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Do all Christians basically agree on the purpose of baptism, Eucharist, and ministry?

Posted by: Alice L. Camille   🕔 Monday 06, February 2017 Categories: Doctrines & Beliefs,Sacraments
Christian unity
The bishops see much that’s mutual, but not enough for Christians to share Eucharist together.

Such agreement is crucial to hope for Christian unity. Many find hope in the 1982 documents, “Baptism, Eucharist, and Ministry.” BEM, for short, was produced in Lima by the World Council of Churches—a 348-member organization including most denominations you’ve heard of: Orthodox, Anglican, Lutheran, Methodist, Presbyterian, Pentecostal, Mennonite, and Quaker. The Roman Catholic Church doesn’t belong to the WCC, the rationale being that the Church of Rome IS the Church. Joining an organization that renders us one “church” among equals sends the wrong message.

BEM was a work in progress since 1928. The resulting documents have been closely studied by the U.S. bishops. Here’s a short summary of their assessment. BEM on Baptism has much to be admired. Its teaching on Baptism as a cleansing from sin, gift of the Spirit, incorporation into the Body of Christ, all in the name of the Trinity, is sound. BEM recognizes Baptism’s “unrepealable” nature. It describes it as the foundation of, but no substitution for, a life of faith—a nod to both infant and adult baptism.

The bishops’ takeaway: BEM needs work in treating the Spirit’s and the church’s role in Baptism. The unity of all sacraments of initiation (Baptism, Confirmation, and Eucharist) should be clarified. The BEM distinction drawn between infant baptism and “believer’s baptism” (for adults) is an “unfortunate” phrase. But a movement toward a formal mutual recognition of Christian baptisms is plausible.

Regarding Eucharist, BEM calls it a “thanksgiving, memorial, invocation, communion, and meal of the kingdom.” BEM churches agree with Rome that frequent celebration of Eucharist is desirable. They concur that the entire Eucharistic celebration, not a single “moment of consecration,” makes Christ really present. BEM rightly stresses the social and ethical dimensions that travel with us from the Table to the world.

The bishops would like to see more about how the nature of the church is a direct result of our Eucharist; clarification of how Christ is present as spiritual food; how Christ remains present even when the sacrament is reserved, as in the Tabernacle. The bishops see much that’s mutual, but not enough for Christians to share Eucharist together.

BEM views Ministry as the vocation of all Christians, while holding a distinct place for the ordained kind. It acknowledges the apostolic origins of bishop, presbyter, and deacon. U.S. bishops agree on “interdependence and reciprocity” between the laity and the ordained. They await more clarity on the uniqueness of ordination, its relationship to sacramental ministry, particularly in the forgiveness of sins. Finally, the ordination of women remains a sticking point between BEM and Rome. Reason to hope for unity? Yes. But not for holding your breath.

Scripture:

Mark 6:34-44; 14:22-25; Matthew 16:18-19; 28:19-20; John 6:22-58; Romans 6:3-11; 1 Corinthians 11:23-26; 12:1-31; 1 Timothy 3:1-13

Websites:

World Council of Churches site for entire BEM text:

http://www.oikoumene.org/en/resources/documents/commissions/faith-and-order/i-unity-the-church-and-its-mission/baptism-eucharist-and-ministry-faith-and-order-paper-no-111-the-lima-text?searchterm=bem

USCCB site for bishops’ statements regarding BEM:

http://www.usccb.org/beliefs-and-teachings/ecumenical-and-interreligious/ecumenical/orthodox/statement-lima-baptism-eucharist-and-ministry.cfm

Where can Mass be celebrated?

Posted by: Alice L. Camille   🕔 Tuesday 05, July 2016 Categories: Sacraments,Liturgy,Doctrines & Beliefs
Saint Ita Catholic Church in Chicago

The Eucharistic celebration is called “the source and summit” of our faith—both the origin and epitome of what we believe—in church documents. The Table of the Lord, AKA the altar, is at the center of our lives as Catholic Christians. Everything we do emanates from that starting point.

So where that celebration takes place is of no small consideration. According to the General Instructions for the Roman Missal (GIRM 288), the People of God normally gather in a church. When the local building is too small for the assembly, as for a papal Mass, another “respectable” setting (auditorium or stadium) can be employed. Another lovely provision is this: “sacred buildings and requisites for divine worship should be truly worthy and beautiful and be signs and symbols of heavenly realities.” So all that floor polishing and statue dusting my mother does in her home parish with her friends is canonically approved.

