The Seven Sacraments
and the Seven Weeks of Lent
from Sermons for Lent
By A.A. Taliaferro, F.R.C., D.D.
Copyright 1989 by A.A. Taliaferro
TODAY I would like to talk about the great steps that are taken in the evolution of the soul of man, the development of the spiritual nature, and I would like to relate this to the Lenten season. As you very well know, in the historic Catholic and Orthodox churches and in Protestantism in America the Lenten season is observed in one way or another. In ancient times the Lenten season was a series of steps to observe the victory of the spiritual man over the various aspects of his nature and the work that he must do in the world. As you very well know, also, Lent is divided into seven weeks. There are supposed to be forty days in Lent, but these forty days are exclusive of Sundays, which are feast days. The season itself is usually meaningless to most people. They give up candy and ice cream and a few things that will help them with their figure and also in their emotional relationships, and then after Easter they go back to the same old way of living. Lent is usually a meaningless mumbo jumbo because it is not concerned in most people's minds with the real aspect of our spiritual self.
The beginning of Lent is a reminder on Ash Wednesday that we are spiritual beings, not physical beings. We are reminded of this when the statement is made: "Remember O man that dust thou art, and unto dust shalt thou return." The physical body is dust. It is not an actual thing at all. It is simply the stuff of the material earth that is held together for a certain number of years for the purpose of expressing the attributes of the spiritual man, which is the soul. The spiritual man is the real man, and so the emphasis during Lent is supposed to be laid upon the spiritual self.
Because we do not do this, there are certain great weaknesses, or sins, as the church has always called them, which are manifesting. These are the deadly sins, the sins that actually cause the death of the spiritual self. The death of the spiritual self simply means that we lose the consciousness or awareness of ourselves as souls. We do not know ourselves as souls, and therefore we are dead. We are spiritually dead if we are not aware of ourselves as spiritual beings, able and actually destined to survive the dissolution of the material body. The body is going to return to dust. The spiritual self is made of a different kind of energy. The energy of the material body we call material energy. It is made up of different forms of atomic matter. This term, atomic matter, is a modern scientific term, but it was also used by the ancient Greeks around 600 B.C. There is a different kind of energy, however, and this is soul energy. It is the energy of life, and it is constantly imparting its power through the heart and through the brain and through the nervous system in order to bring us into the awareness of ourselves as spiritual beings. Now, this great life power or energy is the manifestation of God himself. The great power of God, the soul, is man's true spiritual being. We call this the son of God. We are all, therefore, children of God.
In the seven sacraments we see the seven steps that are analogous to the seven weeks of Lent. First, we are baptized. Just as we are born physically at our material birth, so we are spiritually born at baptism. And spiritual birth, which is the consciousness of the soul, is the baptismal experience-or it is the moment in human life when we are initiated into the new awareness or rebirth. Now the word initiation literally means "to go into." This means literally, of course, to begin something new. It is a step taken in a new direction. To put it into modern language, it simply means that there is a new approach, or a new attitude, toward something which in the past has meant to us something less than the ultimate awareness. The power of this great initiation is simply that it reminds us of the feast of Christmas, and the feast of Christmas is the historical reference to the birth of Christ. It is our energy. It is our power. It is the awareness of ourselves as spiritual beings that is awakened at the moment of baptism.
The word baptism, therefore, refers to the fact that we are no longer just human beings; we are no longer physical beings, but we are spiritual beings. We are made of spiritual power, spiritual energy. The religion of the future must bear down upon the fact-actually, it must be the very essence of our educational system in the future-that we are not just physical beings but are made of spiritual energy, ant that this spiritual power will some day be manipulated and understood by the mind of man, just as the material world is understood in a certain way by the mind of man today.
So, the first feast day of Lent is the great celebration of our victory over the material earth. The power of this victory cannot be overestimated, because in the very earliest part of the Old Testament the promise was made that we will be the great dominators of the material earth. We shall have dominion over the face of the earth. The dominion that we are talking about is, of course, lordship. But we cannot have lordship over the material earth until we conquer the material aspect of the self. The first week, therefore, is the victory over this material self.
