Questions for Chapter 5

Saint Thomas Aquinas (Botticelli)

Traditional Catholic doctrine, the Code of Canon Law, and the Catechism of the Catholic Church all speak of sacraments in terms that were introduced by the schoolmen of the Middle Agesterms like sanctifying grace, actual grace, instrumental cause, sacramental reality, administering and receiving, valid and invalid, substance and accidents, and transubstantiation. How many of these terms do you recognize, and where did have you heard them?

131 a 
In what ways was there was a good match or correspondence between the scholastic approach to theology and the European practice of Christianity in the Middle Ages? 

131 b 
Can you follow the scholastics’ reasoning that sacramental rituals can be viewed as both signs and causes? Say why you would agree or disagree with it. 

132 a 
Grace is a biblical word (charis in Greek, gratia in Latin) that became a central term in Christian theology, yet its meaning is not precise. What is your own understanding of grace? 

132 b 
Has a sacrament ever been a channel of grace for you? That is, have you ever experienced a spiritual benefit from participating in a religious ritual? If you have, then you can get a handle on what the scholastics were referring to when they said that sacraments are instruments through which God provides grace to Christians. How would you put this in your own words? 

132 c 
Are you able to follow the scholastics’ reasoning in inferring the existence of something that is both sign and reality (usually called a sacramental reality in textbooks) that resulted when a sacramental ritual was performed? Explain your answer.

If grace is a supernatural gift from God that can be lost by committing a mortal sin, how would you explain the sacramental effects that cannot be lost—such as being permanently a Christian after being baptized, or such as being permanently a priest after being ordained? 

133 a 
Did you realize that when Catholics speak about administering and receiving sacraments, they are talking about sacramentum et res, the sacramental reality that was thought to give Christians special powers, such as the ability to love as Christ loved, the power to grant absolution from sins in confession, or the ability to have an indissoluble marriage? Why might this explanation of how sacraments work be less convincing today than it was in the Middle Ages? 

133 b 
What are some benefits and drawbacks of talking about sacraments in ways that do not take into account the changing circumstances of actual religious rituals? 

The scholastics had their way of taking intentions and attitudes (dispositions) into account when talking about sacraments. How do you believe intentions and attitudes affect what happens during a sacramental ritual? 

135 a 
What do you know about the Second Vatican Council? When and how did you hear about it?  

135 b 
In saying that the eucharistic liturgy is the high point of the church’s activity and the source of its power, were the bishops speaking about each and every Mass, or might they have been speaking abstractly and essentially, as the scholastics did? Which way would you yourself interpret this statement? 

Even though Vatican II had a very pastoral orientation, there is evidence of the scholastic approach to theology in this quotation. What is it? 

137 a 
To what extent do you see that the bishops’ desire for full, conscious, and active participation in the liturgy by all Catholics has been realized? Do you think that more could or should be done to increase people’s involvement in liturgical worship? If you do, what would you suggest? 

137 b 
If you are not familiar with Schillebeeckx and Rahner, look these theologians on the internet and write one thing about each of them. If you have already heard or read about them, what is your impression of their work and their contribution to theology in the twentieth century? 

If you are not familiar with existentialism and phenomenology, look up these philosophies on the internet and write one thing about each of them. 
If you have alread read about these philosophical approaches to life as it is lived and reality as it is perceived, how do you think they might might be used in theology? 

139 a 
Have you ever thought that the way a rock or plant looks is a sign of what it is, or an expression of its nature? How might this idea affect the way you think about signs and symbols? 

139 b 
How would you describe the relationship between your inner self and your outward appearance? If the way you behave, dress, and talk is an outward representation of who you are inside, can you change who you are by changing the way you act, look, and sound? 

140 a 
What do you make of the claim that we can reveal our inner selves to others only through external signs that they can perceive, and that we can get to know what other people are really like on the inside only through what we can see with our eyes and hear with our ears?

How can the fact that all human communication is through signs and symbols be used to understand the way that God communicates—and, for that matter, has to communicate—with human beings? 

140 b 
Can you put this paragraph's theological reasoning into your own words? 

