Jesus Christ is Head of the Mystical Body and His Body is the Church. The rites and rituals of the Catholic Church are the rites and rituals of Jesus Christ himself. St. Thomas Aquinas tells us: “The whole rite of the Christian cult is derived from Christ’s priesthood” (S. Th.III, Q. 63, a. 3). The Church also teaches us: “Thenceforth the priesthood of Jesus Christ is a living and continuous reality through all the ages to the end of time, since the liturgy is nothing more nor less than the exercise of this priestly function” (Mediator Dei, 93).
The grace that flows from Catholic rituals, blessings, liturgies, and sacraments are not appropriated by man but is granted by God to man through His priests who act in the Person of Christ (in Persona Christi), as extensions of Christ’s authority and person in the world.
- Sacraments effect of what they signify, not because of any human action, but rather based on God’s gracious sensation alone.
- The ritual action itself is effective (ex opera operato) yet involves true human action which is free, deliberate, and intentional.
- The priest is not the primary agent of the sacrament itself but rather Jesus Christ the High Priest who works through the Catholic priest who acts in persona Christi.
- Some of the effects of the sacraments received are not mechanically or automatically bestowed on the recipient but have a certain dependence on the spiritual state and degrees of devotion and faith at the moment of reception.
Thomas teaches us:
Christ produces the inward sacramental effect, both as God and as man, but not the same way. For, as God, He works in the sacraments as author: but, as man, his operation conduces to the inward sacramental effects meritoriously and efficiently, but only instrumentally… just as Christ, as God, has power of authority over the sacraments, so, as man, He has the power of chief minister (S. Th. III, Q. 64 a. 3).
The Catechism of the Catholic Church affirms this: “Through the liturgy Christ, our redeemer and high priest, continues the work of our redemption in, with, and through his Church (1069). Given the nature of the relationship between the Head (Jesus Christ) and the body (the Church) and the fundamental role of the priests of Jesus Christ who act as extensions of Christ in the world, their power to effect blessings and confect sacraments, is actually the power of Christ Himself. The Church, therefore, is Christ in time and space.
The restoration of the entire person to Christ and the Communion of Saints begins, appropriately, with a liturgy of reintegration. In the Traditional Baptismal Rite we witness the symbolic and sacramental reconstruction and reclaiming of the person – part by part- in a very logical process:
The church entrance marks a barrier between what is profane and sacred. Standing outside of the holy of holies, the liturgy begins.
- The priest asks the one to be baptized: “What do you ask of the Church of God?”
- “The faith,” is the response.
- “What does the faith offer you?”
- “Eternal life.”
- “If, then, you wish to enter into life, keep the Commandments: you shall love the Lord your God with your whole heart, with your whole soul, and whole mind, and your neighbor as yourself.”
- The priest then blows gently three times on the face of the one to be baptized – an exorcistic gesture called exsufflation, saying: “depart from him (her), unclean spirit, and give place to the Holy Spirit, the consoler.”
- Then the priest makes the Sign of the Cross on the forehead and on the breast of the infant, saying: “Received the mark of the cross on your forehead and within your heart. Embrace the faith with its divine teachings. So live that you will indeed be a temple of God.”
- This is then followed by a prayer of protection for the one to be baptized.
- The priest then places his right hand on the head of the infant and then, holding his hand extended he says another prayer of protection from Satan imploring divine wisdom for the child and a healing of the disordered passions.
- There follows a blessing of salt which symbolizes divine wisdom, some of it which is placed on the mouth of the infant, accompanied by a prayer, asking that the one to be baptized be received into eternal life.
- Having tasted blessed salt, a prayer is then said imploring that the child may taste of the bread of heaven. After this come several exorcisms followed by prayers for mercy, purity, holiness, the gift of knowledge, the virtue of hope, sound judgment, and understanding of holy doctrine.
- The priest places the end of his stole over the child and invites him into the temple of God so that he may have part with Christ in everlasting life. Upon entry the Creed and the Our Father are prayed in a strong voice. Note the gradual ascent of the Mount of Paradise. There is one more barrier to overcome before admittance into the elect of God.
- Upon arrival at the baptistery, the priest turns towards the child, with his back to the baptistery, like a Cherubim with a flaming sword, and says one more exorcism. This done, the priest then touches the ears and nostrils of the infant, repeating the words of our Savior: Ephpheta, be opened.Thereupon follows the last exorcism.
- After some demonic renunciations in question/answer form are made, the infant is anointed with the Oil of Catechumens on the breast and between the shoulders as a strengthening against the wiles of the Enemy of Human Nature.
- At this point, the baptized is asked to announce his faith threefold, ending with a petition to be baptized, upon which the priest then baptizes the child using the Trinitarian formula.
- Immediately after the baptism, the priest anoints the crown of the head in the form of the Cross using Sacred Chrism. St. Cyril of Jerusalem says that chrism is
…the seal of the covenants, a physical representation of having the gift of the Holy Spirit… having been counted worthy of this holy chrism, you are called Christians, verifying the name also buys your new birth. Four before you were deemed worthy of this grace, you have properly no right to this title, but we’re advancing on your way towards being Christians (On the Mysteries, 3.5).
- After this, the child receives a white garment signifying the shedding of fig leaves and animal skins to join the blessed adorned in glory.
- Finally, the new Christian receives a lighted candle, so that he, like the wise virgins (cfr. Mt 25:1-3), may be found awake when the spouse of his soul arrives.
Now joined to the Mystical body of Christ and the Communion of Saints, the newly baptized has had the threefold rupture repaired. His alienation from God, others, and self has been healed by the Good Doctor.
When he comes to the age of reason he can continue his reintegration and healing through the Sacrament of Confession as preparation for reception of Holy Communion.
The vestiges of Original Sin remain, and the task of channeling one’s disordered passions is greatly helped by devout reception of the Eucharist and frequent confession of one’s sins. Further, one is continually restored in the supernatural relationship with others as a means to overcome to proclivity to malice:
Sunday should also give the faithful an opportunity to devote themselves to works of mercy, charity and apostolate. To experience the joy of the Risen Lord deep within is to share fully the love which pulses in his heart: there is no joy without love! Jesus himself explains this, linking the “new commandment” with the gift of joy: “If you keep my commandments, you will remain in my love, just as I have kept the Father’s commandments and remain in his love. I have told you this that my own joy may be in you and your joy may be complete. This is my commandment: that you love one another as I have loved you” (Jn 15:10-12).
The Sunday Eucharist, therefore, not only does not absolve the faithful from the duties of charity, but on the contrary commits them even more “to all the works of charity, of mercy, of apostolic outreach, by means of which it is seen that the faithful of Christ are not of this world and yet are the light of the world, giving glory to the Father in the presence of men” (John Paul II, DIES DOMINI, 69).