Gathered In His Name: The Sacraments ($3.95)
Six-Week Meeting Guide for Small Church Communities
Order from: http://catalog.americancatholic.org/product.aspx?prodid=B16682&pcat=119
Synopsis and Sample Reflection Questions
The Sacraments is a 32-page booklet in 8-1/2x11 paperback format, which explores the current church teaching on the sacraments. Jesus is the first sacrament; the church is a sacrament, and from the church spring the seven expressions of God's life. Most meetings conclude with a prayer service connected to the sacrament(s) under discussion at that meeting. The focus throughout is how we can be "visible signs of invisible grace," people who carry the sacramental spirit into our world.
The meetings are designed in a 90-minute format, plus 30 minutes for treats and socializing. The meetings themselves include an opening prayer, commentaries, reflection questions, reading of the Sunday Gospel with reflection questions, and closing prayer. "Connecting Faith and Life" offers suggestions for carrying out the focus of the meeting in everyday life. The Gathered In His Name Leader's Guide ($19.95) offers suggestions for room set-up and additional resources for each meeting.
Meeting One: Sacraments
Opening Prayer: St. Patrick’s Breastplate. We are a sacramental people, seeing all life as a blessing from God, all people as gifts from the Father. “The world is transparent and God is shining through everywhere,” Thomas Merton said, expressing a sacramental view of life. “Sacrament” is a word that never appears in the Bible, but the sacramental spirit runs through all of Scripture. A “sacramentum” was a Roman soldier’s oath of loyalty, and the insignia he wore. “Sacraments – these mysteries of God’s presence and action – are places where God touches our lives. The Bishops of the Second Vatican Council wished to renew our understanding of the sacraments, exploring each of them through the triple lens of Scripture, the practices of the early church and the lived experience of Christians in the past 2000 years; this is the model we will use in this series. The Council cited St. Augustine and others, saying sacraments are “visible signs of invisible grace.” Jesus is the first sacrament, the perfect, visible sign of the life of God. He left his followers – all of us – to do his work; “The church, in Christ, is a sacrament – a sign and instrument…of communion with God and of the unity of the entire human race.” From the church come the saving actions we know as the seven sacraments. The Catechism says the sacraments are “the masterworks of God.”
Sample reflection question: Name a quality of Jesus or a story about Jesus that helps you understand what God is like. What person in your life do you think has been most like Jesus?
Meeting Two: Baptism
Opening Prayer: Blessing of the water at the Easter Vigil. Baptism is welcoming, initiation into a special relationship with God and the church, new life and a celebration of joy. “Every part of the Baptismal ritual has meaning, and all are connected to the great mystery of salvation – that a loving, caring God wants us…to become a part of his body.” Many Bible passages recount passages through water to new life. The anointing with oil symbolizes being set aside for a special work. The white garment represents the new person, clothed in Christ. The candle connects the newly baptized person to Christ, the light of the world, and “represents the move from darkness to a new day, from imprisonment to freedom, from death to life.” The baptism of Jesus meant a radical change in his life, from obscurity to his public ministry. “In the power of the Spirit, Jesus shows the face of God to everyone he meets. The challenge is the same for each of us.”
Sample reflection question: Share a story from your own life about the destructive force, beauty or life-giving nature of water.
Meeting Three: Baptism and Confirmation
Opening Prayer from the Rite of Confirmation. Confirmation is closely allied to Baptism; in the early centuries of the church, the two sacraments were celebrated together.This continues today in Eastern Orthodox churches and in the Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults. Celebrating Confirmation many years after Baptism represents the Christian’s unity with his/her Bishop and the universal church. The Rite of Confirmation includes Scripture, the anointing with sacred chrism and a ritual exchange between Bishop and candidate. “The sacrament of Confirmation celebrates the continuous action of the Holy Spirit in our lives. It is a moment of clarity and grace when we can recognize what we’re about as ‘Christians,’ that is, ‘anointed ones.’ With the power of the Holy Spirit to help us, we are here to carry on God’s work in our world.”
Sample reflection question: We talk of the Gifts of the Holy Spirit and Fruits of the Holy Spirit. Take one from each list below and share how it’s been important to you recently. (This question is followed by a column listing the 7 Gifts and one listing the 12 Fruits.)
Meeting Four: The Eucharist
Opening Prayer: Prayer for After Communion by St. Thomas Aquinas. The Eucharist is both comfort and challenge, the sacrament the Second Vatican Council called “the source and summit of the Christian life.” It is the vital center of our faith. Yet, “the mystery, beauty and deep meaning of the Eucharist will take us a lifetime to experience and explore.” We “go to Mass” on the weekend, but we live the Mass at home, school, work and play. We carry with us the spirit of welcoming, listening, offering, sharing, praise, peace, justice and service that began at Mass.
Sample reflection question: Do you see the Eucharist as a challenge? When has it challenged you?
Meeting Five: Sacraments of Healing
The Catechism says Penance is first of all a sacrament of conversion, the first step in returning to the Father (as in the parable of the Prodigal Son). Sin is putting ourselves before God and the community, and all sin harms someone. At home and during the Mass we have multiple opportunities to ask forgiveness. “As Jesus was a loving, forgiving person and as the Spirit breathes peace and healing through our lives, so too we must be forgiving people. In our homes, our workplaces, our cities, our parishes, are we people who forgive and forget, again and again? God is. We must be too.”
The Anointing of the Sick (or Sacrament of the Sick) is a sacrament of healing and grace. “It says that part of our work as the body of Christ is to reach out to our members who are ill and embrace them with our loving care.” The new rite includes Scripture reading, prayers for strength and healing, and anointing of the forehead and hands. The challenge of the sacrament is to be healers ourselves – “the living presence of Christ as we bring love, hope and healing to every person we meet.”
Sample reflection question: Tell a little about a sick person who is in your prayers, and include that person in the closing prayer of this meeting.
Meeting Six: The Sacraments of Vocation
Opening prayer: a prayer for vocations. Married couples exchange vows of commitment and usually wear rings as an outward sign of that vow, following the tradition of the Roman soldier’s “sacramentum.” The Second Vatican council taught that the main responsibility of a married couple is to minister to each other so both spouses can reach their full human and spiritual potential, a “covenant love.” Children are “the supreme gift of marriage.” Matrimony was not included in early listings of sacraments, but was called a sacrament by the twelfth century. “Sacramental marriage is not just a legal contract that has been blessed. It is a call to ministry for both spouses… The love, peace… and fidelity that we need every day in marriage and family life are concrete expressions of the love of God himself.”
Perhaps today, more than ever, the church needs the graces of the sacrament of Holy Orders, which gets its name from the different “orders” of church ministers – bishops, priests and deacons. The center of the ordination rite is the laying on of hands, followed by anointing and the solemn prayer of consecration. Bishops, priests and deacons each have their own church-mandated work.
Conclusion: “In this series on sacraments, we have taken a look at what it means to be a sacramental people. Each of us is baptized… confirmed in the Spirit, nourished, forgiven, healed and sent out to serve. With the grace of the sacraments, Scripture and our community of faith, we can continue to be living sacraments who show the face of God to the world.”
Sample reflection question: Share a story about a couple you’ve known and admired. Why was this couple special?