The Last Things

The arrival of the second millennium brought a sea-change in Christian sensibility, at least in Western Europe. A passionate devotion to the human Jesus (as friend and lover), deep personal friendships, the lofty ideals of courtly love, and a renewed interest in the Song of Songs showed up in the writings of St Anselm of Canterbury (¿.1033—1109), Peter Abelard (1079-1142), St Hildegard of Bingen (1098-1179), St Bernard of Clairvaux (1090-1153), and other mystics. All this heralded a new sensibility which flourished with St Francis (1181/2-1226), St Clare (1193/4-1253), and the popular piety inspired by the Franciscan movement; it has left its lasting witness not only in writing but also in fresh developments in liturgy, painting, sculpture, and Gothic architecture.

142 C. W. Bynum, The Resurrection of the Body in Western Christianity (New York: Columbia University Press, 1995).

This new sensibility inevitably coloured the Christian understanding of human destiny. How did Christ himself experience death? How should I interpret my death, if it means my soul leaving my body but also my leaving behind other persons whom I love? Where will my soul be and what will its experience be like? The new personalism affected Christian thinking about the afterlife, the resurrection of the body, divine judgement, a post-mortem purification, and an eternal reward or punishment. At times personalist attitudes towards the afterlife lapsed into regrettable individualism. In Western Catholicism, official teaching during the Middle Ages and at the time of the Reformation reflected and reinforced a dominant interest in the eternal fate of individual Christians, which led to the attempt to secure salvation for oneself and one's immediate family.

The new religious climate partly shifted the Christian focus from the 'Eschatos', or the Lord coming at the end in person, to the 'eschata', or last things. Often listed as four (death, judgement, heaven, and hell) the 'last things' include six items, or seven if we distinguish death and particular judgement: (1) death and particular judgement, (2) purgatory, (3) heaven, (4) hell, (5) bodily resurrection of all at the end of time, and (6) general judgement. In the twentieth century, the Second Vatican Council redressed the balance by presenting (7) the Church as the pilgrim community awaiting Christ's final coming and avoiding any unilateral focus simply on the moment of death. Christian hope, nourished by the life of grace, is not to be reduced to the mere expectation of things to come beyond death; such hope inspires and assists Christians in their progressive growth to a final encounter with God. Let us take up in turn these themes.

1. The conviction that 'life is changed not taken away' has always characterized the Christian attitude towards death (see the preface used during many centuries at Masses for the Dead). A specifically Christian understanding of death can be gleaned primarily from the rites for the dying, prayers written for Masses on behalf of the dead, burial rites, and inscriptions on tombs.

The scriptures had seen death both as natural (e.g. Ps. 49: 11—12; Isa. 40: 6—7) and as the consequence of sin (e.g. Gen. 3: 19; Rom. 5: 12). Paul called death 'the last enemy to be overcome' by the risen Christ (1 Cor. 15: 26). From the earliest times, post-NT writers expressed their hope of sharing in Christ's victory and being delivered from death through the resurrection. Tertullian (d. £.225) opened his On the Resurrection of the Flesh with the

Fig. 9. A funeral Mass being celebrated in Mali, West Africa. Priest and people face each other as they celebrate Jesus as Lord of life and death. (© Abbas/Magnum Photos.)

Fig. 9. A funeral Mass being celebrated in Mali, West Africa. Priest and people face each other as they celebrate Jesus as Lord of life and death. (© Abbas/Magnum Photos.)

memorable statement: 'The resurrection from the dead constitutes the confidence of Christians. By believing it we are what we claim to be.' Early Christians committed their deceased to 'cemeteries' (or sleeping places), where the dead 'waited' for the Lord's coming and their resurrection. The inscriptions and art from the catacombs, underground burial places found in Rome and around the Mediterranean world, witness to the tranquil hope with which Christians faced their own death or experienced that of their dear ones. They were not devoured by death, but rested 'in peace'—a very common inscription carved on Christian sarcophagi and tombstones. Pagan sarcophagi often carried sculpted lions and other voracious creatures to underline death's destructive nature; Christian sarcophagi and tombs sometimes carried scenes of Jesus raising to life Jairus' daughter, the son of the widow of Nain, or Lazarus—episodes that expressed and encouraged the Christ-centred hope with which Christians faced death.

