Joseph Martos
Part Two of the Course, First Assignment, Question 1
by Dr. Joe Martos - Thursday, 14 June 2012, 3:14 AM
Compare the understanding of sacraments presented in this chapter with one of the following: (1) your understanding of sacraments before you enrolled in this course, or (2) the understanding of sacraments that is presented in the Catechism of the Catholic Church. What might be some of the advantages and disadvantages of regarding the Catholic sacraments as examples of sacraments in the broad sense?
Picture of arnetta sims
Re: Part Two of the Course, First Assignment, Question 1
by arnetta sims - Monday, 16 July 2012, 1:31 PM

Prior to taking this course my understanding of the sacraments was limited. I experienced the rituals over and over without any substances or true meaning. Much emphasis was placed on the performance rather than the concept.I am familiar with the theology of sacramental rituals, but did not realize the depthness. Since I have learned the language and terminology of the functions I can better appreciate what I experience.

The Catechism is based more on the learning aspect of the what the sacraments are, rather than the experience. The explanation in the Catechism limits the experience of the sacraments. It is my theory when true freedom is allowed the beauty of God is experienced in ones personal encounter in the sacraments not in a program, but a process.

My understanding of the sacraments before this class was passed on as traditions and a requirement to be a Catholic. It was the obligations that superceded the experience. My performance was carried out in a manner in which I had been instructed. I knew that the sacraments were instituted to give grace, but the genuine meaning of grace was never given. Once I begin learning from this course about the sacraments I begin to develop and grow in grace.

I believe that it is in the preparation that we become sacramental people. I feel that in the liturgy that we gain access to enter the "doors of the sacred." To share in this experience of liturgical expressions we enter into a place of worship. Here and only here can we experience the true presence of God. Once we have arrived at this place of worship we are open to experience the sacrament.

The journey of sacramental rituals lead to sacred times and places. No matter what kind of ritual one might experience it serves a purpose. I believe that there are many sacraments that we encounter in our daily lives. The Catholic theory of the seven sacraments gives a good outline, but the broader becomes apparent in a society of many different people.

GRADE 2 (Could be clearer both in regard to your previous understanding of sacraments and in regard to the understanding of sacraments presented in the chapter. Does not address the second part of the question, about advantages and disadvantages.)


(Edited by Dr. Joe - original submission Friday, 22 June 2012, 03:22 PM)

Picture of Monica Okon
Re: Part Two of the Course, First Assignment, Question 1
by Monica Okon - Monday, 16 July 2012, 1:34 PM
The catechism of the Catholic Church defines a sacrament as an outward sign of inward grace, ordained by Jesus Christ, by which Grace is given to our souls. This means sacraments are merely signs of sacred things. Prior to this class, this definition of the sacraments make me understand that the church through the influence of the Holy Spirit, the early teaching of the church and more importantly, through the scriptures, the sacraments were founded by Christ. This definition made me thought that it was during Jesus’ ministry on earth through both his public and hidden teachings that he founded the seven sacraments and handed them on to the Church through his apostles to make us worthy of his discipleship. The ‘outward sign of inward grace’ in the definition above have never received a deeper thought and reflection on my part. For me it means things that we can see that represents the things that we cannot see such as spiritual gifts. For instance water which we can see for cleansing represents forgiveness of our original sin.

After the one week course attendance, reading chapter one of Doors to the Sacred and listening to the video, I am happy to be exposed to the historical theological foundations to the sacraments. Dr. Martos has uncovered the hidden treasure of what I may call ‘evolution’ of sacramental studies. First, my new understanding shows that a sacrament is something sacred, something concrete, and within my own experience which puts me in touch with the sacred. Sacraments therefore direct my attention to what is holy and in my belief what is holy is what is sacred and God is that ‘Sacred,’ the ‘Holy,’ the ultimate end. This understanding has made me reflect on the sacrament which the church refers to as sign being given and received. It reveals that a sign is not something tangible, it is difficult to receive a sign and since it is only God who gives grace, the definition needs to be evaluated for a better understanding. This understanding renders the traditional definition of the sacrament too broad.

