Relationship between faith and sacraments: What faith is needed to get married?

Two experts explain the relationship between faith and sacraments and, more particularly, what faith a baptized person needs in order to marry. We offer an analysis of the recent document of the International Theological Commission on the relationship between faith and sacraments. The reciprocity between faith and sacraments in the sacramental economy.

Ramiro Pellitero-May 8, 2020-Reading time: 5 minutes

The core of the argumentation followed by the Document of the International Theological Commission (ITC), published in March on The reciprocity between faith and sacraments in sacramental economyis the double character, sacramental and dialogical or dialogical, of Christian revelation. This double character also pertains to the way in which God wanted us to have access to salvation, that is, to what we call the "economy" of salvation.

Revelation: sacramental and dialogical 

This is developed in the second chapter of the Document, entitled: Dialogical nature of the sacramental economy of salvation. In a way that will be new to many readers, it shows the "dialogue" character of the sacraments and, more generally, of the Christian life: dialogue between God and people, and vice versa. Dialogue that leads to a dialogue of friendship and fraternity among people. 

This is preceded by the more familiar subject of the sacramentality of revelation. It is a perspective that comes from the Fathers of the Church and that, together with the dialogical perspective, more personalistic, has been rediscovered since the Second Vatican Council. The notion of "sacrament" (=sign and instrument of salvation) is used in a broader sense than that of the seven sacraments, so that it can be applied to everything Christian. 

Already the same creation and the salvation history participate in this "sacramental" character, since the Creator has left in the world the imprint of his love and wisdom. Particularly in the human person, the image and likeness of God (cf. Gen 1:26), created according to the "plan" of Christ. Man is called, in Christ, to communion and dialogue with God and to give him glory. A plan and a call that are revealed throughout the history of salvation: in the Covenant with the People of Israel, at the same time as many of the signs that will inspire the Christian liturgy are established. 

– Supernatural incarnation of the Son of God is constituted as center, summit and key to the sacramental economy. Jesus Christ is considered by the Fathers of the Church as the primordial or original "sacrament," the sign and instrument of his Love for us. "Jesus Christ" -the text states- "concentrates the foundation and source of all sacramentality".. This "economy" of sacramentality is deployed, through the Church -called by the Council "universal sacrament of salvation" in Christ - especially in the seven particular sacraments, which, in turn, continually generate the Church (cf. n. 31).

It is in this way that God offers us, at the same time, his dialogue of salvation in Christ, the eternal Word of God made flesh by the action of the Holy Spirit, who continues to act in and through the Church, thanks to the same Spirit. 

 All this requires our cooperation and free response through personal faith. Without faith, the sacraments would be like an automatism or mechanicism or a magical type of action, alien to the dialogical character of the "divine economy". Without the sacraments, faith would not be enough to save us, according to the very structure of the divine economy. In the words of Joseph Ratzinger, "the loss of the sacraments is equivalent to the loss of the incarnation and vice versa.".

In short, by faith and the sacraments, Christians are called to be "living sacraments" and also "living words" of Christ, signs and instruments at the service of the salvific dialogue between God and mankind.

Inseparable connection

In short: "In the Christian conception it is not possible to think of a faith without sacramental expression (as opposed to subjectivist privatization), nor a sacramental practice in the absence of ecclesial faith (against ritualism)." (n. 51). 

The Document points out, by way of synthesis, some concrete elements of this relationship between faith and sacraments: 1) in addition to being signs and instruments of God's grace, the sacraments possess (also) a pedagogical purpose because they teach us how Jesus works; 2) the sacraments presuppose faith as access to the sacraments (so that they do not remain an empty rite or be interpreted as something "magical") and as a condition for them to personally produce the gifts they objectively contain; 3) the sacraments manifest the faith of the subject (personal dimension) and of the Church (ecclesial dimension), as a lived and coherent faith, so that there can be no celebration of the sacraments outside the Church; 4) the sacraments nourish faith insofar as they communicate grace and effectively signify the mystery of salvation (cf. n. 57).

In this way, "through faith and the sacraments of faith - through the action of the Holy Spirit - we enter into dialogue, into vital contact with the Redeemer, who is seated at the right hand of the Father." (ibid.). In addition, the sacramental celebration places us in relationship with the history of salvation. And that it implies, on our part, besides assiduous recourse to the sacraments, a commitment of fidelity and love for God and of service to others, especially those most in need (cf. n. 59).

Consequences for catechesis and life

The reciprocity between faith and the sacraments should be taught in catechesis starting from the "paschal mystery" of the death and resurrection of the Lord. For this reason, catechesis should be "mystagogical" (introductory to the mysteries of the faith). It should prepare for the confession of the faith (explaining its contents), a confession that originally takes the form of dialogue. And it should prepare for fruitful participation in the sacraments. 

Without adequate formation, the sacraments cannot be lived and understood well. Because of their "dialogical" character, in the sacraments, through simple symbols (water, oil, light and fire, etc.), God offers us his words of love - ultimately his Word made flesh: Christ - effective in giving us his saving grace. And he awaits our loving response with the coherence of our life (cf. n. 67).

When celebrated in the right way, the sacraments always produce what they mean (validity). In order for them to have all their fruitis also required, faith in which it receives them - taking into account that "the same faith is not required for all the sacraments nor in the same circumstances of life." (n. 45)-, together with the positive intention to receive what is meant there.

Through the sacraments, fruitfully received, the Christian participates in the very priesthood of Christ (in a double modality: "common priesthood of the faithful" and "ministerial priesthood"). Thus another central affirmation of the Document can be understood: that the person is called to lead creation by means of a "priestly priesthood". "cosmic priesthood".The purpose of the Church is the manifestation of the glory of God (cf. n. 27). 

In other words: through people, everything created can and must be a "book" (book of nature) and a "way" (of friendship and love) for God to be known and loved. At the same time, men and women, united in the divine life, can be, in earthly life and after it, happy. The sacraments, in fact, allow us to live this "integral ecology" that our faith demands.

This begins in the sacraments of initiation (Baptism, Confirmation and Eucharist). In the face of our shortcomings, wounds and sins, the Church administers to us the sacraments of healing (Penance or confession of sins and Anointing of the sick).

Christian life, which is sacramental life, develops and grows in the context of the ecclesial community. Y at the service of communion and the ecclesial community the sacraments of Holy Orders and marriage. Thus the Church is family and Christian families can be "domestic Churches" (small Churches or Churches of the home), where the Christian life is learned for the good of the Church and the world.

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