Thursday, August 25, 2005
sacramentalism, relics, and hallowed materiality
When the ordinands lie prone and motionless during the Litanies, you would take them for inanimate objects. When their hands are anointed and bound, you will realise that the Church claims (as it were) those hands for her own. Those hands, newly anointed, are to be kissed by the faithful after the ceremony. The priest, in fact, corresponds in a sense to Aristotle’s definition of a slave—he has become a living tool.
And, for the second count, it is to be considered that the efficacy which our theology attributes to this or that ceremony, this or that kind of contact with material things, is not a direct efficacy, as if the ceremony or the thing touched exercised any influence in its own right. We kiss the priest’s hands because the bishop who ordained him, in the name of the whole Church, has prayed Almighty God to bless whatever these hands touch in benediction. We take holy water because this same priest, in the name of the whole Church, has prayed that God would protect in certain ways all those who, out of piety, should so make use of it. In a word, we are treating material objects and vocal formulas as the occasions upon which God himself will see fit to bestow a blessing upon us, in answer to the prayers offered when the object was hallowed, or the formula instituted. An exception must, of course, be made in favour of spots which are kept sacred by historical memories, or of relics which belonged to the saints; here our appeal for help is grounded, not upon the places themselves but upon the events which happened there, not upon the relics themselves but on the merits of the saints who have left them to us. And if, here and there, a taint of superstition (properly so called) infects the devotion of ill-instructed souls the Church will rather smile at their folly than hold up reproving hands; she knows how to deal with children.
By Ronald Knox. Read the whole thing here. Thank you Fr. Kimel.
Posted by gwb at 11:12 AM