Blessed Fr. Sopocko
Mercy of God: Contained in the Institution of the Holy Sacraments
The following excerpt is chapter twenty-four of the book God Is Mercy (Grail Publications, 1955), by Fr. Michael Sopocko. It was translated by the Marians of the Immaculate Conception:
"Unless a man be born again of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter into the kingdom of God"
— John 3:5
I. THE Holy Sacraments are visible signs of the Divine grace. As the visible signs, composed of mater and form, they are simple elements, without life; it is God's Mercy which makes them the instruments of grace. All the graces of the sacraments have one main end, our likeness to Christ, imparting to us his supernatural life, our gradual transformation into Him. Since sanctifying grace is the basis of supernatural life, the main work of the Sacraments consists in supplying us with it. Another effect of some Sacraments is a "Character" through which the soul is given part in the triple dignity of Christ: as a citizen of the Kingdom of God (Bapism), as a knight in this Kingdom (Confirmation), and as a priest of Christ (Holy Orders). The third result of the Sacraments is a communication or increase of all the supernatural virtues and gifts which flow from sanctifying grace as from their source. The fourth effect is the gift of special auxiliary graces which we need in various situations of our state of life. Finally, the fifth result is the indwelling in the soul of the Holy Ghost Himself, the author of all supernatural gifts.
The efficacy of the Sacraments rests on some immutable laws, on the Divine action independent of the person who ministers the Sacraments and even of him who receives them. Strictly speaking, the person receiving the Sacraments is only obliged to put no obstacles to obstruct their working in him. On man's side, there is no cause of operation of the grace but only a preparation and a condition for obtaining it. God Himself operates in the Sacraments and this is enough. Consequently, the Sacraments produce the grace by the Divine power and efficacious force. In God's plan, they are the true causes of grace. They are powerful instruments with which God acts to produce grace in our hearts. For the Sacraments are operations effected in Christ's name, and, thanks to His decree and order, by virtue of His infinite merits, they infallibly induce God to grant grace. They produce this result by the Divine power and reach beyond all natural causes.
II. THE Sacraments are the work of the special Mercy of God for, thought them, the operation of the grace is effected completely, instantly, with inexhaustible abundance, with compassionate application to all conditions of men in all times and in every spiritual circumstances. In some cases one Sacrament replaces another and produces its effect. For instance, according to a well-established opinion, the Eucharist can, to a certain degree, bring about the effects of the Sacrament of Penance. Extreme Unction completes all other Sacraments with respect to taking away actual sins; moreover, like the Sacrament of Penance, it restores those merits which the soul had acquired before it fell into grave sin. In other words, that which sin broke down and destroyed is raised again by the vivifying power of the Sacraments. The holy Sacraments are the laws established by God to endure and to be instruments through which Divine mercy pours streams of grace upon the Church, the whole of the world and all men in all ages. By virtue and authority of this Mercy the faithful, through Baptism, become heirs to the Kingdom of God. The sinner obtains forgiveness of faults in the Sacraments of Penance and Extreme Unction. They become Christ's soldiers in Confirmation. Chosen souls partake in the very priesthood of Christ by consecrating and receiving His true Body. Who can comprehend how deeply the work of the Sacraments penetrates the Church and the entire world? How many crimes are stamped out by them, how many punishments averted from men, how many joys they cause, how many sufferings they calm and soothe? Indeed the Sacraments continually renew the face of the earth, change this valley of tears into a paradise and fill the Church with graces, making it God's garden, all green and full of flowers and ripening fruit.
Let us revere the Sacraments which are so sublime, so infallible so strong, so various in their operation, so inexhaustible in their effects. These sources of grace will never dry up even though we cease to receive them or begin to abuse them. They are our consolation in life and after death. Let us thank the Merciful Christ for them and be wise in profiting by them.