These are the Sacraments
as described by Archbishop Fulton J. Sheen
Ph.D., D.D., LL.D., Litt.D.
A Divine Sense of Humor
No one can ever Understand the Sacraments, unless he has what might be called a
Divine Sense-of-Humor. A Person is said to have a Sense-of-Humor, if he can See
through things; One lacks a Sense-of-Humor, if he cannot See through things. No one has ever
Laughed-at a Pun, who did not see in the One (1) Word, a Twofold
(2) Meaning. To Materialists, this World is Opaque, like a Curtain; nothing can be Seen through it.
A Mountain is just a Mountain, a Sunset just a Sunset; but to Poets, Artists, and Saints, the World is Transparent, like a Window Pane --
it tells of something 'Beyond'; for example, a Mountain tells-of the Power of God, the Sunset of
His Beauty, and the Snowflake of His Purity.
When the Lord Incarnate walked this Earth, He
brought-to it what might be called a Divine Sense-of-Humor. There is only One
(1) thing that He took Seriously, and that was the Soul.
He said: "What exchange shall a Man give for his Soul"? Everything else
was a Tell-tale of something else. Sheep and Goats, Wine Bottles and Patches on Clothing, Camels and Eyes of Needles, the Lightning Flash and the Red of the
Sunset Sky, the Fisherman's Nets and Caesar's Coin, Chalices and Rich Men's Gates -- all of these were turned into Parables, and made to tell the Story of
the Kingdom of God.
(A Unity (1) of Body and Soul)
Our Lord had a Divine Sense-of-Humor, because
He Revealed that the Universe was Sacramental. A
Sacrament, in a very Broad Sense of the Term, combines Two (2)
Elements: One (1) 'Visible', the Other
'Invisible' -- One (1) that can be Seen, or Tasted, or Touched, or Heard; the
Other, Unseen to the Eyes-of the Flesh. There is, however, some
kind-of Relation or Significance between the Two (2). A Spoken Word is a kind-of
Sacrament, because there is something Material or Audible about it; there is also something
Spiritual about it, namely, its 'Meaning'. A Horse can Hear a Funny Story just as-well-as a Man. It is
Conceivable that the Horse may Hear the Words better-than the Man, and at the end-of the Story, the Man may Laugh, but Horse will never give a
Horse-Laugh. The Reason is, that the Horse gets only the Material Side of the
Sacrament, namely, the Sound; but the Man gets the Invisible or the
Spiritual Side, namely, the 'Meaning'.
A Handshake is a kind-of Sacrament, because there is something Seen and Felt, namely, the
Clasping-of Hands; but there is something Mysterious and Unseen, namely, the Communication-of Friendship. A
Kiss is a kind-of Sacrament: the Physical Side of it is present if One
Kisses One's own Hand, but the Spiritual Side of it is Missing, because there is no
Sign-of-Affection for another. One (1) of the Reasons why a Stolen Kiss
is often Resented, is that it is not Sacramental; it has
the Carnal Side, without a Spiritual Side; that is, the Willingness
to Exchange a Mark-of Esteem or Affection.
This Book on the Sacraments (contained
here in Eight (8) Web
Pages), is written because Men live in a World that has become entirely too-Serious. Gold is Gold, Nuclear Warfare is Nuclear Warfare, Dust is Dust, Money
is Money. No 'Significance' or 'Meaning' is seen in the things that make a Sound to the Ear, or a Sight to the
Eye. In a World without a Divine Sense-of-Humor, Architecture
loses Decoration, and People lose Courtesy in their Relationships with one another.
When Civilization was Permeated with a Happier Philosophy, when things were seen as Signs-of Outward Expression-of the Unseen, Architecture was enhanced
with a Thousand Decorations:
a Pelican feeding her Young from her own Veins, Symbolized the Sacrifice
the Gargoyle peering from behind a Pillar in a Cathedral, reminded us that Temptations
are to be found even in the most Holy Places.
