The following is Part 3 in a continuing series which began as a write-up of a talk by Fr. Justin Nolan, FSSP, but instead took on a life of its own and has become some rather broad reflections on salvation history as it leads up to the founding of the Church by Christ, and the Church’s role in salvation. In the next set of posts we’ll go deeper and into more detail.* Notes and credits at the end of this post.
When we left Adam and Eve they had allowed themselves to be tricked into getting themselves thrown out of the cushiest gig on the planet, to wit, keeping a garden safe (from what was not clear until it was, alas, too late) and enjoying Paradise together. They went from being the crown of creation to being personae non grata in fairly short order. Let’s look very quickly at what else happened to them: They lost their divine vision and divine grace; they sinned and sin darkens the intellect so their intellects were darkened; love resides in the will and since they chose to sin, their will and their ability to love was damaged; and their bodies, as expressions of their intellects and wills, were no longer the pure expressions that they had formerly been because now what they were expressing was not pure.
God still loves man but man no longer returns to God the love that he receives. God’s love still flows outward into creation but creation no longer returns His love. There is still a Divine Exitus, but there is no Reditus.
Not bad for a few minutes work, eh? The entire story of the temptation and fall takes only seven short verses. But the damage reverberates down the ages. Adam and Eve, compliments of Satan, brought us the first sin with its results. The very next generation will bring us another first: for the very first time one man will envy another. And commit the very first murder.
The fall sets off a chain of falls and further falls until man has fallen so low that God can barely bear to look upon the earth at all. He sends a flood to wash the earth clean of the evil that has defiled it. Finding one man of faith, God instructs him to build an ark that will carry him and his family to safety. The world begins again but it doesn’t take long for things to once more go downhill. The motif will repeat over and over: Man will sink into sin and despair, cry out to God, God will find a way to save him, and everything will be fine…until man sins again. And God never has to wait for long for it to happen. Noah, Abraham, Moses, David, Solomon—all lost faith at one time or another and all sinned, every last one.
But God is patient. He kept preparing the soil of His vineyard until He could send One Who would tend it and keep it, Who would show man as man what it meant to love and to give of oneself fully and completely, what it meant to risk death, to face death, embrace it.
And destroy it.
“…and I will take away the stony heart out of their flesh…”
God never stopped loving His wayward family. In the fullness of time He sends out a New Reditus, a new outflowing of Divine Love into His creation. He sends His only-begotten Son into the world to save the world. God’s plan of salvation leads to a new and very special incarnation.
Who can look at the quiet stillness and serenity of a snow-covered Nativity scene and not feel his heart melt in his chest? Who has not been filled with joy singing simple, long-familiar Christmas carols, listening to the well-worn and oft-told tale of shepherds watching their flocks by night, choirs of angels singing on high, kings (or wise men) traveling from afar bringing gifts to a babe lying in a manger?
But the Nativity is not the Incarnation. The Incarnation takes place at the moment when the angel Gabriel speaks the words of God’s message to the Blessed Virgin Mary and in reply she speaks her fiat, her yes which undoes the no of Adam and Eve:
Hail, full of grace, the Lord is with thee: blessed art thou among women…the power of the most High shall overshadow thee… And therefore also the Holy which shall be born of thee shall be called the Son of God… And Mary said: Behold the handmaid of the Lord; be it done to me according to thy word. — Luke 1:28, 35,38.
The Word has become flesh and is dwelling among us at that moment. He is “tabernacling” (“dwelling”) with us, in Mary’s womb. Mary is now the Ark of the New Covenant Who is Jesus—which is why we Catholics honor her, by the way, not because of her but because of Him. Because He took flesh within her, was born of her. Bone of her bone, flesh of her flesh. He honored her in a way that no other creature has ever been honored, so we honor her also in imitation of Him Who is our Lord and Savior.
Leaving aside for the moment all the years of salvation history that led to this moment, and all the years He lived among us yet hidden from our sight, let us briefly recount a few details of His life once He began His public ministry.
