing, this sacrament was rarely conferred more than once, thus justifying the name "extreme unction" (the "last anointing"). However, the authors of the Catechism of the Council of Trent considered it gravely wrong to
Because of the progress of curative and preventive therapy and surgical technique, some illnesses can be prolonged or even permanent states, so that, paradoxically, the development of medicine has produced more sick people. In a period when many people, having been anointed, will live on and even recover, unction has generally ceased to be "extreme." Where it is not, then, praeparatio ad gloriam, part of the last rites, and in those cases where it does not entail cure, what it signifies is the task offered to the sick person under grace. That task is the preservation of a new sense of meaning which the crisis of sickness has created when believers affirm that only the life of the age to come will bring them the total fulfillment they desire. The sick are to pass, with Christ's help, from physical weakness to spiritual strength, from panic to tranquillity, from dereliction to a foretaste of immortality.
As Fr. Richard Conrad has insisted, although the sacrament of the sick does not always result in healing, this does not mean it does not always work. For all the sacraments are sacraments of hope: they point us forward to the kingdom, and enable us to lay hold of it. Part of their action is deferred. In baptism we rise with Christ spiritually; we rise physically in the power of our baptism only at the end of time. (Even spiritually, we are not set free from the world, the flesh, and the devil straight away, but are enabled to withstand these so as to share Christ's victory over them more personally.) The Eucharist is in the words of Ignatius of Antioch the "medicine of immortality," but we still have to die before we can fully enjoy the life it brings.
The sacrament of the sick brings healing, but only does so for certain when the body that was anointed rises to a life beyond sickness. Anointing is linked to the resurrection of the body, just as at Bethany the Lord's body was anointed for its destiny: to die and be buried so as to overcome death and rise in glory. Thus the holy anointing passes into the commendation of the dying, with its climax in the great Profiscere prayer of the Roman liturgy.
Fortified by the last Holy Communion — food for a journey, in Latin viaticum, in Greek ephodion — the faithful receive the Church's parting gift to the dying: a pledge of future glory that will give way before the eternal sacrament of the glorified humanity of Christ.
Orders is the sacrament whereby, through incorporation in the original ministry of the apostles, men come to share, not only in the royal and universal priesthood of all the baptized, entered by baptism and confirmation, but the ministerial or serving priesthood which aims to equip the members of the Church with the graces that flow from Christ as head upon his body, his people. Although those who share in orders are properly called bishops, presbyters, and deacons, the office of the first two groups (assisted by the third) is known not only as the "apostolic ministry" but also as "the priesthood."
For the Letter to the Hebrews, Christ is our great high priest whose work on the Cross has superseded the priesthood of Israel. By his sacrificial death Jesus is more truly and profoundly a priest than the priests of old. From the first moment of the incarnation to the ascension, and now for ever in heaven, he is the source of all priesthood. Moreover, this priesthood can be shared. If the Church is the "fullness of him who fills all in all," the body of Christ, then she must be included in his priesthood. And so the New Testament sees her: as "a royal priesthood" (1 Pet 2:9), "a kingdom and priests to God" (Rev 1:6). Catholicism finds here, as we have had occasion to note in the ecclesiological chapter of this book, two distinct ecclesial ways of sharing the priesthood of Christ. Interrelated and coordinated, they are nonetheless different in kind. The election of the Twelve and their consecration marks out the ministerial leadership of the Church as called to share in Christ's priesthood not simply through baptism — the foundation of membership of the Church — but in a sacrament specially devoted to the hierarchical structure of this people's Church: holy orders. The Twelve share Christ's priesthood because they share in his apostolate, his sending by the Father. They are chosen and consecrated for extending and continuing the mission of the Son in a public way. The Letter to the Hebrews calls Jesus "the apostle and high priest of our profession" (3:1), and the Gospel of John brings out the direct causal link between the sending of the Son and the Son's sending of the apostles:
At the Last Supper, in commanding the Twelve to "do this" (a sacrificial term in itself in both pagan usage and the Septuagint) in remembrance of him (against its Jewish background, not human recollection but God's remembering, a divine action), Jesus bestows on the Twelve an active oblationary share in his priesthood. He empowers them to make present his sacrifice, efficacious for salvation, until he comes again. In the farewell discourse of the Fourth Gospel (the "high priestly prayer," which replaces, in John, the scene of the institution of the Eucharist in the Synoptics), the apostles are presented as sharing the dignity and destiny of the incarnate Son as priestly intercessor and consecrated apostle of the Father. "All mine are thine, and thine are mine, and I am glorified in them" (17:10).
