Words make a difference!

The recent declaration by the Sacred Congregation for the Faith regarding the proper usage of the Trinitarian form for Baptism is indeed the tip of the linguistic and sociological issues that surround the proper celebration of the Church’s Seven Sacraments. While there are some that maintain the varied use of words are not important in the proper validity of a sacrament, this author clearly thinks otherwise.

Words are essential to the proper communication and transmission of ideas between human beings, between nations and between humanity and God. Subtle nuances of linguistic disparity indeed constitute what is a valid sacrament and what is not a valid sacrament. One needs to especially remember that the Sacraments were instituted by Jesus mandate and explicit scriptural forms for their proper administration and application support them.

The Church did not just randomly create the linguistic forms associated with Catholic sacramental practices; the matter and form both have been handed down in an unbroken chain of Apostolic succession. While there might have been changes to the manner in which sacraments are celebrated, the essence of our Sacraments is always intrinsically reflective of the words or intentions of Jesus in the New Testament.

The real concern is not only the proper administration of the proper form for valid baptism, but rather the proper historical and spiritual appreciation for the sacramental foundation of all of our sacraments. Baptism is the sacrament that initiates us into the deeper mystery of God’s eternal life, and permits us to participate in the Sacramental mysteries of Jesus’ Passion, Death and Resurrection.

The ritual actions of sacramental baptism are then by their nature not intended for just individual celebration, but rightly reflect the communal beliefs of incorporation into the Body of Christ. Because the formula for valid Baptism is Trinitarian in nature, and because the words scripturally reflect what can be considered the Ipsissima Vox Jesus or the exact words of Jesus the use of proper words matters greatly in our liturgical and spiritual life. Sacraments for us in the Catholic Church are moments of communal participation that incorporate us intimately with each other, our Church and our Lord. There is no room for the role of individualism, or feminism in the ministry of the Church. The purpose of our Catholic ritual celebration is inclusion into our faith a transcendent unity that can only be realized with the Sacraments of Catholic initiation.

There is no room in the celebration of the Sacraments for any particular purpose other than promoting visible unity among the plurality of God’s People. In fact, it is through the Sacraments of Initiation, especially Baptism that we participate in Jesus’ Paschal Mystery and die in Baptism, only to be reborn through the salvific waters of Baptism.

Perhaps the severity of the recent Vatican declaration is reflective of the great importance and weight we associate with baptism as the “fons” the source that begins our spiritual and sacrament journey.

Some of the concerns regarding the proper usage of words and rituals are unfortunately associated with discussions of emerging Catholic feminist movements. Sometimes issues are raised that always look to an elimination of gender biases within our sacred celebrations. However, in this author’s observation and opinion such variants of linguistic usage are applied to our sacramental expressions as divisive tools that inhibit Catholic harmony and fellowship.

The recent proclamation by the Sacred Congregation of the Faith is a positive step in the proper catechesis and celebration that encourages our Catholic sacramental integrity and universal consistency.

While the diminishment of the usage of Latin for Church rituals has occurred over the past 40 years, such wrongfully obvious modifications of proper sacramental form might correctly signal the need for practical considerations of the need for uniformity in our sacred rites. Words indeed are the foundational root of our Catholic principles. Catholic clergy and faithful people should have a deeper appreciation of the words associated with our sacramental expressions. Additionally, the Church needs to foster an understanding of why the inopportune usage of words contributes to the validity or non-validity of a sacrament.

We are in a period of renewed attention in our Catholic Church that seems focused on the activity of spiritual and universal healing and restoration. It is incumbent on our Church then to point out examples that cause liturgical and theological incongruity and work towards sacred moments of unification.

The Trinitarian formula used in Baptism indeed signifies our continuity with all of our brothers and sisters in faith, past, present and future. Our Catholic faith needs to understand uniquely how and why words indeed matter in our sacramental Catholic life. If indeed we can agree on the universal usage of proper matter and form, then the road to Catholic unity is moving towards temporal and eschatological fulfillment.

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