It is difficult to describe the Sacraments. If an Angel were to bear us from this globe which we inhabit, and carry us to some distant star, which God may have adorned as a dwelling-place for some other species of reasonable creatures, we should be struck with the novelty and peculiarity of the scenery around us. Some of its features might remind us of the scenery of earth, although with characteristic differences; while other features would be entirely new, entirely unlike any thing we had ever seen before, either in color, form, or composition. This is very much the effect produced upon us when we come to learn the Catholic doctrine about the Sacraments. It introduces us into a new world. It gives us new ideas. It is more than a discovery; for it amounts to a revelation. The Sacraments are part of the new world introduced into creation by the Incarnation of the Eternal Word, and therefore are an essential part of creation as it was eternally preordained by God. [Emphasis in bold added.] Yet they are quite distinct from any other province in creation. The Sacraments of the Old Law were but shadows of the Sacraments of the Gospel. The Sacraments of the New Law are created things which have been devised and fabricated by our Blessed Lord Himself. The Eucharist was foreshadowed by the Paschal Lamb: the Sacrament of Order by the consecration of priests; and Penance by the legal purifications of the tabernacle. There was no shadow of Confirmation, because it is the Sacrament of the fulfness of grace, and so can belong only to the Gospel dispensation. Neither was there any shadow of Extreme Unction, because it is the immediate preparation for the entrance of the soul into glory; and there was no entrance into glory for any human soul till Jesus had risen and ascended. Neither could Matrimony be a Sacrament under the Old Law, because the Word had not yet actually wedded our human nature; and the sacramentality of Marriage consists in its being the figure of those transcendent nuptials of the Sacred Humanity. 

What then shall we call these Sacraments? They are not persons, yet they seem to be scarcely things: I mean that they seem to be something more than things. We want another word for them, another name, and cannot find one. They are powers, lives, shrines, marvels, Divine hiding-places, centres of heavenly power, supernatural magnificences, engraftings of Heaven upon earth, fountains of grace, mysterious efficacies, marriages of matter and spirit, beautiful complications of God and man. Each Sacrament is a species by itself. Each has some specialty, which is at once its excellence and its mystery. The pre-eminence of Baptism consists in its remission of Original Sin and of the pains due to it. The pre-eminence of Confirmation resides in the vastness of the succors of actual grace which it brings with it, as we see in the fortitude which it conferred upon the Apostles, and which the Eucharist had not conferred. The Sacrament of Penance can claim the privilege of being the most necessary of all Sacraments to those who have been Baptized, and of the capability of reiterated remission of mortal sin, which Baptism cannot claim. Extreme Unction excels Penance in the greater copiousness of its graces. The excellence of Order consists in its placing men in the singularly sublime state of being domestic ministers of Christ. Matrimony has a glory of its own in its signification of the union of our Lord with the Church. The pre-eminence of the Eucharist resides, as St. Thomas says, in the very substance of the Sacrament, seeing that it is as it were the Sacrament of all the other Sacraments, the centre of them, the cause of them, the end of them, and the harmony of them. All are because of it, and are subordinate to its amazing supremacy.

These Sacraments were designed by our Lord Himself, and were instituted by Him with varying degrees of detail as to matter and form in various Sacraments; and yet, saving their substance, He has given His Church very extensive power over them, because they are so intimately connected with its unity. We see the exercise of this power in the bread of the Eucharist, in the impediments of Marriage, and in the varieties of Order in the Latin and Greek Churches. The Sacraments are institutions which illustrate at once the magnificence of God's dominion over His creation, and also the capability of creatures to be elevated by Him to astonishing sublimities far beyond the merit and due of nature; and this elevability of creatures is one of the most glorious manifestations of the liberty of God. 1