Our Lord, on the Occasion-of His Planned Entrance
into Jerusalem, said that if Men withheld their Praise of Him,
"the very Stones would cry out", which they did as, later, they burst-into Gothic Cathedrals.
Now, the Stones are Silent, for Modern Man no-longer Believes-in another World; they have no Story to-Tell, no Meaning to-Convey,
no Truth to-Illustrate. When Faith in the
Spiritual is Lost, Architecture has nothing to-Symbolize; similarly,
when Men Lose the Conviction-of the Immortal Soul, there is a
decline-in the respect-for the Human. Man without a Soul, is a Thing;
something to be Used, not something to be Reverenced. He becomes
Functional, like a Building, or a Monkey Wrench, or a Wheel. The Courtesies, the Amenities, the Urbanities, the
Gentility that One (1) Mortal ought to have for Another, are Neglected, once Man is
no longer seen as Bearing within-himself the Divine Image. Courtesy is not a
Condescension of a Superior, to an Inferior, or a Patronizing Interest in another's Affairs; it is the Homage-of the
Heart to the Sacredness of Human Worth. Courtesy is born-of
Holiness, as Ornamentation is born-of the sense-of the Holy.
Let us see if Ornamentation returns to Architecture, if Courtesy also returns to Human Manners; for by One and the Same Stroke,
Men will have lost their Dull Seriousness, and will begin to live in a Sacramental Universe, with a
Life is a Vertical Dimension expressed in the Soaring Spire, or in the Leaping Fountain, both of which suggest that Earth, History, and
Nature must be left-behind to seek Union-with the Eternal. Opposite to this is an
Error, which Substitutes the Horizontal for the Vertical, the Prostrate Form of Death,
for the Upright Stature of Life. It is the Disease of
Secularity and of Naturalism. It insists on the Ultimacy of the
Seen and the Temporal, and the Meaninglessness of the
Spiritual and the Invisible.
Two (2) Errors can
Mar our Understanding of the Natural World: One (1) is to cut-off entirely from
Almighty God; the Other is to Confound it Substantially with
Him. In the First Instance, we have the Clock without the Clock
Maker, the Painting without the Artist, the Verse without the Poet. In the Second (2nd) Instance, we have the
Forger and the Forged, rolled-into One, the Melting and the Fusing-of the Murderer and the
Victim, the Boiling-of the Cook and his Dinner. Atheism cuts-off
Creation from its Creator; Pantheism identifies Nature with
God. The True Notion is that the Material Universe is a Sign
or an Indication-of what God is. We look-at the Purity of the
Snowflake and we See something-of the Goodness of God. The World
is full-of Poetry: it is Sin which turns it into Prose.
The Bible is a Sacramental
Coming closer to the meaning-of Sacrament, the Bible is a Sacramental
in the sense that it has a 'Foreground' and a 'Background'. In the 'Foreground' are the Actors, the Cult, the Temple, the Wars, the
Sufferings, and the Glories of Men. In the 'Background', however, is the all-pervading
Presence-of God as the Chief Actor,
Who subjects Nations to Judgment, according-to their Obedience or
Disobedience to the Moral Law, and Who uses
Incidents or Historical Facts as Types, or Symbols, of something else that will
happen. For example, take the Brazen Serpent in the Desert. When the Jewish People were bitten-by Poisonous Serpents,
God commanded Moses to make a Brazen Serpent, and to hang it over the Crotch-of-a-Tree; all who would Look-upon
that Serpent-of-Brass, would be Healed of the Serpent's Sting. This apparently
was a rather Ridiculous Remedy for Poison, and not everyone looked on it. If One could Divine or Guess their Reason,
it would probably be because they concentrated-on only One (1) Side of the Symbol; namely,
the Lifeless, Shiny, Brass Thing, hanging on a Tree. But it proved to be a Symbol of
Faith: God 'Used' that Material Thing as a Symbol of
Trust or Faith in Him.
