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Celebrations of Grace: The Sacraments of the Catholic Church

By Jack Hartjes

4. Liking the Sacraments

Catholics through the ages have loved the sacraments and loved the grace, the closeness to God, they find in the things they do in church. Other things that happen in our everyday lives, however, bring out in us more various and down-to-earth emotions. We enjoy them, we suffer them, we endure them, we get wild about them, we feel bound by them, or we freely commit ourselves to them. When you look close enough, all these things turn out to be graces, too. Catholics are beginning to acquire this clearer view of graces outside the church building, and I believe the sacraments are playing a big role in this change.                  

I used to picture what sacraments do vertically, like this: Sacraments lift us up out of the ordinariness of life with a unique grace and presence of God (so naturally we love the sacraments). As I imagine it now, sacraments do this only after they point us in a number of different directions—backward to the presence of God that has been ours all along in the world, forward to what God is calling us to be and, especially, outward to the grace that is alive in people and things all over God's world. And, in the traditional language of Church teaching, all this that the sacraments mean, what they point to, is not just signified, not just an idea or a memory; it's “really present.”
The Second Vatican Council was a decisive event for the members of the Catholic Church. It made a lot of changes. Many more things stayed the same, but the really big differences are about what faith means to average Catholics. It is like a change in orientation, looking outward and backward and forward for the God who meets us everywhere, rather than in upon ourselves for a God who comes to us in privileged spaces or upward for a God who draws us away. We can see this change whenever we gather for liturgy, especially if we remember we are there to celebrate and when the signs of the liturgy are clear and powerful. That's when the sacraments, our most visible encounter with the invisible God, become a way of meeting up with the real stuff—that means the grace—of everyday life, the things we enjoy, suffer, get wild about, or serve with calm commitment. That's when it’s especially easy for me to like the sacraments.

Think again: 

Does the liturgy that you participate in feel like something that draws you away from everyday life? Prepares you for life? Celebrates your life? What is it about the liturgy that does any of these things?

On to 5, Learning about Sacraments