From the outset, Christians accepted the once-and-for-all character of life and death. With death the story of each person assumes its complete, irreversible character, and is 'judged' by God in what came to be called 'the particular judgement'. 'Particular' judgement was understood to be passed when the individual soul separated in death from the body. The parable of the Rich Man and Lazarus (Luke 16: 19—31) and the words of the dying Jesus to the 'good thief' (Luke 23: 40—3) encouraged the idea of a particular judgement in which the soul at death knows at once its state in relationship to God. In the late Middle Ages, Christian asceticism came to include a hardy tradition that presented life as a persistent 'preparation for death'. The Imitation of Christ by Thomas a Kempis (¿.1380-1471) warned: 'You ought so to order yourself in all your thoughts and actions, as if today you were to die' (1. 23). After the catastrophe of the Black Death in the mid-fourteenth century, books on 'the art of dying' enjoyed great popularity143 and reinforced the portrayals of death in art. European cemeteries often featured the 'dance of death'; in these compositions, death, normally represented as a skeleton, led men and women, depicted in various conditions and states of life, in a dance towards the grave. Visitors to the Church of Santa Maria Novella in Florence will not easily forget the words at the foot of Masaccio's masterly portrayal of the crucifixion. A skeleton tells the viewer: 'What you are I once was. What I am you one day will be.' The warning coincides with the advice from The Imitation of Christ: 'If at

143 See J. Wicks, 'Applied Theology at the Deathbed. Luther and the Late-Medieval Tradition of the Ars moriendi ', Gregorianum , 79 (1998), 345—68.

any time you have seen another man die, realize that you must also pass the same way' (ibid.).

Down the centuries, The Imitation of Christ has fed the spiritual lives of innumerable Catholics and other Christians. It offers much more advice than the warning to 'remember death' and not forget one's mortality. But it does unmask the temptation to ignore or even deny death. At the same time, as the Second Vatican Council urged, a realistic recognition of death and the provisional nature of earthly life should not lead to a passive, world-denying disengagement. True hope should inspire Catholics to make human life even now 'more human' (Gaudium et Spes, 38), 'to build a better world based on truth and justice' (ibid. 55), and to promote 'the unity of the one human family (ibid. 56).

Earlier church councils did not have much to teach about death. The Second Council of Orange appealed to Romans 5 in presenting death as the 'punishment' for Adam's sin (DH 372; ND 505). The Council of Trent mentioned the 'power of death' as a direct consequence of sin incurred by Adam but immediately defined that same 'power of death' as the 'power of the devil' (DH 1511-12, 1521; ND 508-9, 1925; see Ch. 5). The Second Vatican Council dedicated an entire section to the 'mystery of death'. It opens by reflecting on the dread and self-questioning that the fear of death arouses, and moves to the answer that faith in Christ provides (Gaudium et Spes, 18). Far from being merely the consequence of sin, and little more than an 'enigma', death allows us to be conformed to Christ's own dying and rising (ibid. 22). Hence the Catholic Church prefers, where possible, burial to cremation; the former can express more clearly that death is not the end of human existence. This 'Easter' sense of death enjoyed its liturgical counterpart when the Second Vatican Council's Constitution on Sacred Liturgy decided that 'the rite for the burial of the dead should show more clearly the Easter character of Christian death' (Sacrosanctum Concilium, 81). In other words, a shared hope that we enter through death into Christ's risen life should characterize funeral rites.

Nowadays the presence of the Easter Candle at the casket illustrates this hope. Christ, who has been the dead person's light and life since baptism, will continue to be that light now that the deceased is born into never-ending life. This helps to retrieve the style of burial services in early Christianity, when the day of one's death was referred to as dies natalis (day of birth). Those attending such services in the fourth century symbolized their faith and their joy by wearing white. From the eighth century liturgical services turned to 'black', underscored feelings of loss, and stressed deliverance from hell and the speedy purification of sins.