Special droits de cité in the kingdom of Christ are, however, purely for the building up of that city and realm in its fullness. The Lord constituted his Church with a hierarchy within her so that the entire Church might become what she is called to be. The Council of Trent remarks of the Holy Eucharist that the Church celebrates by the hands of her priests: and here the Church can only be that great sacrament, the Lord's spouse, the totality of the people of God as a structured assembly.
If the New Testament then refuses the title hiereus to Christian ministers, this is not a denial of the priestly character of their ministry, but an attempt to avoid confusing it with that of the priests of the old covenant (and a fortiori, those of pagan religion). The Christian ministry is essentially apostolic: as such it can only be a "sacramentalization" of the one effective priest, Christ the Redeemer, whose death and resurrection the minister proclaims and actualizes in ritual. The apostolic college — and thus the sacrament of orders — is fundamental to the Catholic view of the Church. As Paul insists, in the Church as in the human body, the sign of organic life is organized structure, the diversification and coordination of parts. An undifferentiated Church could not be Christ's mystical body. Moreover, the place of the apostles in particular is, for the New Testament, indispensable: they are the foundation of the household of God (Eph 2:20) which is, therefore, not only a differentiated but a hierarchical assembly.
A. THE OFFICE OF A BISHOP
The Second Vatican Council speaks of the bishop's sharing in the apostolic offices of teacher, priest, and shepherd as one of the great Pentecostal gifts of the risen Christ to his Church.
Through what has been called "apostolic simultaneity," the sacrament of orders is a direct sharing in the mystery of Pentecost. Not secondhand but directly do the bishops participate in that meta-event, thanks to the working of the one Spirit in the Church.
The content of the bishop's office is well summed up in its consecration prayers at the ordination Mass. Those of the Armenian Rite will serve as well as any to illustrate this. The chief consecrator begins by summoning forth the candidate and praying for him with the laying-on of hands (the ancient, apostolic ordination gesture):
The rite asks more specifically for gifts equipping the bishop-elect to teach the faith, to convert the vicious and confirm the virtuous, to celebrate the sacraments worthily (especially the "wonderful mystery of the [Eucharistic] sacrifice"), and not to ordain deacons and presbyters hastily or inadvisedly. The bishop is to be a pattern of observance of the commandments and virtues of Scripture, and to pray and keep vigil for the salvation of the people entrusted to him. He will inherit the apostles' authority to absolve sins, "opening the door of heaven to those who come to you through him," to be a father to orphans, widows, and the poor.
The consecrator proceeds to anoint the head and hands of the candidate, asking that he may receive a share in the Pentecostal mystery:
As he hands over the pastoral staff, he says,
Next, the ring is given:
Placing the pectoral cross around his neck, the main consecrator then hands over to the newly ordained the book of the Gospels, with the words,
The conferral of the mitre, the bishop's headdress, is accompanied by a prayer to the Father:
Lastly, the consecrating bishop puts on the breast of his new brother the omophorion, which corresponds to the pallium of the West, a sign of communion with the rest of the episcopate, and notably, for Catholics, with the pope:
This rich symbolism, embodying high doctrine, is only comprehensible if, in the words of Lumen gentium,
That statement is made of course not of an individual bishop as such, but only as such a one is conjoined in mind and heart with the whole episcopal college which has the Roman bishop, the universal primate, as its head.
B. THE OFFICE OF A PRESBYTER
Whereas the deacon is ordained as the bishop's servant, in ministerio episcopi, the presbyter shares his priesthood. Together — liturgically as a corona, "crown," surrounding him — the presbyters form with the bishop, the primary sacerdos, one priestly body, helping him in the governance of the Church. But while the ensuring of spiritual discipline and orthodoxy of faith (shepherding and teaching) must count high among a presbyter's duties, if indeed he shares, through and with the bishop, in the apostolic ministry, nonetheless the special priestly offering of the Eucharistic sacrifice takes pride of place. Indeed, for presbyters — commonly called, simply, "priests" — who are contemplative monks, it may be the only tangible expression of ministerial priesthood.