Brazen Serpent -
Jesus Christ -
Assumed the Nature of Man,
via the Hypostatic Union
Hung on the Crotch-of-a-Tree.
Hung on the Crotch-of-a-Tree.
Lifeless in itself.
Author of Life.
Lifted up in the Desert,
for all to see.
Lifted up on a Cross on Calvary,
for all to see.
Healed those who looked upon it
Heals all those who look upon Him
Resembled a Poisonous Serpent.
Resembled Sinful Mankind.
Healed the Jewish People of the
Poison of the Serpent.
Heals all Mankind of the
Poison of Satan.
The Symbolism goes still further. The Old Testament is Fulfilled-in
Christ, Who Reveals the Full Mystery of the
Brazen Serpent. Our Lord told Nicodemus that the Brass Serpent was lifted-up in the Desert, so that
He would have to be lifted-up on a Cross. The meaning now became
clear: the Brass Serpent in the Desert looked-like the Serpent that bit the People; but though it seemed to be
the same, it was actually without any Poison. Our Blessed Lord
now says that He is 'Like' that Brazen Serpent. He, too, would
be lifted-up on the Crotch-of-a-Tree, a Cross. He would look
as if He Himself was filled-with the Poison of
Sin, for His Body would bear the
Marks, and the Stings, and the Piercing of
Sin; and yet, as the Brass Serpent was without Poison,
so He would be without Sin. As those who looked-upon that
Brass Serpent in the Desert, in Faith, were Healed of the Bite of the
Serpent, so all who would look-upon Him on
His Cross, Bearing the Sins and
Poisons of the World, would also be Healed of the
Poison of the Serpent, Satan.
The Divine Person/Personality of Christ Unites the gap between His Human and the Divine Natures
Divine Nature of Christ
Brick Wall between Natures
(Not Mixed or Fused or
Human Nature of Christ
The Word "Sacrament", in Greek, means "Mystery",
and Christ has been called by Saint Paul "the Mystery hidden from the Ages".
In Him is something Divine, something Human; something
Eternal, something Temporal; something Invisible, something Visible. The
Mystery of Bethlehem was the Son of God, taking upon
Himself a Human Nature, to Unite Human Nature and Divine Nature in
One (1) Person.
He Who, in the Language of Scripture, could stop the turning about of the Arcturus
(), had the Prophecy of
His Birthplace determined, however unconsciously, by a Caesar, ordering an Imperial Census.
He Who clothed the Fields with Grass, Himself
was clothed with Swaddling Bands.
He, from Whose Hands came Planets and Worlds,
had Tiny Arms that were not quite long enough to touch the Huge Heads of the Cattle.
He, Who trod the Everlasting Hills, was too Weak to Walk.
The Eternal Word was Dumb. The Bird that built
the Nest of the World, was hatched therein.
The Human Nature of Our Blessed Lord had no Power to
Sanctify, of and by itself; that is to say, apart-from its Union with Divinity. But, because
of that Union, the Humanity of Christ became the 'Efficient Cause' of our
Justification and Sanctification, and will be until the End of the World. Herein is hidden a
Hint of the Sacraments. The Humanity of Christ was the Bearer-of
Divine Life, and the means of making Men Holy; the
Sacraments were also to become the 'Effective Signs' of the Sanctification,
purchased-by His Death. As Our Blessed Lord
was the Sensible Sign-of God, so the
Sacraments were to become the Sensible Signs-of the Grace
which Our Lord had Won for us.
(A Unity (1) of Body and Soul)
If Men were Angels or Pure Spirits, there would
have been no Need of Christ using Human Natures or Material Things for the Communication-of the
Divine; but, because Man is composed-of Matter and
Spirit, Body and
Soul, Man functions best when he Sees the Material
as the Revealer of the Spiritual. From the very beginning of Man's Life, his Mother's Fondling is not merely
to leave an Impress-upon his Infant Body, but rather to Communicate the Sublimely Beautiful and
Invisible Love of the Mother. It is not the
Material Thing which a Man Values, but rather what is signified-by the
Material Thing. As Thomas à Kempis said, "regard not so much the Gift of the Lover, as the Love of the Giver".
