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Rites and Sacraments

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"Ritual is the re-enactment of myth" - Jessie Weston

Rites, Rituals, Ceremonies and Sacraments

Are rites, ceremonies and sacraments really necessary, do they even enhance faith, or do they get in the way of true belief as a substitute for intellectual responsibility?

Premise: Christianity has developed and fostered new rites, ceremonies and sacraments as legitimate and necessary accessories to the religious experience and the spiritual life, but these are not founded upon any legitimate instruction or interpretation of what the J-person said.

Let us define a rite as being different from a ceremony.  Thus a ceremony would be constituted as being for the purpose of honoring someone important and meaningful such as a birthday, and a rite would be directed toward producing some kind of “magic” or superstitional (unreal) action or benefit.  Most rites are intended to impress God and/or achieve something magical or unreal, such as transubstantiation and its supposed efficacy.

The Sacraments

A sacrament in Christianity is a special rite or ceremony that is considered to have been inaugurated by Jesus to bring God's grace to the believer that participates. Roman Catholicism actually believes that these are generally NECESSARY for salvation, and that they are efficacious in the sanctification process for the believer. There are 7 that have been adopted by Roman and Orthodox denominations, with the Orthodox admitting several more. The primary seven are:

  • Baptism

  • Confirmation

  • Holy Eucharist

  • Penance

  • Anointing of the Sick

  • Holy Orders

  • Matrimony

Let's take a close look at each one of these and see if Jesus instructed us to have these, or if not, what level of support there is from his words for instituting them.

Baptism

Also known as Christening, baptism usually involves some form of water application to the head, whether that be by dunking the whole body, or pouring or sprinkling water on the head. Most of Christendom with the exception of a few denominations accept that baptism is necessary for salvation or inclusion into heaven. Two types of baptism have been accepted that do not either depend on the ceremony or the application of water to the head, the first being the "baptism of blood" that allowed unbaptized martyrs to be saved.

Commentary: The Catholic Church at some point also accepted what they call a "baptism of desire" whereby those that die while preparing for the sacrament are saved. This is especially helpful in those cases—more than one—where a candidate standing in a mountain stream ready to be dunked by his ordained baptizer was struck by lightning and killed.
     Jesus never baptized anyone, never mentioned any efficacy, nor put his stamp of approval upon this Old Testament ritual activity. His claim was that he came to baptize with fervor and spirit. However, in Matthew 28:19  it has him saying, "When you go, you will make disciples in all the nations, baptizing them with the authority of the Father. the son and the holy spirit, teaching them to keep all things that I have instructed." We need not have a problem here with trivializing the words of Jesus to mean dunking in water, because the original essence of the word meant to soak or saturate, and it was always symbolic of this.

Confirmation

Also known as Chrismation, this rite involves the anointing of the persons head with a sacred oil mixed with balsam and consecrated by a bishop. The purpose is to further enhance, strengthen or reinforce what ostensibly happens with baptism. Various aspect of this ceremony have been changed over time, such as a "warrior slap" becoming a touch on the cheek or a friendly gesture.

Commentary: Sounds like a kind of religiously fabricated insurance. This sacrament is NOT based on anything that Jesus said or instituted, but is based on Acts 8:14-17. Enough said!

Holy Eucharist

This sacrament is thought by Christendom to have been inaugurated and commanded by Jesus at the last supper when he said in regard to eating the bread, "Do this for remembrance of me." It consists of, while in congregation, the ritual eating of wheat bread, usually unleavened, and the ritual drinking of grape juice or wine. The bread symbolizes his flesh and the wine symbolizes his blood, based on his own words, "Take, eat. This is my body" and "Drink of it...This is my blood."

Commentary: The issue of course is whether he meant this to be a one-time thing at that moment to help them be mindful during the passion play up until his crucifixion, or whether he meant them to continue to do it until some proposed second coming.
    First of all it is telling that this account is NOT in the book of John, and the directive "Do this for remembrance of me"  is only found in the book of Luke. It is quite probable that Luke listened to and recorded an embellished account. This is the very thinnest justification of a sacrament, given that sacraments are not valid in the first place, it is a stretch to hear Jesus instituting an ongoing rite or ceremony, and that the whole "Second Coming" scenario is a misunderstanding regarding his words about returning from the grave.

