Sacramental Imagination

academic mass

The Catholic sacramental imagination emphasizes God’s presence in the created world as an expression of love for humanity.  Each created thing—each person, each moment, each part of nature—holds the potential to communicate the sacred presence in so far as it participates in the whole of God’s self-revelation.  Since our physical senses cannot directly perceive God, our liturgical practices rely upon physical objects that are both gifts of creation and tangible reminders of God’s invisible presence. Thus, for example, the light of liturgical candles awakens in us an awareness of the intensity of God’s love, of the power of bright hope to dispel despairing darkness, of the promise of our new life with Christ both in baptism and when this life’s journey ends.

The celebration of the Eucharist is the most important sacramental event in the life of the Church.  As Catholics, we believe that the ordinary materials of bread and wine are transformed into the real presence of Christ.  The nature of this transformation is mysterious, but its implications are inspiring.  By partaking in this sacred meal we become wholly united in Christ, as the Eucharistic bread that we eat is incorporated into the substance of our own bodies. By partaking, we are also drawn more deeply into communion with our brothers and sisters who profess with us this same mystery.  By partaking, we are commissioned to go forth in peace to love and to serve.  Recalling with Teresa of Avila that “Christ has no body now but yours”, we are strengthened in our desire to be authentic witnesses of Christ to the world. For Catholics, the Eucharist is central to one’s life of faith.

Throughout the year at STM, many opportunities arise for the STM community to worship together.  A good example is the Academic Mass when we, as a community, ask the Holy Spirit to guide and inspire our work in the coming year.  All are invited to the Academic Mass, regardless of religious affiliation.  Those who are not Catholic are invited to the Eucharist as prayerful participants or as respectful observers.

The Liturgy of the Word, focused on the reading of Scripture, offers an opportunity to listen to, and to reflect upon, the Word of God.  All Christians share a profound reverence for these texts, and while our interpretations of Christ’s message may differ, we can listen, learn and be enriched by each other’s traditions.  All Abrahamic faiths share scriptural reading as a devotional practice, and so, though we name our God in different ways, we all seek to be guided by the words of divine wisdom.  For non-Christians who stand respectfully with us, and we with them, the participation in STM’s liturgical life may be a sign of solidarity with the STM community or respect for the Catholic tradition.  For all participants, the liturgy invites us to become reflective, to renew and cultivate our inwardness.  This attentive care to our inward nature enables us to become more attentive listeners, to become less anxious or angry, to become more reflective and peaceful. This encounter with the sacred is a summons, calling us to care for the needs around us: in particular, to create a sense of belonging for our student community.   

An encounter with the sacred must be fostered and nurtured.  At STM this work is enhanced by St. Thomas More’s Campus Ministry team who is committed to ministering to the faith-life of the entire STM community.  They support opportunities for us to discover more about faith or to nourish our faith-life; these opportunities include weekday celebrations of the Eucharist in the Roman and Byzantine traditions, Bible study groups, retreats, spiritual direction, and encounters with other faith traditions.

Sacraments and Sacramentality:  Catholic doctrine defines sacrament as “any visible sign of God’s invisible grace” and, as such, identifies seven specific sacraments: Baptism, Confirmation, Eucharist, Reconciliation, Marriage, Holy Orders and the Anointing of the Sick.  Catholic understanding of sacraments is built on the broader principle of sacramentality which theologian Richard P. McBrien describes as the “fundamentally Catholic notion that all reality is potentially and in fact the bearer of God’s presence and the instrument of divine action on our behalf.”1

For clarification on Catholic practices regarding intercommunion, please refer to a member of the Campus Ministry Team.  Reference can also be made to the diocesan document, Pastoral Notes on Sacramental Sharing.

Questions for Reflection
How does STM’s faith-life affect me?
Does my participation in the mass or other prayer groups draw me closer to others in the community?
Do I find inspiration in the faith of others in these settings? 
Do these contexts help me to cultivate inwardness, to become more reflective, and to be a better listener?

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1  Richard P. McBrien, Catholicism: Volume II (Minneapolis, MN:  Winston Press, 1980), xlv.