Joseph Martos
Part Two of the Course, Fifth Assignment, Question 1
by Dr. Joe Martos - Friday, 17 February 2012, 1:51 AM
Examine a contemporary sacramental theology (using one of the summaries presented in this book), showing how it makes sense in terms of your own experience.
Picture of Monica Okon
Re: Part Two of the Course, Fifth Assignment, Question 1
by Monica Okon - Monday, 16 July 2012, 7:30 PM

Contemporary Sacramental Theology:

When we talk about contemporary sacramental theology, we are talking about the changes that influenced sacramental theology during the post Vatican II council. This period is characterized with “Catholic theologians rethinking the meaning of Christianity in a contemporary world” (108). It is difficult to find the meaning of Christianity in the contemporary world without finding the root or recovering the original meaning of what it was meant to be. In order to stay within the scope of our studies, the question is, “What are sacraments according to contemporary catholic theology?” (109). There are several ways contemporaries interpret sacraments according to individual experiences and how it makes sense to them. According to my own experiences one of the ways Catholics talk about the sacraments that make sense to me is:

Sacraments as Interpreted in Different Ways:

In Doors to the Sacred, there are about four different ways sacraments can be interpreted. I will mention three briefly and dwell rather on one of that fits my experience. The first variety of ways is called process thought. This group acknowledges Jesus being both human and divine and by participating in the sacraments, the divine grace is not restricted only to the individual Christian, but to the community of believers. My experience is that we are social beings and related. For example, if I receive the grace of being forgiven by God in penance, I am expected to extend forgiveness to those around me who step on my toes. Secondly, sacraments can be interpreted in a charismatic or Pentecostal way. My interest and experience is on the fact that “A charismatic theology of the sacrament emphasizes the power of the holy spirit." I have never been interested in the gift of speaking in tongues, but I am always thankful that the gifts of the spirit are many. My experiences of the Holy Spirit have allowed me several times to come face to face with wrong decisions from time to time. During the examination of conscience, I usually ask for the guidance of the Holy Spirit to enlighten me which. When I am open to the out poured of the Holy Spirit, the grace transforms me into a deep conversion. Being able to pray spontaneously either for me or for others in their needs is attributed to the power of the gift of the Holy Spirit.

Another way the sacraments are interpreted is that led by Louis Marie Chauvet. He calls it elements in a complex symbol system or language of faith. Why this idea makes sense to me is that he emphasizes that “believers inhabits a world of faith that is very different from the world of non believers." As a nun, I sometimes do not find it easy to explain to people why I would not marry nor have children, why I dress in a particular way sometimes. Many people find it hard to believe that I don’t keep my salary strictly for myself. Chauvet reveals in his interpretation of the sacraments that Christ is both present and hidden and for that reason, the role of symbols is very significant. That is why the definition of the sacrament as door to the sacred makes a lot of sense. Chauvet gives an example that Christ is the sacrament of God (123). I understand this to mean that, Christ reveals God to the world or lead us to meet God. I can equally say that if Christ is the sacrament of God, the Church is the sacrament of Christ, and I as first of all as a Christian then as a religious am a sacrament of the church.

