Many stories dedicate a good part of their introduction to what’s known as “narrative exposition,” which presents the reader/viewer with information about the characters, their histories and their relationships. This process repeats itself when characters are taken from their own world and dropped into an unfamiliar world like Oz (The Wizard of Oz) or Narnia (The Chronicles of Narnia). This is because the characters don’t know what’s going on in these new worlds but are being asked to play some part there.
There is a parallel to be made between this experiences of Oz and Narnia and our Catholic faith. While each of us has our own histories and relationships, we have all been dropped brought into a greater story. We learn about that story in the first section of the YouCat as we come to understand what it means to say we believe in God the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. We start to see and understand how God has been working through human history to bring us into His family, we too are being asked to play some part in this story.
And it is here that we look at the second section of the YouCat, How We Celebrate the Christian Mysteries, which focus primarily at the seven Sacraments. St. Augustine speaks of the sacraments as a “visible sign of an invisible grace.” In each Sacrament, we have a particular ritual or ceremony that we see and do, which reflects God’s grace being poured into our hearts.
Another way to understand the Sacraments can be found in the origins of the word “sacrament.” The Latin word Sacramentum is how we usually translate the Greek word for ‘mystery.’ When we call something a mystery in the Church, we’re not trying to be Sherlock Holmes and solve something. We are instead invited to discover the many layered ways in which God is working in our lives. Sacramentum could also be translated as ‘a military oath of allegiance,’ which is another way to consider what we do in the celebration of every Sacrament. It is there that God renews His promises to give us grace (strength to do what we need to do). We are invited to respond to God’s promises by our own choice to follow and listen to Him.
The Sacraments themselves are split into three different groupings: the Sacraments of Initiation, the Sacraments of Communion & Mission, and the Sacrament of Healing. Each of these helps us to better play our part in the story in which we find ourselves.
The Sacraments of Initiation
If you ever want to understand what a group values, you need to look to their initiation practices. When I was a Boy Scout, our initiation was based on survival skills (learning to use a knife, how to light a fire, and so on). These reflect what scouting is all about. The Sacraments of Initiation are the three steps through which we become full members of the Church. Our need for the cleansing waters of Baptism, the strength of the Holy Spirit given at Confirmation, and the nourishment of the Eucharist present for us the story in which we find ourselves.
The Sacraments of Communion & Mission
Every Christian is sent into the world to be an instrument of change in the world. We are called to live and to love as Christ would have loved. The role we have been given in the story of our faith takes the shape of a vocation (calling): single, married, religious, or ordained. Two of these vocations are what we call the Sacraments of Communion & Mission: Marriage and Holy Orders.
The Sacraments of Healing
Because we are frail, fallible, and often need help, God gives us the Sacraments of Healing. The Sacrament of Reconciliation deals primarily with our spiritual well-being, where our failures are met with the forgiving love of God. The Anointing of the Sick looks more to our physical well-being, and is offered by a priest to someone who is ill, going for surgery, or near death as God’s love and comfort in the midst of suffering.
As we begin to explore the second section of the YouCat, we need to remember that we are being brought into a story. The first section of the Catechism presented us with the big picture of that story, and now we begin to see that we have a part. Fortunately, we are not asked to face this role on our own; we are given these seven Sacraments as privileged moments where God continues to manifest his saving love through the action of the church. We are also given the chance in these Sacraments to respond to God’s love with worship and with thanks.
“Celebrating the Christian Mysteries (Sacraments) is about encountering Jesus in Time. Until the end of time He is present in His Church. The most profound encounter with Him on earth is liturgy (divine worship.) …just as a man breathes air in order to stay alive, so too the Church lives and breathes by celebrating the liturgy. God himself is the one who breathes new life into her day by day and enriches her with gifts through His Word and His Sacraments.” -YouCat 166
-This is the second part of a series on the Youth Catechism. Mike Landry is Catholic Youth Camps director for the Archdiocese of Edmonton. He is also chaplain for Evergreen Catholic Schools, serving 10 schools west of Edmonton. Mike and his wife Jennifer live in Stony Plain with their five children.