Next, it is only two sacraments that we can easily trace theological foundation to Jesus Christ and that is the Eucharist and penance. So historically, the foundations to all 7 sacraments of the church are not something we say originated from the very beginning by Christ. There have been a lot of transformations of the sacraments which should not be ignored if the sacraments have to be relevant to the people of our time. That means the sacraments have social, psychological, historical implications which may help us understand the theological applications that we have now. This shows that understanding the sacraments is more complicated than I thought because they are made up of these sociological, psychological, historical, and theological concepts which themselves are complicated. Martos For example says, sacramental rites have changed over the years. To think that the sacraments from the Latin word of Sacramentum in the pre-Christian times (a pledge of money to a law suit, to an oath of loyalty to the Roman commanders which involved ceremonies) to the first and second centuries when the word was borrowed by Christian writers to refer to ceremony of Christian initiation, and down to our own present time is enough to reflect on the changes that have taken place. For example, “by the time of Augustine in the 5th century, any sacred symbol or ceremony could be called a sacramentum” (4)

The Catechism’s definition presents a sacrament as a mere sign of the sacred, but my new insight from Dr. Martos says, a sacrament does more than signify. Instead, sacrament symbolizes the sacred which is the presence of what it stands for. A symbol in this case is a sign, but it is that kind of a sign which makes us inwardly aware of what it stands for. They are symbols when they cause us to be aware of the reality they stand for.

The second part of the question asks for advantages and disadvantages of sacrament in a broader way. If sacraments are defined in a broader sense, it includes other religions and not specifically to Catholic Christianity. I got this insight on page 4 which says, “if sacraments are understood in this broader sense, then the religions of the world are full of sacraments.” In other words, a broad definition of the sacrament makes the term inclusive even for other area of studies not only pertaining to religion. As earlier mentioned, social sciences like poetry, fictions, sociology and other worlds religions will have a share in this definition. This is because they all have signs that point to something that is not clearly revealed. In summary, “The most important of these features is that sacraments in all religious function as doors to the sacred that is as an invitation to religious experience.” (7) The disadvantage would be that everything would be called sacrament. It is full of discrepancies and difficult to grasp the meaning of religious experience. A broader definition leads to dead end (XVI). The broader definition does not give the root meaning of some of the concepts use during sacramental rituals. Again, it does not tell me what it means to receive and given grace and to how the effects of each sacrament happens. for now, My understanding has expanded because of learning the sacraments through personal and religious experience. What a symbol means, sacred place, time and rituals.

GRADE 4 (Thorough and articulate.)

(Edited by Dr. Joe - original submission Saturday, 23 June 2012, 02:21 PM)

Picture of Eileen Rettig
Re: Part Two of the Course, First Assignment, Question 1
by Eileen Rettig - Monday, 16 July 2012, 1:40 PM
Many cultures have rituals to mark transitions in life, the changes in our lives. Some very primitive cultures have special ceremonies for deciding where to build a dwelling, or a place to worship. Rituals can celebrate the birth of a child or assist in comforting the family of a deceased person. These rituals are not the only things that people can utilize in an effort to connect with the sacred. On page 4 of Doors to the Sacred Martos broadly defines “sacrament as a sign or symbol of something which is sacred and mysterious.” People can also use events and objects to link with sacred realities.

Section 774 of the Catechism of the Catholic Church (CCC) defines sacramentum as emphasizing “the visible sign of the hidden reality of salvation.” It goes on to state in the same section “the seven sacraments are the signs and instruments by which the Holy Spirit spreads the grace of Christ the head throughout the Church which is his Body.” The particular definition of sacraments that is found in the CCC fits into Martos’ broader definition. Section 1084 goes on to define the sacraments of the Church as “perceptible signs (words and actions) accessible to our human nature…they make present efficaciously the grace they signify.”

