09 June, 2009

What about Sacred Traditions?

One must be very careful in pronouncing that practices are “man-made” without a careful study of the Church in the first few centuries. Since the Church is the Church established by Christ with himself as the cornerstone and the disciples as the 12 foundation stones the Church and practices were established and the teaching passed on from disciple to disciple through apostolic succession. Therefore, one cannot say that because the Bible does not state specifically the practices that they were not established by the disciples. After all, the Scriptures are not a guidebook for Christian practice but a guidebook for faith. The Church referred to the authority of the bishops long before the NT Scriptures were canonized and were always a supplement to what was taught by oral means and by letter. Each person receiving the authority of the apostles did so as a disciple of that person. An example is St. Ignatius who was the 3rd bishop of Antioch and the disciple of both St. Peter and St. John along with his friend St. Polycarp. He was also good friends with St. Barnabas and St. Luke. St. Barnabas was a part of the 70 who were sent by our Lord. The Church was guided by this authority alone until the Bible became a part of Sacred Tradition in the early 5th century.

Human beings are created with a physical, mortal body and a spiritual, immortal soul. Actual grace comes to us in many ways from God. One of those ways is through sacramentals. One of the forms of sacramentals is ceremony or ritual. The way the sacramentals are celebrated, their cultural and ritual practices, are of great importance. Time, energy, and care should be executed when sacraments are being administered, since they are encounters with divinity. Sacred ceremonies and rituals, like the holy sacrifice of the Mass, exposition and benediction of the Blessed Sacrament, etc., help believers transcend this earthly plane and contemplate heaven. Devotion and novenas to saints and their corresponding rituals are also important to the Christian on the pilgrimage of faith to heaven.

Rituals and their symbolisms are also important since human beings are tangible people. We are a body and soul composite. The soul needs the body to bring information to the intellect through the five senses. Your mind would not know what hot or cold meant unless you first experienced these sensations in your body. We worship God not only with our minds, but also with our bodies. In fact, our bodies are the temples of the Holy Spirit. Therefore, the rituals in the ceremonies convey our deepest sentiments to God through words, actions and gestures. During religious ceremonies, Catholics make the sign of the cross and bless themselves with holy water; they genuflect before the real presence of Jesus in the Tabernacle; they are inspired by a holy image; they light candles to communicate their prayers. Symbols and rituals are important in Catholic worship, devotion and spiritual life.

We praise God through the five senses. Sight…. a beautiful church with stained glass windows, frescos, paintings and statues…. tells a story of faith to a person. Touch…. The sign of peace, kneeling, genuflecting, the striking of the breast at the confiteor, and sprinkling of holy water…. conveys the sacred action of the prayers. Smell…. Incense and candles burning…. transports a person to another world: the God; the fragrant smell is a pleasing symbol of our offering to God. Through taste, in the reception of the Holy Communion, we have the foretaste of the heavenly banquet that Christ has prepared for us. Finally there is sound, not only from preaching of the Word and recitation of prayers, but also in the singing of liturgical music. St. Augustine, the fourth century bishop and doctor of the Church said, ”singing is praying twice”.

Jesus Christ is the Word that existed for all eternity and then took flesh. His sacred humanity elevated ours. Therefore, when we worship God through our senses of our human bodies, we proclaim the Incarnation to a sinful world and ourselves.

In Christ
Fr. Joseph

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