With their death, individuals appear before God and face the irreversible truth of their lives. They die, one may always hope, enjoying full union with God. But are they ready for the face-to-face vision of God which will bring them eternal happiness?

2. From the second century Christians prayed to God for those who had died. On the basis of some scriptural texts, which, apart from 2 Maccabees 12: 40—5, had little direct relevance, they took for granted the efficacy of prayers for the dead. They acknowledged that many of their dear ones who had died were not yet fully prepared to enjoy at once the vision of God but needed first to pass through some post-mortem process. Eastern Christians considered this process to be a final purification, maturation, and spiritual growth. Western Christians understood it to be a process not only of purification but also of satisfying or expiating for sins—an interpretation eventually summarized by the Council of Florence in 1439:

If they [the deceased] are truly penitent and die in God's love before having satisfied by worthy fruits of penance for their sins of commission and omission, their souls are cleansed after death by purgatorial penalties. In order that they may be relieved from such penalties., the acts of intercession of the living faithful benefit them, namely the sacrifices of the Mass, prayers, alms and other works of piety which the faithful are wont to do for the other faithful according to the church's practice. (DH 1304; ND 2308; italics ours)

The Council of Florence repeated here, more or less verbatim, the teaching of the Second Council of Lyons, held in 1274. This earlier Council spoke, slightly more fully, of 'purgatorial and purifying penalties', but kept its distance from grotesque images of purgatory, legends about apparitions of souls suffering in purgatory, and the imaginary journeys there which many medieval preachers graphically described.

These two councils officially clarified and endorsed what Christians had implied for a thousand years when praying for their dead—a classic example of 'the law of praying being the law of believing' (lex orandi lex credendi). Neither council used the noun 'purgatory', let alone called purgatory a place, as Dante did when vividly describing what the travellers, Virgil and Dante himself, saw on their journey in the Divine Comedy (completed in 1320).

The First Council of Lyons, which met in 1245, had, however, spoken of 'purgatory' and 'a place of purgation' (DH 838) but refrained from indicating the 'whereabouts' of purgatory. Jacques Le Goff has argued that, since the noun 'purgatory' appeared in the twelfth century and was then accepted by the First Council of Lyons, the doctrine of purgatory itself was 'invented' in the Middle Ages by the official Church—in connection with various political and social structures and to meet new religious expectations. Nevertheless, the adjective 'purgatorial' had already been used for centuries, and Le Goff himself gathers evidence that shows how the idea emerged from prior practices and convictions: intercessory prayer for the dead, the sense that purification after death completes the process of salvation, and envisaging such a purification as distinct in time and place from heaven and hell.144 Thus the official doctrine of purgatory, far from being a teaching imposed 'from above', simply articulated the implications of what rank-and-file Christians had been practising for centuries and what Dante vividly articulated by the case of Nella Donati's prayers and tears reducing the purgatorial sufferings of her husband Forese (Purgatorio, 23. 85—8).

In the sixteenth century Luther objected to the doctrine of purgatory by at first denying its scriptural foundations, raising doubts about the state of souls in purgatory, and querying the possibility of their making expiation for their sins (DH 1487—90). He went on to deny the very existence of purgatory, since such expiation of sins after death would be incompatible with salvation coming simply through the gift of God's justifying grace. Calvin denounced the notion of purgatory as a 'deadly fiction of Satan' and a 'dreadful blasphemy' against Christ.145 The Catholic Church reacted to Luther's challenge, most notably at the Council of Trent. When explaining the nature of justification, the Council rejected the notion that after the grace of justification has been received, 'no debt of temporal punishment remains to be paid, either in this world or in the other, in purgatory, before access can be opened to the kingdom of heaven' (DH 1580; ND 1980). At its twenty-second session in 1562, when explaining the sacrifice of the Mass, the Council maintained that the Mass can be 'rightly offered' not only for the living 'but also for those who have died in Christ but are not yet wholly purified' (DH 1743; ND 1548; see DH 1753; ND 1557). The Council of Trent discussed purgatory more fully at its twenty-fifth or last session in 1563. The Council reaffirmed the existence of