The Sacraments are not mere signs of grace, but causes of it. They cause grace in us physically by the omnipotence of God which exists in them as if it were their own proper virtue and energy; for the omnipotence of God exists so specially in the Sacraments that if, by impossibility, God were not omnipresent, He would nevertheless be present in the Sacraments. The Sacraments cause grace physically, just as our Lord's Blood, shed long ago, cleanses us from our sins physically, not morally only, and just as His Resurrection and Ascension cause our resurrection and ascension physically, by an energy and a force which God has appropriated to them. 2 The Sacraments also cause grace in us morally, by representing to the Father the merits of Christ's Passion actually accomplished, and so doing a sort of holy and irresistible violence to God, and thereby procuring for us more abundant, and at the same time very special, succors of grace. Both these methods of causing grace bring vividly before us the unspeakable majesty of the Sacraments, and enable us to estimate the grandeur of the merits of our dearest Lord; but perhaps of the two methods the honor of Jesus is most concerned in the Sacraments causing grace physically, because it is more intimate to Him so to cause it, 3 and in many other respects more Divine and more excellent. But these are questions too difficult for us to enter upon here. It is enough to say with St. Chrysostom that the way in which the Sacraments confer grace is above the power of an Angel to tell, or with St. Gregory Nyssen that the grace of Baptism transcends human understanding. Such language could hardly be used of the merely moral efficacy of the Sacraments; and, as Viva observes, if the fires of Purgatory and Hell act upon the soul physically in real and marvelous ways, it is at least congruous to suppose that the instruments of the Divine Mercy shall enjoy the same privileges as the instruments of the Divine Justice. But the Sacraments not only confer sanctifying grace and infuse habits of virtue, both physically and morally: they also confer a certain special sacramental grace, which is peculiar and distinct in each Sacrament. It is difficult to explain this sacramental grace; but it seems to be a special power to obtain from God, by a certain right founded upon His decrees, particular assistances and kinds of grace in order to the fulfillment of each Sacrament. Moreover, it belongs to the grace of the Sacraments that certain of them impress what is called a character or seal, or signet, on the soul. The nature of this character is involved in mystery; but the most probable interpretation of it is that which describes it as a natural similitude of the Soul of Jesus, likening our souls to His, and imparting hiddenly to our souls a resemblance of His, hidden in this life, but to be divulged with exceeding glory hereafter. This is a beautiful thought, and fills us full of a peculiar love for the dear Human Soul of Jesus. Lastly, the grace of Sacraments suspended or dormant has a marvelous power of revival, which enhances the mystery and the magnificence of these strange and unparalleled works of God. 

But our clearest idea of the Sacraments is that which we gain from Hugh St. Victor and the elder theologians. They are the making visible of invisible grace. In them the Precious Blood has clothed itself in visible forms. In the matter and form of the Sacraments it has put on its priestly vestments, of unearthly fashion, and of manifold significance. Indeed, the grace of the Sacraments is the very physical grace which was in the Soul of Jesus, replicated, as theology speaks, that is, repeated again and again in us, and repeated in us by means of the Precious Blood. Many theologians have held that all the grace, which is in any of us, was first, physically, really, and locally, in the Soul of Christ; so that our grace is, most literally and most affectingly, a derivation from the abundance of His grace. How near does this exquisite doctrineseem to bring us to our dearest Lord! 4 Do the forms, the fashions, and varieties of these sevenfold sacramental garments, in which the Precious Blood clothes itself, tell us of its mysteries, its nature, or its character? Doubtless they have deep meaning, and are symbolical of its genius; but we are unable to decipher them. They are hieroglyphics of some hidden wisdom of God. But we see so much as this: that the Sacraments are the actions of Christ. He instituted them as Man; and thus they are the going-on of the Thirty-Three Years upon earth. This is the clearest and the truest view of these marvelous portions of creation. Let us now see if we have not learned enough of their theology to meditate practically upon them in connection with our subject. 

The Sacraments are then, as we see, in a very special sense the vases of the Precious Blood. They are the means by which the Precious Blood is ordinarily applied to the souls of men. They are the most characteristic features in the economy of grace. They are the most striking memorials of the love of Jesus; and a knowledge of them is most necessary to a right understanding of redemption. This is not the place for entering further upon the doctrine and definition of the Sacraments. My readers are doubtless sufficiently familiar with the teaching of the Church upon a subject of such constant practical importance, and what has been said in the foregoing pages will enable them to call to mind at least its most prominent features. But it is very needful for our present subject that we should make some reflections upon the Sacraments, rather in the way of meditation than of doctrine. We cannot do justice to the Precious Blood of our dearest Lord, unless we have a true spiritual discernment, a loving admiration, and an immense esteem of the grandeur, riches, and sweetness of the Sacraments. In an ascetical point of view, I hardly know any thing upon which I should lay greater stress in these days, than a fervent devotion to the Sacraments.

