August 30, 2013

From generation to generation, sacraments help pass on faith

(The following is the fourth in a series of five articles looking at Pope Francis’ recently released encyclical, “Lumen Fidei” “The Light of Faith.” See part three here.)

By John F. Fink

Pope Francis begins Chapter 3 of his encyclical “Lumen Fidei” (“The Light of Faith”) by saying, “Those who have opened their hearts to God’s love, heard his voice and received his light, cannot keep this gift to themselves” (#37). This chapter explains how our faith is passed on, from one person to another and from one generation to another.

Faith must be passed on in every age. One generation must get it from the previous generation. But how can we be certain, after 20 centuries, that we have encountered the “real Jesus?”

Pope Francis’s answer: Faith “is kept alive in that one remembering subject which is the Church. The Church is a Mother who teaches us to speak the language of faith” (#38).

He quotes the words of Jesus who said that the Holy Spirit “will remind you of all that I have said to you” (Jn 14:26). It’s the Holy Spirit who “unites every age and makes us contemporaries of Jesus, thus guiding us along our pilgrimage of faith” (#38).

The Church has a special means for passing down the fullness of faith, a means capable of engaging the entire person, the pope says. It’s the sacraments, celebrated in the Church’s liturgy.

The transmission of faith occurs first and foremost in baptism, and Pope Francis devotes four lengthy paragraphs to that sacrament—an excellent catechesis for parents, godparents and adults who will receive the sacrament.

He says that we become a new creation and God’s adopted children when we’re baptized. We receive both a teaching to be professed and a specific way of life. The name of the Trinity (Father, Son and Holy Spirit) is invoked, thus providing a synthesis of the journey of faith.

The water in which we are immersed or which is poured over our heads is both a symbol of death and a symbol of life, as we die to sin and are reborn by following Christ in his new life.

He writes about the importance of infant baptism in which parents and godparents profess the faith in children’s names. The children are welcomed into the faith, symbolized by the candle that the child’s father lights from the paschal candle. The whole liturgy demonstrates the importance of cooperation between Church and family in passing on the faith, he says.

Then he says, “The sacramental character of faith finds its highest expression in the Eucharist” (#44). In the Eucharist, he says, we find faith’s two dimensions—the dimension of history with the Eucharist being an act of remembrance, and the dimension which leads from the visible world to the invisible as bread and wine are changed into the body and blood of Christ.

The Church also passes on the faith through its profession of faith. It has a trinitarian structure as well as a Christological confession. The pope says that the believer who professes his or her faith cannot truthfully recite the words of the Creed without being changed.

Pope Francis says that there are four elements that comprise the storehouse of memory that the Church hands down—the profession of faith, the celebration of the sacraments, the path of the Ten Commandments, and prayer. He notes that the Catechism of the Catholic Church is structured around these four elements.

He then devotes seven paragraphs to the unity and integrity of faith. He acknowledges that it’s hard to conceive of a unity in one truth, but that is what we have in the Catholic Church. Our faith is one, he says, first of all because of the oneness of the God who is known and confessed. It is also one because it is directed to the one Lord, to the life of Jesus. And faith is one because it is shared by the whole Church, which is one body and one Spirit.

“Since faith is one,” Pope Francis says, “it must be professed in all its purity and integrity. Precisely because all the articles of faith are interconnected, to deny one of them, even of those that seem least important, is tantamount to distorting the whole” (#48).

To ensure this unity of faith, he says, Jesus gave his Church the gift of apostolic succession.

(John F. Fink is editor emeritus of The Criterion, newspaper of the Archdiocese of Indianapolis.)

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