144 The Birth of Purgatory (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1984).

145 Institutes of the Christian Religion , 3. 5. 6.

purgatory and the usefulness of prayers for the dead, but did not say anything about what suffering in purgatory is like or precisely how those 'in' purgatory are helped by prayers on their behalf.

When explaining the union of the pilgrim Church on earth with those who have died and gone to God, the Second Vatican Council spoke not only of those already in the glory of heaven but also of those 'still being purified' after death (Lumen Gentium, 49 and 51). Some years later, on 4 August 1999, Pope John Paul II drew together the teaching on purgatory when he stated: 'The term [purgatory] does not indicate a place, but a condition of existence. Those who, after death, exist in a state of purification, are already in the love of Christ who removes from them the remnants of imperfection.'146 One might describe those passing through purgatory as being purified by the fire of divine love. But how should one describe the condition of existence for those whose purification has been completed and who, as Dante put it, are 'pure and ready to mount to the stars' (Purgatorio, 33. 145)?

3. In the Middle Ages, church teachers and theologians commonly held that the blessed, on entering the heavenly state (either immediately after death or, if that is needed, after some post-mortem purification), enjoyed at once an immediate and eternal vision of God. The Second Council of Lyons taught this in 1274:

As for the souls of those who, after receiving holy baptism, have incurred no stain of sin whatever, and those souls who, after having contracted the stain of sin, have been cleansed, either while remaining still in their bodies or having been divested of them.they are received immediately into heaven. (DH 857; ND 26)

A vigorous controversy over the immediacy of the vision broke out, with some Catholic theologians holding that after death the blessed enjoy only the vision of Christ's glorified humanity; the vision of the tripersonal God will begin for them after the general resurrection of the dead and on the day of the general judgement.

In 1336 Pope Benedict XII put an end to this controversy by solemnly defining, in the Constitution Benedictus Deus, that the souls of the blessed see God face to face immediately after death and prior to the general resurrection. In passing, we should note that the Constitution presupposes,

146 L'Osservatore Romano (English edn., 11/18 August 1999), 7. On the way the doctrine of purgatory retains its relevance and has shaped Western views of time, see R. K. Fenn, The Persistence of Purgatory (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1995).

but does not teach, an intermediate state of bodiless souls—that is to say, a state between death and resurrection. On the earthly time-scale there is an interval between death and resurrection. Does that entail a 'period' of bodiless existence in heaven, an intermediate state for souls in purgatory, heaven, or hell that 'lasts' until the general resurrection? The vision of God enjoyed by the blessed was described by Pope Benedict as follows:

These souls have seen and see the divine essence with an intuitive vision and even face to face. The divine essence manifests itself immediately to them, plainly, clearly and openly, and in their vision they delight in the divine essence.

Moreover by this vision and delight the souls of those who have already died are truly blessed and have eternal life and rest. (DH 1000; ND 2305; italics ours)

Later Catholic teaching preferred not to describe the beatific vision as seeing the 'divine essence', but as personally seeing face to face and relating immediately to the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. In other words, the divinization that is the life of grace leads to a glorious communion with the persons of the Trinity. Thus the Council of Florence in 1439 spoke of seeing God who is 'one and three', as well as stating that the merits of the deceased would determine the degrees of intensity of their vision of the tripersonal God (DH 1305; ND 2309; italics ours). This Council did not repeat Benedict XII's language about seeing 'the divine essence', but agreed with him and differed from Eastern Christians in affirming that the vision of God enjoyed by the blessed would not be delayed until the general resurrection at the end of history.

