Regína sacratíssimi Rosárii, ora pro nobis!

November AD 2008
Our Lady of the Rosary
Parish Bulletin

What is the Source of the Sacraments?
What are the Moral Aspects of the Great Depression (Continued)


Source of the Sacraments?

    Question:  I cannot find any reference to “Sacraments” in the Bible—Old Testament or New.  Where did we get them?  What does the word mean?  Are they “rites of passage”?  Shouldn’t we take marriage more seriously if it is a Sacrament?  (D.D.)

    Answer:  The word “Sacrament” is used only once in the Bible, where Saint Paul refers to marriage as a “great Sacrament” (“sacramentum magnum” in the Vulgate) in his letter to the Ephesians.[1]  In this case, “Sacrament” translates the Greek word “musterion—μυστήριον,” which is the word used by Eastern Orthodox, Eastern Catholic, and some early Western writers (e.g. Saint Ambrose) to refer to the Sacraments.  The Orthodox are a little bit vague about enumerating “the Mysteries,” but generally agree with Catholics as to the seven “principal Mysteries”:  Baptism, Confirmation, Holy Eucharist, Penance, Extreme Unction, Holy Orders, and Matrimony.

    The word “Mystery” denotes something which man is capable of knowing, but only through divine revelation.  “Sacrament” comes from the Latin word “Sacrare—to make holy.”  Both of these concepts are incorporated in the definition of a Sacrament:  “An outward sign, instituted by Christ [divinely revealed], to give grace [to make holy].”[2]  The “outward sign” refers to the fact that all of the Sacraments have something tangible (usually referred to as the matter and form) associated with them, so that it is possible to tell which Sacrament is being conferred, and who is receiving it.

    The words “sacrament” and “mystery” can be used with other meanings, but when we refer to the seven Sacraments, or simply capitalize the word, we are referring to the seven outward signs which Christ instituted to make us holy.  Whether or not the word is in the Bible, it is the term used by the Church to refer to the seven rites which share the definition above.  Among other words, “Bible,” “Eucharist,” “Incarnation,” “sermon,” and “Trinity” are not in the Bible either, but one would be foolish to deny their usefulness in understanding the truths of Christianity.[3]  The idea that things not explicitly mentioned in the Bible are not relevant to Christian belief is, itself, an “un-biblical” idea.  Indeed, it is an idea explicitly contradicted in the Bible:  “Many other signs also did Jesus in the sight of his disciples, which are not written in this book.... if they were written every one, the world itself, I think, would not be able to contain the books that should be written.”[4]

    Nonetheless, the Bible does refer to each of the seven Sacraments.  Here is a partial list of references, and I will use the more colloquial names of the Sacraments:

Baptism:  Matthew 28:19;  Mark 16:16;  Acts 2:41

Confirmation:  John 15:26; Acts 2:2‑4;  8:14-19;  19:1‑6

Holy Communion:  John 6: 48-60;  Matthew 26:26‑28; Mark 14: 22‑24;  Luke 22:19‑20; 1 Corinthians 11:23‑26

Confession: Matthew 18: 18;  John 20: 21-23

Anointing:  Mark 6:13;  James 5:14-15

Ordination:  Luke 22:19;  John 20: 21-23; Acts 6: 5‑6;  14:23;  1 Timothy 5:17‑22;  Titus 1:5

Marriage:  Genesis 2:23‑24;  Matthew 5:31‑32; 19:3‑12; Mark 10:2‑12;  Luke 16‑18;  Romans 7:2‑3;  1 Corinthians 10, 11, 39

● ● ●

    Sometimes it is suggested that God could make a person holy and see to his salvation without any of these “outward signs.”  This is perfectly true, in that God can do whatever He pleases!  But it ignores the fact that Christ in fact saw a need in human nature for such outward demonstrations of His grace in action, did establish them, and declared some of them absolutely necessary for salvation:

    Unless a man be born again of water and the Holy Ghost, he cannot enter into the kingdom of God (John 3:5).

    How can this man give us his flesh to eat?  Then Jesus said to them: Amen, amen I say unto you: Except you eat the flesh of the Son of man, and drink his blood, you shall not have life in you (John 6:52‑54).

    He did a similar thing in healing the sick, when the effect was physical rather than spiritual, even though the effect would be visible without any outward sign:

    He spat on the ground, and made clay of the spittle, and he anointed the eyes of the blind man with the clay (John 9:1‑11).

● ● ●

    It is the constant teaching of the Catholic Church that marriage is an indissoluble union of a man and a woman, which is broken only by the death of one or the other.  This is based on the teachings of our Lord cited above.  Some mistakenly argue that Matthew 5:32 allows an “escape clause” for husbands with unfaithful wives:  "whosoever shall put away his wife, saving for the cause of fornication, causeth her to commit adultery: and whosoever shall marry her that is divorced committeth adultery.” 

