Sacramental Theology

This course depends on the course called ecclesiology, the theology of the church. You may need to start there to get the backgound you need to interpret these documents. Please respect my copyright and the copyright of those publishers who have given me permission to post these documents.

The files on this page are arranged in the order in which my students read them in the syllabus and the reading gyuide.

This image is from a side altar at St. John Seminary.




Description File
This is the syllabus for the course as a file in Microsoft Word™. The file is 10 pages long. This document is password protected. Students, please use your password.

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These are the questions to guide you through the readings for the course. Most of them are asking for specific information; fewer of them are asking you for your reflections and thoughts. This is a large document (twenty-five pages) in Microsoft Word™.

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The story of Elijah and Elisha in 2 Kings 2:1–22 is an icon of the way in which the ascended Christ leaves behind his mantle, the sacraments, to clothe and empower his Church. See the Ascension texts below.
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Metropolitan Anthony Bloom wrote a beautiful reflection on the holiness of the body as a key to understanding the meaning of the sacraments.
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The solemnity of the Ascension is a key to understanding the meaning of the sacraments. Here are all the readings, prayers, and chants for the Ascension.


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In my experience of teaching sacramental theology, sacraments are best understood by first understanding the meaning of sacramentals, especially blessings. Most Catholics are not aware that their baptism and confirmation entitle them to bless. Here is my ecclesiology of the Book of Blessings as an overview of the Introduction to the Book of Blessings that I was asked to write for The Liturgy Documents, Volume II (Chicago: Liturgy Training Publications).
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The Catechism of the Catholic Church is an indispensable resource for understanding the sacraments. Here is the table of contents for the sections in the Catechism about the sacraments.
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Sofia Cavalletti’s amazing book, Living Liturgy: Elementary Reflections, contains this extraordinary reflection on the meaning of the sign of the cross which is at the heart of every sacrament and nearly every sacramental.
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There is a “missing footnote” in The Catechism of the Catholic Church, 1127; the Catechism does not explain why “The Father always [my emphasis] hears the prayer of his Son’s Church which, in the epiclesis of each sacrament, expresses her faith in the power of the Spirit.” I have written this explanation, connecting the assertion of the Catechism to Luke 11:13.
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In the Catholic marriage rite before Vatican Council II there was a lovely “Exhortation before Marriage” which many priests memorized and used to form at least part of their sermon. Here is that exhortation.
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“One size does not fit all” who seek communion with the Catholic Church. This is a true story which serves as a cautionary tale to all those who work in the ministry of sacramental initiation, a story about the hurdles put in the way of a very theologically sophisticated Protestant who was treated as a catechumen and not as a candidate.
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Pope Innocent III (1198-1216) is the first pope to use the term “transubstantiation” to explain the nature of the Eucharistic change (Denziger-Hünermann §§782–783, Neuner-Dupuis §§1502–1503, Denziger-Ruiz Bueno, §§414–415). He also comments on the three ways in which one can receive the Eucharist, a theology which is developed by the Council of Trent (Denziger-Hünermann §1648, Neuner-Dupuis §1523, Denziger-Ruiz Bueno, §881).

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Pope St. Leo the Great preached a magnificent sermon on the Solemnity of the Ascension which the Church reads annually on the Friday of the Sixth Week of Easter. His most famous lines are: “. . . our Redeemer’s visible presence has passed into the sacraments. . . . he now began to be indescribably more present in his divinity to those from whom he was further removed in his humanity.” Here is the text of the sermon from the Office of Readings.
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Father Herbert McCabe, O.P., wrote the best article I have ever read on the meaning of “Eucharistic Change,” for the journal, Priests & People (June 1994 [vol 8 no 6] 217–221) © 1994 The Tablet Publishing Company. All rights reserved. Used with permission.

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The Catechism of the Catholic Church has an excellent reflection on the sacrament of Confirmation. Here it is.
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The great Jesuit missionary theologians, J. Neuner and J. Dupuis, have produced seven editions of The Christian Faith in the Doctrinal Documents of the Catholic Church, an essential text for the study of all theology, particularly sacramental theology. Here are the doctrinal points they make about sacramental theology.
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I have produced this chart for my students which explains the basic rites and stages of the Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults.
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Otto Semmelroth (1912–1979) was a German Jesuit, professor of exegesis at the Philosophisch-theologische Hochschule Sankt Georgen in Frankfurt. During the conciliar era he was an official peritus and contributed largely to the redaction of Lumen Gentium. Here is his schematic understanding of the interrelationship of the sacraments which informs the sacramental theology of Lumen Gentium.
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The Universal Prayer [a.k.a. Prayer of the Faithful, General Intercessions] “is the fruit . . . of the working of the word of God in the hearts of the faithful . . .Thus there is an analogy: sacramental communion is the conclusion and, in regard to the people’s participation, the climax of the liturgy of the eucharist; the prayer of the faithful . . . appears as the conclusion and, in regard to the people’s participation, the climax of the entire liturgy of the word. . . . But the prayer can also be seen in another way as a hinge between the two parts of the Mass: it terminates the liturgy of the word in which God’s wonderful works and the Christian calling are brought to mind; it ushers in the liturgy of the eucharist by stating some of those general and particular intentions for which the sacrifice is to be offered.” This is the heart of the official introduction written by the Consilium for the Implementation of the Consitution on the Sacred Liturgy, “The Universal Prayer or Prayer of the Faithful,” 17 April 1966, which restored this prayer to the liturgy of the Church: the sacraments, the Liturgy of the Hours, and most of the blessings.
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Jesuit Father Herbert Vorgrimler’s text, Sacramental Theology, is the best textbook I know. Here is a list of his themes.


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