Sacraments Mediate God’s Presence Vol. 1, No. 23

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In the world of a social mass, man (of a lower order) in an attempt to encounter man (of a higher order) needs to follow a due process. For instance, for the SUG governor of the University of Nigeria Nsukka to see the Enugu State governor, the former must have to follow a due process. The same is applicable to CWO president in Nigeria, who wants to have an audience with the Roman Pontiff. The major content of this due process is mediation. Far more significantly, for man to encounter God, more often than not, mediation is necessary. Not just because they are of unequal party like that of SUG governor and Enugu State governor but rather the experience of God by human beings, in general, is a peculiar kind of experience. God is a spiritual, transcendent being and not a reality that falls within the objective experience of human beings. He is an object of faith. In faith, we deal with a reality that cannot be subjected to the empirical realm of human experience. Although God lies outside of the natural experience of men and women, He can be experienced within the spatio-temporal context of men and women. Nevertheless, the experience of God must be a religious kind of experience. By religious experience, we refer to an encounter with a realty that is ungraspable and fades from sight (yet felt). In such experience, one becomes aware of a spiritual presence and is influenced in a certain way by that presence. This can happen through a vision, interior location, and both ordinary and extra-ordinary incidents.

One thing interestingly necessary in our encounter with the transcendent God is mediation. We require a kind of bridge to link up with the immediate immaterial God. In the words of the German Theologian, Hebert Vorgrimlar, this bridge is sensory mediation. When we talk of mediation, we obviously find ourselves in the context of signification and representation. In signification, we deal with signs and symbols.

A sign, in general, is something that refers to or stands for something else. It could be an object, event, action, sound or word. Signs (and symbols) have been extensively studied in the context of language because they are considered essential aspects of communications. Thus, signs are also necessary in our communication with God (as we shall see later).

Of all the types of signs, symbolic signs are more complex because they are arbitrary. In symbolic signs, the signifier is neither naturally linked to the signified nor do they have any natural resemblance. The relationship they have is determined by conviction. For instance, that red light (signifier) in a traffic light means stop (signified) is accepted by convention. The same thing applies to the words in use and the meaning reserved for them. For instance, there is nothing in the word ‘dog’ that resembles the animal called ‘dog’. So we accept such knowledge by convention.  Symbols are not self-explanatory. Again, Symbols are multidimensional signs that can at once point to a reality and manifest that reality. Symbols have the capacity of participating in the reality they signify.

In symbols, one reality has the power of making another reality present. In the same line of thought, symbolism is the grammar of sacramental mediation. The sacraments mediate another reality which otherwise could not have been perceptible to the recipients. The mediation is possible because there are symbols. Through the power of symbols, a reality other than we can physically perceive is made present. Sacramental symbols are real symbols. In real symbols, we see one thing, but experience and acknowledge another. These symbols mediate God’s presence. In Sacramental mediation signs and symbols signify sacred reality. It is in this context therefore that they are regarded as the content of rituals. Since rituals (symbolic actions) say more than can be seen in them, hence the seven Sacraments instituted by Christ Himself, become in their turn powerful instruments, whereby the worshiping disposition is taught, stimulated and maintained for the sake of their sacredness.

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