We tear Price Tags from Gifts so that there will be no Material Relationship existing between the Love that
gave the Thing, and the Thing itself. If Man had no Soul or Spiritual
Destiny, then Communism would 'Satisfy'. If Man were only a Biological Organism, then he would be content
to-Eat, and to-Sleep, and to-Die like a Cow.
What the Sacraments Bring to Man
The Sacraments bring Divine Life or
Grace. Christ's Reason for taking-upon
Himself a Human Nature, was to Pay-for Sin
by Death on the Cross, and to bring us a Higher Life:
"I have come so that they may have Life, and have it more Abundantly" (John 10:10). But, it may be said, that Man
already has Life. Indeed he does; he has a Biological, Physiological Life. He once had a Higher Divine Life,
which he Lost. Christ came to bring that
Life back-to Man. This Higher Life, which is Divine,
distinct-from the Human, is called Grace, because it is Gratis,
or a Free Gift of God.
Two (2) Tadpoles at the bottom of a pond, were one day discussing the Problem of Existence. One said to the other,
"I think I will stick my head out to see if there is anything else in the World". The other Tadpole said,
"Don't be silly, do you think there is anything else in this World besides Water"? So those who live in the Natural
Life, ignore the Beauty of the Higher Life of Grace.
Man may live at Three (3) different Levels/Floors:
First Floor - the Sensate Level
Second Floor - the Intellectual Level, and
Third Floor - the Divine Level.
These may be likened to a Three (3)-Story House. The Sensate Level,
or the First Floor, represents those who deny any other Reality, except the Pleasures that come from the
Flesh. Their House is rather Poorly Furnished, and is capable-of giving Intermittent Thrills, which quickly
dry-up. The Occupant of this First Floor is not interested in being told of
Higher Levels of Existence; in fact, he may even deny their Existence.
On the Second Floor, there is the Intellectual
Level of Existence, that of the Scientist, the Historian, the Journalist, the Humanist; the Man who has brought to a Peak, all of the Powers of Human
Reason and Human Will. This is a much more Comfortable kind of Existence, and
far more Satisfying to the Human Spirit. Those on the Second
Floor may think their Floor is a "Closed Universe", regarding as Superstitious
those who desire a Higher Form of Life.
First and Second Floors
- Natural Order -
Life of the Senses -
Life of the Mind -
CC-1764 The Passions are Natural Components of the Human
Psyche; they form the Passageway and ensure the connection between the Life of the Senses and the Life of the
But there is actually a Third Floor, which is the Floor-of
Grace, by which the Human Heart is Illumined by
Truths which Reason cannot Know; by which the
Will is Strengthened by a Power
quite beyond all Psychological Aids, and the Heart is Entranced-with the
Love which never Fails; which gives a Peace
that cannot be found on the Two (2) Lower Levels.
Third Floor - Grace 'Gratis' is a Gift from God
- Supernatural Order -
(Transient, lives in the Soul,
comes and goes)
(Permanent, lives in Soul,
lost by Mortal Sin)
Supernatural Graces and Gifts of the Holy Spirit reside within the Essence of Man's Natural Soul, at the Divine Level, Third Floor.
Grace is Lost by Mortal Sin, but may be Retrieved, at least partially, by the Sacrament of Confession.