140 c 
Would you say that you have encountered Christ in prayer, in reading the Bible, in hearing stories about Jesus, in listening to religious music, or in contemplating images of Christ in art? How would you describe that encounter? How did Christ become real to you through such religious experiences? 

141 a 
In your own religious journey, was the church—either as an institution or the people in it—instrumental in helping you to encounter Christ? If so, how did that encounter come about?

Today, is the church a sacrament of Christ in the world? If so, how? 

141 b 
In your own way of looking at it, how do the sacraments embody and express the inner reality of the church? In other words, what does baptism reveal about the church, and so on with the other sacraments? 

Do you remember meeting God during a sacramental ceremony that you participated in or attended as an onlooker? If so, what was that experience like for you? How would you account for the fact that sometimes you are present at a sacramental ceremony and nothing special seems to happen? 

143 a 
Write one thing you know about Karl Marx and one thing you know about Marxism. If necessary, look them up on the internet.

Write two things you know about liberation theology. If necessary, look it up on the internet.

Do you think it is possible to use philosophies developed by nonbelievers in developing a Christian understanding of life and the world in which we live? Why or why not?

143 b 
Can you appreciate how the idealistic seminarians of the sixties and seventies saw parallels between oppression in the ancient world and oppression in what was then called the Third World? What biblical comparisons might be made with poverty and oppression in the underdeveloped world today? 

What have you learned from ritual theory (pages 94-97 and elsewhere) that might support Segundo’s contention that the uneducated had a magical perception of the sacraments and that church authorities used religious rituals to buttress their power? 

What parallels do you see between Segundo’s analysis of religion in history and Bellah’s analysis summarized in chapter 2, section 4, above? Could Segundo be arguing that the separation of the divine from the human that was characteristic of classical religion needs to integrate the two dimensions in the modern era? Give your reasons for agreeing or disagreeing with Segundo. 

146 a 
Of the three senses in which magic can be understood (discussed on pages 94-97), which understanding of magic is Segundo employing here?

Is Segundo suggesting that Jesus was promoting a return to an undifferentiated religious consciousness that does not separate the sacred from the profane, that Jesus was promoting an integrated religious consciousness that reunited the sacred and the profane, or something entirely different? Use ideas from chapter 2, section 4, in this book to develop your answer.

Is Segundo trying to eliminate the transcendent dimension of religion by insisting on a radically secular interpretation of religion and morality? Explain your answer. 

146 b 
Given the differences between first-century Christianity and the medieval Christianity that became set in Tridentine Catholicism, how plausible is Segundo’s claim that the first followers of Jesus understood their communal rituals very differently from the way the sacraments came to be understood centuries later? 

147 a 
Based on what you learned about magical perception in chapter 3, section 4d, is Segundo being too harsh on the magical aspects of medieval Christianity? Explain why you think Segundo’s criticism is valid or not. 

147 b 
Did you ever come across an explanation of sacraments that sounds like the one described here? Did it make sense to you then? Does it make sense to you now? 

147 c 
Do you agree with Segundo that the promise of “pie in the sky when you die” was a way that the rich and powerful could keep the poor and oppressed content with their lot and not challenge the injustice of their social situation? Support whichever position you take. 

148 a 
Many Catholic bishops were socially and politically active during the sixties and seventies, but in the eighties and nineties the hierarchy became more focused on internal church concerns and matters of individual conscience. How would you evaluate this shift? 

148 b 
How does Segundo’s vision of the church compare with your own? 

Do you agree that the church’s rituals can and should be vehicles of social liberation? Have you ever experienced some sort of consciousness raising or heightened moral awareness during a religious celebration? Segundo’s vision sounds exciting to some, but is it realistic? Support your answers with reasons. 

Does this description of falling in love relate to your own experience? In retrospect, could you call it a type of conversion or change in consciousness? Explain your answers. 

152 a 
Cooke is suggesting that sacraments give grace by making positive changes in people’s lives. Would you agree with this broadened understanding of grace? Why or why not? 

152 b 
The good things in our lives can be regarded as blessings or gifts from God—grace, in other words—that transform our lives and make it better. Explain why you agree with this idea or not. 

