Joy: The meaning of the sacraments
Canterbury Press £12.99
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JOY ranks high in St St Paul's list of the fruits of the Spirit,
and it has a place in most of his letters and the farewell
discourses of St John's Gospel. It does not, however, feature much
in Christian understanding of the sacraments. This may be because
of the lines in a hymn: "The joy of thine abode, All earthly joy
excels," a sentiment patently untrue in that context.
There may also be a suspicion that it is perilously close to
enthusiasm, in the sense of unbridled excitement. But the use of
the word "celebration" with reference to some sacramental rites
suggests that joy complements the solemnity that properly attaches
to them, not least because, without joy, these rites may be
ponderous. In any case, the joy that should attend them is no
earthly joy, but the joy of heaven, of Jesus himself. Thus this
book explores the place of joy in the sacraments, and it does so in
an illuminating fashion.
The opening chapter develops the place of joy in the earthly
life of Jesus and in the young Church. His incarnate life was an
expression in human terms of the very life of God, constantly
flowing out so that others may share it. This joy wants to share
itself so that others may live and love more abundantly. There
follow six chapters of varying length.
Each concentrates on a particular sacramental rite: baptism and
confirmation are understood as a single rite of initiation. The
author is a not uncritical Anglican, who draws extensively on the
understanding of sacraments in other Churches, and explores the
variety of practice and understanding among Anglicans themselves.
Further, he addresses particular problems experienced by all
Churches in their administration of the sacraments in today's
culture. The study concludes with a chapter on the eschatological
dimension, when sacraments shall cease.
Not surprisingly, in a comparatively short work, there are
occasions on which a longer discussion would have led to greater
elucidation, particularly in one of the longest chapters, that on
ordination. Also, it was at first surprising to read that St
Augustine's relationship with the mother of their son was
"monogamous". Nevertheless, further in that chapter, one comes to
see that such a view is not inconsistent with the implications of
some of the ways of understanding marriage set out there.
At the end of every chapter, there are passages for reflection,
some from the New Testament, most from Christian authors, both
ancient and modern. These illustrate the variety of views in the
Christian tradition on the sacrament treated in that chapter.
Together with the accompanying topics for discussion, these
passages make this book ideal for individual study and for use in
study groups, ecumenical and parochial. All who work their way
through it will find their understanding deepened and their
The Rt Revd Dr Alec Graham is a former Bishop of