There is Light outside the Window, but it is up to Man to 'Open' the Blinds. The Opening-of
the Blinds does not Constitute Light; it is rather the Condition-of its Entrance. When
God made us, He gave us Ourselves. When
He gives us Grace, He gives us
Himself. When He Created us,
He gave Himself to us in a Way which makes us One (1)
One often sees Signs painted on Roadways, "Jesus Saves". Now this indeed is
True, but the important question is, How does He
Save? What Relation have we in the Twentieth Century, to
Christ in the First? Do we establish Contact with
Him, only by Reading about Him? If that be all, our
Relationship is not much closer than that which we can have with Plato. If Christ is only a Memory of
someone Who lived Centuries ago, then it is rather Difficult to
see that His Influence will be any different than that-of Socrates
The Answer to the Question of How Christ
Saves, is to be Found-in the Sacraments. The Divine Life of
Christ is Communicated-through His Church or,
His Mystical Body, in exactly the same-Way that
His Divine Life was Communicated, when He walked-on Earth. As
He then used His Human Nature as the 'Instrument' of
Divinity, and used Material Things as Signs and Symbols of the
Conferring-of His Pardon, so He now uses Other Human
Natures and Material Things as the Instruments-for the Communication-of that same Divine Life.
In the Earthly Life of Our Lord, we read that there were Two
(2) Kinds-of-Contact. There was the 'Visible Contact' with Humanity, by which His Power was
Communicated-to the Palsied Man and to the Blind, both of whom
He Touched. But there was also the 'Invisible Contact', in which
Our Blessed Lord showed His Power by Working
Miracles at a distance, such as the Curing-of the Servant of the Centurion of Nazareth. The Second
kind-of Contact is an Anticipation-of the Way that Christ, Who
is now in Heaven, Extends and Communicates His Power through the
Seven Conditions of Life
The Physical or the Natural Life requires Seven (7) Conditions, Five
(5) of which refer to the Person as an Individual, and the other Two (2) as a Member of Society.
The Five (5) Conditions of leading an Individual Life are:
(1) In order to live, One must obviously be Born;
(2) He must Nourish himself, for he who does not Eat, shall not Live;
(3) He must Grow to Maturity, throwing away the things of the Child, and Assume the
Responsibilities of Adult Life;
(4) In case he is Wounded, he must have his
Wounds Bound and Healed; and
(5) In case he has Disease (for a
Disease is very different from a Wound), the Traces
of the Disease must be Driven-out.
As a Member of Society, Two (2) further Conditions are Required:
(1) He must live under Government and Justice in Human Relationships, and
(2) He is called to Propagate the Human Species.
Over and above this Human Life, there is the Divine Christ-Life.
The Seven (7) Conditions of Leading a Personal Christ-life
are the following:
(1) We must be Spiritually Born to it,
and that is the Sacrament of Baptism;
(2) We must Nourish the Divine Life in the
Soul, which is the Eucharist;
(3) We must Grow-to Spiritual Maturity and assume
Full Responsibilities as Members of the Spiritual Army of the
Church, which is Confirmation;
(4) We must Heal the
Wounds of Sin, which is Penance;
(5) We must Drive-out the Traces-of the Diseases
of Sin, which is the Anointing of the Sick;
(6) We must Live-under the Spiritual Government
of the Church, which is Holy Orders;
(7) We must Prolong and Propagate the Kingdom of God
on Earth, which is Matrimony.
Every Sacrament has an Outward or Visible Sign; for example, in
Baptism, it is Water; in the Eucharist, it is Bread and Wine. But the
Sacrament also has a Form or Formula, or Words-of Spiritual Significance given-to the Matter
when it is Conferred. Three (3) Things then, are Absolutely Required for a
(1) Its Institution-by Christ;
(2) An Outward Sign; and
(3) The Power of Conferring the Grace or
Divine Life, Purchased for us by the Passion,
Death, and Resurrection of Christ.