It is not that the sacrifice is simply superior to the Word; it is rather that the sacrifice is itself the supreme preaching of the Gospel, not just in the sense that every Eucharist contains the liturgy of the Word, but because it is precisely the Christ really, substantially present in the Eucharist, offered and offering himself in the oblation, the Christ who pours himself out unceasingly in the Blessed Sacrament, whom we preach to the nations.
It was the Donatist crisis that helped the western Church to formulate the doctrine of the opus operatum, the objective existence and influence of grace within a priest despite his unworthiness. Though the grace of orders does not require us to make a cult of failure (for God wants us to make good use of his gifts), it nonetheless challenges us to keep our eyes fixed on Christ crucified and to be configured to him.
The grace of orders is nonetheless given for the cultivation of holiness. For that grace to show itself in its true glory, it must be accompanied by the cooperation of the priest's will, and that means his unrelenting pursuit of holiness of life through ascesis and spiritual combat, which in turn means unceasing prayer and thanksgiving, regular self-examination and confession, fasting, abstinence, and the conquest of personal sin. A priest's life and ministry can have no fruitfulness unless he acknowledges the priority of the glory of God in all he does and is.
The privileged contiguity of the priest to the sacrifice of Christ imposes on him the obligation to lead a sacrificial life. Paul defined the apostolate as the capacity to be wasted, poured out on behalf of the Church, seeing there its Christological configuration and thus its hidden fruitfulness. The poet Paul Claudel replied, in April 1945, to a young curé de campagne who had written to tell him of his sense of spiritual isolation. After mentioning his own experiences of isolation in a diplomat's life abroad, Claudel explained:
Like the bishop everywhere, the presbyter in the Latin Church is, with few exceptions, celibate. Sexuality is a divine blessing on, specifically, this life, whereas the priest's primary concern lies in preparing people for the age to come. In the Eastern Churches, where a married presbyterate coexists with a celibate or monastic one, this point is affirmed in the canonical requirement of abstinence from intercourse in the time before celebration of the (non-daily) Eucharist.
Minister of reconciliation and of the Eucharist, man of doctrine and prayer: the priesthood of the presbyter has an amazing concentration of representative significance, gathering up as it does so many of the roles of the whole Church. Its pattern includes most importantly the following elements
In that last regard, the priest will naturally find himself in relation to the deacon. But before moving on to look at the diaconate, some few words must be added about the non-ordaining of women to the ministerial priesthood in the Catholic Church.
The two figures which must be displayed in any church building where the Christian people gather to celebrate the mysteries are the crucified Christ and the mother of God. The ministerial priest, iconic in his male gender, stands for the one; the people, symbolized as mother Church, find expression in the other. While Jesus Christ is the Savior of all human beings, men and women, Mary is our mother, and notably the mother of the members of Christ's Church-body. In the typological and iconic experience of worship, and of the Christian life, the mother of God presents Christians before the Lord's throne; in the one who gave human flesh to the Son of God they find a ready help and intercessor. Mary represents the whole people of God in relation to their Lord. The ministerial priest, by contrast, iconically presents to this body of Christ her head and Lord, the high priest Jesus Christ. This distinction belongs at the deepest level to the ethos and inner tradition of Church, such that all challenge to it disturbs the interrelation of Christology on the one hand, and, on the other, Mariology, ecclesiology, and (ultimately) pneumatology. The choice, use, and combination of images made by Christ and the Spirit must be a supernatural work, or else Christianity is an illusion. Among analogical forms in Catholicism, none are more influential than those which make use of the imagery of sexual differentiation, above all those which refer to God as Father and Christ as bridegroom of the Church. The maleness of the hierarchical priesthood is one vital way in which these great images are preserved in the Church. There is no question here of Jewish male chauvinism in the Lord's non-selection of women for the Twelve, much less any ascription of moral superiority to men. One has only to think of the comparative performance, on Calvary, of the Twelve and of the women disciples. What is at stake is, rather, a symbolic and ritual-dramatic significance in the polarization of man and woman within the group of the Messiah's followers. The fruitful tension of Christological and Marian principles must be structured in the life of the Church: it must, that is, find expression in a sacrament. The ministerial priesthood is the efficacious sign of the new Adam, with the bishop or priest at the altar imaging Christ the bridegroom. (It is also true that the very maleness of Christian priests guards a continuity between the two covenants, where the president at Passover was always male: a female Messiah could not have fulfilled the Exodus tradition.)
