When we read the Old Testament, we see the pattern of how God revealed himself to his chosen people. He spoke miraculously to one man in a remote setting, such as speaking to Abraham or sending him three angels. God also spoke through the prophets, such as speaking to Moses on Mt. Sinai and communicating through him the Ten Commandments and then the rest of the Mosaic Law. Salvation history has a repeated cycle of prophets sent to steer the wayward people of God back to his commandments, with renewals of the Covenant at various times to seal them as his people.
Along the way, the stories of the relationship between God and his people were written down, and we have books of the Bible like Genesis and Exodus and the books of the Kings. Other books, more meditative than narrative, were added to the Holy Scriptures, such as the Book of Sirach and other wisdom books.
Wisdom literature might have been the Adult Faith Formation of that day and age, as it examined the question of how to live well as a religious person. Sirach, like other wisdom writers, set “fear of the Lord” as the beginning of the answer to that question. “Fear of the Lord” is at the heart of a good and fruitful relationship with God, as it makes crystal clear who is God and who is not. As Monsignor Lopez taught the students at St. Pius X Catholic High School, “there is a god and you are not him.” Once we get that right, we are better positioned to grow closer to God. And that is what God wants from us.
Sirach goes on to explain that those who do fear the Lord – those who are in a proper relationship with him – keep his commandments. At the time of Sirach, this meant observing all the rules and rituals of the Mosaic Law.
As Christians, we understand that Jesus Christ is the fulfillment of the Law and he established a New Covenant. In his long teaching in the Upper Room on Holy Thursday recorded by St. John, he explains that love of Christ means keeping his commandments. The first commandment is to love Him and obey Him, and the second is to take care of others out of love. So in a sense, there is really no break between the Old Testament and the New Testament. But there is development in how the commandments are to be followed on a daily basis. With the Mosaic Law now fulfilled, what in the age of the Church takes its place?
The answer is the sacramental life. Jesus gave more commandments than the two we just covered. In the Upper Room on Holy Thursday, he initiated the new central act of worship and participation in his grace: the Mass. And he said, “Do this in remembrance of me.” When he said, “This is my body” as he held a piece of bread, he introduced the sacramental life. A sacrament is a visible sign of invisible grace. It is a mysterious presence of God’s grace. God’s grace is truly and really present in a sacrament, even as he continues to be pure spirit. All Seven Sacraments were established by Jesus Christ during His Ministry and have been in use by the Church from its inception. The Sacraments provide grace, from the sacrificial death of Christ on the Cross, to the faithful throughout their lives, from birth to death. Grace strengthens the bond between Christ and his disciples. Grace is the main thing needed for us to grow in holiness, which is the universal call. Grace sanctifies us – it makes us more holy. Growing in holiness is the key to being saved and spending eternity with God in heaven.
Reception of the Sacraments in accord with the teaching of the Church is the ordinary means of salvation for all the faithful. This is an important aspect of the sacramental life: he we do not believe, we cannot receive the grace. The disposition of the recipient is important. This is why non-Catholics should not receive Holy Communion; as non-Catholics they officially do not believe in the Real Presence and it would be scandalous for us to offer it to them if we believe in the Real Presence and the apostolic mark of the Church that hands down the deposit of faith from Jesus and the Apostles.
Jesus instituted the sacraments. Most times that was consecrating an existing practice, such as baptism and holy matrimony. Other times it was a new thing, such as eucharist. In every sacrament, there is a minister; most of the time that minister is an ordained minister. In every sacrament, there is a clear definition of the form and the matter, such as the words that are prayed and the material used in the rite.