The Power and Efficacy of the Sacraments
The Sacraments derive their Power and
Efficacy from the Passion,
Death, and Resurrection of Our Lord. Why was a
Blood Sacrifice required to bring us the Seven (7)-fold
Sanctification? For Several Reasons: Life is in the Blood, but so also is Sin. The
Sins of the Alcoholic, the
Libertine, and the Pervert are often written on their faces; their
Excesses are Recorded-in every Cell of their Body, and every Drop of their Blood. If, therefore,
Sin is to be done away with, there should be some Shedding-of Blood, as if to Symbolize the Emptying-of
Sin. It is often the Death of Soldiers that brings Freedom to a Nation; it is the giving of
One's Blood to another, which Heals him of Anemia. The Blood
Bank from which others may draw Healing, is hint of another Blood
Bank, from which Souls may be Healed-of the
Ravages of Sin.
Furthermore, Blood is the Best Symbol of Sacrifice, because Blood is the Life-of Man: when Man
gives-up his Blood, he gives-up his Life. Hence, Saint Peter writes:
"What was the Ransom that Freed you from the Vain Observances of Ancestral Tradition? You know well enough that it was not
Paid in Earthly Currency, Silver or Gold; it was Paid in the precious Blood of Christ; no lamb was ever so Pure, so Spotless a Victim".
(1Peter 1:18, 19)
The Blood of Christ had Infinite (∞)
Value, because He is a Divine Person.
The Life-of a Lamb is more Precious than that of a Fly, and the Life-of a Man is more Precious than the Life-of a Beast, and the Life-of the
God-Man is more Precious than the Life-of any Human Being.
Our Mind, our Will and our
Conscience become completely Sanctified through the application-of the
Merits of Christ:
"Shall not the Blood of Christ, Who offered Himself, through the Holy Spirit, as a Victim unblemished in God's Sight, Purify
our Consciences, and set them Free from Lifeless Observances, to Serve the Living God?" (Hebrews 9:14)
The Application to the Sacraments
"The Mystical Press" - by da Siena - depicts the
Reservoir-of-Grace provided for us by Jesus on Calvary
Calvary is like a Reservoir of Divine Life or
Grace. From it, there Flow Seven (7) different kinds of
Sanctification for Man, in different Stages-of his Spiritual
Existence. Each of these Seven (7) Channels is a Sacrament, by
which the Power of the Risen Christ is Bestowed-on
Souls by a Spiritual and Effective contact. This
Divine Life pours-into the Soul when we Receive the
Sacraments, unless we put an Obstacle in the Way, just as
Water will not Flow-out of a Faucet, if we put our Hand in front-of the Faucet. But a Faucet in a House has no Power to Quench Thirst, unless
there is a Reservoir and a Pipeline. So the Sacraments do not Confer
Grace as Magical Signs; they Communicate it only because they are in Contact-with the
What makes the Difference-between the Sacraments, is how each is Applied-to us. The
Christ-life affects us in a different-Way when we are Born, than when we are about to
Die; in a different Way when we reach the Age-of Responsibility, than when we Enter-into
Marriage; in a different Way when we Wound ourselves, than when we Exercise Government. The
Sunlight is the same, whether it shines-on Mud to Harden it, or on Wax to Soften it. It shines-on some Flowers
and makes them Grow; it shines-on a Wound and Heals it. So too,
the Blood of Christ, applied at Different Moments-of Life, results in a Different Kind-of
A Principle of Philosophy states: "Whatever is received, is received according to the Mode-of the One receiving
it". If you Pour Water into a Blue Glass, it looks Blue; if you Pour it into a Red Glass, it looks Red. If you Pour Water into the Parched Earth,
it is quite different than Water Poured-onto a Carpet, or into Oil. So too, when the Blood of Christ and its
Merits, Flood-in upon the Soul, it depends upon the One receiving
it. Does the Soul come for Strengthening? For
Nourishment? For Healing? For a Long Journey? For Induction-into the
Spiritual Army? The Effects will differ as to whether a Person is Spiritually
Dead, or Spiritually Living. If a Member of the
Church is Spiritually Dead, then
it will Revive him, as does the Sacrament of Penance, or the Sacrament of