Front Page Titles (by Subject) CHAPTER XVI.: THE RITES USED IN THE ADMINISTRATION OF THE SACRAMENTS ARE BOTH REASONABLE AND SEEMLY. - The Triumph of the Cross
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CHAPTER XVI.: THE RITES USED IN THE ADMINISTRATION OF THE SACRAMENTS ARE BOTH REASONABLE AND SEEMLY. - Girolamo Savonarola, The Triumph of the Cross 
The Triumph of the Cross, trans. from the Italian, edited, with an Introduction by the Very Rev. Father John Procter, S.T.L. With a frontispiece portrait of the author (London: Sands & Co., 1901).
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THE RITES USED IN THE ADMINISTRATION OF THE SACRAMENTS ARE BOTH REASONABLE AND SEEMLY.
The matter and symbols, used in the administration of our Sacraments, are likewise most fittingly ordained. Let us first consider Baptism, the Sacrament of regeneration. We know that birth signifies the change from non-being into being; and that as all men are born in original sin, they are all born in a state of privation of grace or spiritual life; and in proportion as they add actual to original sin, they are still further deprived of grace. Therefore, it was most meet, that Christ should give to the Sacrament of Baptism power to remit sin, and to confer grace and spiritual life. Again, as bodily stains are effaced by water, it was fitting that water should be chosen as the matter of this Sacrament. And, as we can be born but once, it is reasonable that Baptism can be but once conferred.
The perfection of spiritual life consists in a constant and courageous confession of the Cross of Christ, and in boldly enduring insult for His sake. In order to produce in us this effect, He has instituted the Sacrament of Confirmation. Those who fight under a commander, bear upon them his device or crest; and so those who receive Confirmation are signed on the forehead with the Cross, in order to show, that they must not be ashamed to be the soldiers of Christ. This Cross is made of oil and of balsam. The oil signifies that the conscience of him that is anointed must shine, like oil, with those gifts of the Holy Ghost, wherewith Jesus being most excellently endowed, was called Christ, or anointed. The balsam symbolises the sweet odour of virtue, which Christians are bound to diffuse around them. It is fitting, likewise, that bishops alone should be empowered to administer this Sacrament, since they are the leaders of the army of Christ; and the captains of an army alone can adorn their soldiers with their insignia.
The Blessed Eucharist being ordained for the nourishment of the spiritual life, it is meet that its outward signs should be bread and wine. And, as food is substantially joined to the body which is nourished, we believe that Christ exists in this Sacrament, not only by His power, but in His substance; and that He is thus present, in order to unite Himself so intimately with them that receive Him with faith and love, as to become one with them. Furthermore, as the Blessed Eucharist is to be a memorial of His Passion, wherein His Body and Blood were divided, it is meet that His body should be given to us under the appearance of bread, and His Blood under the form of wine; although Christ Himself is wholly present in each species.
When we consider the Sacrament of Penance, we must remember that physical health proceeds, sometimes, from natural strength of constitution, and, sometimes, from the assistance of a physician and of remedies. The same thing holds good in the spiritual order, but with certain limitations. For the health of the soul cannot proceed entirely from our intrinsic power—none being able to deliver himself from sin without grace; neither can it be altogether effected by extrinsic assistance—for the cooperation of our will is always required. Spiritual health, therefore, needs both an exterior, and an interior, agent. And, as we call a man physically sound, when he is free from all weakness caused by disease, we say, in like manner, that the soul is healed, when it is freed from all the infirmity caused by sin. Now, sin produces three bad effects. The first of these is aversion of the soul from God, and its conversion to creatures. The second is the penalty incurred by its guilt. And the third is a diminution of grace and weakness of will; for, by sin, the soul becomes more prone to evil, and more disinclined to good. Therefore, the remedial Sacrament of Penance is most reasonably ordained to remedy these three evils. The first part of this Sacrament is contrition, which delivers the soul from aversion to God, causing it to repent of sin and to return to its Maker; frees it from the penalty of eternal death, which cannot remain due to a soul in grace and charity; and renders it inclined to good and averse to evil. But, as contrition is not perfect in all men, it does not always remit the entire penalty of sin. The Lord has, therefore, added two other parts to the Sacrament of Penance, to wit, Confession and Satisfaction. Man may wish to pay in this life the penalty which remains due to him after contrition; but he cannot know what this penalty may be; he must therefore submit himself to the judgment of Christ, to whom alone he owes satisfaction. But, as Christ, glorified in Heaven, is to us invisible, He has left in His place, as His ministers, the priests of the Church. A judge cannot, however, assess the penalty, if he be ignorant of the crime. Therefore a sinner must make confession to a priest. This confession is the second part of the Sacrament of Penance. It follows, that the ministers of Christ, in their judicial capacity, must be invested with a twofold power. First, they must be invested with authority and knowledge to judge the gravity of sin. Secondly, they must have ability to bind and to loose. This power of binding and loosing is known as the power of the Keys. Now, as the Sacraments are the instruments of grace, it is quite certain, that, by this power of the Keys, a penitent obtains more grace, and fuller remission of punishment, than he could receive merely by contrition. It sometimes happens, however, that contrition and confession do not suffice to remit the entire penalty incurred by sin. Therefore, a third part has been added to the Sacrament of Penance, namely Satisfaction, or the performance of a penance enjoined by the priest.