Woman becomes one with man not when she is and does all that man is and does, but when her womanliness and its distinctive charisms are acknowledged by man and integrated with his own. There are many tasks of a ministerial nature open to Catholic women along these lines: education, from elementary school to university; pastoral counselling; preparation for marriage, baptism, and confirmation; youth work, social service, especially with the sick and the deprived; iconographic and musical work. Some women may feel called to a fulltime service of the Church in these ways not as vowed religious but in the form of specifically lay diakonia; the ancient order of deaconesses could well be revived in that context.
C. THE DEACON
The deacon is ordained above all for the assistance of the bishop. The Syrian Didascalia Apostolorum describes him as the bishop's mouth, ear, and heart. Deacons were, historically, approached on routine matters so that the bishop would not be continually interrupted. Owing to their position of confidence they sometimes-and especially at Rome — considered themselves superior to simple presbyters. But the normal rule is that the deacons are also at the service of presbyters whenever the bishop considers it desirable.
The deacons of the Church are ordained so as to represent Christ in the role of servant: serving the Father and serving human beings. Ignatius of Antioch calls them servants of the bishop as Christ is of the Father, and thus stewards of the diakonia of Jesus himself. They prepare the table of the Eucharistic feast in the liturgy, but they also act as gobetweens, joining the ministerial priest in the sanctuary to the common people of God in the nave, in the Byzantine Rite, and communicating, in the litanies for which that rite makes them responsible, the world's needs to the Church of saints and angels represented on the iconostasis. In the West, Prudentius calls them the "columns on which God's altar rests"; through them, the hierarchy of bishop and priest finds itself in loser contact with the world and the legitimate temporal concerns which are also germane to the making of the kingdom of God.
In the Book of Genesis, marriage is presented as given in the very moment when God creates male and female in his own image and likeness. It images, then, something of God himself. As the revelation contained in Scripture unfolds, it transpires that this "something" is in fact the capacity for love in interpersonal relationship and its fruitfulness. However, marriage, like all human things, was soon distorted. With the Fall, that primordial going astray at the beginning of our race, marriage too fell; we see the emergence even within Israel, the chosen people, of such practices as polygamy and divorce. Yet, as the Old Testament presents it, marriage never lost the blessing of God. It remained a vehicle of relationship with him; even more, though a natural reality, it was spoken of by the prophets as a lived metaphor — the Bride, Israel, and her Bridegroom — for God's seeking out his people. In other words, it tended toward the sacramental order, the order of incarnational friendship with God, which Christians are privileged to share.
The Redeemer of marriage, as of all the other constitutive dimensions of human life, is Jesus Christ. With the incarnation, the union begins of "things in heaven and things on earth" (Col 1:20). The Gospels present Jesus as the bridegroom awaiting his bride — the human race provisionally embodied, as long as time lasts, in the Church. In word and deed, the bridegroom reveals what the Letter to the Ephesians describes as his "great mystery" (5:32). As prophet Jesus reveals the new kind of marriage to be practiced among his people, an indissoluble marriage based on the gracious origins of humankind, a restoring of the original creation. As priest (or rather, priest-and-victim, for the sacrifice which the God-man offers on Golgotha is himself), Jesus, goes up to Jerusalem, there to die for his spouse, offering his consent at the supper table and promising to take her to himself. From there his wedding procession leaves for the place of the actual celebration: Calvary. As in the medieval rood-screens, Mary, the mother of Jesus, and John, the beloved disciple — the two great personifications of the coming Church — act as the bridegroom's attendants, and the witnesses to the wedding. On the cross, the bridegroom dies for the Church his spouse, who is thus born from his pierced side, since human beings are reborn, accepted and cleansed, in that nuptial self-immolation of God's own Son, becoming one with him who loved us and gave himself for us. As king, Christ reveals in his resurrection that these nuptials of the Cross bring about a complete union between human beings and God for all eternity. By his royal power, as Lord of all, he draws those of the baptized who marry into the sphere of his own marriage covenant, enabling them to experience the nuptial meaning of their own bodies as sacraments of his sacrificial love for his bride, the Church. The baptized who marry as members of Christ's mystical body are thus consecrated by their act of mutual consent. They receive the Spirit of the Father and the Son who joins them together in the marriage bond. They are strengthened by a grace conditioned to their new state, helping them to make the love of Christ, crucified and risen, a present reality, sanctifying one another in the suffering and joy of daily life.
