Sacramentalism used to be the thing, but in contemporary Catholicism it’s the person. Or so it seems.

We have taken our cue from Evangelical Protestantism, where grace (divine help) comes from praying with partners after service, for example, as at Calvary Memorial in Oak Park, and not from the sacrament.

Potential partners wait at the end of each service, usually couples. It’s ministry up close and personal, to use last year’s hot phrase. And a good thing.

Ritual was the prime medium in Catholicism, not one’s fellow worshipers. This was a major sticking point of the Reformation, contained in the question whether the sinfulness of the minister affected a sacrament’s grace-giving effect.

Ex opere operato was a key term, from or because of the thing done, vs. ex opere operantis, from or because of the one doing it.

It’s a 500-year-old divide. In bald terms, for the sake of argument, does it matter who administers the sacrament (who’s the minister) or does the sacrament carry its own weight?

Fall on one side, you have something good anywhere, any time, any place. Fall on the other, it don’t mean a thing if you ain’t got that personal worthiness.

Lacking ritual, you have something here today, gone tomorrow or next century. Lacking the personal, you have the unsalable, the unpersuasive.

You always depend on people. But with ritual, you have what lasts, what relies less on performance by the minister. Do a good formula right, you’ve got it right.

But Catholic worship has too often gotten flaccid and informal compared to 50 years ago. It features priest as performer, even showman, vs. priest as follower of ritual prescribed by the church as divinely founded institution.

Better if he’s good at it, but good even if he isn’t.

1 Comment

  1. Jim Bowman says:

    Reblogged this on Blithe Spirit and commented:

    The case for ritual.


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