152 c 
Does the notion that human love is symbolic of divine love make sense to you? Why or why not? 

153 a 
How plausible to you is this analogy between signs of love in a healthy family and sacraments in the Christian community? Support your response with reasons. 

153 b 
What do you think of the claim that, since learning occurs in proportion to the intensity or duration of learning experiences, the way Christians look at life (their hermeneutic of experience) is affected by intense ritual experiences and by regular participation in sacramental celebrations? 

154 a 
Does ascribing this deeply transformative role to the sacraments sound realistic to you? Explain your answer. 

154 b 
What have you heard or read about postmodernism? If necessary, do some quick research about postmodernism on the internet and write about two things that you learned. 

155 a 
Do these ideas of postmodernist thinkers make sense to you? If so, what kind of sense do they make? If not, why not? 

155 b 
What have you heard or read about Martin Heidegger? If necessary, read about this philosopher on the internet and write down two things that you learned about him. 

155 c 
Does Chauvet appear to make the same sort of negative assessment of scholastic theology as Segundo? What similarities do you notice between the criticisms of these two thinkers? 

156 a 
What do you think of Chauvet’s claim that the meaningful world we live in is entirely mediated by language? Try to think of some things that you know that you can’t put into words. 

156 b 
Is this description of the symbolic nature of language clear to you? If so, does it seem to be true? What seems plausible to you, and what doesn’t, when you reflect on how you use language and how language governs what you think? 

157 a 
What relationship do you see between words and rituals on the one hand and spiritual realities on the other. Do you agree that language has the power to govern spiritual realities? Give reasons to support your positions. 

157 b 
Do you agree that Christian identity is mediated by the church? To what extent is this believable, and to what extent is it not? 

157 c 
Do you agree that the three dimensions of Christian identity and existence—scripture, sacrament, and ethics—are connected in the way described? Why or why not? 

158 a 
Put into your own words the connection that Chauvet sees between ethical living, what is revealed in the scriptures, and what is celebrated in the sacraments. To what extent does this connection make sense to you?

What similarities do you notice between this analysis by Chauvet and Rahner’s analysis of the symbolic nature of human existence on page 139 above? Remember that both thinkers were influenced by Heidegger. 

158 b 
Chauvet contends that what we believe is what is real because we accept the church’s language of faith, which is found in its liturgy. What do you think about this contention? 

158 c 
Chauvet is critical of the notion that grace is a spiritual substance that can be received into the soul. Have you come across this notion of grace before, perhaps when it was being explained to you as a child? 

159 a 
Chauvet implies that the effects of some sacraments are automatic and permanent. Is this realistic? Explain your answer.

Chauvet claims that the power of language is not magical, but based on what was said previously about magic in chapter 3, section 4, this claim may not be tenable. What do you think? 

159 b 
After claiming earlier that reality is always mediated by language, Chauvet later suggests that some spiritual realities are not the same as what can be said about them. Can he logically have it both ways? Support your answer with reasons. 

160 a 
When you read or hear about the real presence of Christ in the Eucharist, how do you understand that real presence? 

160 b 
Does this explanation of the real presence of Christ make sense to you? Why or why not? 

160 c 
Does this way of looking at the Emmaus story help you to understand, on the one hand, how Christ can be seen but not recognized, and on the other hand, how he can be recognized even though he cannot be seen? Give your own evaluation of this interpretation. 

Is the distinction between general liturgical theology and special liturgical theology clear to you? For more about general liturgical theology, look at the last four paragraphs in this section. Then explain the distinction in your own words.

164 a 
Have you found your own consciousness and behavior being shaped by deep participation in the liturgy? Can you see connections between what Schmemann, Cooke, and Chauvet say about the relation between liturgy and life? 

164 b 
Are you familiar with any of Kavanagh’s writings? If so, how have they influenced your thinking about liturgy? If not, look up Aidan Kavanagh on the internet and write down two things you learned about him and his work.

How would you define liturgy? However you define it at this point, Fagerberg would say that you are talking about liturgy in the thin sense, a meaning that is stripped down to the bare necessities. Do you agree with him? Why or why not?