Without this high doctrinal background, it is impossible to understand the demands and specificities of the Catholic understanding of marriage and sexuality. That understanding cannot be set forth in simply pragmatic and empirical terms as though it were purely a matter of one particular presentation of the facts of human psychology. The reason why indissolubility is an integral aspect of the sacrament of marriage is, in the last analysis, that the union between God and humanity cannot be broken. Christ cannot separate from his Church. Divorce, in this context, is not so much a sin as a lie. Similarly, adultery is a falsification of the "one flesh" by (in the context) simulated selfgiving. Again, the use of artificial rather than natural methods of birth control can be said to substitute technical control for the personal control which befits the eminently personal character of the marriage covenant.
Catholic married couples, and other married Christians who share this fundamental understanding, are not, therefore, the last bastions of a Victorian concept of sex and family. They are prophets, priests, and kings; the acting images of Christ the bridegroom and his bride; united to the power of his glorious Cross, journeying together towards the kingdom, the everlasting wedding banquet of the Lamb of God.
The conditions of a valid marriage are implied in the wedding rites of the Catholic Church. The couple are asked to undertake the fulfillment of three conditions. First, the marriage must be open to new life, that is, the couple must be willing to procreate and nurture children. (Couples where one partner or both are childless may still marry, but on the understanding that if ethically acceptable means of overcoming infertility are available, they will make use of them.) Second, a marriage must be permanent, abiding until the death of one partner or both. Third, the union must be "exclusive": this relationship is only possible if it has a unique recipient.
These specify, as it were, the minimum conditions of the marriage covenant which the sacramental order then elevates to be a medium of the grace of the incarnation. For in the first place, the basis of marriage lies in the created order — which is why the Catholic Church claims the right, as the accredited interpreter of that order, to counsel the state on the form of law conducive, in these matters, to the common good. The "Genetic" account of marriage shows Adam receiving Eve as his "helpmate": she brings him complementarity, draws him out of loneliness — and by mutual love each makes the other more himself or herself. Marriage is then for the sustaining of each partner. It is also for their task of co-creation, with God, of the new members of the human race. Companionate union is necessary for children to be born and brought up in a loving home; in these offspring, moreover, the couple re-discover themselves in a new way, as parents, the better to enhance their companionship. The Second Vatican Council's Pastoral Constitution on the Church in the Modern World calls children the ultimate crown of marriage, its most outstanding gift, and the greatest good bestowed on the parents. The spouses are to show forth the mystery of the fruitfulness as well as the unity that holds good between Christ and the Church.
Thanks to Christian initiation by baptism, a married couple share not only a natural, God-given covenant, but a sacrament of the Church. Incorporated in the redeeming work of Christ by baptismal regeneration, with its consequences (justification and sanctification), a man and a woman are now located within the new and everlasting "spousal" covenant of Christ and his Church. Marriage, with its call to self-giving love, acts as a sacrament of God's own love for humankind, as the prophet Hosea had already glimpsed in describing YHWH's union with Israel. More specifically, it is a sacrament of the love of God in Christ for the whole Church, as the Letter to the Ephesians so eloquently puts it (5:21-33). "Love one another as I have loved you" (Jn 13:34) is the new commandment of Christ on his way to Calvary. Marriage is a school of charity-love, entailing an overcoming of selfishness throughout one's life. Married love involves a deepening of both erotic love (the communion made possible by sexuality) and the love of friendship (made possible by shared interests and values). In the spirit of the marriage vows — "for better, or worse; for richer, or poorer" — the charity-love of marriage is a self-emptying, kenotic love, like that of Christ on the cross. It is, then, an unconditional commitment, which does not depend on one or the other remaining lovable, or even sane. One does not marry so as to reform, though love will of its nature reform and improve. Catholicism's opposition to divorce is not, then, a legalism, but an affirmation of the nature of true love. The other can only be truly loved by being continually forgiven until death do them part. (The Church recognizes judicial separation, "from bed and board," but not the concept of the irretrievable breakdown of marriage, and so of remarriage in the lifetime of a spouse. Given grace and providence, there is no total irretrievability.)