What will heaven be like? What can we say if we follow Dante's final canto of the Paradiso in an attempt to evoke even a little of the nature of heaven? What will be the fundamental quality of heavenly life? We could 'define' the core of eternal happiness as the blessed dwelling forever with God and enjoying the immediate and fulfilling vision of the infinitely good and beautiful God. Such seeing 'face to face' rests on NT witness (1 Cor. 13: 12; 1 John 3: 2). But we need to add three comments.

First, in some way the redemption and glorification of the created world will attain their completion (Rom. 8: 18—25) and form 'the new heavens and a new earth' (2 Pet. 3: 13; Rev. 21: 1—22: 5). A transformed existence of embodied human beings will call for a transformed material environment. Not only humanity but also the whole cosmos will be transfigured through and with the glory of Christ. Second, just as the life of grace means being adopted in Christ as God's sons and daughters, so heavenly life perfectly incorporates the blessed into Christ and allows them to share in his final glorification. This is the ultimate 'being with him' which the NT promises (e.g. John 14: 3; 1 Thess. 4: 17). Heaven, according to the 1992 Catechism of the Catholic Church, 'is the blessed community of all who are perfectly incorporated into Christ' (no. 1026). Third, the change from the earthly life of grace to the heavenly life of glory brings the goal of a lifelong process of 'divinization' (see the first part of this chapter). The blessed will share in the ecstatic communion of mutual love that is the eternal life of the three divine persons. The indwelling of the Holy Spirit or life of grace will move to its heavenly climax, an intense participation in the life of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. 'Resting' fully in God we, who have been created as God's image, can at long last contemplate our divine model: 'Beloved, we are God's children now; it does not yet appear what we shall be, but we know that when he appears we shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is' (1 John 3: 2).

If such glory awaits the blessed in heaven, what has Catholic teaching to say about those who definitively close themselves to God's saving love?

4. The NT warns that the great judgement at the end of time will bring a separation between the 'good fish' and the 'bad fish' (Matt 13: 47—52), or between the 'sheep' who have cared for neighbours in distress and the 'goats' who have failed in that duty (Matt. 25: 31—46). The 'bad fish' and the 'goats' will be banished to 'eternal fire', 'eternal punishment', or 'into the outer darkness' where they 'will weep and grind their teeth' (Matt. 25: 30). On the basis of these and further biblical texts, Christians came to develop the doctrine of hell, a place or state where the devils and unrepentant sinners will suffer forever (DH 1002; ND 2307). This eternal punishment which was said to vary according to the gravity of the sins committed (DH 1306; ND 2309) was understood to consist in exclusion from God's presence (this is the pain of loss or damnation proper) and in suffering from an inextinguishable but unspecified 'fire' (see DH 443, 780; ND 1409).

Such an important creed as the Nicene-Constantinopolitan Creed of 381 did not include anything about the possibility or actuality of eternal damnation, but confined itself to professing faith in the final judgement of 'the living and the dead' and in 'the life of the world to come'. In the following century, the Pseudo-Athanasian Symbol, Quicumque, confessed that after the general resurrection and judgement 'those who have done evil will go to eternal fire' (DH 76; ND 17). In 1274 the Second Council of Lyons, in an appendix to a profession of faith, taught that even before the general resurrection of the dead, the souls of those who die in mortal sin will pass immediately after death to eternal punishment in hell (DH 858; ND 26). This movement from sober silence about hell professed by the Nicene-Constantinopolitan Creed to the details offered by the Second Council of Lyons mirrored how Christian teachers and believers had become more 'knowing' about the fate of those who seemed to die without repenting of their serious sins.

Christian literature, art, and preaching vividly filled in the official teaching. Stone carvings elaborated the parable of the wise and foolish bridesmaids (Matt. 25: 1—13), which ended with the latter group coming late and being excluded from the wedding banquet. These carvings represented the foolish bridesmaids being chained and led away by demons into hell. Painters ran riot in representing the fearful punishments meted out to the damned by the Devil and his cohorts. The journey through hell by Dante and his travelling companion, Virgil, depicted with painful brilliance the variety of sufferings that corresponded to the gravity of the sins that the damned had committed.

