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Saturday, May 12, 2012

The Rosary: Explaining the Sacraments

As I research information for my next series of books, I ran across this fascinating statement in the Catechism of the Catholic Church:
1286 ...The descent of the Holy Spirit on Jesus at his baptism by John was the sign that this was he who was to come, the Messiah, the Son of God.92...
1287 This fullness of the Spirit was not to remain uniquely the Messiah's, but was to be communicated to the whole messianic people.94 On several occasions Christ promised this outpouring of the Spirit,95 a promise which he fulfilled first on Easter Sunday and then more strikingly at Pentecost.
 I have read these passages literally dozens of times, but never noticed the connection between 1286 and 1287.

When we think of Confirmation, we always think of Pentecost. In all my graduate level instruction, in all the books I've read, I cannot remember anyone who has invoked the descent of the Holy Spirit at Jesus' baptism as a sign of Confirmation. Pentecost, yes, anything else... not really.

But this led me to begin contemplating the connections between Baptism and the completion and perfection of Baptism which is Confirmation.  Since our family prays the rosary every night, this became quite a fruitful contemplation during the Glorious Mysteries, the subject of 1286 and 1287. It was then that I realized one of the inner mysteries of the Rosary: each set of mysteries is a contemplation of the sacraments of initiation: Baptism, Confirmation and Eucharist, in that order.

The Glorious Mysteries
Many ignorant catechists like to say that Confirmation is a sacrament in need of a rationalization.  But, if we look at the life of the Christ through the lens of the Rosary, we see how false this is.The Glorious Mysteries emphasize how the sacraments of initiation glorify us.

As the CCC points out, the Glorious mysteries highlight the connections best. Paul talks about being baptized into Christ's death, rising with Him in resurrection from the waters (Romans 6:1-4). Christ died for our sins and was raised for our justification (Romans 4:25). 

So, the Easter Triduum, with its capstone Holy Saturday celebration of the Risen Christ, is the baptism of the Church.
This baptism allows tremendous growth towards God, exemplified in the fact that it is only after the Church's baptism that the apostles minds were opened to understand the Scripture (Luke 24:45). Only then do we see the Ascension of Christ. 

But these things, by themselves,  are insufficient. 

Despite all their learning, taught by God Himself, they aren't truly prepared until Pentecost. Pentecost turns the cowardly apostles into soldiers for Christ. It represents Confirmation, and is the classic Scriptural example of Confirmation. But, unless we look at the intimate connection Pentecost has with Easter, we would easily miss the fact that Confirmation is necessary. 

Confirmation is not a choice to become Catholic, rather, it is nearly impossible to live out the graces of baptism without Confirmation. That's why the Church requires all her children be confirmed.

Of course, Confirmation matures and perfects the graces of baptism. Once Confirmation has been attained, we now have the power to be perfected. The continuation and perfection in growth that Confirmation accomplishes is exemplified in the Assumption of Mary. 

Her Coronation is a symbol of the Eucharist, the crowning, heavenly sacrament. 

It is sometimes said that the Eucharist is the only sacrament we continue to enjoy in heaven. But, while this is true in one sense, it is false in another. Just as priests will forever enjoy the merits of the seal of Holy Orders, so every lay person will forever enjoy the merits of the seals of Baptism and Confirmation. We celebrate the divine sonship and the divine priesthood these seals impart to us for all eternity. Indeed, it is not wrong to say that those who have been given these seals are able to better enjoy heaven than those who do not have them.

The Joyful Mysteries
The Joyful Mysteries follow the same model: the sacraments of initiation serve as an interpretive key, the emphasis is on the way the sacraments of initiation build the family of God.

It is interesting to notice that while the descent of the Holy Spirit upon the prophets, and upon Jesus at baptism or upon Mary and the apostles at Pentecost are all seen as signs of Confirmation, the descent of the Holy Spirit upon Mary at the Incarnation is not listed as one of those signs of Confirmation.

Why not?
Well, possibly because, with the Annunciation, God uses Himself to baptize the world.
CCC 1295 A seal is a symbol of a person, a sign of personal authority, or ownership of an object.
Just as a seal is the mark of a person the beginning of His imprint on human nature, so in the Incarnation Christ makes human nature His own. It is baptized into Him.

After the Annunciation, there is an ascent into the hill country to accomplish the Visitation, the union with the family of God. But this union is incomplete - only Mary and Jesus ascend into the hill country.

The Holy Family lacks the presence of Joseph and the visible presence of Jesus. God's presence among us is confirmed in His birth.  While it is perfectly true that His birth has many clear signs of Eucharist, we should remember that all those signs are consequent to the birth. The birth itself is the perfection and maturation of the unborn child as Jesus descends from the sinless Mary's womb - an event very similar to Pentecost. 