The second aspect, the second initiation, is the second great victory of the emotional and mental self that is the power of confirmation. We conquer the material world by conquering our desire, and this actually happens in baptism. But as yet, just as a little child does not know who he is when he is first born, so at the earliest moment of baptism we actually do not understand with our mind what is going on, which is the reason why so many people after they are baptized are simply "still-reborn." They simply are not reborn alive. They are dead, just as the person is dead who never actually catches on to who he is. So we see that confirmation in the historic church is the gift of the spirit which awakens the mind and makes it possible for the mind to understand what is happening. Of course, in actual living this takes a very long time, and it is not only long but arduous and very confusing. Most people simply close their minds, after a certain period of time during a lifetime, and refuse to follow any longer any kind of urge to understand because it is confusing; it takes time. And the mind of modern man is so concerned with doing what he must do in order to live in the material world that he deems it of no importance at all to understand himself as a spiritual being. It is only after the material world and material experiences have become boring, have produced a very definite and powerful state of ennui, a sort of emptiness and boringness, that we finally begin to ask the question, "What is the meaning of life itself?" This meaning-the idea of meaning that we are trying to express here-is the urge of the soul to cause the mind, which came from the soul in the first place, to try to direct itself to the world of meaning. So we ask the question and immediately, if we are sincere and if we wait for the answer, we receive the answer. And it is from the soul, or from the spirit of God.
This actually is the great gift of confirmation. The gift of the spirit is wisdom and understanding. It is true godliness. It is knowledge. It is God-likeness. It is the great power of holy fear; that is, the desire to do the right thing and under no circumstances to do the wrong thing if we can possibly keep from it or if we know better. The great gifts of the power of God must be known in the mind. Just as we know what to eat for breakfast or what we must do to earn our daily bread, so we must also render unto God the things that are God's. In becoming aware of these great powers of the spirit, or the soul, we are able to realize what St. Paul and the person of Christ himself were talking about when they referred constantly to the powers of the spirit ultimately revealing to us the will of the Father. Confirmation is not just an empty rite, although it has become that. It was originally not at all just an empty rite in which the heavy hands of the bishop were laid upon the person's head and did certain things to him which he did not understand, but which he felt made a nice, sweet ceremony. The great power of the gift of confirmation is that it causes the meaning of the spiritual life to take form. The word "confirmation" is actually the word "to conform." This means that it becomes something which has substance, an actual realization. It is an awareness of the spiritual self. It is the awareness of the actual mental process by which we can use the energies of the self and the wisdom that comes from the self.
The third initiation, which is the initiation of bread and wine which Christ himself created in a new way, is simply the continual realization that the life of God is flowing through us as beings living on the surface of this earth, that each of us is a member of this great body which is the body of Christ, and that although we are separated in our material bodies, or it appears that we are separated, in actual fact we are very close together. We are actually participating and living together in a material substance. This material substance, even though I am here and you are there, is still filling the so-called space between us. This material substance is mainly the energy of electricity, through which thoughts and great energies of feeling and spiritual awareness can be sent.
When an individual becomes conscious of this great power which we call Christ, he then becomes a center or focal point. Groups of individuals can become a center or focal point. This was the original meaning of the statement, "Where two or three of you are gathered together in my name"-that is, conscious of me, and for the purpose of receiving what I have to give to you-"there I will be with you, in your midst; I will be within you and inside you. I will therefore use you to communicate through you to others." Now, this is simply a reference to the symbol of the flowing of bread and wine-that is, the flowing of the blood, causing the physical body to be alive and the conductor of the life force. The word blood literally, of course, means life. "Where the blood is there is the life" is a very ancient statement and even today, in German, the word for life is blut, which means blood. This is the power of the flowing of this great spiritual energy, which we call the spirit of God, through all human beings, and it binds us together in ways that our five senses, at the present time in our history, simply cannot understand. But when the church historically has urged us to make our Holy Communion daily, we have been urged to remind ourselves that this flowing of the blood is the means by which we live, and that we live together as a body. This body is the body of Christ; and it is the whole of humanity. All of humanity is the body of Christ. Christ lives in his body.