Nowadays, Catholic teaching speaks of hell in terms not of a punishment imposed externally by God but of a free and ultimate rejection of God. Out of respect for the freedom with which they are endowed, God never forces any person against his or her will to respond positively to the good. Given human freedom, hell remains a possibility for those who through deliberate malice refuse to love God and their neighbours. Thus, as Pope John Paul II stated, damnation or 'definitive separation from God' follows, when it is 'freely chosen by the human person and confirmed with death that seals his or her choice for ever. God's judgement ratifies this state.'147

But, unlike the many canonized and beatified men and women who are officially declared to be 'in heaven', the Catholic Church has never officially declared anyone to have been damned to hell. It makes no claims about the number, if any, of the damned. As John Paul II observed, we do not know 'whether or which human beings' are found in hell.148 We may pray that the terrible possibility will never be realized for anyone.

147 LOsservatore Romano (English edn., 4 August 1999), 7.

148 Ibid.

Unquestionably Jesus left terrifying warnings about the possible outcome for serious sin. Yet we may hope that God's saving purpose for everyone (1 Tim. 2: 3—6) will be effective and that, finally, God will be 'all in all' (1 Cor. 15: 28)—that is to say, will achieve the divine purpose of saving the whole of creation which we know to suffer and need reconciliation.

Over the centuries some Christian writers have expressed this hope. Thus Isaac of Nineveh, who was also called Isaac the Syrian and who died ¿.700, stressed the infinite goodness and love of God when he wrote:

I am of the opinion that he is going to manifest some wonderful outcome, a matter of immense and ineffable compassion.It is not [the way of] the compassionate Maker to create rational beings in order to deliver them over mercilessly to unending affliction.God is not one who requites evil, but he sets aright evil. (Homily 39, 6, 15)

5. The general resurrection, called the 'resurrection of the flesh' by many early creeds or the 'resurrection of the dead' by the Nicene-Constantinopolitan Creed of 381, was always intimately linked in the Christian faith with Christ's own resurrection from the dead. It implies the ultimate consummation of God's plan for the whole of creation and the final completion of Christ's saving work. As the ancient hymn in the Letter to the Colossians indicates, at the general resurrection the two birthrights of Christ will finally coincide: the Firstborn over all creation becomes the Firstborn from the dead, who have all been brought to everlasting life (Col. 1: 15, 18).

6. The general resurrection was also persistently connected with Christ's future coming 'to judge the living and the dead'—the ultimate act of history and hence God's final word on the whole universe. God's mysterious plan will then be complete (see Eph. 1: 3—14). The creeds did nothing else than repeat Jesus' announcement that he would come in glory at the end to judge all people—the final judgement on both mankind as a whole and each individual. What we said above about the particular judgement applies even more to the final judgement. Rather than God the judge passing sentence on each and every individual at the general judgement, the whole of humanity and all creation will definitively experience the truth about themselves in the presence of God.

7. In the late twentieth century the Second Vatican Council, by presenting freshly the general resurrection and Christ's final coming in judgement and glory, helped many believers to recover the central vision of early Christians: the Last One or Christ as the Eschatos., for whom we wait together, has priority over the last things or the eschata. The Council understood the Church to be the pilgrim people of God moving towards its final destiny and waiting for the risen Saviour to be definitively and powerfully manifested at the end (Lumen Gentium, 51).

The Council set the final future of the Church within the ultimate destiny of all humanity. The whole of humanity is moving towards its final goal, Christ's heavenly kingdom in which all people are to be united as one 'family beloved of God and of Christ their Brother' (Gaudium et Spes, 32). With Christ as the focal point, humanity as a whole and the created cosmos will be transformed and fulfilled (ibid. 39, 45). Such was the Council's renewed vision of all human beings and the entire creation finding in Christ their glorious destiny, the ultimate culmination of God's gracious self-communication. 149

149 J. Ratzinger, Eschatology: Death and Eternal Life (Washington, DC: Catholic University of America Press, 1988), which purports to be a comprehensive Catholic treatise, regrettably does not contain even one reference to the rich eschatological doctrine of Vatican II.