It is only at the birth of Christ that the Holy Family is perfected, visible to all. The foundation of the Church is perfectly established in the smallest cell of the Church, the Family.

Notice that it is only after the birth of Jesus that we see Mary beginning to ponder things in her heart. At the Incarnation, she wondered at the angel's words, but did not ponder them as she did after the birth of Christ, the public confirmation of God's entry into the world.

And, just as Pentecost is followed by violence against the apostles - warfare breaks out against the Body of Christ - so the birth is followed by violence against infants as warfare breaks out against the Body of Christ. 

Confirmation begets soldiers who fight for God.

Following the birth, a second period of growth in knowledge and understanding comes. But this time, the family is visibly complete, perfected. Mary, Joseph and Jesus together ascend the hills to Jerusalem for the Presentation in the Temple. The prophecies of Simeon and Anna increase Mary and Joseph's graces, deepen their understanding.

This, of course, is followed by, completed and and crowned with the Finding in the Temple - where the True Presence of God is revealed to all who have eyes to see and ears to hear. As with the Eucharist, many scoff, but the reality is clear to those with eyes of faith. 

The Finding in the Temple is, in itself, a mini-prefigurement of the Triduum.
This is why they lead us directly into...

The Sorrowful Mysteries
And yet a third time the sequence is completed, with the emphasis on how the Kingdom of God is taken by violence. "And from the days of John the Baptist until now, the kingdom of heaven suffereth violence, and the violent bear it away." (Matthew 11:12).

The Agony in the Garden is the beginning of the baptism of blood into the Triduum.  It is here that Jesus has an angel, a sign of the Spirit, ministering to Him. The baptism of blood which the Agony begins is sealed with a kiss upon Christ's cheek.

The Scourging at the Pillar is a growth in grace for the world, but in a most subtle way. Every drop of Christ's blood is sufficient to pay for the sins of the whole world. With the scourging, great rivers of blood pour out, each drop infinitely increasing the value of the world. Each drop builds on the grace already poured out in the baptismal event of the Garden.

In the Crowning with Thorns, Christ is hailed as King, confirmed as King. Even the soldiers who mock Him cannot deny His kingship. Where His cheek was first kissed, now it is slapped and punched, just as it is slapped during the traditional rite of Confirmation. Jesus carries the thorny seal of kingship on his head for the rest of the Triduum.

This confirmation is followed by the Carrying the Cross, an even greater outpouring of grace to the world.

This outpouring and growth of grace is completed with His Death on the Cross. The fruit of the Tree is sacrificed, the Eucharistic sacrifice is perfected. The confirmation of His kingship is sealed upon the Cross by Pilate himself - This is the King of the Jews. The seal of Confirmation precedes the Eucharist and abides with Him.

The Luminous Mysteries
But if the preceding three sets of mysteries have the sacraments of initiation subtly embedded within them, the Luminous Mysteries almost count them off aloud.  It is almost as if John Paul II was shouting the mysteries of the Rosary, that is, the mysteries of the sacraments of initiation, at a world gone deaf.

The Baptism of Christ is our baptism. It makes us sons of God. As David Schindler points out, divine filiation, or sonship, is the primary way in which we relate to God. This relationship must be established first.

Once it is, the Wedding at Cana, comes into focus. It is our growth in family life, the life of the Church. But, by itself, such a wedding is incomplete.

We are empowered to preach the Gospel in an official way by our Confirmation. Without the graces of Confirmation, we could never do it as effectively. Even those child martyrs who were technically not confirmed, were arguably only able to make the great sacrifice of martyrdom for Christ, by receiving the necessary strengthening grace directly from Christ.

This completion and perfection of baptismal grace Transfigures us, and prepares us for the perfection, which is, of course, the Institution of the Eucharist.

For those who are preparing to enter the Church, for those who are preparing to receive one of the sacraments of initiation, the Rosary is a great lesson in all the aspects of what it means to be initiated into the Body of Christ. 

1 comment:

bobef said...

The late Fr. John Hardon, S.J. had this to say about Confirmation: “Never, never in my judgment in the 2,000 years of Christian history has the sacrament of Confirmation been more necessary, more indispensable to remain supernaturally alive. Though I’ve said this many times I repeat this a thousand times over: Ordinary Catholics can not survive in our day, and the verb is can not survive. Only heroic Catholics who have been strengthened by the Holy Spirit and the sacrament of Confirmation will survive. We have this power. We have this strength. But how this needs to be said: We need to use the power we’ve got. We dare not, we dare not be slaves of human respect. We must courageously, outspokenly, clearly profess our faith to everyone whose life we touch. In other words, we are not merely to have received the sacrament of Confirmation, we are to live this sacrament by following in the footsteps of Jesus crucified.”