Project Canterbury

The Sacramental Teaching of the Lord's Prayer
by the Rev. Edward A. Larrabee, S.T.B.

Milwaukee: The Young Churchman, 1889.


In what has been said thus far, the effort has been made to show that the Lord's Prayer naturally lends itself to an explication of the Sacramental system, as each of its seven petitions is applied in turn to its corresponding Mystery. If there be such a correspondence as we have endeavoured to point out, we have the witness of the Lord's Prayer to the number of the Sacraments as seven. They have been so reckoned by the Universal Church, the teaching of the Greek Church, and even of the Oriental Separatists, being the same, on this point, with that of Western Christendom.

The Church of England is by no means to be accounted as at variance here with the rest of Catholic Christendom. She has never, as is sometimes quietly assumed, limited the term Sacrament to Baptism and the Holy Eucharist, but in her Twenty-fifth Article speaks of the other "five commonly called Sacraments, that is to say Confirmation, Penance, Orders, Matrimony and Extreme Unction." ["It is none of the doctrine of the Church of England that there are two Sacraments only, but that of those rituals commanded in Scripture, which the ecclesiastical use calls sacraments (by a word of art), two only are generally necessary to salvation--" Bishop Jeremy Taylor, quoted in Grueber's Catechism on the Seven Sacraments or Mysteries of the Church of Christ.] While she does not give to these the term Sacraments of the Gospel, which she applies, as a special title of honour, to the "two only which are generally necessary to salvation," she still calls them Sacraments, both here and in the Homilies. There is no escaping from the fact that the two Sacraments of the Gospel, and those five "commonly called Sacraments," make up the sum of seven; so that, as far as the English Church has spoken at all on this matter, she has declared, as plainly as the Council of Trent itself, that the Sacraments of the New Law, as they are instituted by Jesus Christ, are to be accounted as seven, neither more nor less.

Now, while the Lord's Prayer thus sets forth the number of the Sacraments, the order in which they are presented, by the correspondences we have traced, is systematic and symmetrical. Thus the central place is given to the Holy Eucharist by its correspondence with the petition "Give us this day our daily Bread," which stands midway in the Lord's Prayer. This is in accordance with the place given to the Sacrament of the Altar in Theological science, as the centre of the whole sacramental system, "the Tree of Life in the midst of the Paradise of God." And this because, as it has been, said, the Holy Eucharist "contains not as other Sacraments a little stream of grace, but Christ Himself, the Fountain-head of all grace."

Taking then the Holy Eucharist, as the centre of the entire group, and viewing the other Sacraments as arranged by their corresponding petitions in reference to It, we discover striking correspondences in the order and system of their arrangement. Holy Baptism, the initial Sacrament of the Church, which as conferring the first grace upon souls, till then in the death of sin, is called the "Sacrament of the dead," is presented first: while Extreme Unction, the last touch of Holy Church as the soul departs the body, fittingly falls last by its correspondence with the petition "Deliver us from evil." This is all the more remarkable because the correspondence between the Sacrament and the petition is in each case so obvious as to require no-pressure whatever by way of forcing an analogy.

But the harmony and the scientific exactness of the whole arrangement grow more wonderful as we proceed in our examination. Thus the order in which the Sacraments are arranged for us by the reference of each to its appropriate petition, gives us, around the Holy Eucharist as a centre, two groups of Sacraments, each group containing three. Examination will show that there is nothing haphazard or of chance in this arrangement, but that there is method in every detail, and that each group is symmetrical both in itself and with reference to the other.

The sacraments composing the first group are those which correspond with the first three petitions of the Prayer, those petitions which, as we have seen, place us in turn before each Person of the Adorable Trinity. It is remarkable that they are the three Sacraments which Theology distinguishes from the rest as conferring character, and which as leaving an indelible impress on the soul, are received but once, and once for all. Holy Baptism, Holy Confirmation and Holy Orders are thus set apart in a group by themselves, by virtue of their correspondence with the petitions which speak of the Name, the Kingdom and the Will of God, a correspondence which is the more striking in the light of the definition given by S. Thomas to character, as a "mark of distinction by means of an eternal impress stamped upon the rational soul, and, after the manner of an image, conforming the trinity in the creature to that Trinity by Whom he is both created and recreated." [Summa, P. III. Qu. 63. art 3.]

The gift of character is thus received only through Sacramental union with Christ Himself, Who is the Brightness of the Father's Glory, the "Express Image'' (charakter) of His Person. Accordingly, as S. Thomas says again, "Character is a certain sacramental participation, on the part of the faithful, in the Priesthood of Christ;" from which he points out that character is indelible since of Christ it is said, "Thou art a Priest forever."

Taking now the second group of three, we have as corresponding to the last three petitions, Penance, Matrimony and Unction. Each group preserves the distinction recognized in Theology between those Sacraments which are ordained with primary reference to the Church as a Community, and those whose end is the perfection of the individual soul. To the first class belong Orders and Matrimony, each of which is presented as the second in its group. The first and third in either group are Sacraments having reference to the perfection of the individual soul. The first group gives us Baptism and its complement, Confirmation, Sacraments which in Theological language are of necessity, per se, to the perfection of the individual soul: the second group presents, as correlatives with these, Penance and its complement, Unction, which are classified in Theology as of necessity, per accidens, for the removal of post-baptismal sin. The cross correspondence between these two groups is also remarkable. Baptism in the first group corresponds with Penance in the second, giving us. as in a pair, the two Sacraments ordained for the remission of sins, the one as giving first grace, the other as restoring that grace when it has been lost. Orders, by this cross correspondence, is correlative with Matrimony, giving us again, as in a pair, the two Sacraments distinguished from the rest as states of life, and having reference to the corporate perfection of the Church. Confirmation and Unction are in the same way coupled as a third pair, and are thus presented together as both being Sacraments of Unction, the first, that "Unction from the Holy One" spoken of by S. John (I. S. John ii. 20, 27). which is for the work of life; the other, distinguished from it as extreme or final Unction, which prepares the soul for death.

All these distinctions and classifications, thus suggested by the Lord's Prayer, gather around the Holy Eucharist as a centre. It is concerned in them all, while It is above them all. Unique in its central place It is distinct from other Sacraments while binding them all together, is Itself necessary, both for the body corporate and for the individual soul, both in the accident of sin, and before the accident of sin, both in the beginning and the completing of every Sacramental gift.

Have we not a type of this whole marvellous system, in the seven branched candlestick which Moses was commanded to make for the Sanctuary?

"Thou shalt make a candlestick of pure gold: of beaten work shall the candlestick be made. His shaft and his branches, his bowls, his knops and his flowers shall be of the same. And six branches shall come out of the sides of it; three branches of the candlestick out of the one side; and three branches of the candlestick out of the other side. * * * * Their knops and their branches shall be of the same: all it shall be one beaten work of pure gold" (Ex. xxv. 31, 32, 30).

The foundation of the Sacramental system is the Incarnation of the Son of God. The Sacramental system grows out of, and is of a piece with that mystery whereby God was made Man. This is the pure gold out of which it is wrought, from which it cannot be separated even in thought. "All shall be of the same," "all one beaten work of pure gold."

In the midst of the branches, springs the mystery of the Holy Eucharist, the direct extension of the Incarnation, and Itself the central shaft around which all other mysteries are grouped, to which they are all referred, and by which they are all sustained in relation to that Incarnate Son of God from Whom alike they all proceed.

Project Canterbury