mercredi, juillet 07, 2010

The Nature of Sacramental Grace (V)

By Father Garrigou-Lagrange, O.P.
Our dignity is further revealed in the Sacrament of Penance. In order to receive absolution, men and women entrust the priest with their secret thoughts and desires, which not even the Angels themselves are allowed to know. And thus the priest actually cooperated with God in giving back life to the soul. So, whether he is celebrating Mass or ministering to souls, he is another Christ. His priesthood is a splendid participation in the priesthood of Christ; he is Christ’s minister, His living, conscious instrument for the saving of souls.

Remember that the priest in celebrating Mass is so closely united to Christ – the principal Offerer – as his instrument that the one effect of Consecration is produced by both of them together, just as a writer and his pen produce the same effect. The effect of Consecration – the changing of the substance of bread and wine – is produced by God as the principal agent, by the huminity of Christ as the instrument conjoined to the divinity, and by the celebrant as a separate instrument, conscious and free.

It might be objected that the Sacramental grace of the priesthood is of less worth than the priestly character, for although the latter is indelible, sacramental grace, like Sanctifying Grace, is lost by mortal sin. This is a serious difficulty, since the more perfect an accidental reality, the more firmly does it inhere in the substance to which it belongs. Therefore, grace, which can be lost, does appear to be less perfect than the character which can never be lost.

In reply to this objection, notice why it is that the character cannot be lost. It is not because of its own perfection and dignity, but because it is conferred for the valid celebration of Mass and for the valid administration of Penance, which provide for the spiritual welfare of the faithful. This is very well explained by St. Thomas: “The sacramental character is a sharing of Christ’s priesthood by His faithful…”; also, in answer to the first objection: “Grace is present in the soul as a form complete in its being, whereas the character is there as an instrumental power. Now a complete form is present in its subject according to the condition of that subject , so that grace is present in the soul of a person here on earth according to the volatile nature of the will. But an instrumental power is to be considered rather from the point of view of the condition of the principal agent; hence the character is indelibly present in the soul not because of any perfection of its own but because of the perfection belonging to Christ’s priesthood, from which the character originates as an instrumental power.” (IIIa, Q.63, art 5c).

Again, in answer to the third objection, St. Thomas says: “The character endures even after this life, in the good as redounding to their glory, in the wicked as stressing their disgrace, just as the character of military service remains in a soldier after the victory has been won, as the mark of honor in the victors, as a mark of dishonor in the vanquished.”

This concludes for the present our study of the dignity of Christ’s priesthood and of ours.

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