Monday, April 4, 2011

Schillebeeckx: Sacraments are the visible tokens of Christ's love

One man's inward act of will with regard to another man only becomes a completely human reality with meaning for the other man when this inner intention has been manifested in an external act. Only in the expressive word or gesture does a human intention directed to some other person received its perfect meaning. Now as man Christ is the mediator between God's love and ourselves. Consequently his mediation takes place through human acts, through loving saving acts of will which find their full expression in an expressive and loving gesture. The specific expressive "gesture" of Christ's saving love is his exalted and glorified body, the established sign of the victorious redemption. It is in the Church's sacraments that Christ wants to make this expression of love visible within the sphere of our earthly life and earthly world, which through our human activity is made into an extension of our humanity. In this way material things of the world around us are taken and humanized through our own proper corporeality: that is to say, in a union with our own bodies they become an expression of our spiritual thoughts. [Schillebeeckx is here referring to his earlier discussion of the universal impulse of humanity to create symbols that express religious thought or feeling.]

We find something of the same kind in Christ, who through his glorified body takes up material things of our human world into a dynamic unity with his risen and active body. I hope I may be forgiven for drawing a likeness between the sacred sacramental event and present-day jazz, but perhaps the coherence of the sacramental whole can best be suggested by means of the image of a drummer. Just as when a drummer is playing he is extending himself through all his bodiliness into the instruments grouped about him, so that these instruments dynamically participate in the expressiveness of his rhythmic movement, making but one total movement which, arising from within the drummer, flows through the rhythm of his body, of his beating hands and stamping feet, and produces a varied harmony of percussion - so too the heavenly saving will of Christ, through his glorified body, makes one dynamic unity with the ritual gesture and the sacramental words of the minister who intends to do what the Church does.

It is only when a person's love is manifested in some telling and appealing gesture, through which it becomes possible for me to enter into this love, that I become personally confronted wit this love for me. The flowers which I have an agency deliver to friends overseas on their wedding day are to them the concrete present of my love and friendship; the concrete interpretation of my love; love in a form that is visible. This, but in infinitely greater measure, is the case in the sacraments too. For the proof Christ gives us of his love is not turned into a lifeless thing. It is not merely an indication of an absent love which nevertheless in the indication somehow becomes present. The sacramental proof and token of love makes a living unity with the human saving will of Christ in heaven. Because this is a personal act of God the Son - even though done in human form - it transcends time and space, and therefore in the literal sense of the word, like the soul in the body, becomes incarnate in the outward rite.
Christ the Sacrament of the Encounter with God, pp 76-77

1 comment:

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About Me

I'm Rachel's husband and Darcy's daddy. I'm a Hoosier, an accountant, and an Episcopalian. Politically, I'm a progressive who believes in the preferential option for the poor. I use the blog as a sort of journal - to interact with my reading and sketch out ideas.