Similar to the mathematical concept of sets, the seven sacraments of the Catholic Church can be considered a subset of sacraments as defined by chapter one of Doors to the Sacred. The Catechism uses lofty terms to describe source and effects of these rituals but in many respects they are similar to rituals common to many cultures. Like the aboriginal inhabitants of Australia that Eliade describes in The Sacred and the Profane (pg. 32-34) who actually die when they have lost their connection to the other world, if a ritual does not afford that connection it becomes hollow. When a person is properly disposed these rituals can provide a view into the sacred. The Catholic Church has over the centuries attempted to gift its members with meaningful ceremonies to maintain their connections with that world we cannot see but are aware of through that longing humanity seems to have to find something more in life.

During a class on the Sacraments of the Catholic Church that I took as part of the lay ministry program for the Archdiocese of Mobile we developed a type of shorthand for the difference between definitions. Sacraments with a capital S meant the seven sacraments of the Catholic Church, lower case S meant something that fit the broader definition. This was not intended to diminish the idea that an event, ritual or object not designated as Sacrament by the church did not give an insight into sacred reality but rather to highlight the fact that other places, events or objects can bring someone closer to the sacred. We would classify seemingly mundane items like a wedding ring, the symbol of our vows of fidelity to another, as a sacrament. The sense of unity brought about by a small group in prayer together can be sacrament, as can a joyful gathering of a family that is celebrating an important event like a wedding, an anniversary, a graduation or other occurrence.

GRADE 4 (Insightful and creative.)

(Edited by Dr. Joe - original submission Thursday, 28 June 2012, 12:05 PM)

Picture of Marvin Fitchett
Re: Part Two of the Course, First Assignment, Question 1
by Marvin Fitchett - Monday, 16 July 2012, 1:42 PM

Prior to this course, my understanding of the sacraments were limited to second hand knowledge of Catholics worship practices performed in Catholics churches and the Catholic sacramental material received from St. Martin De Pores. My initial exposure to sacraments came by way of second hand knowledge, what I heard from my Catholic co-workers about how Catholics worshiped. How they prayed to statues, prayed the Rosary utilizing beads, and the different rituals they perform during their worship services. Next, I began to get a better understanding of the sacrament during my son’s enrollment at St. Martin De Pores while I was stationed at the Philadelphia Naval Shipyard. The Catholic school, St. Martin De Pores, regularly sent pamphlets home, and I read the material concerning the different sacraments. I distinctly remember the sacrament of the Eucharist, because I thought it was an odd title for partaking of the Lord’s Supper.

What I’ve learned from the course, “Sacrament in Reality and History”, has enlarged my understanding of the term sacrament(s) and the Catholic sacraments. What I come to realize is the term sacrament has both a universal and a Christian context. In the universal sense, sacrament can be ascribed to sacred symbol that symbolize a sacred reality experienced in one’s inner being. When applying the term sacrament in a Christian context, its meaning relates to religious symbols or rituals that symbolize a sacred religious reality experienced in one’s inner being that connects the individual or participants to God, Jesus Christ, or the Holy Spirit. While developing my academic understanding of the Catholic sacraments, I learned about the term, “sacraments”, history, which parallels the history of the various rituals. There were the rituals of initiation, water, meals, sacrifices, atonement, healing, funeral, marriage, and ordination. I understand how the Catholic Church arrived at the seven official sacraments. The seven official sacraments are Baptism, Confirmation, and Reconciliation, Anointing the Sick, Marriage, Ordination, and the Eucharist. The official sacraments have reverent historical context to them which originates from the Holy Scriptures or the meet the universal sacredness criteria. The ceremonies or actions surrounding the seven sacraments are sacred to the participants, which makes the objects of those ceremonies and actions reflective of the sacred and holy.

The advantages of the Catholic sacraments in a broad sense leads to the thought that they are effective in helping people reflect or focus on the spiritual and sacred aspects of their lives. The reflecting and focusing on the spiritual and sacred aspects of one life put us in touch with God or the significantly deeper meaning to our lives. Additionally, several Catholic sacraments distinctively mark and assist people through the developmental stages of life. The disadvantage of the Catholic sacraments in a broad sense is the potential it presents of redirecting participants’ focus off the source of life and the giver of salvation, God and His son, Jesus Christ. Another way of stating the aforementioned statement, the disadvantage is realized when the Catholic Church and the participant’s of the rituals places greater significance on the sacred ritual and symbols than toward the focal essence of the ritual or symbol.