166 a 
Liturgists sometimes say that this etymology of the word shows that liturgy requires participation by the people. If so, what might be said of those who are not participating but just present in church? 

166 b 
This sounds rather cryptic. Taking the first sentence in this paragraph as a clue, what do you think it means? 

166 c 
How many of these formulations of liturgy in the thick or rich sense can you relate to? If they make sense to you, try putting them in your own words. 

167 a 
Fagerberg uses the Greek leitourgia to refer to the practice of living in everyday life what is lived ritually in liturgical celebrations. Does this explanation help to clarify what is being said in this paragraph? If so, try to say it in your own words. 

167 b 
In the terminology of special liturgical theology, all liturgists are theologians. How would you translate this into ordinary English? 

From the perspective of these writers, the theology that is experienced in deep liturgical worship is the foundation for all other theology, that is, theology that is put into words. What do you think about this claim? 

169 a 
In addition to the ones named here, what are some books or articles you have read that would fit under the umbrella of liturgical theology in the broad sense? 

169 b 
The reason there can be competing interpretations of the sacraments is that sacraments are one thing and interpretations are another. Even if there is only one correct theology of the sacraments, the claim of correctness presupposes that there is a difference between the sacraments themselves and the theory that correctly explains them. Does this make sense to you? Why or why not? 

170 a 
Catholics are fond of talking about sacraments in generalities, and in doing so they assume that they are talking about something real. The contention being presented here, however, is that such statements are abstractions, and that the only real sacraments are the ones that are actually going on at any given time. Do you agree or disagree with this contention? Why? 

170 b 
Another way of putting this is to say that the proper object of sacramental theology is sacramental performance, not ecclesiastical statements about sacramental performance. In other words, church teachings can and should be used to illuminate what can and should be happening in sacramental rituals, but they do not always state what is actually going on in those rituals, for the teachings are abstract and general but sacramental acts are always concrete and particular. Do you agree or disagree with this contention? Why? 

170 c 
The understanding of sacramental theology that is being presented here in effect puts all theologies on the same level—whether they are the church’s official theology or the offerings of individual theologians. They are all abstract, and they all can be used to make sense of what is going on during and as a result of actual sacramental performances. Is this acceptable to you or not? Why? 

171 a 
Are you familiar with this understanding of models? If you have read Models of the Church by Avery Dulles or Models of Jesus by John O’Grady, what similarities do you see between their approaches and the one being taken here? If you have not read those books, where else might you have heard about mental, conceptual or mathematical models?

171 b 
Does this brief description give you a general idea of what mental models are and how we use them? If so, give some other examples of models that are based on your own experience. 

171 c 
This paragraph expands the notion of models a bit. Are you familiar enough with science or history that you can come up with your own examples in addition to the ones given here? If so, add some examples of your own. 

172 a 
If what is said in this paragraph is accurate, then the debate between evolution and creationism is based on the misunderstanding that the theory of evolution offers a picture of what has gone on in the past, whereas the theory is actually used by scientists to interpret the relationships between fossils that they find in the present. (Of course, it is easier to teach the idea of evolution to students by presenting it as a description of what happened millions of years ago. Hence the confusion.) Does either the paragraph in the text or these comments on it make the notion of theoretical or disclosure models clearer to you? If so, put what you understand in your own words. 

172 b 
If you have studied psychology, you may remember reading about the theories of Freud, Adler, Skinner, and others. Early in the history of psychology, they all claimed to be the true theory of how the mind works. Today these theories are generally regarded as different disclosure models that can help us to understand various aspects of consciousness and behavior. Could differing sacramental theologies perform the same service for Catholics who want to understand their church rituals? Explain your answer. 

173 a 
Does the notion of theologies as disclosure models sound dangerously relativistic or excitingly open-minded to you? Why or why not? 

173 b 
Does talking about models in this way make sense to you? If so, what kind of sense does it make? 

174 a 
It is being suggested here that taking sacramental theologies as models has some practical benefits. Can you state those suggested benefits in your own words? Do these suggestions sound realistic to you? 

174 b 
Look at the section on the postmodern approach to sacraments and formulate a question that could be asked from that perspective.

Last modified: Saturday, 16 May 2015, 12:41 AM