My thoughts and reflections on my Catholic Faith, Fulton Sheen, the problem of suffering, and books

Thursday, May 31, 2012

"The Sacraments are the drama of God' (Sheen)

"The Sacraments are the drama of God."  This was the May 20 Sheen quote from the official Facebook page for Sheen (

Thanks to Google Books, I found the book from which that quote is taken, Sheen's 1946 Preface to Religion:
Was it not Goethe who said: "The highest cannot be spoken; it can only be acted"?  The Sacraments are the drama of God.  He conceived them; He acts them; He elevates through them.  Their efficacy does not depend on our subjective belief; they give Divine Life by the mere fact that we receive them.  If we enter into them worthily, we will find ourselves lifted up into the supernatural life and perfected in it.  If we enter into these Divine realities lightly, this does not mean that nothing happens.[1]

[1]Fulton J. Sheen, Preface to Religion, (New York: P. J. Kenedy & Sons, 1946), 110.  Emphasis added.
The point Sheen is making here (I think) is that the Sacraments act ex opere operato, that is, they "produce grace of themselves, apart and distinct from the grace dependent upon the intention of the person conferring the sacrament; the latter effect is designated by the phrase ex opere operantis" (The New Catholic Dictionary

From this aspect, the Sacraments are primarily the action of God; God is the One Who thought of the Sacraments, Who assigned their matter; He is the One Who gives grace through the Sacraments, and the One Who raises men to Himself through them.

In his later (1958) book Life of Christ, Sheen sees the view of the Mass as a drama in a negative light, insofar as this view of the Mass could emphasize the Mass as a mere representation of the Sacrifice of the Cross, and not identical with the Sacrifice of the Cross:
[His Apostles] might have done two things with His death which would have fallen so short of the Way of Divinity.  They might have regarded His redemptive death as a drama presented once in history like the assassination of Lincoln.  In that case, it would have been only an incident, not a Redemption--the tragic end of a man, not the Salvation of humanity.  Regrettably, this is the way so many look upon the Cross of Christ, forgetting His Resurrection and the pouring-out of the merits of His Cross in the Memorial Action He ordered and commanded.  In such a case, His death would be only like a national Memorial Day and nothing more. 
Or they might have regarded it as a drama which was played only once, but one which ought often to be recalled only through meditating on its details.  In this case, they would go back and read the accounts of the drama critics who lived at the time, namely, Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John.  This would be only a literary recall of His death, as Plato records the death of Socrates, and would have made the death of Our Lord no different from the death of any man. (280)
I will leave y'all with these words of Sheen, feeling inadequate and not-theologically-astute enough to comment any further on Sheen's other words (in The Cross and the Crisis, Moods and Truths, Calvary and the Mass, The Priest is Not His Own, Those Mysterious Priests, The World's First Love, The Life of All Living, The Seven Last Words, The Mystical Body, Missions and the World Crisis, and God and War) on the sacraments as drama.  But, 30 years from now, if I go on to study Fulton Sheen more (I would like to study his sacramental theology!), I will dig this blog post up and expand it.

Until then, God Love you!
Yours in all things Fulton Sheen-related, in all things Theological, and in all things Library-related,

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