One of the things that often gets kicked around in ecclesial discussions is the issue of a “high” versus a “low” sacramental theology. However, there are some interesting ambiguities that I note in most of these discussions. In the first place, I find it odd that whenever we are talking about “sacramental theology” we are invariably talking almost exclusively about the Eucharist and very little else. Especially when discussions of sacramental theology interface with questions of ecclesial unity, the question of Eucharistic communion is pretty much the central question. However, in the New Testament is is Baptism, rather than the Eucharist which is the common sacramental marker of the church’s unity: “One Lord, One faith, One baptism”.
Also interesting and odd is the way in which “high” sacramentology is equated with a certain sort of stress on the mode the real presence of Christ in the elements of the Eucharist. In other words, one’s theology of Eucharistic presence seems to often be the only way in which we ascertain whether one’s sacramental theology is “high” or “low”. I find this a problematic tendency because it is myopic. If we allow theologies of real presence to be the litmus test for what constitutes a “high” sacramental theology, it seems to me we will always end up with reductive accounts of sacramental theology as a whole. We end up with a sacramentology gives inadequate attention to baptism, the proclamation of the Word, and the reality of the gathered people of God as central elements in what constitutes a truly high sacramental theology.
This is not to say that the Eucharist is not the “sacrament of sacraments”, only that it can never be considered in isolation, and that our theologies of Eucharistic presence do not establish our sacramental theologies as “high” or “low”. Only a full-orbed understanding of the sacramental practices of the church presented in their wholeness and intimate innerconnection can give an adequate picture of what constitutes a truly high sacramental theology.