Now, this is a tremendous concept, but it is an actual fact, and it awaits the discovery of individuals and groups of individuals such as yourselves. It is not enough just to repeat empty words and read scriptures and say prayers. The actual awareness of this is very important. As a matter of fact, it is of utmost importance, because without it human beings simply cannot understand why they are here on the surface of this earth. What is important is the awareness of this flowing of the life; the daily living; the power of intelligence; the ability to be there at the right time to do the right thing at the right moment; the ability to realize that our life is literally what it should be and that we are being directed by this great power. Just as the blood in the physical body is going constantly through all of the cells and all of the organs and causes them to do and be exactly what they should be, creating the substance of the body and communicating the life of the body and holding the body together, so the intention of the sacramental principle is that we understand this life.
You can go into a state of meditation, and you can become aware, with your mind, of the life of Christ flowing in and through you and all of humanity; and it is possible for you, through meditation, to become so aware of this that you can bind together the material and emotional and mental aspects of yourself. You can form of yourself an integrated or synthesized entity, and you then become what we call a spiritual self, an identity. You are conscious of yourself as an I. The word identity means the entity of the I, and you have to realize this. In the Bible there is constant reference to the fact that we were once upon a time members of the human race. We were made out of the dust of the earth. We were separated from the great power of Christ; but now we are a new creation, or a new creature, after we have been incorporated into the body of Christ. This is a reference to the ancient terms in the ancient types of teaching, in the ancient universities called the mystery schools of Egypt, of India, and of the Hebrews themselves, and of China and Greece and even Rome. As late as in the time of Rome and in the early Christian church, the statement was constantly made that we are the means by which Christ is manifested in the world. And here we are, the great power of his being.
We must become aware, therefore. It is a process of awareness. We first of all conquer the material earth. We conquer our material body. In other words, we begin to understand, and we begin to direct it to do the will and the bidding of the spirit. As Christ has said over and over again, "It is not my will, but it is the will of my Father that I do." As St. Paul says, "It is not I but it is Christ that doeth these works in me." The great idea here is that we become conscious of something in us that is directing us. We do not try to deny the aspects of the material body and all of the operations of the material body and the importance of the material world. This is not an attempt to negate the activities of the material world and all of our business and economic and social living; but we must realize that the purpose of all of this on the material level is to manifest eventually a supreme spiritual will of love and wisdom, so that people living together can come to realize what this is. The result of not doing this is simply war and famine and pestilence and disease and the destruction of civilization and culture faster than we can build them up.
The three great initiations, therefore, are baptism, confirmation, and holy communion. Incidentally, they are actually called this in the traditional teaching of the Episcopal church, for one. In the Anglican communion the word "initiation" is used over and over again. It means the use of the sacrament which is the outer form, the outer and visible sign of an inward and spiritual grace that is operating in us, and it is the means by which we receive this great power. It is a means by which we are assured that it is happening. When you read the definition of the word "sacrament," it simply means that every physical action, if we become conscious of the source of the action from the power of the spirit, becomes a holy or sacred thing; that is, it has meaning and purpose according to the great power of the soul.
There are four minor sacraments. They are holy matrimony, the power of holy orders, the power of healing, and the power of holy penance. These four have to do with four types of initiation, and the last four weeks of Lent are concerned with our ability to use these great sacraments in order to overcome the weakness in our nature. And then, having crucified the lower self on Good Friday, on Easter morning we are raised from the consciousness of the material, emotional, and mental self alone and we become conscious of ourselves with Christ as spiritual selves or spiritual beings.
The purpose of holy matrimony in ancient times was to cause the individual who was aware of himself in his lower being-the physical, emotional, and mental self-to become conscious of his absolute and perfect union with Christ or the soul. Holy matrimony, as we practice it as human beings, unites once again the two aspects of ourselves, the so-called masculine and feminine self. We search for the other half of ourselves. If we are masculine, we search for and are restless until we find the opposite or feminine component of ourselves. We are actually looking for this until we find it, just as the Bible says we look for God until we find him. The holy marriage between the lower self and the higher self is referred to in the Book of Common Prayer of the Episcopal church in the service of holy matrimony itself, where the marriage is referred to as "the union that is betwixt Christ and his church." This union betwixt Christ and his church is the union between the soul and the material, emotional, and mental self -in other words, the lower personality. When this marriage takes place we have a great spiritual illumination, as in the case of great spiritual beings and the great geniuses of the past who have contributed so much to the welfare of the human race.