Canon Law (n. 932) specifies that Mass is to be celebrated on a dedicated or blessed altar, as well as in a sacred place—unless “necessity requires otherwise.” Necessity has made the hood of a Jeep into an altar in wartime; wooden pallets or crates can be fashioned into a vineyard altar for farm workers; a hut can serve as a chapel in mission lands. In lands where Mass is prohibited, the celebration can be held in hidden places like mines, caves, or tents. Leading youth groups on hikes, Archbishop Karol Wojtyla (Saint John Paul II) celebrated Eucharist on a flat boulder in the woods. In any setting, the traditional cloth and corporal should be used to designate the table or surface commandeered for divine service.

Here’s a surprise: When the cause is just and with proper approvals, a priest can also celebrate Mass in an ecclesial community or church structure that is not in full communion with the Catholic Church “so long as there is no scandal.” (n. 933) The aforementioned scandal might include the confusion that results if some did not appreciate the difference between, say, the Lutheran host church and the Roman Catholic liturgy being offered. Such time-shares are often necessary when a Catholic church has been damaged or destroyed by natural disaster, terrorist attack, or military forces. The bottom line is that sacred space with an attention to beauty and respectful worship is the norm for Mass. But even more important than the venue is the necessity to make the Eucharist available to all under every circumstance.

Scripture: Mark 14:22-24; Luke 21:5-6; 2 Corinthians 4:7-11; 5:1; 1 Peter 2:4-6

Books: The General Instruction of the Roman Missal (Washington, DC: United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, 2011); The Liturgical Environment: What the Documents Say – Mark G. Boyer (Collegeville, MN: Liturgical Press, 2015); The Ministry of Liturgical Environment – Joyce Ann Zimmerman (Collegeville, MN: Liturgical Press, 2016)

Settle an argument for me. Was Jesus baptized in Jordan?

Posted by: Jennifer Tomshack   🕔 Monday 19, October 2015 Categories: Sacraments,Church History
Pope Francis visited Bethany Beyond the Jordan in 2014.
Pope Francis visited Bethany Beyond the Jordan in 2014.

Fittingly, there is quite a backstory to the location of Jesus’ baptism.

The Jordan River runs along the border between Jordan and Israel. (The width of the river, the distance between the two countries, is about 20 feet.) On the Jordan side of the Jordan River is a place called, then and now, Bethany Beyond the Jordan. There is strong biblical and archaeological evidence, as well as support from Byzantine and medieval texts, that this is where John the Baptist baptized Jesus of Nazareth in the river.

Bethany Beyond the Jordan has two distinct areas. The first is Tell Mar Elias (“Elijah’s Hill”), and the second is a cluster of remains of churches dedicated to Saint John the Baptist, a monastery, caves used by hermits, and baptismal pools. It has been a place of Christian pilgrimage for millennia.

According to 2 Kings, Elijah parted the waters of the Jordan River and crossed over, and then ascended to heaven on a chariot of fire, it is believed, at Tell Mar Elias.

Elijah and John the Baptist shared many similarities. Both were fiery men, who preached repentance and announced the coming of the Messiah. In fact, some believed John was Elijah, which John specifically denied. Still, it makes sense that John would conduct his ministry from a place associated with Elijah. Also, John’s preaching wasn’t popular with authorities and doing it on the other side of the river was probably more prudent.

When Jesus went to John for baptism, John initially objected, saying, “I need to be baptized by you, and yet you are coming to me?” (Matthew 3:14). But when Jesus insisted, John complied. And so began Jesus’ public ministry. He gathered his first disciples there: Peter, Andrew, Philip, and Nathanael. Multiple times, Jesus went to Jordan, and specifically Bethany Beyond the Jordan, where he taught and healed.

In keeping with the solemnity of the site, it has been restored to look much like it probably did 2,000 years ago. There are no signs marking the dirt path that leads to the rock and stone steps down to the water’s edge.

Bethany Beyond the Jordan is considered a national treasure by Jordanians. Its restoration and preservation is funded by the Jordanian government. John the Baptist is the patron saint of Jordan.

Pope John Paul II visited Bethany Beyond the Jordan during his 2000 pilgrimage to Jordan and the Holy Land, and it was designated as a Jubilee Year 2000 pilgrimage site by the Catholic Church, along with Mount Nebo, where Moses viewed the Promised Land before dying. Pope Francis visited Bethany Beyond the Jordan in 2014.

Scripture: 2 Kings 2; John 1:21, 28, 35-51, 10:40; Matthew 3:5-6, 13-17; Luke 3:21-22

What is Baptism?

Posted by: Alice L. Camille   🕔 Wednesday 08, January 2014 Categories: Sacraments,Doctrines & Beliefs
Christening


Let's start with a misconception about Baptism: that it's some sort of "blessed insurance" for the afterlife. For the record, the church doesn't teach that baptism gets you into heaven any more than it says it definitively slams the door on those who are not baptized. So, if it doesn't guarantee salvation, what does it do?

