Thursday, June 15, 2017

The Effects of the Sacraments in Brideshead Revisited

On the Homiletic & Pastoral Review website, Sr. Albert Marie Surmanski, O. P., writes about the Anointing of the Sick/Extreme Unction that Lord Marchmain receives at the end of Charles Rider's story of his interactions with the family at Brideshead:

Several of the details in this description are inaccurate: anointing of the sick is given with blessed oil of the sick, not chrism; priests anoint with their own hands, not cotton balls, but the power of the sacrament is described with consummate skill. Lord Marchmain is moved by the sacrament to accept salvific sealing with the cross of Christ. His life finds its reconciliation by being finally blessed by the power of the cross which he had been fleeing for years. The image of the rending of the veil (cf. Matt 27:51) evokes the power of Christ’s death which is present, the unveiling of the merciful presence of God, and the tremendous change that the sacrament brings to Lord Marchmain’s soul. Lord Marchmain dies soon afterwards—his desperate fear of death is no more. In embracing the reality of Christ’s cross, in accepting his own sinfulness as forgivable, he has entered the freedom he has always sought.

Fr. Mackay takes on a tremendous dignity as the instrument of Christ’s mercy in this sacrament, truly acting in the person of Christ the head of the Church. His return to his jocular, simple personality in the subsequent paragraphs is so striking as to almost be funny. This contrast says something very true and also very comforting about the priestly vocation. The priest bears Christ, it is true, and images Christ, but the power on which he ultimately relies is the power of Christ himself. No matter how holy and good a priest is, there will always be a “gap” between his human limitations and Christ’s perfection, but it is a gap which Christ’s power will always bridge in the sacraments.

Even the prayer of Charles is significant. Describing the anointing of the sick the Catechism says: “By celebrating this sacrament the Church, in the communion of saints, intercedes for the benefit of the sick person, and he, for his part, through the grace of this sacrament, contributes to the sanctification of the Church.”26 Although the intercession of the Church for the sick is primarily expressed through the prayers of the priest, Charles and Julia, as baptized Christians, contribute by their prayers. In turn, Lord Marchmain’s acceptance of grace also impacts his family. Participating in the deathbed scene leads Julia to abandon her intentions to marrying Charles, and eventually brings Charles to the faith.

Read the rest there. This is an excellent teaching example of the effects of the Sacraments. If we cooperate with them, they change us and infuse us with Grace!

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