The interpretation that makes me to choose this particular summary is the “interpretation of the sacraments from Catholics living under oppressive political regimes in Latin America and in Impoverished living conditions in Asia and Africa) (120). I am a living witness to the importance of liberation theology. In rethinking what Christianity means for this group of people, it was importance to recover the past. What they discover from the past is that God has always protected the stranger, aliens, the poor and the orphans (Jewish experience from Egypt and Babylon). The Old Testament prophets often condemned oppression of the poor and other social issues. In the New Testament, liberation theologians have discovered that Jesus Christ came and identified himself with the poor, widows and outcasts. He often, “Proclaimed that those who live in God’s kingdom love and care for one another” (120). If sacraments bring salvation, the salvation understood by the oppressed is that they are saved from oppressors in the world. As a Nigerian, my experience is that about 90 % or more of the populations are hungry in the midst of plenty because of the few who are greedy and are privileged to have access to the country’s resources. A country that supply other countries such as USA with gas and oil and other natural resources and have its citizens live in abject poverty and fear of insecurity. This interpretation is the reason that the churches in Nigeria and other parts of African countries are still full. A lot of people go to seek refuge in God through prayers to be saved from sinful people. As Martos explains that, “In this theological context, the church from the beginning was meant to be a place where God’s liberation to new life was discovered, enacted, and celebrated” (121). I am not surprise that, in recent years, some church leaders have refused to endorse liberation theology because, some of them “prefer to work with rather than work against the economic and political elites in their countries” (121). Being a church member and receiving the sacraments in Nigerian church play a vital role in the life of Christians. The church is one of the safest places to be healed, psychologically, physically, socially and spiritually. When people ask why is it that there is a lot of people going to church yet there is a lot of social injustices? My answer is, it could be worst if they were not going to church. In Nigeria, right now, church, prayers, and spiritual activities is what is sustaining the country. Please join me in praying for my country and the entire African continent to be what God meant it for the human race. My take is that Liberation theology is needed here more than anywhere else.

GRADE 4 (Makes connections with social as well as personal realities.)

(Edited by Dr. Joe - original submission Thursday, 12 July 2012, 04:19 AM)

Joseph Martos
Re: Part Two of the Course, Fifth Assignment, Question 1
by Dr. Joe Martos - Friday, 13 July 2012, 3:59 AM
Sister Monica, once you have your degree, you will be in a good position to develop a liberation theology for Catholics in Nigeria! Read about how liberation theology got started in Latin America. It began when seminarians took Bible stories to the rural poor and asked them what the stories meant to them. The poor found meanings in the stories that would have been familiar to poor Jews and Gentiles in Jesus' day, but once Christians began to become more affluent, they lost the original meaning of the stories and resorted to interpreting them in allegorical and symbolic ways. This is not the whole picture of how liberation theology began, but it is one element in it.

I believe you can find some of these interpretations in The Gospel of Solentiname by Ernesto Cardinal.

Another book I would warmly recommend is Christianity Rediscovered by Vincent Donovan. It is about a Catholic missionary in Tanzania who refused to impose European values on the gospel when he evangelized the Masai.

Picture of Monica Okon
Re: Part Two of the Course, Fifth Assignment, Question 1
by Monica Okon - Friday, 13 July 2012, 7:44 AM

It is interesting. Sure, I will like to read more on the subject matter to gain more insights. I know this is not the whole picture as you have mentioned, but for lack of time, I could not come up with the nagative side of it. Thank you so much.

Picture of Eileen Rettig
Re: Part Two of the Course, Fifth Assignment, Question 1
by Eileen Rettig - Monday, 16 July 2012, 7:35 PM

The sentence I found most compelling in the descriptions of the various explanations of contemporary sacramental theology came the description of the sacraments as “encounters with Christ.” Martos states: “For Schillebeeckx the sacraments are outward signs that reveal a transcendent, divine reality. They open up, so to speak, the possibility of falling in love with God.” (110).

After serious reflection I must conclude that I am much closer to the treatment of the sacraments that is described in the Catechism of the Catholic Church. The various sources cited in the section on the sacraments may seem to be scattershot, with conflicting theological views within the section but that approach is consistent with the history of theology with the exception of the four hundred years between the Council of Trent and Vatican II.

It was only in adulthood that I came to appreciate the idea of “falling in love with God.” I am reminded of Paul’s First Letter to the Corinthians, “When I was a child, I used to talk as a child, think like a child, reason as a child; when I became a man (an adult) I put aside childish things.” (1Cor 12:11). The rigidity of the post-Trent era may have been necessary. It was with that same attitude when I was a child that I enjoyed the liturgical parts of receiving the sacraments. At seven years of age I chose my confirmation name with the idea firmly entrenched that by adding Mary to my name would guarantee at least five saints in heaven to look out for me, and of course I was fully prepared to die for my faith.

