1. God Gives His Word
Some of our readers belong to Christian groups which talk of two sacraments as distinct from the Catholic teaching of seven. For these readers we attach a few notes to help them see on what basis their Catholic friends hold to seven, and the importance of the role performed in the Church by the Sacraments.
In Exodus chapter 20, God proclaimed to His People Israel His Holy Instruction, which contains what we refer to as the Ten Commandments. The Hebrew word for the instruction is, Torah, which can also mean ꞌwordsꞌ. In Hebrew thinking, this was the Divine Word — the Way God wished His People to pursue; the Truth they were to uphold which would lead them into fullness of Life. Jesus would later claim to be this Divine Word: the Way, the Truth and the Life.
This collection of Godꞌs Words, together with other words of revelation became called, “the Law” — but not in the modern sense. It was the Torah, the pathway provided by God for His people to follow and enjoy true happiness.
1. Blessed is the man who does not walk
in the counsel of the wicked,
Nor stand in the way of sinners,
nor sit in company with scoffers.
2. Rather, the law of the LORD is his joy;
and on his law he meditates day and night.
3. He is like a tree
planted near streams of water,
that yields its fruit in season;
Its leaves never wither;
whatever he does prospers.
We can see from this that the Hebrew understanding of Law is that it calls for our maximum effort to live in harmony with God and enjoy the privileges of belonging to Him.
2. God sends His Prophets
The People of God strove, often heroically, to meet Godꞌs standards. The long history
of their struggle is recorded for us to read in the Old Testament. Whenever they wandered away from the path He had set them, He sent prophets to steer them back
and give them hope.
Through two of His great prophets God declared His very clear intentions.
Jeremiah 31: 33 “I will place my law within them and write it
upon their hearts: I will be their God, and they shall be my people.”
Ezekiel 36: 26 — 27 “I will put my spirit within you so that you can
walk in my statutes, observe my ordinances, and keep them.”
Thus God promised to write His Law on the hearts of His people and to give them a new spirit — a new gift of His own spirit so that they would not only be able to walk by His Torah, His statutes, but would personally choose with all their heart to do so.
3. God sends His Spirit
In Isaiah 11: 1 — 3 we are given the prophecy that a future descendent of Jesse will be endowed with the fullness of Godꞌs own Spirit.
1. And there shall come forth a rod out of the root of Jesse,
and a flower shall rise up out of his root.
2. And the spirit of the Lord shall rest upon him: the spirit
of wisdom, and of understanding, the spirit of counsel,
and of fortitude, the spirit of knowledge, and of godliness.
3. And he shall be filled with the spirit of the fear of the
Lord. He shall not judge according to the sight of the
eyes, nor reprove according to the hearing of the ears.
We are quoting from the Douay-Rheims translation of the Septuagint
which varies slightly from the copies of the Hebrew texts available.
In Matthew 3: 16 and 17 St. Matthew records the fulfilment of the Prophecy of Isaiah. The Church has always understood that our Lord, full of the Holy Spirit, was the total embodiment of the gifts of the Holy Spirit as enumerated by Isaiah. Thus when the Holy Spirit descends upon Jesus, God proclaims He is very pleased. (Matthew 17: 5). This, in itself, is a kind of prophetic declaration that in Jesus, His Son, Israel, will be renewed and made fully pleasing again to Him. The fulfilment of Jeremiah and Ezekiel quoted in (2) above is now under way.
4. Jesus proclaims fulfilment
In Matthew 5: 17 Jesus said:
“Do not think that I have come to destroy the Law or the
Prophets. I have not come to destroy, but to fulfil.”
The word fulfil comes from the old English term “full-fyllan“, i.e. to fill full (This reflects closely the Hebrew concept of ꞌfulfilꞌ, as expressed in “lekayem“: to uphold, establish, complete, accomplish, etc.).
• to complete (eg. a work)
• to carry into effect
• to observe (conditions laid down)
• to realise completely (eg. hopes)
(Chambers Etymological English Dictionary)
The true and correct meaning of this word is so very important, since Jesus made His statement above just after proclaiming His Beatitudes, sometimes referred to as the New Law given by the New Moses. But His New Law does not replace or displace the Torah as conveyed by God through Moses at Sinai. Using our Etymological Dictionary we can see that Jesus conveys something far more radical. (Matthew 5: 3 — 12).