The sacrament of holy orders is, in the church, specifically the sacrament whereby the priest is set aside to do a special spiritual work. He is given the power of the Holy Ghost and the direction of the inspiration of God in order to do this. But it originally meant that all human beings sooner or later come to realize what they must do in order to live their life according to the direction of the spirit. In other words, every person is destined to do a certain thing in his lifetime. During his lifetime this destiny is revealed to him if he can understand how the spirit is working in his mind. When he understands this, then he reacts and begins to do the work which the spirit of God wants him to do. It directs him into whatever, according to St. Paul, is his so-called talent-that which he has been prepared in ancient times and down to the present time to do. All of it is summed up in this lifetime, and that which can serve man best he is enabled and directed to do. That which would be of the greatest benefit to him is what he is enabled to do. This is holy orders. This is the only thing that can make order out of your life. It is the only thing that can put order into most jumbled and very confused lives. Each individual has a meaning and purpose, whether he knows it or not. And all he has to do is to look for this and to realize it and then to begin to live it. The essence of sincerity is simply that we are what we are and we are sincere about it. There is no dissembling. There is no lying. There is no deceitfulness. There is absolutely no hiding of the truth that is in us. We are living according to what we really are on the inside. And when we can do this, then we are living according to the power of the soul, and this is holy orders. We are given our orders by God-and this is where the phrase comes from.
Now, holy unction is the healing process; and there is only one way in which a person can actually be healed, and that is to be able, in his mind, to create what we call an ideal and to live up to that ideal and to throw himself into it. By this he can become whole once again. In other words, he is healed. The sacrament of healing is the great initiation of the consciousness into the realization that there is a goal in life, there is an ideal, and we must strive for this ideal. The star in the story of the birth of Christ, the leading of the star of Bethlehem, is the symbol of this ideal.
The seventh initiation is the initiation of holy penance. This simply means that in our material world, in all of our actions, in all of our emotional and mental and physical activities and powers, we are constantly living out this orderliness. And being imperfect human beings, and not yet perfectly understanding, we are constantly having to correct what we have done in the past. We are constantly having to redirect and reunderstand and reappraise. Therefore we must understand what we have done wrong. We must admit it. We must understand that if a mistake has been made we must correct it. In ancient times this was the law of compensation; in the Orient it was the law of karma. It is, in modern times, the great law of penance. If an individual does not understand this he simply, as he grows older, becomes more and more cynical and more and more confused and unhappy. It is what modern, very simple religious phraseology says- and it means this-we must be right with God; and if you are not right with God there is absolutely nothing anyone can do for you.
Now these seven steps are the seven sacraments. This is old stuff, but you must realize that it is the livingness of all this in the consciousness which makes it possible to understand that we have dominion over the face of the earth, over the physical body; that by the power of the soul we have the ability to be initiated into the meaning of desire. We have the power to be initiated into the meaning of truth or the mind. Desire must become love, and the mind must become truth. We are given these great powers in baptism and confirmation, and for our whole life in time and space, from the beginning of birth until the end of the incarnation, it is necessary for us to live by this life. In other words, we receive the body and blood of Christ. It is necessary for us to unite ourselves to the bride of Christ. We become the bride of Christ. We must unite ourselves to Christ himself.
It is necessary that we know and live the specific purpose for which we are born. Now, this does not mean necessarily the physical work we do; but there is a reason for our meeting every person we meet. Otherwise the great mind that runs this universe would never have made it possible for us to meet that person. Therefore there is meaning in that relationship, and it is up to us to find out what this is all about, so that we can grow. Therefore holy orders is a brand new initiation.
