Liturgy and sacraments are at the heart of Catholic life and central to the ministry of the priest. Yet they are the source of endless trouble because of the regulations that surround their celebration. Many regulations defy common sense and are more honoured in the breach than the observance. Not without a little anxiety, though.
The last fifty years have seen endless fights over the Mass, marriage, confession, baptism and confirmation. And the priest forever bit looks a little tattered since so many have left after ordination.
The source of all this is a sacramental theology which seems non-negotiable even in the face of pastoral necessity and changing circumstances.
Twenty five years ago Joseph Martos wrote “Doors to the Sacred” showing that the Seven Sacraments had a history of development – always in response to the contemporary culture. Jesus had not thought them all up at the Last Supper. A little history is very liberating.
Martos now offers us “Deconstructing Sacramental Theology and Reconstructing Catholic Ritual”. The theology itself has a history. Sacraments start off as ritual celebrations, practices develop to meet changing circumstances, the theology rationalises the practice and – it becomes a law. The next adaptation to changing circumstances meets obstruction because of the law. Catch 22!
This theology development is well researched – but tedious. Someone told him this after reading a draft. So, he added a final section called “A Summary of the Argument” This section is brilliant. Read it first and then read the rest for reassurance or forget it.
Martos’s insights will leave you liberated and relieved if you are an empathetic pastor but disturbed if you are a fundamentalist.