The New Law of the New Moses, in a very special way, brings about the four defined functions of fulfilment. They overlap, of course, because they are aspects of the same process.
• It completes the Torah, the Law, in expounding the level at which it is to be put into practice. It may help us if we pause for a moment to understand better the idea of fulfilment as completing something. A great work cannot fulfil its purpose until it is completed. — We do not put it aside or dispose of it when it becomes complete. Just the opposite! It is then that it has its maximum effect. Our Lordꞌs Beatitudes complete the Torah — the Law of old — by bringing out the depth of Godꞌs original intentions. Thus, Jesus did not come to destroy, or terminate, but to fulfil Godꞌs Law and bring it to fruition.
• It helps carry the Torah into full effect.
• It helps His followers to observe the intentions of the Divine Law, the pathway designed by God for His People to follow.
• It helps realise completely the intended outcomes of the Divine Word, to bring Godꞌs People to their true home with Him.
5. Jesus defines “Fulfilment” of the Law
In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus declares seven Beatitudes: seven standards to be applied to the Torah, the Law, in order that Godꞌs Will may be honoured. These correspond to the seven Gifts of the Holy Spirit which will enable His disciples to implement His New Law. It is true there are eight Beatitudes: the eighth is a promise that if you honour His Words, His Instructions, by carrying out the first seven you will be privileged to receive the same treatment He received, for doing so! But we are to remember, the Gifts of the Holy Spirit will enable us to stand fast and withstand all the wiles of the enemy of mankind.
6. Jesus passes on His fulfilment and wholeness
Traditional Christianity held from its infancy the belief that the Messiah, our Lord Jesus Christ, incarnates these gifts, i.e., He is the very embodiment of them in His own person. We also believe that the early Church considered these gifts to be passed on to it from the Lord through the sacraments of the New Covenant. These Seven Sacraments are Channels of Grace, of New Life and are believed to have been instituted by Christ our Lord. They are:
● Baptism ● Holy Orders ● Reconciliation
● Confirmation ● Holy Eucharist ● Anointing of the sick
● Holy Matrimony
These channels of New Life, or graces, correspond to the first seven Beatitudes given by our Lord in the Sermon on the Mount. (Matthew 5). These were our Lord’s presentation of the New Law as the model of Christian discipleship.
As is well attested in the scriptures, seven is the symbolic number representing fullness and completion.
● Zechariah 4: 10.
“These seven are the eyes of the Lord which range through the
● Revelation 3: 1 and 4 — 5, and especially 5: 6.
“I saw a Lamb standing as though it had been slain, with seven
horns and with seven eyes, which are the seven spirits of God
sent out into all the earth.”
So, the New Testament has a consistent emphasis on both fulfilment and wholeness — the Church is to pass on the whole of our Lord’s teaching (Matthew 5: 1 — 9). We are to obey the Law of God with the whole of our heart, soul, mind and strength, and to do so to the standard set by Jesus in the Beatitudes of the New Law. (Matthew 5: 1 — 9).
7. The Living Church breaths the Holy Spirit
Jesus passed onto His Church the responsibility for continuing His teaching and service in the world.
He breathed on His Apostles and sent them forth into the world. Thus, “filled full” with the Holy Spirit, they were equipped to serve His Body, the Church, and take His Gospel “to every creature”.
The Sacraments are the normal channels for the pouring out of the Spirit upon the Church and its members. As the breath is to the body, so the Spirit is to the Body of Christ, the organism of which He is the Head.
Thus Jesus provided a systematic dispersal of the Holy Spirit to every corner of the Church, to ensure it was empowered, as we have seen to continue His ministry and work in the world, until He returns.
The seven sacraments, believed to have been instituted by Jesus, correspond to the seven standards the Lord requires for the true performance of God’s Law. They are, as we have seen, the channels of grace through which the Holy Spirit with all its Gifts is poured out on the Church, enabling her to convey to the world the Redeemerꞌs message of love, forgiveness, hope and compassion in all its fullness.