Sacramental Ambiguity

…there is an inherent ambiguity in the doctrine of sacramentality in that the use of things from creation can be both positive and negative at the same time. We use water in baptism to signify a number of things about life and vitality. The only element, except air, without which we cannot live is water. Yet, too much water can kill vegetation. One can drown in water. What can seem to be a serene body of water may well have currents underneath that cause death by drowning. In a sense, these inherent tensions reflect precisely why and how they are used in liturgy because their use does not mean that their meaning is always apparent or obvious or even definable. Their ambiguity invites reflection on the ways in which we live what we celebrate in terms of conversion and Christian witness in the world, and how we do not. The value and importance of the prayers used with primal elements in sacramental liturgy is that they offer numerous possibilities for understanding what these elements mean and reveal.

Kevin W. Irwin, The Sacraments: Historical Foundations and Liturgical Theology (New York, NY: Paulist Press, 2016), pp. 210-211. ISBN: 978-0-8091-4955-1.

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