THEME: “Ex Opere Operato”— In Virtue of the Action

BY: Fr. Anthony O. Ezeaputa, MA.



In our first reading (2 Kings 5:14-17), the prophet Elisha heals the Aramean military general Naaman by saying, “Go and wash in the Jordan seven times, and your flesh shall be restored, and you shall be clean” (2 Kings 5:10). In our gospel (Luke 17:11-19), Jesus heals ten lepers, telling them to “Go show yourselves to the priests” (Luke 5:14).

These two commands from the prophet Elisha and Our Lord Jesus Christ back up a key Catholic Church teaching about sacramental theology, which is called “ex opere operato” in Latin. This teaching says that a sacrament is made up of two parts: a material or tangible element and a formula, words, or prayers.

It goes to say that the seemingly simple words spoken or prayed by a deacon, priest, or bishop while blessing, especially while celebrating the seven sacraments, are efficacious “ex opere operato”. By the very fact that the blessing is pronounced, or the sacramental action is performed, Jesus works through them.

This is because Christ acts in the Church through his ministers and through the sacraments to communicate the blessings and grace they represent. Similarly, the efficacy of the blessings and the sacraments is not dependent on the personal worthiness or holiness of the deacon, priest, or bishop. The fruits of the sacraments, on the other hand, depend on the disposition of the person who receives them.

In our first reading (2 Kings 5:14-17), Naaman had the dreaded disease of leprosy. His wife had an Israelite girl who was her slave. This slave was most probably captured in battle because Israel and Aram were at war for centuries. She told her master, Naaman, about a prophet in Israel, Elisha, who would be able to cure his leprosy.

It must have taken a lot of humility and faith for this proud Aramean general to go into enemy territory (Israel) to look for Elisha. When he located him, Elisha wouldn’t even give Naaman the courtesy of coming out of his cave or hut to meet with him. Through a messenger, Elisha just told Naaman, “Go and wash in the Jordan seven times, and your flesh shall be restored, and you shall be clean” (2 Kings 5:10). This, too, was offensive, as Naaman considered the rivers in his own country far superior to the Jordan. Naaman felt insulted and decided to go back home.

However, his friends persuaded him to obey the instructions of the prophet. He did it and was cured of his leprosy “ex opere operato,” that is, by the very fact that he washed himself seven times in the Jordan at the word of Elisha. “His flesh became again like the flesh of a little child, and he was clean of his leprosy” (2 Kings 5:14).

In our gospel passage (Luke 17:11–19), Jesus was traveling to Jerusalem. Ten lepers saw him and raised their voices, saying, “Jesus, Master! Have pity on us!” And Jesus gave this simple instruction: “Go show yourselves to the priests.” The bible says that as they were going to show themselves to the priest, they were cleansed. That is, “ex opere operato,” that is, by the very fact that they obeyed his words.

One of my favorite lines from the Creed is about the Holy Spirit, when we profess that he “has spoken through the prophets.” The same God who spoke through Prophet Elisha to Naaman and he was cured many centuries ago, still speaks healing to us today through the church, especially through the seven sacraments.

The Letter to the Hebrews (13:8) on its own part reminds us that “Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today, and forever.” Just like Jesus instructed the ten lepers to go and show themselves to the priest, and on their way, they were cured, so today Jesus still gives us the same instruction to go and show ourselves to the ministers of the Church because, through them, the mission Christ entrusted to his apostles continues to be exercised in the Church until the end of time (Catechism, 1536).

The Second Vatican Council’s constitution, Lumen Gentium, uses a number of images to describe the Church. Our first reading and gospel passage today show us that the Church is “the universal sacrament of salvation” because Christ continues to save us through the Church, especially through the seven sacraments.

Therefore, let us resolve to approach the Church, and the seven sacraments in particular, with unwavering conviction. Let us believe that words or prayers such as “I absolve you in the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit” pronounced by a priest during the Sacrament of Reconciliation (Confession), referred to in Catholic sacramental theology as “the form of the Sacrament of Reconciliation,” are efficacious. Jesus forgives our sins with these words, “ex opere operato.” Have a blessed Sunday.

Homily for the 28th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year C

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