The Sacrament of Extreme Unction has been most fittingly ordained by Christ, in consideration of human weakness. For, as bodily sickness is often both the effect of sin, and the cause of grave spiritual detriment, a Sacrament was necessary which should repair this detriment, and should heal both soul and body; or should, at least, enable the soul to pass more easily, and with greater purity, into the other life. For the Sacrament of Penance does not always remit the entire penalty due to sin; nor does it wholly remove all inclination to sin and slothfulness in the performance of good. Nay, these evils are oftentimes increased in sickness, by pain and anxiety of mind, which hinder the dying from the remembrance of their sins. Thus, at the hour of death, there may be many remnants of sin in the soul, which call for powerful assistance, to enable a man to depart, purified, to eternal glory. Now, this assistance is given by that Sacrament, which—to denote that it should only be administered in sickness unto death—we call Extreme Unction. The matter of this Sacrament is oil, which has been chosen as representing a remedy often used to soothe physical suffering. And, as in sickness, the physician strives to apply his medicine to the root of the disease, so in Extreme Unction, the five senses, which are, so to speak, the chief instruments of sin, are anointed.
We must next consider the Sacrament of Holy Orders. As we do so, we shall see, with what good reason it has been ordained. When Christ withdrew His visible presence from the Church, it was necessary that He should have some representatives, who should dispense the Sacraments to the faithful. And, as they were to be His instruments, it was likewise necessary that they should be like, in some manner, to Himself, and thus be proportioned to their Agent. Christ, being both God and Man, His ministers had, then, to be, not angels, but men, endowed with some share of His Divine power. And, as they could not be immortal, they had to possess this power, in such a manner, as to be capable of conferring it on their successors, until the consummation of the world. This power, for reasons given above when treating of the Sacraments in general, has been fittingly bestowed upon the ministers of Christ, under the form of certain formulated words and signs, such as the imposition of hands, the presentation of the chalice and book, etc. But, as the power of Orders is given, to enable the ministers of the Church to administer the Sacraments—of which the Blessed Eucharist is the chief—we must consider the degrees of Orders, with relation to this adorable Sacrament.
We know that every power designed to produce an important effect, is served by other and inferior powers, even as an architect who intends to erect a building, is assisted by stonecutters, and other labourers. Since, then, the Sacrament of Holy Orders is instituted, mainly, in order to consecrate the Body and Blood of Christ, to distribute It to the faithful, and to cleanse them from sin—in order to prepare them for Its reception—there must be some rank or Order, destined, especially, for this office, and served by ministers of inferior degree. This rank is the Priesthood, which is created for two ends, viz., to consecrate the Body and Blood of Christ, and to cleanse the faithful from sin, in order to enable them to receive It. Priests, then, must be assisted in both, or in one, of their offices, by those in lower orders, who will, according to their dignity, take part in rites more or less sacred. The lowest Order of door-keepers, is instituted in order to prepare the people, to separate the faithful from unbelievers, and to exclude the latter from the Church. Next in dignity comes the Order of Readers, whose duty it is to instruct neophytes in the Faith. Then Exorcists, who must deliver them from the power of the devil. The office of those in the higher Orders is, to prepare the faithful for the Sacraments, and to assist in the celebration of the Blessed Eucharist. Thus the Acolyths must prepare the vessels and elements used in the Sacrifice; the Sub-deacons must place the unconsecrated species in the sacred vessels; and the Deacons must also have some office with respect to the Consecrated Elements, inasmuch as they are ordained to distribute to the faithful the Precious Blood of Christ. Hence, only Priests, Deacons, and Sub-deacons are said to be in Sacred Orders; this term signifying, that they alone, have power to handle that which is most Sacred. Deacons, Sub-deacons, and Acolyths also assist the priest in preparing the people. The Deacon reads the Gospel to them, and the Sub-deacon the Epistle, and the Acolyth bears the lights, which are intended to show reverence for the Holy Scripture.
And, as the Sacraments must be administered by fitting persons, appointed by some superior power, it is reasonable that Episcopal authority should exist in the Church, which, while nowise exceeding the sacerdotal power with regard to the Consecration of the Body of the Lord, is superior to the priestly power in all that pertains to the body of the Church, and the solution of any difficulties which may arise in its government. But, although there are many different bishops in many parts of the earth,—the Church being one,—the whole Christian people is under one head, and is thus united in one Faith, and in no danger of being divided by reason of different opinions springing up within the Church. The power given to the ministers of Christ is inalienable, and cannot be forfeited by any sin. And the Sacraments, administered by sinful priests, lose none, of their efficacy, since their virtue resides in the Sacraments themselves, not in their ministers. Neither do those who receive the Sacraments from unworthy priests, become themselves unworthy. For priests are only His instruments; and that on which an effect is wrought becomes like to the principal agent, not like to the instrument.
Finally, the Sacrament of Matrimony is a state most fittingly ordained, not only for the public welfare and for the preservation of the human race, but likewise for the multiplication of the faithful, to the Glory of God. The union of man with woman, in so far as it concerns the good of the Church, is a true Sacrament, blessed by the ministers of Christ, representing the union of the Church with our Lord, and conferring grace on those that receive it devoutly. And as there is only one Christ and one Church; and as Matrimony represents the union between them; the bond of wedlock must be indissoluble, in order that God may be glorified and Holy Church perpetuated.
From what we have said, it is, we think, plain, that there is nothing unreasonable or impracticable in the principal ceremonies of the Church.