The Sacraments are the inventions of God Himself. No creature could have devised them. I do not believe that without revelation the most magnificent intelligence of the Angels could have imagined such a thing as a Sacrament. It is a peculiar idea of God. It represents a combination of His most wonderful perfections. It conveys to us in itself quite a distinctive notion of God. We already know God as the unbeginning God. We know Him also as the God of nature and as the God of grace. These are two different disclosures of Him to us. So the knowledge of Him as the God Who devised the Sacraments is another disclosure of Him. It adds many new ideas of Him to the other ideas of Him which we possessed before. We should in some respects have thought differently of God, if there had been no Sacraments, from what we think now. This is a great deal to say. It confers upon the Sacraments a most singular dignity, or rather it expresses in an intelligible manner that singular dignity which belongs to them. Moreover, God not only invented them, but He invented them for the most magnificent of purposes. He invented them, that by their means especially He might impart His Divine Nature to created natures, that He might justify sinners, that He might sanctify souls, that He might unite to Himself the race whose nature He had condescended to single out and assume to Himself. If they are His Own invention, they must be works of unspeakable excellence; for the least of His works is excellent: but, if they were meant also for purposes so dear to Him and of such an exalted character, who shall be able rightly to imagine the excellence of these Sacraments? Furthermore, they are very peculiar inventions. They do not follow the laws of nature. They even superadd to the laws of grace. [Emphasis in bold added.] They are things apart, almost belonging to an order of their own. They are apparently without parallel in all creation. I know of nothing else to which I could liken them. They come out of some depth in the unfathomable wisdom of God, which does not seem to have given out any other specimens of itself. They are emanations of some abyss of His magnificence, which has only opened once, to give them forth, and then has closed, and rested. As matter and spirit, as nature and grace, are samples of God's beauty, tokens of ineffable realities in Him, manifestations of His invisible treasures, so likewise are the Sacraments. They invest God with a new light in our minds. They are some of His eternal ideas, the more imperiously demanding our devout study, because we have no others like them, no others which we can use as similitudes or as terms of comparison. My knowledge of God is not only increased in degree, but it is extended in kind, by my knowledge of a Sacrament.
Strictly speaking, we do not call the Sacraments miraculous. They have laws of their own. So perhaps have miracles. But the laws of the Sacraments are revealed to us. Their action follows rules, and is, under fitting circumstances, invariable. Their order and immutability are two of their most striking features; and this distinguishes them from miracles. They are processes; and in this also they are unlike what we popularly term miracles. But so far as they are wonder-working, so far as their results call forth our astonishment, so far as their effects are beyond the power of nature, so far as their completeness and their instantaneousness are concerned, so far as the revolutions they accomplish and the transmutations they make are beyond the strength of common grace, so far as their success is in their secret divinity - so far we may call their operation miraculous. It is certainly in the highest degree mysterious. Their use of matter seems to point to a philosophy of matter and spirit far deeper than any which has yet been taught. It awakens trains of thought which carry us rapidly into speculations which are too high for us, yet which give us now and then unsystematic glances into the secrets of creation. The forms of the Sacraments betoken a mysterious grandeur in
language, reminding us of God's peculiar way of working by efficacious words, a characteristic which doubtless is connected in some hidden manner with the Eternal Generation of the Word. The invisible sacerdotal power which is necessary to the validity of so many of the Sacraments is another of their splendors, while the Sacraments which do not need it imply that latent priesthood which abides in all Christians, and which is an emanation of our Saviour's Own priesthood "after the order of Melchisedech." The jurisdiction required for the administration of so many of the Sacraments, and especially for valid absolution, is a participation in those regal powers which belong to the kingdom of Christ, to the Church in its character of a monarchy. The power of the Church itself to limit the validity of a Sacrament, as in the case of reserved sins in Confession, and of impediments in Matrimony, is another feature in the Sacraments, which enhances their mysterious character, while it exalts that lordship of the Sacred Humanity of Jesus which has been so copiously imparted to the Church. All these things are points for meditation, which cannot fail to fill the soul with reverence and love, and to unite it more closely with God, by making us feel how the natural is hemmed in with the Divine, and with what awful reality we are always lying in the arms of God, with our liberty held up, secured, and at once imprisoned and set at large, by all this exuberance of supernatural interventions.
