11 September 2013

Unit 1 Study Guide

For my freshmen, this is the study guide I've put together for their first test on "Sacraments and Sacramentality."  There's a funny fusion of somewhat amorphous theological jargon from the required curriculum (e.g., "sacramental dullness") and other, somewhat less obscure catechetical notions.  Comments welcome.



Sign - anything that points beyond itself or has a meaning

Symbol - a sign that brings together several meanings, or a sign that represents something especially complex or abstract

Ritual - a series of symbolic actions performed in a prescribed order which together direct our attention to an overarching meaning or truth

Sacrament (Augustine) - a visible sign that conveys invisible grace

Sacrament (Catechism) - an efficacious sign of grace, instituted by Christ and entrusted to the Church by which divine life is dispensed to us.

Sacramental Awareness - an openness to grace that moves us to find God in all things and to participate in the life of the Church

Sacramental Dullness - being closed off to grace because of sin, pride, or doubt, so that we lose a sense of how creation points back to the goodness of God.


1.  Faith -- "The fullness of the Christian Faith is in the Catholic Church."  Because of the three pillars of the Catholic Faith: Scripture, Tradition, and Magisterium, the Church has a unique promise of fidelity to the truths God has revealed to us in the prophets, scriptures, and through Jesus Christ.

a.  Scripture -- The Bible is passed down through the church, in the mass and by being carefully protected and taught from one generation to another.  The Church makes sure that the Scriptures we read are the authentic scriptures, inspired by God and authored by Historians, Poets, Apostles, and Prophets to convey Divine truth.

b.  Tradition -- The Catholic tradition stretches in a continuous line from the Apostles to the present day.  In each generation we receive and preserve what the previous generation was taught, and make sure to distinguish between the authentic tradition and new ideas that don't come from God.

c.  Magisterium -- (Magister = "teacher";  "Magisterium" = teaching office) The Faith of the Church is watched over and defended by the Bishops and the Pope, whose job it is to make sure that, as we find new ways of understanding and explaining the truths of Divine Revelation, we don't misunderstand it or change the Gospel from what Jesus taught.  As Catholics, we believe that when the Bishops and Pope are gathered together and speak for the Church, God keeps them from making mistakes about doctrine.

2.  The Sacraments -- The sacraments are the main ordinary tools God uses to bestow grace on us.  By being Baptized we are joined to the Church and receive the Divine Life that Jesus Christ came to offer us.  In Holy Communion we are spiritually nourished, and the love for God that draws us to him is strengthened.  Each sacrament strengthens us spiritually so that we can more fully love God and seek him out in our daily living, in preparation for Heaven.

3.  Friendship/Community -- What makes two people friends is that they want the best for each other.  But in order to want what is really best for another person, you have to have a sense of what's actually best for them.  (E.g. thinking cocaine is great for someone wouldn't really be compatible with friendship.)  So the best friendships will be based on a shared love of the absolute best thing for a human being.  That absolute best is being united with God in knowledge and love.  In the Church many people are gathered together to help each other find God, get closer to him in love and knowledge, and understand/live the Gospel more deeply.

4.  The Church is the Mystical Body of Christ -- The Church is like a massive vine, that receives all its life from its root, Christ.  When we are baptized, we (like lifeless branches) are grafted onto the vine, and receive nourishment through the vine.  If we cut ourselves off from that nourishment, we wither spiritually and die.  But if we remain attached to it and stay open to that nourishment (grace), we will grow and become healthy and bear fruit.  Another way of thinking about this is that we are organs transplanted into a body.  The life-force of the body (the grace of Christ) that nourishes all its organs needs to flow through us in order for us to survive.  Otherwise we will rot away from inside.


Who is God?  God is utterly perfect, eternal, and unchanging.  He is the source of all goodness, because he himself is pure and perfect goodness.  Together the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit rejoice in their sharing of supreme perfection.  God's goodness is so great that nothing can be added to make him better.  He is perfectly happy in the act of knowing and loving himself, because there is nothing better than God.  But God wants to share his perfect goodness with others.  He does this in three ways:

Three ways God shares his goodness:
- By giving things EXISTENCE
- By giving things LIFE
- By giving things GRACE

GRACE is God's freely offered gift of himself to us, that elevates and perfects us so that we can share in his happiness in heaven.

How to understand Grace:
--We love things because we recognize that they are good.
--It is very easy to recognize the goodness of visible things: family, friends, food, fun, etc.
--As a result, it is easy to get wrapped up in the goodness of created things and forget the Supreme Goodness of the one who created them.
--Adam and Eve's sin in the garden was a deliberate choice to have a world without God, in which they could enjoy created things without thinking about their creator.
--After Adam and Eve, it is more difficult for us to look for God.  Our instinct is to avoid him.
--But God loves us so much that he wants us to come back to him, and is always offering to forgive us for hiding from him and disobeying him.
--The way God helps us to return to him is GRACE.
--In Grace, God plants a seed of his own life in our hearts, and that seed tugs at us and gives us the desire to move past the good things of the world and find God reflected in them, and ultimately beyond them.
--We can reject grace or nurture it.  As long as we have it, it moves us to love God and neighbor, and to go after him.
--The ultimate goal of that Grace-filled quest for God is union with him in Heaven, where we will share in his goodness and love.

Once you think you have understood "Grace", go back to the definitions of "Sacrament".  Do they make more sense now?