Pray Brethren

Pray Brethren

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

The Character-Giving Sacraments of Election and Representation

There are many ways to categorize the sacraments. The most common approach, as found in the Catechism of the Catholic Church, is to group Baptism, Confirmation, and Eucharist together as the “Sacraments of Initiation” while placing Holy Orders and Matrimony together as the “Sacraments of Service” and grouping Confession and Anointing together as the “Sacraments of Healing”. There are three sacraments (Baptism, Confirmation, and Holy Orders), however, that impart something unique: an indelible mark called a character. A character is a seal placed on the soul for all eternity – remaining even if one commits a mortal sin, loses all grace, and separates himself from God. Indeed, some theologians have postulated that the souls in hell who bear the divine seal will be signs of enhanced shame and the seal a cause of greater torment.

In each of the Sacraments of Baptism, Confirmation, and Holy Orders God elects us – chooses us, calls us, and draws us into and ordered orbit in and around His Son. These sacraments also give us a unique representational status – a representation culminating in Holy Orders through which those men God elects are so representational that when they speak in the sacraments they speak in Persona Christ, in the very person of Christ. Of these men, Jesus says: “Whoever hears you, hears me.” Thus, if we were to group these three character-giving sacraments together, we might call them the “Sacraments of Election and Representation”.

A helpful analogy for the unique electoral-representational character of these sacraments is the atom. As you may recall from science class, the atom is composed of a nucleus center (made of protons and neutrons) around which orbit elections. Free elections may be drawn into orbit around the nucleus and we typically find larger numbers of elections in the orbits (or “shells”) further away from the nucleus at the atom’s heart. While this is obviously not the complete story of atomic structure and interaction, it paints a useful picture for our understanding of the Sacraments of Election and Representation. Analogously speaking, our current depiction of the atom becomes a depiction of Jesus Christ the New Adam.

As the atom consists of the nucleus and its orbiting elections, the New Adam is found in both its nuclear head as well as its elect body. Unlike the Pauline head-body analogy, however, the atomic Adam, so to speak, offers us a further sacramental structure. As the atom draws free elections into its orbit, the New Adam elects and draws us into his outer orbit first and foremost through the Sacrament of Baptism. Baptism binds us to Christ in a similar way that elections enter into an orbit around the nucleus. What’s more, we who are among the elect and have been drawn into the New Adam through baptism now stand before God in Christ as the representatives of the human race.

Our bond is rendered more complete and perfect through the Sacrament of Confirmation, the next orbit towards the nucleus. And if Baptism makes us representatives in Christ of humanity, the Catechism teaches that Confirmation makes us “quasi-official representatives” of the Church, the body of Christ, in order to proclaim the Gospel and draw others into the atomic Adam. Or to use Biblical terms, the first born son is the father’s representative to the younger children and the younger children’s representative to the father. We who are joined to Christ through Baptism and Confirmation share in this role as adoptive sons in the one Son. Lastly, of those confirmed men, God elects a portion into the closest orbit, so close that they can uniquely speak and act in his name and he can act sacramentally through them.

While every image breaks down at some point, the "New Adam-atom" nevertheless offers us another way to examine the unique character (no pun intended) of Baptism, Confirmation, and Holy Orders, while also helping us take another look at those two central - yet often overlooked - categories of Christian theology: election and representation.

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