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Chapter 30: Sacraments in General and Baptism

Question G: What is the recipient’s role in sacramental cooperation?

1. As was pointed out above, the Word became flesh so that creation might be enriched, for its own excellence and God’s glory, by having a share in its own renewal and transformation into fulfillment in the Lord Jesus.

2. Similarly, through the sacraments Jesus now extends his redemptive act, crowned with divine glory and power, so that we created persons might be enriched for our own excellence and God’s greater glory by having a personal share in our own justification and sanctification and those of our fellows.

3. From this point of view, the purpose of the sacramental economy is the action of the recipient (as well as the action of the minister as a personal act). This action is impossible without the sacrament. Sacraments are designed precisely to allow God’s children to help him accomplish what only he can do.

4. By receiving the sacraments, we freely accept and grow in divine life; we are formed by a direct relationship with God who presents himself in the form of palpable actions; and we worship God fittingly in union with the redemptive act of our Lord in glory (see SC 59).18 In this way we are allowed to share in the priesthood of Jesus (see LG 10). By sacramental cooperation, we participate in a divine act suited to us as children of God, by means of a human act suited to our condition as children who are not yet what we shall be.

5. The actions of the recipients of the sacraments also have another aspect. The sacraments nourish Christian life (see SC 59). This life as a whole includes not only the acts by which the sacraments are received but acts by which all virtues are exercised (see LG 11). Thus, a Christian’s acts of sacramental participation in Jesus’ redemptive act comprise the medium which enables him or her to make the whole of life into a living sacrifice (see Rom 12.1).

6. Precisely how the sacraments organize Christian life will be the subject of the remainder of this chapter (with respect to baptism) and of the next three chapters. However, the general and fundamental point is just this: The acts by which we receive the sacraments enable us to bring everything else in ourselves into perfect integration with charity. Thus, we can live totally oriented toward God through Jesus as mediator, consciously and freely cooperating with Jesus as our firstborn elder brother, and abiding in Jesus as the unifying Lord whose fulfillment is the object of God’s plan.

The obviously subordinate role of our actions in receiving the sacraments is one respect in which these actions are especially suited to us. Even though we are allowed to help in the work of God, the structure of the sacraments makes it clear to us that our contribution is insignificant in comparison with his, for we only bring about the symbol of what the Spirit does in the sacrament. If we did not have sacraments, we might well imagine that our role—for example, in believing—is more important than it is. In fact, the manner in which we cooperate with God in his salvific work clearly shows that our role is more like that of the children who help mother than that of the mother who, together with the father, raises the children.

18. John Paul II, op. cit, sec. 7 (124–26; 6–7), makes the point that worship centered in the Eucharist springs from intimacy and gives all Christian life a sacramental style. In other words, Christian life as a whole is lived in cooperation with God who is present, very much as marriage is lived in cooperation with a spouse whom one loves because of communion in one flesh.