The Eighth Sacrament

Valentin de Boulogne - Saint Paul Writing His Epistles (c. 1618 - 1620)

I feel a bit like Paul writing Galatians as I sit down to this. I will try not to come across as quite as apoplectic as he does in that most beloved of Pauline Epistles.

Last night I received a phone call from a teacher who is attending the CCRS.

BRES states:
The Catholic Certificate in Religious Studies (CCRS) is managed and awarded by the Board of Religious Studies on behalf of the Bishops’ Conference of England and Wales. It was introduced in 1991 to replace its predecessors, the Catholic Teachers’ Certificate and the Certificate in Religious Education. 
Any person who is or wishes to be involved in Catholic education and formation may apply for this course. This includes those involved in religious education in schools, parish catechesis and other ministries in the Church and anyone who wishes to follow the course for faith development or personal interest. 
The course seeks to ensure that participants have at least a basic knowledge and understanding of the beliefs of the Catholic Faith. It also provides a basis for further study.
My friend had returned from the course a little confused:
"In shock about the eighth Sacrament! Is that the Church's best kept secret?" 
...they asked, obviously sure I would immediately know what they were referring to. I didn't, but I had an inkling it might be some new age stuff. Perhaps 'empowerment of the laity', 'being kind', the bestowal of 'grace to survive appalling hymns', or even 'breakfast', all suggestions I received on Twitter this morning.

In an attempt to be magnanimous, and aware that I didn't have an accurate transcript of what was said, I had suggested that this could have been something to do with the fact that the Early Church Fathers, like St. Ephraim and Augustine believed that sacramentality proceeds beyond seven sacraments. A sacrament is essentially 'an encounter with God.'

Before the 1950's the understanding of sacraments was as objects; things that give us grace. The etymology of the word “sacramentum” comes from a sacred or holy thing (res sacrans or res sacra) and comes to modern usage via the oath of loyalty taken by Roman soldiers. In Roman legal language, the word referred to “a pledge deposited in the Temple by disputing parties.” (Ott, L. Fundamentals of Catholic Dogma (Illinois: Tan, 1974), p. 325.)

In the Vulgate, sacramentum is the rendering of the Greek word μυστήριον, which is what the sacraments were referred to as in the early Church. In St. Paul’s usage, it refers to “God’s hidden plan of salvation which is now revealed.” (Ephesians 3:4).

Some historians state that in the early Church, these hidden mysteries were kept hidden from the pagans — the so-called Disciplina arcani — lest they become objects of ridicule. As the Age of Persecution ended, the secrecy was gradually relaxed, but the term continued to be used. Originally the term "Mystery" was used in both the East and the West, as demonstrated by the "Mystagogical Homilies" of St. Cyril of Jerusalem and the work, "On the Mysteries" by St. Ambrose of Milan. The terms Sacrament and Sacramental are terms which the Western Church has carefully defined in Canon Law. Thus, for instance, the Council of Trent declared there to be exactly seven sacraments. The Eastern Churches, in contrast, have never defined the Mysteries in such precise terms.

St. Augustine listed several "sacraments" other than the liturgical ones. These are moments and actions which are sacramental and in which Christ is present. Like "big T and little t" tradition it may be possible to speak of "Big S and little s" sacraments.

Unfortunately on this occasion it was a little more serious than that. They were being taught that the eighth Sacrament is Coronation.

There is conceivably a historical basis for this assertion. In Mediaeval Christendom, as for modern-day Catholicism and Orthodoxy, God was held to act through material persons. In the person of His priests, He brings Himself onto the altar under the appearance of bread and wine; He takes fallen mankind and trans-forms them via the waters of Baptism into His adopted children; He hears the sins of said children in Confession and absolves them after giving them suitable penance. In the person of His bishops, He consecrates more bishops, confirms mature Christians, ordains priests, dubbed knights, consecrates bells, churches, graveyards, and other things.

He also crowned kings. In the person of His kings, he dispensed justice and mercy in the temporal sphere. In the persons of His Popes and Emperors, He administered the others. Yet, mediaeval man was no less aware of the obvious human failings of these folk than we would be (nor at all reluctant to denounce them). It is just that they were much more aware of the divine nature of their callings than we are.

Because of this, and the sacred nature of the anointing which constituted Coronation, it was sometimes referred to as the eighth sacrament.

However, the Catechism of the Catholic Church clearly states:
Christ instituted the sacraments of the new law. There are seven: Baptism, Confirmation (or Chrismation), the Eucharist, Penance, the Anointing of the Sick, Holy Orders and Matrimony. The seven sacraments touch all the stages and all the important moments of Christian life: they give birth and increase, healing and mission to the Christian's life of faith. There is thus a certain resemblance between the stages of natural life and the stages of the spiritual life. CCC 1210
Further more, Canon I of Session VII of the Council of Trent states:
If any one saith, that the sacraments of the New Law were not all instituted by Jesus Christ, our Lord; or, that they are more, or less, than seven, to wit, Baptism, Confirmation, the Eucharist, Penance, Extreme Unction, Order, and Matrimony; or even that any one of these seven is not truly and properly a sacrament; let him be anathema.
I cannot help but wonder why the fellow teaching at this session felt the need to obfuscate a clear issue. Was he trying to use shock an awe tactics to interest the people he was teaching? Did he mitigate truth in order to make something more interesting or palatable somehow? Apparently there were at least two RE teachers on the course with my friend who accepted what he said without question. What will they be teaching the children at their schools?

Further, as Catechists we are called on to impart to others what we have received, unaltered. We must be aware of the difference between theology (which is faith seeking understanding) and doctrine. Surely fundamental to any honest academic process is a firm understanding of what is actually being taught?

This is a small thing I guess, but I do worry that it is a symptom of the malaise that affects our schools. Imagine what we could do if teachers actually knew, practised, and loved their faith to the extent where they could impart it with zeal?

In closing, I wanted to add a comment from my friend who attended the course:
Though the use of conjecture, anecdotes and a la moding of the facts may be noble from a pedagogical point of view; the teachers of the faith need to be singing from the same hymn sheet. In this country there is a shortage of mathematicians, physicists and engineers. In the many studies that have taken place of why our young academics are turning their backs on the sciences, quite sensibly no one has ever suggested that we should masquerade the facts, water them down or make them more subjective in the name of popularity. The same should apply to religious study; anything that ventures into the subjective should be highlighted as being so and not intertwined with the objective truth.
St. Thomas called Theology the Queen of the Sciences, and I was always taught that it must be subject to the utmost rigour. When I teach others, I have a duty to explain the wonderful teaching of mother Church. I struggle to do this justice, but I try my best, and feel deeply blessed to have the opportunity to serve God and my community in doing so. If I don't know, I look it up, and I know that sometimes I must get it wrong. But I never, ever, deliberately mislead.

Anathema sit!


  1. "In the many studies that have taken place of why our young academics are turning their backs on the sciences, quite sensibly no one has every suggested that we should masquerade the facts, water them down or make them more subjective in the name of popularity".

    Ummm... Actually they do. It's known as the science National Curriculum which has become a tool for government propaganda (recycling, anyone?)

  2. In exploring this idea of eight sacrament I found another view from Pope Francis that warrants consideration:

  3. thanks for sharing this post.. Actually they do. It's known as the science National Curriculum which has become a tool for government propaganda..


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