We must seek for what we call the ideal. This is the goal down the way. It is the far-distant goal which ever recedes into the future, because we never actually reach a static state of perfection. There is always growth; but this ideal is the star, and we must identify ourselves with the ideal. For Christians this ideal is Christ, and if you profess and call yourself a Christian, or have in the past, I would like to ask you the question: Do you think about Christ, and do you identify with him once a day? And if you don't, then why don't you? If you happen to be a Hindu, then why don't you identify with the person of Krishna? If you are a Buddhist, why don't you identify with the person of Buddha? If you happen to be a Zoroastrian, why don't you identify with the person of Zoroaster himself? St. Paul said, "If you live up to your highest ideal, if you identify with the most perfect person you can possibly imagine"-for Christians this is Christ-"then by your faith in this identification you are saved." This means that you become conscious of Christ in you and the perfection of your own soul, and because you are conscious of this perfection in your own soul, you are in a state of salvation. In other words, you are evolving and spiritually becoming more and more aware of the spiritual nature. And then, of course, we must ever be correcting our daily living. We must actually be aware of the fact that no matter how perfect or how good we think things are, it is possible for us always to improve upon them. This is the idealistic approach, but it is a practical approach too, because unless it is made practical there can never be any change or evolution or progress in the spiritual understanding of man.
Now all of this, my friends, is based upon the principle that we are souls, that we are spiritual beings. This is seen in the sacraments, and it is seen in the story of the Bible from the creation of Adam through the great revelation of the love of God and his fatherhood in the person of Abraham, which means father of all; the giving of the law in the person of Moses and the great revelation of the meaning of the mind; the great spiritual revelations of the prophets; the love, the aspirational qualities, leading up to the birth of Christ which is Christmas; and Christ revealing the meaning of the spiritual life for all humanity as the only means by which we can conquer the material earth and all of the unhappiness and sadness and the terrible corrosiveness of material living. The only way we can do this is by becoming conscious of the laws which he revealed. He revealed this in the law of baptism. In the great feast of the Transfiguration we see the perfection of this idea that Christ is really a spiritual being and we are one with him forever. He is always with us, even unto the end of the age or the end of the universe. He is with us forever and ever. It is impossible for us not to be with Christ. But it is important for us to realize that we are becoming more and more like him, and the day will come when we will have evolved into the spiritually perfect state-that is, relatively speaking-which is the state of the soul. The New Testament is the great and wonderful revelation in very inspired terms of the meaning of this-how it happens, the rules by which the individual can actually and surely come into this state. By faith and by knowledge and by wisdom it is possible for a person to enjoy God and to know him and love him forever.
Now, without this there is no happiness in human life, and let's be frank about it. As one great teacher has said, individuals who are not conscious of themselves as souls are walking cadavers. They are simply cadaverous bipeds. The individual who thinks of himself as an empty shell which, as the Communists actually think and teach, comes to an end when the physical body is dissolved, does not recognize the real essence and substance of the universe, which is the life of God. It is the spiritual self. It is the thing that keeps the heart beating. It is the thing that manufactures or generates the so-called electrical impulse which gives consciousness to the brain and life to the heart. It is the thing that motivates and makes real the essence of our universe in terms of light and love and power. The Lenten season can mean a great deal to you if you will use it, but of course this takes a little effort. Just a few minutes a day, if you knew what to do, would mean a lot for you. Giving up something is not going to do any good, but taking on a new aspect or a new attitude might do you a little good during Lent.
I sincerely hope that the Lenten season will reveal all this to you, as time goes on, and especially during Holy Week. In that week we come to Maundy Thursday, which literally means "the day of the commandment," the mandate, the Thursday of the law-the giving of the law that you "love one another even as I have loved you. And I have loved you so much," says Christ, "that I will even wash your feet." (From this came the ceremony of washing the feet of the poor, a ceremony called maunde that gave its name to Maundy Thursday.) "And therefore I give my blood and my body to you, and I give it to you in love." On Maundy Thursday, therefore, he reveals the great spiritual principle of life itself as it flows in and through us, and as it is revealed to us in the present day through what we call philosophy and psychology and religion. And then on Good Friday he shows us how, eventually, we must sacrifice the lower self in order to come into the consciousness of the higher self, which is the soul. As Father Chardin says, eventually we are going to be reborn on a higher level, just as the butterfly is born out of the lower level of the caterpillar state. Then on Easter morning we come into the full use, and the full consciousness, of the spiritual self; and we live eternally and in glory with the person of Christ himself.
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