The Sacramental Economy

Centenary of Holy Cross Church, Sheffield

As Catholics we live within what is called the “sacramental economy”. This may seem a strange expression – we think of ‘economy’ as a financial reality. This is what the Catholic Catechism says (please excuse the dense theology but this very succinctly expresses our faith).

The Church was made manifest to the world on the day of Pentecost by the outpouring of the Holy Spirit.

The gift of the Spirit ushers in a new era in the “dispensation of the mystery” the age of the Church, during which Christ manifests, makes present, and communicates his work of salvation through the liturgy of his Church, “until he comes.”

In this age of the Church, Christ now lives and acts in and with his Church, in a new way appropriate to this new age.

He acts through the sacraments in what the common Tradition of the East and the West calls “the sacramental economy”; this is the communication (or “dispensation”) of the fruits of Christ’s Paschal mystery in the celebration of the Church’s “sacramental” liturgy. (CCC 1076)

We live in the era of the Church in which the saving work of Christ is advanced in the lives of believers through the liturgy and the sacraments. This is known as the sacramental economy.

I would like to further explore this with you and for you.

When Jesus gave the Great Commission to his Apostles at the Ascension he told them to go out to all the world and preach the Gospel. He instructed them to baptise them in the Name of the Father, and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.

Preaching the Gospel was to bring people to faith. Then, they were to be baptised. In other words, they were to receive a sacrament. Thus, when Peter preached at Pentecost the people responded by asking, “what must we do brothers?”. St Peter did not hesitate, he said that they must repent of their sins and be baptised.

Sacraments are the means by which we come under Christ’s saving action on Calvary. We are a sacramental church. The ministry of the Church revolves around the celebration of the liturgy and the seven sacraments.

The principal ministers of the sacraments are priests. We cannot have the church Christ intended without priests.

The greatest of the Sacraments, of course, is the Eucharist. It realises the injunction of the Lord at the Last Supper, “do this in memory of me”.

Priests are essential for the sacramental economy. Priests baptise, consecrate the bread and wine, absolve and anoint. They are ministers of the saving work of Christ.

The Church relies upon priests for its life and ministry. Thus, when I came to Tasmania nine years ago one of my key commitments was to provide sufficient priests to meet the pastoral needs of the people.

Thanks be to God there has been an increase in the number of priests serving the parishes of the Archdiocese. I rejoice that I have been able to place priests in parishes that did not have a resident priest. We have been able to bring in priests from overseas, like Fr Jaison. We have had nine ordinations, as in the case of Fr Steven. I will ordain two more deacons in the coming month.

Since the beginnings of the church here in Tasmania, bishops have sent out priests to various centres across the island and enabled parishes to be formed. Central to the mission of a priest is to gather the people together for the celebration of the sacraments, especially the Mass.

Priests live among the people in a presbytery, often near the parish church. People know that he is their priest. They call him ‘father’ because he is a spiritual father for the Catholic community of the parish.

Today we celebrate the centenary of this church. It is extraordinary to read accounts of the laying of the foundation stone by Archbishop Barry on November 13, 1921. Preparation for the building of the church had been carried out by Fr T J O’Donnell, Parish Priest of Latrobe. He had managed to raise one thousand pounds.

What is remarkable is that a special train ran from Devonport with 500 people aboard. Mass and a luncheon to follow took place in the town hall. Then some 300 people processed down to this site for the laying of the foundation stone.

One year later, in November 1922, the church was opened. The Advocate carried a lengthy report and praised the quality of the building, noting among other things that the stained-glass windows carried depictions of the passion of Christ.

The newspaper commented, “On the whole, it may be said that the new church, which is the best building in the town of Sheffield, is one of the finest ecclesiastical buildings on the North-West Coast, and one of which the Catholic community have every reason to be proud”.

Here the sacraments have been celebrated for one hundred years. Here people have come under divine grace.

Today as we mark this significant anniversary of Holy Cross we heard in the readings a beautiful admonition of St Paul. There are words here that we can take to heart:

May our Lord Jesus Christ himself, and God our Father who have given us his love and, through his grace, such inexhaustible comfort and such sure hope, comfort you and strengthen you in everything good that you do or say.

Archbishop Julian Porteous

Sunday, 6 November 2022

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