This Formation article is taken from Evangelizing Presence: Living the Moral Life Today by Fr Pat Giordano, S.J., and Nancy R. Catan published by the BCBP, c2007, pp 69-73. It discusses the roles that the three anchors — liturgy, sacraments, and scripture — play in our Christian moral formation.
Christian life must be understood as a response to God’s self-offer in Christ and to God’s invitation to love and relationship. Our response should therefore include quiet time for prayer and reflection on Scripture, worship of God both in private and public, and participation in the sacramental and liturgical life of the Church. There is an integral interconnection between the moral life and liturgy, sacraments, prayer, and scripture in that moral living can be said to authenticate the liturgy and our other responses to God’s love.
First of all, we must be aware of the ‘sacramental principle,” an important element of Catholic theology. God is total mystery. The only way we can encounter him is through symbols or signs which manifest his presence. If we are to encounter God, we must encounter him through our senses of sight, hearing, taste, touch, or smell. The symbol or sign points beyond itself to a mystery it reveals. This principle is so important for our experience of God. We are always open to the encounter of God through Jesus Christ in his Holy Spirit. Jesus Christ is the Primary Sacrament; the Church is the Fundamental Sacrament, and the seven sacraments are encounters with Jesus Christ in the Church at key moments of our life. Let us examine the roles of the Eucharist, the Sacraments, and the Word of God in our moral formation.
1. THE EUCHARIST IN MORAL FORMATION
Sacramental liturgy which includes prayer, worship, scripture, and the Sacraments enables the people of God to gather to celebrate, to confirm, and to nourish their communal and personal life in Christ, as well as their spiritual and moral growth. Sacrosanctum Concilium, Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy of the Second Vatican Council, declares that the purpose of the sacraments is to sanctify men, to build up the body of Christ, and give worship to God. It enumerates the forms of the presence of the risen Christ in the worshipping assembly:
To accomplish so great a work Christ is always present in his Church, especially in her liturgical celebrations. He is present in the Sacrifice of the Mass not only in the person of his minister … but especially in the Eucharistic species. By his power he is in the sacraments so that when anybody baptizes it is really Christ who baptizes. He is present in his word since it is he himself who speaks when the holy scriptures are read in the Church. Lastly, he is present when the church prays and sings, for he has promised, ”where two or three are gathered together in my name there am I in the midst of them” (Mt. 18:20).
Nicholas Lash has written a brilliant article commenting on this previous statement. He focuses on Christ’s presence in the Eucharist in the gathered community, in the word proclaimed, and in the food shared. “We are gathered because we are the body of Christ. We gather to become more fully the body of Christ.” From Christ’s presence in the Eucharist, Lash then projects Christ’s presence in the world: in all brotherhood, in all truth, in all sharing of things, precisely because the Eucharist is the sacrament of the kingdom, the sacrament of renewed human community in the love of God.
As we gather in Christian community, the priest celebrant leads us in offering ourselves with Jesus to the Father as the Word is proclaimed throughout the entire liturgy. Then, Jesus gives himself to us in the Eucharist as gift. As we receive the Body of Christ, we become more of his body, and Christ becomes one with us in our body. At the completion of the Mass, we are sent forth to be Eucharist for others. Through our participation in the sacrifice of the Mass, we go forth strengthened as the Body of Christ to give ourselves to others as Christ has given himself for us. Participating in the sacrifice of the Mass is essential for us to live our Christian lives strengthened by the Body of Christ.
Participating in the Eucharist is an essential part of our growth in the moral life. This is expressed so beautifully in John Paul’s Apostolic Letter Mane Nobiscum Domine opening the Year of the Eucharist, October 2004-October 2005.
The Church is the Body of Christ: we walk “with Christ” to the extent that we
are in relationship “with his body.” Christ provided for the creation and growth
of this unity by the outpouring of his Holy Spirit. It is the one Eucharistic bread
which makes us one body (#20).
Once we have truly met the Risen One by partaking of his body and blood,
we cannot keep to ourselves the joy we have experienced. The encounter with
Christ, constantly intensified and deepened in the Eucharist, issues in the
Church and in every Christian an urgent summons to testimony and
The Eucharist not only provides the interior strength needed for this mission,
but is also – in some sense — its plan. For the Eucharist is a mode of being, which
passes from Jesus into each Christian, through whose testimony it is meant to
spread throughout society and culture (#25).