Penance

Also known as Confession or Reconciliation, because the four part sacrament consists of Contrition, Confession, Absolution and Reconciliation, Satisfaction or Penance. The objective ostensibly is spiritual healing after a person has been baptized and committed further sin, and reconciliation with God.

Commentary: In the Lord's Prayer, Jesus has us claiming the dismissal of our obligations as we forgive or dismiss those of others. There is nothing further said by Jesus in the Gospels about the other aspects except he told the paralytic man, "Be comforted, my son, your sins are being continuously dismissed."
     In Luke 13:5 Jesus says, "Unless you repent you will all likewise perish." To repent means to change direction after you have come to the conclusion that you are proceeding in the wrong way, but this has nothing to do with the concept of penance.

Anointing of the Sick

Also can be known, when given in mortal peril, as Extreme Unction or Final Anointing as part of the Last Rites. It amounts to anointing the sick with special oil that has been sacralized or blessed by a priest or bishop.

Commentary: Of course Jesus said absolutely nothing to initiate and support this sacrament, and it is just a carryover from an ancient practice.

Holy Orders

Division of certain men or acolytes through "ordination" into an "order" or legal hierarchy of usually 3 levels, those being in Catholicism, top down: bishops, priests and Deacons. Martin Luther could not help but categorize every facet of the congregation into a hierarchy headed by a bishop.

Commentary: In Luke 22:24,25  But he said to them, "The kings of the gentiles lord it over them, and these exercising authority over them are called benefactors. But with you, it should not be this way." This statement by Jesus in conjunction with Matthew 23:8-12 "You do not be called Teacher, for you are all brothers. And call no man on earth Father..." should absolutely preclude or interdict any and all forms of authoritarian hierarchy among true believers. And yet, these forms are universal in Christendom, indicating a deep seated failure to understand the Gospel message.
     As far as the beginning of the formal organization, it began early when Peter appointed himself to formally replace the twelfth  disciple upon the demise of Judas, thus setting the disciples up as special cabal of leaders. This was the beginning of inequality and hierarchies in the movement.

Matrimony

Also known as Marriage, it is a formal, ostensibly God-blessed commitment of a man and women to engage in a permanent relationship, one that authorizes the responsible sharing of sex, setting the roles, having children and preparing them as a team for service to the mission of the church. It is usually connected to a binding legal contract that either specifies or implies co-ownership of any material wealth and property.

Commentary: Most of what Jesus said about marriage was when he used the word  in a common saying, "marrying and giving in marriage", which means carrying life on as usual. used in conjunction with "eating and drinking" they meant carrying on as usual while being oblivious to momentous developments. The balance of what he said was rather negative, and when the disciples asked him if it was better to no marry, he said it was for those that could handle it. Very enigmatic to Christians, not any real solid basis for this as any thing more than a secular or legal contract.

Further general commentary:

In the teaching of the Roman Catholic Church, "the sacraments are efficacious signs of grace, instituted by Christ and entrusted to the Church, by which divine life is dispensed to us. The visible rites by which the sacraments are celebrated signify and make present the graces proper to each sacrament. They bear fruit in those who receive them with the required dispositions."[12]

The Church teaches that the effect of the sacraments comes ex opere operato, by the very fact of being administered, regardless of the personal holiness of the minister administering it.[13] However, as indicated in this definition of the sacraments given by the Catechism of the Catholic Church, a recipient's own lack of proper disposition to receive the grace conveyed can block a sacrament's effectiveness in that person. The sacraments presuppose faith and through their words and ritual elements, nourish, strengthen and give expression to faith.[14]

Though not every individual has to receive every sacrament, the Church affirms that, for believers as a whole, the sacraments are necessary for salvation, as the modes of grace divinely instituted by Christ himself.[15] Through each of them, Christ bestows that sacrament's particular grace, such as incorporation into Christ and the Church, forgiveness of sins, or consecration for a particular service.

The Rites, Ceremonies and Sacraments

When it comes to the rites, ceremonies and sacraments, most of Christendom actually believes that these have some efficacy in and of themselves. Despite what even Paul said about Sabbaths and circumcision, they don't seem to have a clue that these were ever and only symbols and unless the reality behind the symbols is grasped, they are worse than worthless. Imagine the glorious sons and daughters of God mucking around with these trappings and thinking that they are glorifying God. See: Idolatry

The tragedy is that most find it easier to embrace and perform these outward, empty, mundane symbolic rites than it is for them to change their concept of God to one based on Jesus. Not so good, is it?

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