Praying for the Church (Part 6):
The first of the historic “marks of the Church” – indicators of Christ’s presence in it – is the ministry of the Word, faithfully preached; the second is the ministry of the Sacraments, faithfully administered; and so we pray for “all Bishops and other Ministers, that they may… rightly and duly administer thy holy Sacraments”. The Sacraments are not just “object lessons”, symbolic ceremonies, merely showing us what God does. They are “effectual signs”, whereby God does what he shows us. Together with the Word, they are means of grace: the word makes the grace givenby Christ in the gospel audible, the sacraments administered make it visible and tangible.
In the Sacraments the grace that has been proclaimed to all in the Word is now applied to each recipient individually: “N, I baptize thee…”; “The body of our Lord Jesus Christ which was given for thee, preserve thy body and soul unto everlasting life: take and eat this in remembrance that Christ died for thee…”. Faith requires we know that Christ died not only “for many”, but also “for thee”. Yet while the Sacraments apply the grace of the gospel individually, they also knit us together corporately. We are baptized into Christ, and made living members of Christ; in receiving the body of Christ, we are made “very members incorporate of his mystical body, which is the blessed company of all faithful people”.
What does it mean to administer the Sacraments “rightly and duly”? On the part of the priest who officiates, it implies conformity to the institution of Christ, and the prescribed order of the Church (cf Article XIX, XXV, XXVI). The Sacraments are Christ’s, and must be administered and received according
to his promise and command. In the 1st century, in the 16th, and in the 21st, this is not to be taken for granted: Christians are often tempted to turn the Sacraments to their own purposes, and in so doing, obscure or obstruct the right use of these means of the grace.
“Rightly and duly” also refers to the inward dispositions of those who receive the sacraments. Communicants, for instance, must be baptized and confirmed, or “ready and desirous” to be confirmed. Moreover, in preparation they are to “To examine themselves, whether they repent them truly of their former sins, steadfastly purposing to lead a new life; have a lively faith in God’s mercy through Christ, with a thankful remembrance of his death; and be in charity with all men” (Catechism). To receive the outward sign without repentance, faith, and charity, is to receive that sign unto condemnation.
It is important to note the traditional Catholic teaching first forged in the Donatist controversy in the 5th century, and re-affirmed in the Reformation’s Article XXVI: that as the Sacraments are Christ’s, and not the priest’s, their effectiveness in those who receive them rightly is not diminished by the ethical shortcomings of the priest who administers them. To refuse the sacraments on account of the character of the priest who administers them is contrary to the Catholic faith.
As to the structure of ministerial order, the petition is not explicit. While the ordinal affirms that “from the Apostles’ time there have been these Orders of Ministers in Christ’s Church – Bishops, Priests, and Deacons” (p. 529), the wording in the Prayer for the Church speaks of “Bishops and other ministers”. Anglicans have taken the view that ordination by bishops in historic succession is required, as an outward sign of continuity in faith and teaching from the time of the apostles. Unfortunately, apostolic succession of orders does not guarantee apostolic continuity of faith. Though some insist that apostolic succession belongs to the esse of the Church (its very being) others affirm that as Christ alone is the esse of the Church, apostolic succession belongs rather to its plene esse (full being) or bene esse (well being). This view is preferable, as it affirms the value of apostolic succession without effectively unchurching Christians who do not have it.