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SINCE Christ intended to withdraw His bodily presence from the Church, He needed to institute other men as ministers to Himself, who should dispense the Sacraments to the faithful. Hence He committed to His disciples the consecration of His Body and Blood, saying: Do this in memory of me (Luke xxii, 19). He gave them the power of forgiving sins, according to the text: Whose sins you shall forgive, they are forgiven them (John xx, 23).10071007Interpreted of the Sacrament of Penance by the Council of Trent, Sess. 14, can. 3. He enjoined on them the function of baptising: Go, teach all nations, baptising them (Matt. xxviii, 19). Now a minister stands to his master as an instrument to a prime agent. An instrument must be proportionate to the agent: therefore the ministers of Christ must be conformable to Him. But Christ, our Lord and Master, by His own power and might worked out our salvation, inasmuch as He was both God and man. As man, He suffered for our redemption: as He was God, His suffering brought salvation to us. The ministers of Christ then must be men, and at the same time have some share in the Divinity (aliquid divinitatis participare) in point of spiritual power: for an instrument too has some share in the power of the prime agent.10081008When the Lord Lieutenant of Ireland knights a man, he may be said to ‘act as King,’ i.e., for the King. Similarly St Thomas says that what a priest knows by the confessional, he ‘knows as God’ (scit ut Deus, Sum. Theol. Supplem. q. 11, art. 5). The Christian Priesthood is a development of the Incarnation. To rail at the former is to forget the latter. Clear your mind of Nestorianism ere you attack Sacerdotalism.
Nor can it be said that this power was given to the disciples of Christ not to be transmitted to others. It was given unto edification (2 Cor. xiii, 10), to the building up of the Church, and must be perpetuated so long as the Church needs building up, that is, to the end of the world (Matt. xxviii, 20). And since spiritual effects are transmitted to us from Christ under sensible signs, this power had to be delivered to men under some such signs, — certain forms of words, definite acts, as imposition of hands, anointing, the delivery of a book or chalice, and the like.10091009One could have wished St Thomas here to have told us what he knew of any variation of Ordinal in local churches of his time; what ceremonies were comparatively recent, and what more ancient and primitive. Had any one in Paris, Rome, or Naples, an old Sacramentary or Pontifical that St Thomas could have looked into, and compared its formularies with those by which he himself was ordained? But the spirit of documentary research slumbered in the thirteenth century, except for the quest (or invention) of charters and bulls of privilege. Whenever anything spiritual is delivered under a corporeal sign, that is called a Sacrament.10101010Rather a wide definition, as it might be taken to include the institution of a clergyman to a benefice. It is usually insisted upon, as an essential note of a Sacrament, that the corporeal sign must have been ‘ordained by Christ,’ — ex institutione ipsius Christi, as St Thomas himself says (Chap. LVI ad fin.) Christ’s ordinance may have been more or less indeterminate, e.g., the imposition of hands in Ordination, an indeterminate prescription afterwards determined by the Church, adding rites and formularies, which it would be unsafe now to set aside as unessential because not primitive. Thus in the conferring of spiritual power a Sacrament is wrought, which is called the Sacrament of Order. Now it is a point of divine liberality that the bestowal of power should be accompanied with the means of duly exercising that power. But the spiritual power of administering the Sacraments requires divine grace for its convenient exercise: therefore in this Sacrament, as in other Sacraments, grace is bestowed.
Among Sacraments the noblest, and that which sets the crown on the rest, is the Sacrament of the Eucharist. Therefore the power of Order must be considered chiefly in relation to this Sacrament: for everything is ruled by the end for which it is made. Now the power that gives perfection, also prepares the matter to receive it.10111011Thus the Romans legislated where they had first conquered. The sword prepared for the code. The Code Napoléon followed the wars of the Revolution. Since then the power of Order extends to the consecration of the Body of Christ and the administration of the same to the faithful, it must further extend to the rendering of the faithful fit and worthy for the reception of that Sacrament. But the believer is rendered fit and worthy by being free from sin: otherwise he cannot be united with Christ spiritually, with whom he is sacramentally united in the reception of this Sacrament.10121012The deniers of the Objective Presence deny that there is any sacramental union where, owing to sin, there is no spiritual union. According to them, Christ is not except where He is received with faith and love; and an unworthy Communion is no Communion at all. In the theology of the Catholic Church, the one Sacrament which is invalidated by an illicit reception is the Sacrament of Penance, of which the acts of the penitent are a constituent part. The power of Order therefore must extend to the remission of sins by the administration of those Sacraments which are directed to that purpose, Baptism and Penance.10131013The economy of the Sacraments belongs to the positive law of Christ; and a positive law cannot be argued a priori. A priori perhaps the power of Order should be an essential prerequisite in the minister of Baptism: in point of fact any human being can validly baptize.
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