Saintly sound bites and sacraments

Wisdom from the saints

Photo: Jorisvo/iStock

Saints’ quotes are some of my favorite things about the Catechism of the Catholic Church. They bring the richness of our faith alive. Besides saints being beacons of holiness and wisdom, their genius is often found in their simple and concise teaching formulas — sound bites, if you will. Often they can enlighten us with a few sentences, not to mention their one-liners, or what I like to call a sermon-in-a-sentence. Let’s take a look at some of their gems regarding the sacraments. 

Christ is present in all sacraments …

Need an explanation on how Christ is actually present in each sacrament? St. John Damascene offers this important image from the Annunciation to explain it:

You ask how the bread becomes the Body of Christ, and the wine … the Blood of Christ. I shall tell you: the Holy Spirit comes upon them and accomplishes what surpasses every word and thought. … Let it be enough for you to understand that it is by the Holy Spirit, just as it was of the Holy Virgin and by the Holy Spirit that the Lord, through and in himself, took flesh. (CCC, 1106)

Just as the Holy Spirit overshadowed Mary and Jesus was conceived in her womb, so we can understand that God’s Spirit brings Christ into each sacrament. This is why every celebration of a sacrament has a prayer of epiclesis — the invocation of the Holy Spirit — accompanied by a gesture of the priest extending or raising his hands over persons or objects.

Stained glass window depicting the sacrament of Penance and Reconciliation with Pepin of Herstal confessing his sins to St. Wiro. Photo: Jorisvo/iStock

When it comes to trusting that Jesus is present in the sacraments, St. Leo the Great gave us the pithy assurance that “what was visible in our Savior has passed over into his mysteries” (CCC, 1115). Those mysteries are the sacraments that Christ gave to the Church, his presence on earth.

… yet most vividly in the Eucharist

The Catechism teaches that “it is by the conversion of the bread and wine into Christ’s body and blood that Christ becomes present in this sacrament” (CCC, 1375). St. Ambrose describes this conversion:

Be convinced that this is not what nature has formed, but what the blessing has consecrated. The power of the blessing prevails over that of nature, because by the blessing nature itself is changed. … Could not Christ’s word, which can make from nothing what did not exist, change existing things into what they were not before? It is no less a feat to give things their original nature than to change their nature. (CCC, 1375)

We, too, are to be converted by the sacraments. Again, using the example of the Eucharist — our reception of Christ in holy Communion is not without effect. St. Irenaeus observes: 

Our way of thinking is attuned to the Eucharist, and the Eucharist in turn confirms our way of thinking. (CCC, 1327) 

Indeed, the Eucharist, and every sacrament we may receive, lead us to a deeper union with God, and our ultimate happiness. Or, to quote St. Thomas Aquinas: 

God alone satisfies. (CCC, 1718) 

Stained glass window depicting St. Thomas Aquinas with Cardinal Mercier, in the Cathedral of Mechelen, Belgium. Photo: Jorisvo/iStock

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