Like all sacraments, marriage is related not only to God's "crucial" work, the atonement, but also to what that work served: the mission of the Son now continued in his body, the Church. Marriage has a missionary task. This is directed first to the children. Father and mother are to minister Christ to the children in the whole of a life together. It must then extend beyond the children to a wider circle. The Christian family is a foyer, a radiating center of warmth and affection, into which the lonely, the troubled, the disadvantaged, and the poor should find an entry. The range of such hospitality is wide-befriending other families, welcoming newcomers, visiting the sick, helping single parents, etc., all come within its compass.
Like any sacrament, marriage has its ministers. On the overwhelmingly predominant Catholic view, these ministers are the couple themselves. The priest serves as a witness; if he cannot be located within a given period (as perhaps in Outer Mongolia, or the Antarctic), the couple may proceed to a fully sacramental union with lay witnesses instead.
Though the early liturgy of marriage is lost in the mists of scarcely documented time, in all probability it followed Jewish practice: betrothal leading to marriage, with the making of contract, all taking place by a domestic ritual, presumably with some version of the talmudic seven blessings, as appears to be the case in the third-century Syriac text the Acts of Thomas. In the medieval West, domestic rites (in the home or at the church gate) could both precede and follow the nuptial Mass. Commonly, there would be a domestic rite of consent, with the blessing of a ring (expressed in short pithy prayers, like those in the Anglo-Saxon pontifical of Egbert); a nuptial Mass, with a theologically fuller and indeed often florid prayer of nuptial blessing (one of the most ancient, that of the Gregorian Sacramentary, survives in the reformed Roman book of 1969); and then, at home again, the blessing of the bedchamber (and the couple). Although Scholastic theologians increasingly found the heart of marriage to lie in the exchange of vows, the act of consent (for consensus facit nuptias), the nuptial blessing constituted the liturgical high point, when the bridal pair were placed under a canopy (as in the Sarum Rite) or had a veil draped around their shoulders (as at Milan), both symbols of the Shekinah, or divine presence. In the Visigothic rites, they were bound by a special cord or golden chain. In the Eastern liturgies, the couple are crowned with wreaths of flowers or actual crowns of metal and stones. The East Syrian liturgy prays:
O Christ, adorned Spouse, whose betrothal has
complete the foundation and the building and
sanctify their marriage and their bed;
and may their odour be as a roseshoot in paradise,
May they be a bastion for our orthodox band and
The Eastern Churches retain often elaborate rites of betrothal, with anointing (Maronite), the blessing of robes and jewels (Armenian), and the drinking of a cup of water, ash, and wine, to symbolize dying to a former life and rising to a new (East Syrian). The Order of Christian Marriage for England and Wales (1995) restores a form of betrothal rite for those who wish it, with blessing of the couple and the engagement ring, as well as the lighting of candles to symbolize the convergence of two families. The provision of liturgically marked states of approach to marriage is seen not as archaeological revival but as good pastoral practice which will, through ritual acts, however simple, bond the couple more closely to the Church's understanding of what marriage involves.
The grace of marriage may be expected to be especially fruitful in crises. Love ceases to blossom; it wilts; but grace gives resurrection, a new start, and its effect is cumulative over time.
The building in which these rites take place is evidently a special space for Christians. As the place where the sacrifice of our redemption is celebrated and its fruits received in the seven sacraments, where the word of God is heard and the Christ present in the Eucharistic tabernacle adored, and where all manner of extraliturgical devotions, expressive of the faith of the Church, are carried on, it is a different kind of place. In a special way it is the dwelling of God among us (Rev 21:3), the place where God guarantees he may be found by the faithful. It is our Father's house, God's "royal palace" (the "basilica"); it is the place where the ecclesial body of Christ is molded and developed, and hence is a living symbol of his own blessed body; it is the place where God's ultimate union with his people by the Spirit is anticipated, and so is the new Jerusalem come down from heaven (Rev 21:2). It is a place of escape from what is merely peripheral, where we occupy ourselves with what is fundamentally important. Its architecture reflects human nature in the image of God: passionate for clarity, and enlightenment, as also for peace and quiet, warmth and shelter. In the world-of late antiquity where the Catholic Church was born, churches were not, as one student has pointed out, "iconographical puzzles." Rather, they were
As stylistic epochs give way to each other, Hellenistic and Byzantine, Romanesque, Gothic and Renaissance, Baroque and Romantic, we sense a connection between the Church's theology, her mission, and her feeling for the arts — more recently endangered, alas, by a functionalism which tends to the aniconic, without and within. Yet the Rite of Dedication of Church and Altar makes clear that the building is quintessentially an icon, achieved by way of a specifically architectural set of means (location, volume, massing, and working with the repertoire of earlier tradition in the new accents made available by materials and techniques of the present day).