7 The Sacraments

We were buried with him by baptism into death, so that, just as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life. (St Paul, Rom. 6: 4) The sacrament is one thing, the power of the sacrament another. (St Augustine, In Evangelium Johannis, 26. 11)

On his way to martyrdom in Rome at the start of the second century AD, Ignatius, bishop of Antioch, wrote to 'the Church which is in Smyrna of Asia' to thank them for the welcome they had given him. Ignatius sent abundant greetings 'in the blameless Spirit and in the Word of God' to that community, which he called 'the Church of God the Father, and of the beloved Jesus Christ, which has obtained mercy in every gift, which.has been rendered most worthy of God and bearer of holiness (hagiophomsf. Just as his other name, 'Theo-phoros', made Ignatius a 'God-bearer', so the Church which had hosted him was a 'bearer of holiness' (introd.).

What were the gifts that, through the Spirit and the Word of God, made the Church a 'bearer of holiness'? In that same Epistle to the Smyrnaeans Ignatius mentioned baptism and the Eucharist, which were later to be called 'sacraments' and which continue to be celebrated by the overwhelming majority of Christians. Like the Orthodox and unlike many Protestants, the Catholic Church recognizes seven sacraments: baptism, confirmation, Eucharist, penance, anointing of the sick, orders, and matrimony. Unquestionably the divine gifts celebrated by Ignatius and such NT writers as St Paul are not limited to the seven sacraments. But they are seven privileged means that have been entrusted to his Church by

Christ and make his saving work (Ch. 4) personally present for men and women until the end of time. These sacraments are both perceptible signs (which can be seen, heard, tasted, touched, and smelled), central means for the common worship of God, and special vehicles of grace (Ch. 6) provided by the glorified Christ. They confer and strengthen the life of grace in the particular form that each sacrament symbolizes. How the Catholic sacramental system came to be and what the seven sacraments mean provide the themes for this chapter.150

We begin with the rites of Christian initiation: baptism, confirmation, and Eucharist. The intrinsic connection between these three sacraments causes them together to constitute full initiation into Christian life—something firmly expressed by the Second Vatican Council (Ad Gentes, 14). Like rites of passage in various human communities, these ecclesial initiation rites mark a movement from one kind of identity and status to another. The initiated 'die' to a former way of life and are 'resurrected' or 'reborn' to another. Right from NT times Christian initiation rites, or at least baptism, have been interpreted as rites of death, burial, and resurrection (Rom. 6: 1—14) and 'rebirth' (John 3: 5; Titus 3: 5). In a way that has resembled (without being identical with) other rites of passage, the stages of Christian initiation have included one of separation (entrance to the catechumenate), of preparation or transition when catechumens are instructed in Christian teaching and life (and learn to pray with the community), and of celebration (baptism, confirmation, and First Communion) by which the catechumens 'put on' Christ (Gal. 3: 26—7) and are incorporated into the 'one body' of the community (1 Cor. 12: 13). The process of Christian initiation has been followed by a period of 'mystagogy' or explanation of the mysteries, when the bishop or some other pastor spells out the fuller significance of the mysteries received at initiation and of the 'mystery' celebrated in every liturgy or public act of common worship. We look first at the history of Christian initiation,151 and at its recent restoration for Catholics mandated by the Second Vatican Council (Sacrosanctum Concilium, 64).

150 See L.-M. Chauvet, The Sacraments (Collegeville, Minn.: Liturgical Press, 2001).

151 See M. E. Johnson, The Rites of Christian Initiation: Their Evolution and Interpretation (Collegeville, Minn.: Liturgical Press, 1999). P. Cramer, Baptism and Change in the early Middle Ages c.200—c.1150 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1993).

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