The grace of the Sacraments is another subject for pious wonder. The special grace of each Sacrament, peculiar to itself and accomplishing a peculiar end, is a marvel in itself. Just as the sun brings out the blossoms, and paints their variegated leaves in parti-colored patterns, though the whole leaf is supplied with the same sap through the same veins, so does the Sun of justice work in the special graces of the Sacraments. How He determines them to such various effects is a secret hidden from us. The Sacraments have probably spiritual laws of their own, which are neither gratuitous nor arbitrary, but founded in some intrinsic fitness of things, which results from the character of God. The special grace of each Sacrament seems to be almost a visible approach of God to the individual soul, to accomplish some particular end, or confirm some definite vocation, or interfere in some distinct crisis. It is not His usual way of working. It is not merely a general augmentation of sanctifying grace, an infusion of livelier faith, of keener hope, or of more burning charity. It is something more intimate between God and the soul, more personal, more full of reference to the individual case. Again, we must not omit to reflect on the inexhaustibleness of the grace of the Sacraments. It takes an immense heroism like martyrdom to come near to the grace of a Sacrament. Even Martyrdom does not supersede Baptism or Confession, if they can be had. No one can tell how much grace lies in a single Sacrament. In a single Communion lies all grace; for in it is the Author and Fountain of all grace; and, if the theological opinion be true, that there is no grace in any of His members which has not actually been first in our Lord Himself, then all the grace of all the world lies in one Communion, to be unsealed and enjoyed by the degree of fervor which we bring. The Saints have said that a single Communion was enough to make a Saint. Who can tell if any created soul has ever yet drained any single Sacrament of the whole amount of grace which was contained in it simply by virtue of its being a Sacrament? I should be inclined to think, from manifold analogies both of nature and of grace, that no Sacrament had ever been duly emptied of its grace, not even in the Communions of our Blessed Lady.
No Sacrament is content to confine itself to the conferring of its special grace. There is always an exuberance about it, giving more than is asked, doing more than is promised, reaching further than was expected. This is a characteristic of all God's works. His magnificence is confined in every one of them, and is forever bursting its bounds, and carrying light, and beauty, and fertility, and blessing, far beyond the shrine in which it had been localized. But the Perfection of God, which above all others the Sacraments appear to represent, is His magnificence. They belong to this Attribute in a very special and peculiar way. Hence there is about them a redundancy of grace, a prodigality of power, a profuseness and lavishness of benediction, which go beyond the ordinary laws of the world of grace. Moreover, besides this exuberance, there is an agility about the Sacraments which is most worthy of note. Sometimes, if need be, one will do the work of another. Those, which have no office to communicate first grace and justify the sinner, will do so under certain circumstances. Communion will forgive. Extreme Unction will absolve: not ordinarily, but when there is necessity for it, and the fitting dispositions. We cannot think without surprise of this power of transforming themselves, and of passing into each other and supplying for each other, which within certain limits the Sacraments possess. Furthermore, the rivers of grace in the Sacraments never run dry. Consider the multitude of Sacraments administered daily in the Church. Picture to yourself the wonderfulness of grace and its supernatural excellence, and then imagine the quantity of it drawn out of the eternal fountains for the well-being of the world. It is an overwhelming thought. Grace is not only more abundant in the Sacraments, and more nimble, but it is also more sure, more invariable, more victorious. It is also more patient. Grace waits longer inside the Sacraments, than out of them. They seem to detain it, to hold Heaven down upon earth with a sweet force, and so to multiply the occasions and prolong the opportunities of men.
The character, which some of the Sacraments confer, also belongs to their grace. It is a revelation to us of the Divine impetuosity and energy of the Sacraments. Amid the ardors of Heaven, and in the dazzling splendors of the Beatific Vision, the mystic signets, the inexplicable characters of the Sacraments, three in number, as if adumbrating the Three Divine Persons, shine forth as distinct beauties, and brighten through eternity. The character of Baptism is as it were the finger-mark of the Eternal Father on the soul. The character of Order glistens like the unfailing unction of the priesthood of the Eternal Son. The character of Confirmation is the deep mark, which the fires of the Holy Ghost burned in, the pressure of His tremendous fortitude, which was laid upon us, and yet we perished not, so tenderly and so gently did He touch us. In the wild fury of the tempestuous fires of Hell the same characters glow terribly. They are indestructible even there, fiery shames, intolerable disgraces, distinct fountains of special agony forever and forever.
To these reflections on the grace of the Sacraments we must not fail to add a due consideration of the doctrine of intention. What things can be more purely Divine than these Sacraments? Yet see how sensible they are to human touch! It is as if the very delicacy of their Divine fabric made them more liable to human impressions. They are jealous of their powers. They do not need our active co-operation, so much as our permission. They require obstacles to be removed, but not assistance to be conferred. They work, as we say in theology, by the force of their own work, not by the energy of the recipient. This is their peculiarity. It is this which distinguishes them from other means of grace. They have reason to be jealous of so magnificent a distinction. Yet, in spite of all this, they are so sensitive to the touch of our fervor, that they unlock fresh and fresh graces according as we press them, as if in their love and their likeness to God they were delighted to be pressed, to be solicited, and to be importuned. They are also so delicate and so susceptible that they are at the mercy of our intentions. The very thought of this makes us tremble. We could almost wish it were not so. To be so fragile, while they are so exceedingly strong, is not this a surprise and a perplexity, not seldom too a sorrow and a dread? It seems to show that they are purely things of Heaven, exotics upon earth, or weapons of omnipotence becoming brittle when they are plunged suddenly among human actions. Baptism can justify the child whose reason has not dawned. Extreme Unction can deal with the relics of sin in a sinner who lies insensible. Such independent power have these masterful Sacraments. Yet are they in bondage to our intention. They must be human acts, if they are to be divine ones also. They are not mere charms, or spells, or sleight of hand. They have magic about them, but it is only that magic of incredible love in which God has clothed them with such resplendent beauty. Nothing, as I think, demonstrates the divinity of the Sacraments more evidently than this exquisite sensitiveness to human touch.
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