The building of a church offers a wonderful opportunity to make, for the glory of God but also for the good of human beings, a thing of beauty in a world where there is so much ugliness, and to embody a symbol in a world where symbols are so largely forgotten. A house is but the night lodging of a pilgrim, whereas a church should be the reflection of eternal life and bliss.
A church is essentially a Mass-house, but owing to the organic character of the sacramental and ecclesial life, which flows from and surrounds the Holy Eucharist, a Catholic church contains more than simply the prerequisites of the Eucharistic celebration. The church tower (if it exists) may contain a bell or peal of bells, worked either by moving the bells, or moving the clappers (in which case the peal is known as a carillon). Alternatively a bell may be housed in a small building of its own, a campanile. Less essential today, in that we have docks and watches, the sound of the bell expresses in its own medium the summons of grace, while smaller bells are used in the worship of the Eucharist to give added solemnity to the moment of the consecration (at Mass) or blessing with the Host (at Benediction). A second space that is sometimes separate from the main church is the baptistery often round or octagonal, with the font surrounded by a railing. By the eighth century, in Western Europe at any rate, fonts were customarily resited just within the Church. By the thirteenth century the baptismal water was normally protected by a wooden lid. By the end of the Middle Ages the lid had been lovingly adorned with a spire, sometimes tall enough to reach the Church roof and worked by pulleys. Since the opening part of the baptismal liturgy takes place in the narthex or porch of a church it makes good sense to locate the font there, though nowadays, to permit congregational participation in some numbers at the climax of the rite of baptism, many fonts are relocated in the sanctuary. Since baptism is the "gate of the sacraments," this is not so congruent. If the font is not in the porch (or even if it is), a holy water stoup reminds the faithful entering the church of their own baptism: they take water, and make the sign of the Cross with it. By the nineteenth century, these stoups had become tiny niches in walls, surmounted by canopies. Earlier they could be much larger: the Renaissance Church favored vast shallow basins, frequently designed as shells.
The principal object to which the eye should be directed on entering the body of a church is the (high) altar. Early Christian altars were very small affairs, but gradually they underwent an expansion. Originally, nothing was placed on the "table of sacrifice" except the bread and wine, perhaps the book of the Gospels, and a small casket in which to place the consecrated elements for the communication of the sick. The expansion was due to a number of factors. First, when it became commonplace to "say" Mass rather than sing it, the epistle and gospel ceased to be chanted from ambos (the little pulpits in the early basilicas) and were read instead from two sides (ends) of the altar. Second, with the growth of popular devotion to the saints, reliquaries were placed behind, beneath, beside, and even upon the altars. In the Byzantine Rite, in which the altar is covered in silk or linen cloth embroidered with the instruments of the passion, the relic-bag (antimension) takes the place of the stone containers of the West. Sometimes an altar would have a retable, a decorated screen adorning a fixed platform behind the altar. From that there developed the higher reredos, sometimes a wonder work of statuary, which grew throughout the late medieval and early modern period until by the eighteenth century it filled the entire rear wall of the Church. Though the modern tendency is to reemphasize, by simplifying the surroundings, the starkness of the altar, it must still have a small cavity in which the relics of the saints are placed. It must also be related to an image of the crucified Savior; other images, of our Lady and the saints, are also appropriate in its near vicinity as a reminder of the entire worshipping Church made present in the liturgy.
Also highly prominent in a Catholic church is the tabernacle where the Blessed Sacrament is reserved. The earliest tabernacles appear to be in the form of a kind of small tower, on the gospel side of the sanctuary. Later there were metal doves suspended above the high altar, or a pyx (a kind of veiled chalice), or a small cupboard built into the lower part of the reredos. The modern tabernacle has evolved as a combination of the tower and the cupboard. It is covered in a veil, usually of silk, brocade, or damask, to signify the preciousness of its contents and the divine presence which is thus both concealed and revealed. The veil, in Latin tabernaculum, gives the sacrament house its name.