1. There are certain differences of opinion in theology which seem to keep quiet in their own subject-matter, and not to control other opinions in separate departments of theology. But there are, on the contrary, opinions, often of seemingly little or merely local importance, which draw along with them a man's whole theology. Among these, hardly any is more remarkable than the opinion we may form on the subject of what theology calls "potentia obedientialis," I mention this here, because in the exposition of the doctrine of the Sacraments given in the text, I have taken pains to use no expressions which shall be unfair to those who hold the moral operation, and not the physical operation, of the Sacraments. Amicus has beautifully shown that both the theories equally, though differently, magnify the grandeur of the Sacraments. If the physical theory attributes to them a more marvelous operation on the recipient, the moral theory attributes to them a more mysterious action upon God Himself. I wish to observe also that, although there is a manifest sympathy between the Scotist doctrine of the Sacraments and the Scotist doctrine of potentia obedientialis, the connection is not necessary. It is a matter of sympathy rather than of logic. A man who holds the moral theory of the operation of the Sacraments lies under the same obligation of explaining his potentia obedientialis as one who holds the physical theory. This Amicus has candidly pointed out. The doctrine of potentia obedientialis is to me the part of Scotus's system which is most hard to receive. St. Thomas's doctrine of potentia opens out a view of creation much more deep and philosophical, from this point of view, while, when we come to look at creation from the point of view of the Incarnation, Scotus seems to be much more deep and philosophical than St. Thomas. Perhaps the views of the later scholastics on potentia obedientialis are still more philosophical. I would venture to recommend a special study of this question to students of theology, as one which particularly gives unity and consistency to the multitude of a man's theological tenets. See Ripalda, De Ente Supematurali, lib. ii. and especially Disputations 40 and 41. Haunoldus, Controversire Theologicae, lib. iv. tract ii. cap. I, controversia 2. Amicus, the latter part of Disp. iv., de Causalitate Sacramentorum, and all Disp. v., de Potentia Obedientiali, and Disp. vi., Quae entia et ad quos effectus elevari possint. Viva, the whole of Disp. ii., de Causalitate Sacramentorum; and the other great theologians in loco. But in connection should be read also in the different writers de Angelis the treatment of the question, An creatio communicari possit creaturre obedientialiter, and its cognate questions, which are to be found under the de principio productivo Angelorum: or, in some theologians, under de Deo, especially de Dei cognoscibilitate, or de Beatitudine, or de Hominis creatione, or de Opificio sex dierum. I would especially mention the De Deo of Francis de Lugo, Disp. vii., De ente supernaturali in communi, and Disp. viii., De variis divisionibus entis supernatualis: and likewise the 10th and 11th Disputations in Arriaga de Sacramentis. There are also some interesting things in the huge work of Castaldus the Dominican, de Potestate Angelica, and in Arriaga's Physics.
2. Viva Pars., vii. Disp. ii. q. 2.
3. Sicut Caro Christi habuit virtutem instrumentalem ad faciendum miracula propter conjunctionem ad Verbum, ita Sacramenta per conjunctionem ad Christum crucifixum et passum. S. Thomas, Quodlibet. 12, art. 14. Theology suggests three ways in which the Sacraments may confer grace physically - per virtutem obedientialem cum concursu omnipotentiae, per qualitatem supernaturalem intrinsecam, per omnipotentiam specialiter inexistentem. In the text the third method has been adopted, in harmony with the views of Viva; but the theological discussion of the, question has been avoided as unfit for the popular character of this Treatise.

4. Some eminent theologians have even held that of two Communions of equal fervor, one by a layman, and one by a priest, the priest's Communion would merit more, because of his conjunction with our Blessed Lord as His domestic minister. In like manner the special efficacy of our Lady's prayers is attributed precisely to her con junction with our Lord as His Mother.


--------------CHRIST THE KING