By the time my husband and I got married my attitude toward the sacraments had matured somewhat. As I repeated my vows I felt the special graces of the moment, although the nuptial blessing given specifically to the wife was the sacramental moment for me. This was primarily because it was the first time in my sacramental life where my role as a woman, a wife and eventually a mother was honored. I had experienced what Bernard Cooke would describe as a transformative moment for me, my acceptance of my role, my reality of wife and probably the mother of a family within a Christian community.

Eventually I reached an outlook in my faith life similar to what has been described as Karl Rahner’s theory of sacramental theology. The distance between the natural and the supernatural is only relative (113). At times in my life I could hear God’s directions through my husband’s advice. My involvement in the Cursillo movement has helped me to sense the supernatural movements in life. I have also experienced some profoundly moving religious experiences, private moments like my father’s death, or the closing Mass of my Cursillo weekend that have shown me how close God is to me. And I want to stay in love with Him.

My only real concern which should probably be better addressed in the second question is the frequent use of the term “experiential”. Does it imply a strong sense of emotionalism? Faith should be both emotional and intellectual, when faith depends more on emotion than intellect it can become difficult to stay faithful during periods of spiritual aridity. On the other hand at times the intellect may question faith and it can be the emotional commitment that keeps a person faithful.

GRADE 4 (Even though it does not answer the question exactly as it was posed.)

(Edited by Dr. Joe - original submission Saturday, 14 July 2012, 12:28 AM)

Joseph Martos
Re: Part Two of the Course, Fifth Assignment, Question 1
by Dr. Joe Martos - Sunday, 15 July 2012, 2:28 AM
Eileen, my reasons for insisting on the importance of experience are two-fold. One is historical and one is pedagogical.

First, as chapter 2 tries to show, the church fathers' understanding of the sacraments arose out of their experience of baptism, eucharist and other religious rituals. And as chapter 3 tries to show, the scholastics' understanding of the sacraments was likewise based on what they saw going on in the sacramental rites of the Middle Ages, and sometimes on what they experienced when participating in ritual activities such as penance and the mass.

Second, the pedagogical reason for asking students to connect what they read with their own experience is to determine whether they understand it well enough that they can apply ideas to real life.
Picture of Tim Talbott
Re: Part Two of the Course, Fifth Assignment, Question 1
by Tim Talbott - Monday, 16 July 2012, 7:39 PM

Contemporary Sacramental Theology

In a way, the Catholic Church has existed in a tension of being portraying itself relevant to the current era while maintaining its tradition. The theology and praxis of the Sacraments are not exception. Since Vatican II in particular, many changes have been made. As the text notes, this process of change is “…still going on, and it is affecting all areas of Catholic theology, not just the Sacraments.” Dr. Martos goes on to point out that there is a distinguishable trend in this pursuit, and that trend is “toward more experiential accounts of the Sacraments."

Sacraments as Interpreted in Different Ways

I have chosen to examine Sacraments as Interpreted in Different Ways. The reason is that I believe by viewing them in different ways, we are given an accurate, holistic understanding of them. This is the approach Pope Benedict suggests in the reading of Scripture as well. In this example, he points out that the many different methods compliment the benefits and shortcomings of each other. I believe that there are “rays of truth” in most of the approaches taken in attempting to understand the theology and spirituality of the Sacraments. I see these “rays of truth” in the same manner that they are present in other faiths. This being said, I also acknowledge the numerous shortcomings of many. I will try to illustrate this is with some of the given examples from the section. For this discussion, I will focus on two systems in particular.