Since the earliest generation of the church, baptism was regarded as the rite of membership in the Body of Christ. According to Saint Paul, it makes us one with Christ as surely as it provides us with the indwelling Holy Spirit. The third aspect, in Paul's theology, is that it makes us church. The deep respect the church holds for this sacrament is illustrated most profoundly in the fact that the Catholic Church doesn't re-baptize Protestants who later join in full communion. Once a Christian, you're already "in Christ.”

The sign of water as purifying and healing is older than the New Testament era. In bathing rituals of ancient times, lepers are cleansed (see General Naaman's story in the Book of Numbers) and impurities reversed (after touching the dead or being in contact with blood). Just before the gospel era, Gentile converts were received into Judaism through a process involving circumcision, baptism, and Temple sacrifice. The Jewish sect at Qumran, which we know as the Dead Sea Scrolls gang today, was already insisting that the interior disposition of a person had to change or the ritual was meaningless.

The baptism of John—which John himself admitted awaited a greater "baptism by fire" from "one who is to come"—explicitly added the dimension of repentance to the rite. John's baptism was available to Gentile soldiers as well as Jewish citizens and wasn't intended to make anyone Jewish, much less Christian.

Jesus accepts baptism from John, but not because he needs to repent. Jesus identifies himself with the sin of humanity which John is so anxious to wash away. Just as Jesus embraces human weakness by his baptism, we gain a share in divine strength through this same action. We repent sin and its ancient claim on us (“original sin”). Adults are instructed in the way of faith before receiving the sacrament (through the Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults), just as children are instructed (catechized) after receiving infant baptism. In both instances the conversion of heart, mind, and life are imperative. Baptism inaugurates the journey. The close identification with Christ it anticipates remains the work of a lifetime.

Scripture
Leviticus 14:8-9; Numbers 19:17-21; Isaiah 1:16-18; Matthew 3:11; Mark 1:4; Acts 1:5; 19:1-6; Romans 6:3-11; 1 Corinthians 12:13; Galatians 3:27-29

Online
"Baptism in the New Testament: Origins, Formulas, and Metaphors" by Arland J. Hultgren in Word & World

Books
Baptism (Understanding the Sacraments series) by Lawrence E. Mick (Liturgical Press, 2007)
To Live in Christ—Baptism (Growing in Daily Spirituality series) by Richard Reichert (Paulist Press, 2006)

Why do we have a Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults?

Posted by: Alice L. Camille   🕔 Monday 24, March 2014 Categories: Sacraments,Doctrines & Beliefs,Liturgy
 RCIA symbols
To those who recall a time before 1988—the year when the church mandated the Rite of Christian Initiation for Adults for every parish—the RCIA feels like a new thing Catholics are doing. Actually it's a very old thing the church ceased to do long ago and decided to revive for good reasons.

These days we number seven discreet sacraments: Baptism, Eucharist, Penance, Confirmation, Matrimony, Holy Orders, and the Anointing of the Sick. This list was codified at the 16th-century Council of Trent, when many church practices were enshrined to define Catholicism against its rivals during the Protestant Reformation. Inadvertently that led to a loss of the interconnectedness of all sacramental actions: the relationship between the “healing sacraments,” for example, or the mutual dignity of the “vocation sacraments.” Above all, parsing distinct sacramental theologies broke the integrity of the “initiating sacraments”: Baptism, Confirmation, and Eucharist. These were originally inseparable events which the RCIA process seeks to restore in the Catholic consciousness.

From the time of the early church it was understood that Baptism confers the Holy Spirit on the recipient, as the New Testament frequently attests. The activity of the Spirit is the "confirmation" the initiate now shares with the whole church. To withhold that sign for years, as we routinely do with children who receive Confirmation a decade or more after Baptism, creates a chasm in understanding this sacramental pairing. It's why some theologians call Confirmation "a sacrament in search of a meaning."

Similarly, once a person is baptized and confirmed, he or she is eligible for full participation in the life of the church–including a place at the Table of the Lord. The early church rightly understood the three initiating rites as a single event to be celebrated together after the proper season of preparation. What the modern RCIA process does is restore the period of preparation and the natural integrity of these sacramental actions. It gives us all a richer understanding of what these sacraments mean, even if we didn't receive them in a threefold way ourselves.

The modern church has yet to figure out how all this should work in light of infant baptism, practiced with urgency since the 4th-century development of the doctrine of original sin. Right now children receive slivers of membership until maturity, as the church "supplies" their faith by proxy until they're fully catechized.

Scripture
Acts 2:41-47; 19:1-6; Romans 6:3-11; 1 Corinthians 12:13; Galatians 3:27-29

Online
Explanation of the RCIA from the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops

Books
The Heart of Faith: A Field Guide for Catechumens and Candidates by Nick Wagner (Twenty-Third Publications, 2010)
Invitation to Catholicism by Alice Camille (ACTA Publications)
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