Within a span of a mere three years, Jesus:
- calls His disciples to Himself after His baptism and temptation in the desert (more on this later);
- instructs them during those three years (the Church would later imitate this too, instructing would-be Christians for three years in the catechumenate before admitting them to baptism, the doorway into the Church and the other sacraments);
- re-institutes the Davidic Kingdom while transforming it into an international kingdom (you may remember that Israel was meant to be a light to the nations; the gentiles were meant to benefit from God’s chosen people as younger brothers would from an older wiser brother);
- gives His Kingdom a law consisting basically of the Sermon on the Mount with its Beatitudes, His commandment to love one another as He loved, to proclaim the Gospel, to make disciples of the nations, teaching them to obey His commandments (much more on this later);
- institutes new liturgical acts of covenant by transforming the Passover liturgy into the liturgy of the Eucharist and circumcision into baptism (which are also liturgical as well as physical acts, though we tend sometimes to forget that, especially those of us who have had little or no experience of liturgy). (Much, much more on this later too.)
This is a lot to pack into such a brief amount of time. And after accomplishing all of these amazing wonders, and many more besides, He does the unthinkable: Jesus Christ— Son of the Living God, Messiah, Savior, Redeemer, He Who can read every heart and heal every wound—allows Himself to be betrayed, brutally tortured and sadistically sacrificed by the self-same sin-sick souls He came to save.
After three short years of unparalleled excitement and adventure, His followers are plunged into a darkness and despair more intense than any they have ever known before, contrasted with the splendor of His light that lately shone upon them, reflected, as it was, from the glory that was the Incarnate Word of God.
All is quiet and still once again. But there is no joy in this scene. No gladness, no warmth to melt the human heart. Only what appears to be darkness and utter, complete loss of hope.
To be continued. Thank you for reading and your comments are welcome using the comment box below. Until next time, peace be with you.
All Scripture quotes in this article are from the Douay-Rheims Challoner version in The Word free Bible study software. (Note: this was written before I bought my first Mac; now I use Verbum for Mac to study Scripture, Tradition and the Magisterium.) You can read Genesis online in the DRC . I owe much of the following line of thought to many sources over the years, not the least of whom are Scott Hahn in his many and marvelous works; Pope John Paul II in his staggering work of genius, the Theology of the Body (I highly recommend Man and Woman He Created Them: A Theology of the Body, by Pope John Paul II, translation, introduction, and index by Michael Waldstein. His forensic work in the Introduction alone is well worth the price of the book. I have it in Paperback, Kindle and Verbum formats, and in the Verbum Theology of the Body Collection.) See also Fr. Richard Hogan’s The Theology of the Body in JPII: What it Means and Why it Matters: paperback and Kindle. And, of course, Pope Benedict’s Spirit of the Liturgy: Hardcover and the Special Commemorative Edition, in hardback, which includes Romano Guardini’s Spirit of the Liturgy, too.Paul II: What it Means and Why it Matters: Paperback (used) or Kindle.
Oh, and I almost forgot: the graphics I’m using for this series are by yours truly, your humble author, designer and writer wanna be. You can find the full set, so far, here. It’s a work in progress, as is this entire site, a labor of love and an object of some obsession. And I mean that in a good way, a holy way, of course. :)
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3 thoughts on “The Mass, Salvation and the Sacraments, Part 3”
I just stumbled upon your blog while searching for articles on liturgy and the Sacraments. While I am Reformed Presbyterian, I admire, concur with, and appreciate much of what I have read so far. So thanks for your writing.
I did a three part series on sacraments recently, more specifically on some of the pitfalls in much of modern-day Protestant sacramentology. Perhaps you could give me a Catholic perspective on my thoughts.
Howdy, Caleb :) I have a confession to make: I just spent several days thinking I had rambled instead of speaking clearly in my posts about salvation and the sacraments so your kind words couldn’t have come at a better time. Thank you! I’ll read your posts and if I have anything to offer, I will.
Thank you again. Peace be with you.
Hi again, Caleb :) I read your posts and I have to tell you that I thoroughly enjoyed reading them. You seem to have the mind of the Church in much of what you say. It was a pleasure to discover and browse through your blog. I’m looking forward to browsing more in the coming days. Oh, and since I think I forgot to say this before: Nice to meet you.