Acts of public worship, including the Sacraments, fulfill the mission of Christ and the Church to sanctify the people of God and glorify the Lord.
"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 rites 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 required dispositions" (Catechism of the Catholic Church, 1131).
A Sacrament of the “World to Come”
by: Dr. Peter J. Zografos
From the earliest days, we Christians have been known by our Baptism. In baptism we are marked as disciples of Christ and initiated into the worshipping community, known as the Church. From the beginning of the Christian Scriptures at the Feast of Pentecost (Acts 2:38-39) to our time, the church has baptized. The Church is where all are welcomed into a common home by a common bath. Entire households, Jews, proselytes, and Gentiles were baptized by Christ’s Apostles (1 Corinthians 1:16; Acts 11:14; 16:15, 33; 18:8) and that practice has continued, unbroken and uninterrupted.
The Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy, the most important liturgical document of our age, states “…participation by the Christian people as ‘a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s own people’ (1 Peter 2:9) is their right and duty by reason of their baptism.” Thus baptism makes one part of the Christian people; this makes clear that rights and duties accrue because of baptism. The liturgy and thus our ecclesiology were revisioned in this document. It is through Baptism that we find the ultimate meaning of the Church.
Baptism belongs to the Christian ordo. Our Christian tradition is learned through scriptures which are read, questions which surface about one’s life, symbols with which to interpret the world, prayers which are prayed, and a practice of the faith that one takes as one’s own. Then, according to Justin, “teaching and bath together yield a community that is continually reminding one another of these things” ( Gordon Lathrop. Holy Things: A Liturgical Theology. (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 1993), 68).
History shows us that our baptismal practice has changed throughout time. Baptism, however, has been the mark of a Christian, since the Gospel accounts of Jesus’ baptism by John the Baptist. Our current Roman Catholic practice of initiation of adults either unbaptized or baptized in another tradition into the Christian community is through the Rites of Christian Initiation of Adults (RCIA). The Rites are a recovery of the ancient Order of Catechumens, which links baptism to a process: a journey. The RCIA gives unity to the sacraments of initiation. While the East has never separated the sacraments of initiation – Baptism, Confirmation, Eucharist – this tradition was lost in the West from the 4th century until its restoration by Vatican II.
The restored Order of the Catechumens within the RCIA includes liturgical rites which mark the sacramental formation of the inquirers, candidates, catechumens, and the whole faith community. The basic theology of the RCIA can be found in the introduction to the rite. It is a theology of conversion. Briefly the RCIA is a process of ongoing conversion and is designed to help facilitate and acknowledge God’s work within individuals and the community. The RCIA respects individual faith journeys and the individual experiences of conversion by adapting to the individual’s journey in the midst of the community. The RCIA provides the forum and dynamic for adult faith sharing while respecting each one’s own experience of God and the mystery. The Rites are celebrated in the midst of the community to challenge the community to deepen its own conversion, to acknowledge the community’s obligation to the catechumen, and also because they are the communal Church’s expression of its sacramental identity. The RCIA emphasizes the close relationship between liturgy and catechesis. The Rites mark the growth in faith over time as a process and not a single event. The RCIA is paschal since the Sacraments of Initiation are celebrated at the Great Vigil of Easter. The RCIA emphasizes the priestly ministry for all the baptized. “The RCIA provides a new context and model for sacramental catechesis: evangelization, conversion, the response of faith, and mission. All of this is formative and dynamic, responding to the initiative of God” (Thomas H. Morris, The RCIA: Transforming the Church, 13). This has had a major impact on all of our sacramental theology, practice, and liturgical spirituality.