23rd Sunday Ordinary Time
September 9, 2018
In this Sunday’s gospel (Luke 4:38-44), Jesus heals a deaf man with a speech impediment, but he does so in a curious way. First, he puts his finger into the man’s ears, and then spits on his hand and touches the man’s tongue with it. Finally, raises his eyes up to heaven, groans, and then looking at the man, says “Ephphatha! Be opened!”
Following Christ’s example, the church uses words, gestures and physical signs when performing the sacraments. For example, in the Anointing of the Sick, the priest prays using the Oil of the Infirm to make the sign of the cross on the sick person’s forehead and hands, as well as the laying on of hands as part of the ritual.
What is a sacrament?
The sacraments are efficacious signs of grace, instituted by Christ and entrusted to the Church, by which divine life is dispensed to us. The visible rite by which the sacraments are celebrated signify and make present the graces proper to each sacrament. They bear fruit in those who receive them with the proper dispositions. (Catholic Catechism #1131).
When a couple is joined in the Sacrament of Marriage, it is the vows of the couple that make the sacrament. The priest or deacon isn’t the one “marrying them,” but rather a witness of the gift of consent exchanged between the man and woman. It is, in fact, the words spoken by the couple that actually bring the marriage into being, and the joining of their hands symbolize the joining of one flesh.
As long as the correct ritual is used, each sacrament will occur regardless of the holiness of the minister or the person receiving the sacrament; but in order for the sacrament to be effective, the person receiving the sacrament needs to be in the state of grace. In other words, it matters how we live.
In the Sacrament of Confirmation, there are two different “laying on of hands.” First the bishop prays with outstretched hands over the whole group while invoking the Holy Spirit, and then later prays over each candidate individually by laying one hand on the person’s head and using his thumb to pray with Sacred Chrism in the form of a cross on the candidate’s forehead.
In the Sacrament of Baptism, the Oil of Salvation and Sacred Chrism are both used, along with water and an invocation of the Trinity. But baptism, like all sacraments, is not magic. The person receiving the sacrament (or in the case of an infant, the parents and godparents) must have faith to unlock the power and grace of the sacrament.