Candles were originally placed around the altar, having been carried there in procession. But by the twelfth century we find two candlesticks placed on the altar table itself for the whole of Mass. Later this was extended to six for high Mass (and seven when the pope was celebrating, or a bishop in his own diocese). The Dominican use retains the custom of lighting an extra candle during the Canon of the Mass.
The altar must be clothed: the antependium or frontal, hanging down at the front and the sides, is the most ancient furnishing for the altar. In the Byzantine Rite and other Eastern Churches it is closefitting, of brocade or silk. Except in Rome, frontals in the West tended to disappear in the Renaissance, being replaced by carving or sculpture. In addition there are linen or hemp cloths of white: classically two to cover the altar table and a third, the topmost, to hang down on both ends.
An altar is also frequently dignified by a canopy, either free standing (a "civory") or suspended from roof or wall ("baldaquin"). The oldest known is at Ravenna, the best known is Bernini's 1633 baroque civory at St. Peter's, in Rome.
Required for the service of the altar are the sacred vessels and vestments. The chalice (for the wine) and paten (for the bread) are the most important of the former. In the Byzantine Rite the paten is surmounted by the asterikos, consisting of a crossed arch of two curved bands of precious metal, to prevent the veil touching the holy bread. A small spoon is used to give Communion while a metal knife (the lance) cuts the altar bread prepared as the liturgy opens. The ciborium, a sort of covered chalice, holds the consecrated bread in the tabernacle; when the sacrament is carried to the sick it is placed in a small round box, the pyx. If the carrying is by way of public worship and witness it is done in a monstrance, a kind of portable shrine; since the sixteenth century the usual tower type has been replaced by a sun shape, surrounded by rays.
Two kinds of vestments are used in the celebration of Mass. First, there are outer garments, made normally of silk: the chasuble, a tentlike garment (Latin casula, "little house") for the bishop or priest; the dalmatic, a robe with wide sleeves, originally made of Dalmatian wool, for the deacon; the tunicle, a simplified dalmatic, for the subdeacon or, in the modem Roman liturgy, the cross-bearer; the stole, a scarf symbolizing the priestly office; and the maniple, a liturgical handkerchief, now confined to the older uses of the Roman Rite. Second, there are the linen garments worn underneath: the amice, a head-covering; the alb, a long white garment with close-fitting sleeves; and a girdle or cord. On special occasions, the sacred ministers (which in this case can include non-clerics, such as cantors) may use the cope — a semi-circular cloak called in Latin pluviale (literally, a raincoat) — intended to give solemnity to festal occasions. A bishop wears a ceremonial hat called a mitre, originally a soft round cap, but now shield-shaped, and carries a crosier, a crook-shaped staff, as the emblem of his pastoral (shepherding) authority. The design of these garments and objects differs significantly in the Oriental Catholic liturgies, although occasionally there has been borrowing from the Latin Rite.
These special clothes and symbolic objects are not necessarily confined to a church building, for the procession — a characteristic feature of the public life of a Catholic culture — takes them out of doors. A Church
33. Catechismus ex decreto Concilii Tridentini 2.6, 9.
34. R. Conrad, The Catholic Faith: A Dominican's Vision (London, 1995) 182.
35. J. Saward, "Priesthood, Suffering and Sacrifice," Christian 4 (1977) 33.
36. Lumen gentium, 21, 28.
37. Saward, "Priesthood," 34.
38. Lumen gentium, 20.
39. Saward, "Priesthood," 36.
40. A. Manzoni, "Osservazioni sulla morale cattolica," 18, in Opere (Milan, 1965) 1143-44.
41. Apart from the volumes of published correspondence, chiefly with literary figures, the Archives Paul Claudel contain many unedited items testifying to what Sr. Isabelle Bouchard had called his letter-writing "apostolate": L'expérience apostolique de Paul Claudel, d'après sa correspondence (Montreal, 1969).
42. I take this precis from A. Nichols, Holy Order: The Apostolic Ministry from the New Testament to the Second Vatican Council (Dublin, 1990) 142-43.
43. P Brown, "Art and Society in Late Antiquity," in The Age of Spirituality: A Symposium, ed. K. Weitzmann (New York, 1980) 25, with internal citations of an anonymous ancient Latin Christian inscription, the Miracula sancti Demetrii, and the Coptic Liturgy of St. Basil.
44. R. Macaulay, Personal Pleasures (London, 1935; 1968) 101.