    First of all Christian marriage is a two way proposition—binding men as much as it binds their wives.  But more importantly, our Lord is saying nothing more than that putting away a spouse will cause that spouse to commit adultery—but if the spouse is already an adulterer, being put away will not change that fact—and marrying the spouse that has been put away is adultery in either event.  If this is in any way unclear, then Matthew 5 must be read in conjunction with our Lord’s other statements on the matter, and the indissolubility of marriage will be immediately apparent.  Matthew 5 permits nothing more than separation from the adulterous spouse.  Infidelity does not terminate the marriage, nor make re-marriage possible.  To reason otherwise would allow divorce for any reason at all—one of the parties would just have to commit adultery—probably not a very odious task for one intent on changing spouses!

    Since the unmitigated disaster known as Vatican II, a good many lax Catholics have fallen under the impression that the Church is capable of granting an annulment of marriage, for little or no reason.  This is completely false, as even the new (1983) Code of Canon Law tells us:

    A ratified and consummated valid marriage can be dissolved by no human power and for no cause other than death. (New Canon 1141; Old Canon 1118)

    An annulment is the relatively rare finding and decree that what appeared to be a valid marriage was actually invalid from the very beginning because of some impediment.  Say, for example, that one of the apparent spouses was already married;  or say that marital consent was exchanged under threat of violence, or under the influence of alcoholism or drug addiction; or say that one or the other spouse was permanently impotent—these and a few other such impediments, existing at the time of the marriage can invalidate it, even though the outward appearance of marriage was manifested.  If the impediment comes into being after the marriage takes place, it can have no effect on the validity of the marriage.  If the Church investigates and finds solid evidence of such an impediment at the time of an attempted marriage, She is capable of declaring that no marriage in fact took place—the declaration is called an annulment.

    Prior to Vatican II the Church issued three or four hundred annulments a year, worldwide.  Today the modernist Conciliar Church issues tens of thousands in the United States alone.  Some are, no doubt, legitimate, but it is difficult to believe that they all are.  Indeed, since annulments are sought only by couples unhappy with their marriages and not by those who are content, if we follow the standards of the New Order, one has to ask how many more invalid marriages are there among those that are not being contested!  By modernist standards, maybe nobody is validly married!

    The reality is that Marriage is a Sacrament.  If it is entered into with honesty and the usual “pre‑Cana” investigation it must be presumed valid and indissoluable.

● ● ●

    The Sacraments have a superficial resemblance to the “rites of passage” found among some primitive peoples.  Marriage and Ordination do change a person’s status in society, and the other five Sacraments do seem to trace a line from just after birth to just before death.  But Baptism might be received by a man in his 90s as well as by an infant.  In modern society Confirmation is often associated with adolescence, but really belongs immediately after Baptism, as is done in the Eastern Churches and in the West if the person being Baptized is in danger of death.  First Communion is usually a “dress-up-event” for seven year olds but one’s thousandth or ten-thousandth Communion is no less a sacred event.  Extreme Unction does not always accompany death, may be repeated a number of times, and is intended more for serious illness.  Confession seems to fit not at all into the notion of the Sacraments as “rites of passage.”

The Moral Aspects of the Great Depression

[Continued from last month:]

    Question:  Were there moral aspects of the Great Depression?  A lot of people suffered for well over a decade.  Shouldn’t someone be held responsible?

● Inflation ●

    I like to define inflation as “the interest we pay for borrowing from the future.”

    Central bankers will often argue that it is necessary for them to make occasional increases to the “money” in circulation in order to keep the economy growing at a reasonable rate in order to avoid depression.  Sometimes their reason is to ensure price stability, or to keep the US dollar on par with other currencies.  Whatever the reasons given, adding to the dollars in circulation devalues each and every dollar in existence by a proportional amount.  For example, if there are a billion dollars in circulation, and the central bank adds another billion, the value of each dollar is reduced to fifty-cents.  Ultimately we all walk around with some more “money,” but it just buys less.  If you had enough “money” in your wallet to buy two bags of groceries, but a thief came along and left you with only enough to buy one bag, you would call it theft—and you wouldn’t have much praise for the thief’s “generosity” in leaving you some of your “money.”  As we all know, doubling the money in circulation does not double the money in our wallets!

● “Money” ●

    The word “money” is in quotes above because many people assume that the traditional definition of money is still in use, and are misled by the word as it is used in modern parlance.  Traditionally, money serves three purposes:  it is (1) a medium of exchange;  (2) a unit of account;  and (3) a store of value.