Incarnating the Eucharistic “plan” in daily life, wherever people live and work – in
families, schools, the workplace, in all of life’s settings – means bearing witness
that human reality cannot be justified without reference to the Creator (#26).
The Eucharist is not merely an expression of communion in the Church’s life,
it is also a project of solidarity for all of humanity… The Christian who takes
part in the Eucharist learns to become a promoter of communion, peace, and
solidarity in every situation (#27).
There is one other point which I would like to emphasize, since it significantly
affects the authenticity of our communal sharing in the Eucharist. It is the
impulse which the Eucharist gives to the community for a practical commitment
to building a more just and fraternal society (#28).
Thus, participating in the Eucharist is essential for the authentic formation of a Christian disciple. One is formed by the Eucharist truly to be Eucharist for others.
2. THE SACRAMENTS IN MORAL FORMATION
The sacraments are personal encounters with the Lord Jesus Christ at key moments in our life. The sacraments of the Catholic Church are seven: baptism, confirmation, Eucharist, reconciliation, anointing of the sick, holy orders and matrimony. These are the actions from the side of God through the Church, by which God imparts grace to man and sanctifies him. Equally important is seeing the sacraments as acts of worship, by which man from his side renders praise and thanks to God. The sacraments are privileged signs of faith and grace instituted by Christ. They are gifts from God and at the same time, an invitation to experience his love. Through them we, the believers, are integrated ever more into the life and community of faith, into the Body of Christ.
In addition to the sacraments, there are other rites in the liturgy called sacramentals. These do not sanctify us in the same way as the sacraments do, rather they act to help us become more vividly aware of God’s grace in action in our lives, leading us to attitudes and acts of praise, prayer, worship, and thanksgiving. Sacramentals bring God’s blessing upon the everyday events of our lives and livelihood, such as our homes, businesses, cars, rosaries and other items used for our prayers and devotions.
3. THE WORD OF GOD IN MORAL FORMATION
One of the most important spiritual disciplines in forming our Christian conscience is the intake of God’s Word. Although we hear his Word in various liturgical celebrations, this is not enough. We must not only hear the Word, we must read it, study it, memorize key verses that impact on us, meditate and reflect on the truths and spiritual realities in Scripture, and apply God’s Word in our everyday lives.
It is in the Bible where God tells us about Himself, Jesus Christ and the Holy Spirit. The Bible unfolds the Law of God and teaches us the blessings of obedience and the curses of falling away from God. As we delve into its pages, we learn the ways and the will of the Lord, how he wants us to live in a way that is pleasing to him as well as being the best and most fulfilling for ourselves.
Scripture, the Word of God, is a channel of God’s transforming grace and brings us into closer communion with him. And it is through Scripture that we become a channel of God’s transforming grace to others. As God speaks to us in his Word, we grow in right relationships with him, the Church, our family, our community, with God’s created world, with ourselves. We grow into fullness of life in Christ.
We have in our hearts a law written by God, our conscience, that guides us to love, to do good, and to avoid evil. However, to help our conscience grow in strength and power, we must nourish it and form it with the guidance of the Masgisterium of the Church. It is by living out our faith that we do this, through prayer, by attending to the Word of God and the teachings of the Church, by responding to the work of the Holy Spirit in our lives, and by critical reflection on our life experiences.
While the liturgy plays an important part in forming the Christian moral life, it must also be noted that good moral living has a great impact on the celebration of the liturgy. Mark O’Keefe, O.S.B., identifies three aspects of the influence of good moral living on the liturgy: good moral living authenticates the liturgy, the moral life forms those who celebrate the liturgy, and the moral life together with the liturgy make the reign of God actually present to assist us on our life journey toward goodness and holiness.
Liturgy, the sacraments and scripture play an important role in the right formation of our conscience. They guide us and help us come to truth and freedom, to attaining a more intimate relationship with our God, and to developing and nourishing good moral character. Living the moral life is a journey toward fullness of life in Christ, a process of formation in love, holiness, the good, and the true. The development of our conscience, inclusive of continuing formation and enlightenment, enables us to more freely choose to become authentic Christians as we make this journey.