The first example is that of process theology. Dr. Martos does a good job of giving a fair description of both the positive and negative sides of this system. In line with what previously stated, there is something noble and wee-intentioned in attempting to explain what is actually happening in our relationship with God and in the Sacraments. From what I read in the section, this certainly does make a compelling argument for itself, especially in saying in regards to the Sacraments, “…and if they open themselves up to that grace, God’s reality enters into their own reality, not as perfectly as it did in Jesus, but at least to the extent that they can truly be said to grow in grace.” Whitehead’s descriptions do an excellent job of grappling with such complex concepts. However, there certainly are drawbacks, and I do believe they outweigh the good and beneficial elements. Primarily this would be his concept that God is in process as well, which does not jive with the established concept of an “immovable mover” or revelation. This being said, I do not condemn the questioning and grappling with these questions.

The other example I would like to discuss is liberation theology. Liberation theology proves to be the prime example of this perhaps positive tension which exists in the realm of faith and theology. It goes without saying that there are some redeeming qualities in this system. However, in its praxis it appears that it does not quite live up to its own ideal. Cardinal Ratzinger once noted, “…it must be borne in mind that no error could persist unless it contained a grain of truth. Indeed, an error is all the more dangerous, the greater that grain of truth is, for then the temptation it exerts is all the greater.” In this particular system, while lofty religious terminology is used to sell itself, the truth of it is that as faith becomes excluded, an exchange is made for a Marxist political/social liberation in lieu of spiritual liberation. All things considered, I do believe this system in its known form is a threat to the actual good the universal Church strives for. Conversely, as liberation theology does have certain positive motivations within it, much revamping could enable this system to truly liberate peoples, both spiritually and literally.

I relate this to myself in that I am a very political person. I have had very many political science classes in college and keep up with current political affairs. In addition, being in the military has given me insightful experience around the world as to the geo-political climates. My Catholic faith has also contributed to my understanding of certain conditions the world faces today. Being a spiritual person, I also believe I am capable of seeing certain root causes of many problems which cannot be seen or addressed aside from their spiritual reality. Regarding the Sacraments, as I previously stated, I believe that being exposed to differing perspectives truly does allow us to get the most realistic understanding of our faith as possible. My criticism of certain trains of thought, however, does not mean that I am not open to differing ideas or that I cannot learn from other systems either. I merely make every effort to be as discerning as possible.

GRADE 4 (Accurately articulates connections between theology and life.)

(Edited by Dr. Joe - original submission Sunday, 15 July 2012, 03:55 PM)

Picture of Marvin Fitchett
Re: Part Two of the Course, Fifth Assignment, Question 1
by Marvin Fitchett - Sunday, 29 July 2012, 12:13 PM

When reviewing the contemporary sacramental theologies, I realized that each theologian had interesting arguments regarding their present-day view of the sacraments. The argument that is most congruent with my Protestant religious practice is the ideas of the Dutch theologian, Edward Schillebeeckx. Although, his intent was to maintain the Catholic sacramental tradition and alleviate them for the earlier legalist view of the sacraments, his arguments are ecumenical encompassing other Christian religions.

The first concept which agrees with a foundation tenet of my religious experience, and drew my attention was the mention of, “love.” Schillebeeckx stated, “the sacraments opens the doors to the possibly of falling in love with God.”[1] His statement resonant within me, because it is one of the Protestant chief endeavors to love God. However, non-believers as well as believers are extended an opportunity to enter a revelatory love relationship with God in/ through Jesus Christ.

Next, after the doors were opened to the sacred reality of God, the believer(s) would turn their love to Jesus Christ, his life, death, burial and resurrection. Jesus Christ’s existence on earth was the example of love to be followed by all that entered into a relationship with God.

The active awakening of one’s inner strength to believe is called faith. Faith is bestowed by God so that I could enter his love relationship. The initial faith that is received from God is perfected by God as I behold and imitate Jesus Christ.

The following analogous thought of building the church community fits well in my Protestant view. Our Protestant view begins with Jesus Christ as the head of the church, who supplies and directs the church first as a body, then individually. The church as well as individual believers is given the spiritual power to express God’s salvation and Jesus Christ life.

Then, in some pulpits of Protestant services, the ministers of the preached word receive their revelation to speak a specific message from the Holy Spirit. God uses his preached word to open another door to his sacred reality for those hearing his word.