    (1) As a “medium of exchange,” money eliminates the need to barter—I exchange money in varying amounts for needed goods, without the need to find a trading partner who has what I want, and needs what I have.

    (2) As a “unit of account” money is used to set prices—even if I am not ready to buy, I can look around to see what is available and how much it will cost, and then make an informed buying decision.

    (3) As a “store of value” I can take the wealth that I have earned through my labor, trade, or investment, and store that wealth for later use—for later enjoyment, for the proverbial “rainy day,” for retirement, or to provide for my wife and children after I am gone.

    The traditional threefold definition of money is based on the idea that the medium in use (beads, shells, gold, silver, and so forth) has an intrinsic value that is recognized by everyone in society.  Tree leaves and sand are just too easy to obtain to be valued.  Beads and shells may work in some cultures.  In wild times bullets, canned beer, tuna fish, and vegetable soup may become highly esteemed.  Traditionally, metals like gold and silver, and for some uses copper and nickel, are the valued commodity that people use as money.  Note that all of these things, from beads, through bullets, to gold are commodities valued by everyone in a particular society.  Not surprisingly, we refer to them as “commodity money.”

    In these United States It is the duty of Congress “to coin money, regulate the value thereof, and of foreign coin, and .... To provide for the punishment of counterfeiting the securities and current coin of the United States.”  “No state shall ... make anything but gold and silver coin a tender in payment of debts....” [5]  But, modern society finds it difficult to use commodity money as the unit of exchange.  We like the convenience and safety of using paper bills, checks, and even computer impulses in place of our gold and silver coins.

    In theory, there could be a one to one correspondence between a dollar in gold, a dollar bill, a check for a dollar, or a computer debit card entry for a dollar.  If you could take your dollar gold coin to the bank and exchange it for a bill worth a dollar, and if you could sure that your bill would be redeemed for a dollar gold coin, and that you and everyone else in society could do the same whenever they wanted (even all at once)—then you would have a money that answers all of the three requirements of the traditional definition—such money, in each of its forms, would serve as a medium of exchange, a unit of account, and a store of value.

    Gold certificates, redeemable in numerically equivalent gold coins, circulated between 1888 and 1933.  Until 1964 U.S. “silver certificates” promised to pay the bearer in silver if presented to the Treasury.  Silver and gold coins circulated as money, even silver quarters and dimes.


    But even with the ability to redeem a bill for silver or gold at the Treasury, there was nothing like a one to one correspondence between the various forms of “money.”  There were far more “dollars” in circulation than there were dollars of gold and silver in the vaults.  Today no money is backed by gold or silver or any other commodity, and there are far more “dollars” in circulation than when they could be exchanged for something of value.

    Before we explain how there could be more “dollars” in circulation than their equivalent in gold and silver, we ought to consider what happens to “money” when it grows in supply out of proportion to the commodity it is supposed to represent—that is to say, what are the results of currency inflation?

    (1) The inflated dollar still serves as a medium of exchange.  It would be equitable if everyone in society got the new money all at once—if everybody’s income, savings, and investments doubled, it wouldn’t be of much consequence if the sale price of an item also doubled.  In reality, though, many people will be cheated out of purchasing power.  The poor will usually receive the new money last, and suffer the greatest loss.  If I pay for something over a period of time, I will have to compensate the seller for any additional loss due to inflation over that period—beyond normal interest or carrying charges.

    (2) The inflated dollar serves as a poor unit of account.  People must be continually updating their knowledge of current prices.  If I budget on the basis of last year’s prices I may be in trouble when I get to the store.

    (3) The inflated dollar serves as a poor store of value.  If I earn a dollar and put it in a box for my retirement, I will have little purchasing power after the years pass.  Some of this may be offset by depositing the dollar in a bank or by investing it in some market, but there is some degree of risk that the money will be lost, the returns may not fully offset the inflation, and those returns will be taxed as though they were income.

    In all three aspect of the monetary definition people loose purchasing power with inflation.  We will come back to this later, but for the moment the reader ought to be asking himself:  “Where do all those dollars worth of purchasing power go—who gets the dollars lost by normal people?  He might also give some thought to the distorted signals “cheap money” gives to those who might have been more selective in their investments in the market.

[To be continued]


[1]  Ephesians v: 25-33, specifically verse 32.    (English) (Latin)

[2]  Baltimore Catechism No. 2, Q. 304.

[3]  Cf. James L. Strong, The New Strong’s Exhaustive Concordance of the Bible.

[4]  John xx: 30; xxi: 25.

[5]   US Constitution, Article I, Sections 9 and 10.


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