One major difference between the Catechism of the Catholic Church and the Catechism of the Council of Trent is the different emphases on the sacraments in each book. For the 16th century Tridentine catechism, the sacraments were the centrepiece, receiving much greater emphasis in relation to the other sections -- doctrine, morality and prayer.
The reason for this was the Reformation. While the reformers saw the core of their teaching as that faith, not works, is the basis for salvation and that Christ's teaching is found in Scripture alone, the Catholic view was somewhat different. The church saw the Reformation as a frontal attack on the sacraments. Some reformers disparagingly referred to sacramental liturgies as "ceremonies" and viewed them as superstitious hokum which gave all earthly power to a priestly caste and deluded the great mass of people.
The reformers saw themselves as putting a renewed emphasis on the importance of faith. But from the Catholic point of view, the reformers lacked faith on a crucial point -- the ability of Jesus to become fully present today.
The Catholic Church went to great lengths to battle the reformers' views. The Council of Trent was an appeal to the minds of reformers. Unfortunately, it came too late, after more coercive means had been used to bring the Reformation to heel. By then, both sides were well entrenched in bitter hostility.
Today, tensions have cooled considerably. There is considerable official and unofficial dialogue among churches aimed at greater understanding. This is a good thing and such dialogue should flourish for the sake of God's kingdom.
The reformers did raise a crucial question on which all Catholics need to reflect. Are the sacraments just ceremonies or does Christ really come into our midst through them? If they are mere human ceremonies then, by claiming to be something more than that, the sacraments would seem to be not glorified prayer meetings, but actually a form of blasphemy. For the church claims that the sacraments are key to our salvation -- they are how Christ is made present to us today. But if they are just human inventions, then we are, for example, worshiping bread and wine rather than the God above.
The church, however, teaches that the priest is not simply the ordained man who plays golf on his day off, but rather in celebrating the sacraments is Jesus Christ himself. The ordained man is a priest only to the extent he shares in the one priesthood of Jesus Christ. The church admits the truth of one of the reformers' objections. It agrees that Christ's act of redemption on Calvary was sufficient for all ages and that we mere mortals can add nothing to it.
But the church hastens to add that Christ asked us to "do this in memory of me." Moreover, this memorial is not a mere remembering, an act of nostalgia for the good ol' days when Christ walked among us. Through the sacraments, Christ becomes really present in our midst.
The priest, further, is not a magician who conjures up Jesus from "the other side." Without losing his personal identity, the priest is Jesus in our midst.
All this may sound pretty wild. How is it possible?
The Catechism tells us, "all other historical events happen once, and then they pass away, swallowed up in the past. The Paschal mystery of Christ, by contrast, . . . participates in the divine eternity, and so transcends all times while being made present in them all. The event of the cross and resurrection abides and draws everything toward life" (no. 1085).
As Pope John Paul states, the liturgy releases us from being "prisoners of the present" (Light of the East, no. 8). It makes Christ's one sacrifice on Calvary really present for us today.
Here it is crucial to note the importance of apostolic succession. Christ gave the apostles and their successors not only the power to teach, but also to sanctify (John 14:16-19). Apostolic succession means not only that the church is the guardian of Christ's truth, but also that it ensures Christ's real presence.
Likewise, the letter to the Hebrews proclaims, "Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever" (13:8). This not only means that we should avoid novel teachings, but also that Jesus will be present among us as he was present among the apostles.
To understand better how that happens, we will need to consider the role of the Holy Spirit in the liturgy. And that is exactly what the Catechism does in its next section.
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