Monday, March 8, 2010

On the Simplicity of Sacramental Signs

"If the prophet had told you to do something extraordinary, would you have done it? All the more now, since he said to you, 'Wash and be clean,' should you do as he said," so the servants tried to prevail over an angry Naaman who was upset over the command which the prophet Elisha gave him for his healing from leprosy. The place of this reading in Lent is best appreciated if we keep in mind that this season is the final phase of the catechumenate for those who are elected for Baptism on the Easter Vigil. I remember a mystagogical homily by a Father of the Church who tried to addressed the disappointment of the neophytes at the simplicity of the Sacrament of Baptism. They expected much of the Sacrament as they were told of its tremendous effects: Adoption as Children of God, incorporation into Christ's mystical Body, and the indwelling of the Holy Spirit. Thus, when they saw a pool of water before them, they begun asking one another, "Is this it? Is this all?" Apparently, they could not reconcile in their minds the simplicity of the sacramental signs with the greatness of the graces they effect in us.

And even to our day, so many find the sacramental signs to be too simple for the graces they promise to effect. In fact, some take it upon themselves to "augment" these signs. Some men have themselves flogged until they bleed or even have themselves crucified on Good Friday in order to assure themselves of forgiveness of sins when all they had to do is to kneel and confess their sins to a priest. Of course, you may dismiss this as being the mindset of fanatics. However, is it not true that there is really an inclination today to embellish the liturgy with theatrics and dances? Apparently, the liturgy is too simple, too boring, too monotonous. It needs to be embellished so that it may acquire some commercial value. Without understanding the true nature of the liturgy, we unknowingly cross the line from worship to entertainment.

The simplicity of the sacramental signs reflects the simplicity of the Incarnation. After all, isn't the liturgy the extension of the Incarnation of the Lord? As the Lord descended on the womb of the Blessed Virgin without spectacle and fanfare, so also does the Divine Presence descend upon us through the Sacramental signs. Our eyes must not be deceived by the simplicity of the Sacraments. Externally, they may be humble but they confer upon us what only Christ our Lord can give: Salvation!

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