Finally, I thought Edward Schillebeeckx arguments to up-dating the Catholic sacramental theology included a Protestant perspective. Although Catholic’s used the wording sacrament and Protestant’s use the word ordinances referring to God’s spiritual reality. As a Protestant, I thought Schillebeeckx explanations of faith, preaching of the word, community, God, and Jesus Christ were Protestant.

GRADE 3 (Would have been better if his ideas were applied to your experience of baptism or communion.)

[1] Martos, Doors to the Sacred,110

(Edited by Dr. Joe - original submission Saturday, 28 July 2012, 01:40 AM)

Picture of arnetta sims
Re: Part Two of the Course, Fifth Assignment, Question 1
by arnetta sims - Saturday, 18 August 2012, 2:03 PM

The most important document resulting from Vatican II is The Constitution on Sacred Liturgy. I believe that the liturgy is the life line of the sacraments. This document allowed The People Of God to express and participate in the mission of the Church more fully through sacramental experiences. Therefore the laity became co-sharers in the responsibility of promoting the Gospel.To examine contemporary sacramental theology it is necessary for me to find meaning through the essence which is liturgy.

In the development of liturgical theology we see the Church reveal herself in forms of art, decorum and language. These expressions suggest a more pastoral nature to create human life in the manner of " analyzing abstract theological concepts" (pg. 123). The manner in which the sacraments are communicated help bridge the concept of the invisible to the invisible.Ritual becomes the instrument to stablize the functions of these practices and experiences.

Sacramental practices changed around 1966 and were gradually accepted by the people. The need for liturgical reform was influenced by liturgists and theologians which call for "inculturation" including all of God's people. At this point I would like to express my belief of the fact that I really do not believe that the Church even today fully understand what a sacrament is, but simply the effect of the sacrament. We try to perceive what the action does for us or the feeling that we experience in performing the ritualistic actions. In so doing theologians define the descriptive as being the meaning. The effect becomes more or less the terminolgy for the sacramental experience. Making sense for me is knowing that this external expression is to have an internal impact. Experiencing the sacraments through the liturgy is to stir up change and transformation in my life. I am to be transformed first by receiving the information and then applying it to my life. It is within the liturgy that the community comes together to celebrate the real presence of God which is intended to direct them toward salvation.What makes sense to me does not necessary make sense to someone else. But we can agree if good liturgy is shared the Spirit of the living God will flow through the sacraments. The opinion I offer is mine eventhough many learned theologians have studied and researched theories for the sacraments, these concepts are based on what makes sense to me. I accept the official sacraments, but I feel some elements of reverence for the mystery have dimished.

I celebrate the sacraments in the formula suggested by the Church. But I can not bring myself to the sacrament of reconciliation. I realize the purpose of the sacrament, but my sacramental experience of forgiveness is so very personal between me and my God. When I go into the presence of God in other sacraments He reveals what graces that I am lacking. I can forgive my fellowman because when I am in His presence, He forgives me. It is the power of the Holy Spirit that connects us all together with the First Sacrament. It is the Holy Spirit that opens the doors to the sacred.My interpretations and expressions are based on my spiritual level and what makes sense to me. The liturgy is the source in executing and celebrating the sacraments. The communal celebration expresses the social nature of man in a worship setting. Liturgy brings it all together in concert where we meet the Incarnate One and the rest of creation and this becomes sacramental life. I believe that this was the desire of contemporary theologians and it must be fine tuned from time to time.

I strongly agree with the explanation given by Martos on page 207 as the overall answer to a major factor of disconnect in sacramental theology; " For there is a prevailing sense in religious education and catechetics today that if the church's teachings about the sacraments are true, they need to make sense in terms of how people live their lives." Amen!

GRADE 2 (A good reflection on contemporary developments, but not a reflection on a contemporary sacramental theology.)

(Edited by Dr. Joe - original submission Friday, 17 August 2012, 03:41 PM)