Thursday, May 26, 2011

Book Review: The Sacraments: A Continuing Encounter with Christ

The "seven holy signs of God's grace"

The year 1976 saw the publication of a book entitled The Teaching of Christ, which presents a thorough overview of the Catholic faith. Several editions of this work have been printed over the years. It has been translated into more than thirteen languages and distributed around the world. The Teaching of Christ has inspired many conversions to the Catholic religion, and has served to deepen and strengthen the faith of those who are already members of the Church. Thirty-five years later, Our Sunday Visitor, the publisher of The Teaching of Christ, has selected and published material from this larger work focusing specifically on the seven Sacraments and presented it in a smaller volume entitled The Sacraments: A Continuing Encounter with Christ.

The arrangement of this book would function well in a classroom or study-group setting. There are individual chapters devoted to each the seven Sacraments, with an introductory chapter on Liturgy. The text of each chapter is further divided into brief sections conveniently labeled with multiple headings and subheadings for easy reference. The entire book is just over 150 pages – just enough space to adequately introduce someone to basic Catholic sacramental theology without overwhelming those who are new to the subject. Scattered throughout are sidebars that serve to clarify terms or to flesh out certain ideas and to give additional background information. While the format is very much like a school text book, the authors avoid the clunky, utilitarian feel that this format can sometimes yield. It is a surprisingly enjoyable read.

My only complaint (if I can call it a “complaint”) is that I did not have access to the larger work from which this book was excerpted. This volume gives the reader a glimpse at why The Teaching of Christ has endured for so many years as a source of inspiration and education in the faith. The writing style is both faith-filled and informative, touching both the heart and the mind - just as the Catholic faith itself does. Reading The Sacraments proved to be a more spiritually rewarding experience than one might expect from a book that at first glance seems like a condensed text book. I can only assume that the full text of The Teaching of Christ contains more of the same solid and inspirational writing.

This smaller book would be ideal for use in a group study on the Sacraments aimed at adult or high school level participants. The material is presented in a simple, easy-to-read style. However it does require at least a basic working knowledge of some theological and technical terms, (though many of these terms are clarified within the text). The Sacraments: A Continuing Encounter with Christ provides a solid, well written introduction to the seven Sacraments of the Catholic Church. If one is searching for a treatment of other areas of the Catholic faith (perhaps a candidate enrolled in RCIA wanting a complete review of Catholic teaching) the more comprehensive The Teaching of Christ might prove to be a better choice. But as a mini Catechism of the Sacrament this would serve well in a group or for personal use. I would definitely loan this book to those interested in deepening their understanding of the Sacraments without delving into a more complex theological treatise.

As Archbishop Donald Cardinal Wuerl notes in the introduction, the Sacraments are the most visible, outward signs of what it means to be Catholic. They are the tangible realities in which we encounter Christ. When we think of Catholicism, we think of the Mass, of Baptism, of the Liturgical celebrations of the Church. We are introduced to Christ and His Church through the Sacramental signs, words, gestures, and symbols, and these become for us the reality of Christ Himself present to us in the physical world. How fitting it is then that this book, The Sacraments: A Continuing Encounter with Christ, provides an introduction to the larger work, The Teaching of Christ, just as the Sacraments themselves open up to us the reality of the Church. It becomes a point of contact, a doorway through which we may pass to a broader understanding of the faith. With updated references to the Catechism of the Catholic Church and ample lists of additional materials for further reading, The Sacraments provides a wonderful foundation on which to build a continuing encounter with Christ.

[This review was written as part of the Catholic book reviewer program from The Catholic Company. Visit The Catholic Company to find more information on The Sacraments: A Continuing Encounter with Christ. They are also a great source for a Catechism of the Catholic Church or a Catholic Bible.]

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