GRADE 4 (Personal, descriptive, and well expressed.)

(Edited by Dr. Joe - original submission Monday, 9 July 2012, 10:34 PM)

Picture of arnetta sims
Re: Part Two of the Course, First Assignment, Question 1
by arnetta sims - Tuesday, 10 July 2012, 7:07 PM
 I am reflecting on your conclusion of re-directing of the focus of the sacraments. We as Catholics experience the spiritual realities in the sacraments that Christ is in our midst . We understand that the sacraments bring us into communion with the Trinity. Catholics often times do not express the theological components of the sacraments, but they are aware of the functions.It is also through the ritualistic expressions that usher us into the presence of the Lord. The sacred symbols serve as physical props to create an "air" of sacredness.Just as African American Protestants need the Gospel music to pull down the spirit of the living God, so do we Catholics need our rituals and symbols.Amen?
Joseph Martos
Re: Part Two of the Course, First Assignment, Question 1
by Dr. Joe Martos - Thursday, 12 July 2012, 2:51 AM
Yes, Arnetta, there is a relation between Gospel music and the Catholic sacraments. Musical pieces can be sacramental in the broad sense because the help us to experience God's presence, God's love, God's mercy, etc. I refer to the Catholic sacraments as sacraments in the strict sense because the Church has restricted the use of the term "sacrament" to these seven. When sacraments are spiritually effective, they help us to connect with the divine (hence I call them doors to the sacred), whether they are Catholic rituals, Protestant church music, or reading the Scriptures.
Picture of Tim Talbott
Re: Part Two of the Course, First Assignment, Question 1
by Tim Talbott - Monday, 16 July 2012, 1:48 PM

Due to the fact that I am a practicing Catholic, prior to taking this course my understanding of the Sacraments was obviously based on what the Church defines it as in the Catechism. While I have not changed my understanding of the Sacraments, I have broadened my thinking of sacraments and sacramentality. The terminology, in particular has broadened my ability to even discuss the Sacraments. Eileen stole my thunder in pointing out that there is the distinction made between Sacraments, with a capital S, and sacraments, with a lowercase s.

On page 3, Dr. Martos notes that “In either case, the sacramentum involved a religious ceremony in a sacred place.” Sacramentum being a Latin form, and basis for the word sacrament, performs the job of describing sacrament with a lowercase s. In regards to this, there is much conversation which could be had of Catholic/Christian Sacraments in relation to the other “sacraments” around the world. One concept I feel necessary to mention is the theme of this first chapter which seems to detail the ambiguity and seemingly universal application of the word sacrament. This brought up an important point that has often made. The presence of similarities in both practice and belief between Christianity and other, even pagan, religions does not diminish Christianity but validates it. From a philosophical/metaphysical perspective, the similarities arose out of the same natural longing for God which every man is born with.

I believe we can get caught up in the semantics of what the Church defines its seven Sacraments as and the meaning attributed by others. What the Church means by its definition may indeed be other than what the rest of the world intends, but it does not negate what its believed definition is. Different contexts of the word light does not mean that either one is incorrect. It is not heavy in one instance and the opposite of the dark in the other.

I have to say that I focus more on the disadvantages of the broad view of the word sacrament. As I previously stated, too much ambiguity and an almost universal application would significantly water down the profundity of the term. In a situation where some could be used to describe almost anything, the novelty of it detailing a special few things would be diminished. This being said, one advantage might be seen in being able to view even mundane details as highly meaningful. This would certainly be in line with a Christian perspective of the world which God created. It really comes down to the context in which it is being used. There is a time for both, it just depends on whether you mean Sacraments with a capital S (Catholic rituals), or sacraments with a lowercase s (everything else).

GRADE 3 (Talks around the question but could be more direct and clear. Shorter than required length.)

(Edited by Dr. Joe - original submission Thursday, 12 July 2012, 12:13 AM)