What are Sacraments?
The Latin word Sacramentum means “a sign of the sacred.” The seven sacraments of the Church are ceremonies that point to what is sacred, signiﬁcant and important for Christians. They are special occasions for experiencing God’s saving presence. That’s what theologians mean when they say that sacraments are at the same time signs and instruments of God’s grace. If you learn more about the sacraments, you can celebrate them more fully. See the brief description of each Sacrament below.
The Paschal Mystery in the Church’s Sacraments
1113 The whole liturgical life of the Church revolves around the Eucharistic sacriﬁce and the sacraments. There are seven sacraments in the Church: Baptism, Conﬁrmation or Chrismation, Eucharist, Penance, Anointing of the Sick, Holy Orders, and Matrimony (Catechism of the Catholic Church [CCC]).
SACRAMENTS OF INITIATION: Baptism, Conﬁrmation & Eucharist.
Baptism is one of the Seven Sacraments of the Catholic Church; frequently called the “ﬁrst sacrament” as it is the gateway to the rest of the sacraments.
Through Baptism we are freed from sin and reborn as children of God; we become members of the mystical body of Christ, are incorporated into the Church and made sharers in her mission: “Baptism is the sacrament of regeneration through water in the word. (CCC: 1213)”
In the Western or Latin Church, baptism is usually conferred by an authorized minister by pouring water three times on the recipient’s head, while reciting the baptismal formula: “I baptize you in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit” (cf. Matthew 28:19).
1322 The holy Eucharist completes Christian initiation. Those who have been raised to the dignity of the royal priesthood by baptism and conﬁgured more deeply to Christ by Conﬁrmation participate with the whole community in the Lord’s own sacrifice by means of the Eucharist.
1323 “At the Last Supper, on the night he was betrayed, our Saviour instituted the Eucharistic sacriﬁceof his Body and Blood. This he did in order to perpetuate the sacriﬁce of the cross throughout the ages until he should come again, and so to entrust to his beloved Spouse, the Church, a memorial of his death and resurrection: a sacrament of love, a sign of unity, a bond of charity, a Paschal banquet ‘in which Christ is consumed, the mind is ﬁlled with grace, and a pledge of future glory is given to us.'”
The Eucharist—Source, and Summit of Ecclesial (Church) Life
1324 The Eucharist is “the source and summit of the Christian life.” “The other sacraments, and indeed all ecclesiastical (church) ministries and works of the apostolate, are bound up with the Eucharist and are oriented toward it. For in the blessed Eucharist is contained the whole spiritual good of the Church, namely Christ himself, our Pasch.”
1325 “The Eucharist is the eﬃcacious sign and sublime cause of that communion in the divine life and that unity of the People of God by which the Church is kept in being. It is the culmination both of God’saction sanctifying the world in Christ and of the worship, men oﬀer to Christ and through him to the father in the Holy Spirit.”
1326 Finally, by the Eucharistic celebration we already unite ourselves with the heavenly liturgy and anticipate eternal life, when God will be all in all.
1327 In brief, the Eucharist is the sum and summary of our faith: “Our way of thinking is attuned to the Eucharist, and the Eucharist, in turn, conﬁrms our way of thinking.”
It is evident from its celebration that the eﬀect of the sacrament of Conﬁrmation is the full outpouring of the Holy Spirit as once granted to the apostles on the day of Pentecost.
1303 From this fact, Conﬁrmation brings an increase and deepening of baptismal grace:
– it roots us more deeply in the divine ﬁliation which makes us cry, “Abba! Father!”;
– it unites us more ﬁrmly to Christ;
– it increases the gifts of the Holy Spirit in us;
– it renders our bond with the Church more perfect;116
– it gives us a special strength of the Holy Spirit to spread and defend the faith by word and action as true witnesses of Christ, to confess the name of Christ boldly, and never to be ashamed of the Cross.
Recall then that you have received the spiritual seal, the spirit of wisdom and understanding, the spirit of right judgment and courage, the spirit of knowledge and reverence, the spirit of holy fear in God’spresence. Guard what you have received. God the Father has marked you with his sign; Christ the Lord has conﬁrmed you and has placed his pledge, the Spirit, in your hearts.
1304 Like Baptism which it completes, Conﬁrmation is given only once, for it to imprints on the soul an indelible spiritual mark, the “character,” which is the sign that Jesus Christ has marked a Christian with the seal of his Spirit by clothing him with power from on high so that he may be his witness.
1305 This “character” perfects the common priesthood of the faithful, received in Baptism, and “theconﬁrmed person receives the power to profess faith in Christ publicly and as it were oﬃcially.…”
SACRAMENTS OF SERVICE: Marriage & Orders
1601 “The matrimonial covenant, by which a man and a woman establish between themselves a partnership of the whole of life, is by its nature ordered toward the good of the spouses and the procreation and education of oﬀspring; this covenant between baptized persons has been raised by Chris the Lord to the dignity of a sacrament.”
1638 “From a valid marriage arises a bond between the spouses which by its very nature is perpetual and exclusive; furthermore, in a Christian marriage the spouses are strengthened and, as it were, consecrated for the duties and the dignity of their state by a special sacrament.”
The marriage bond
1639 The consent by which the spouses mutually give and receive one another is sealed by God himself. From their covenant arises “an institution, conﬁrmed by the divine law, . . . even in the eyes of society. “The covenant between the spouses is integrated into God’s covenant with man: “Authentic married love is caught up into divine love.”
1640 Thus the marriage bond has been established by God himself in such a way that a marriage concluded and consummated between baptized persons can never be dissolved. This bond, which results from the free human act of the spouses and their consummation of the marriage, is a reality, henceforth irrevocable, and gives rise to a covenant guaranteed by God’s ﬁdelity. The Church does not have the power to contravene this disposition of divine wisdom.
The grace of the sacrament of Matrimony
1641 “By reason of their state in life and of their order, [Christian spouses] have their own special gifts in the People of God.” This grace proper to the sacrament of Matrimony is intended to perfect the couple’s love and to strengthen their indissoluble unity. By this grace, they “help one another to attain holiness in their married life and in welcoming and educating their children.”
1642 Christ is the source of this grace. “Just as of old God encountered his people with a covenant of love and ﬁdelity, so our Saviour, the spouse of the Church, now encounters Christian spouses through the sacrament of Matrimony.” Christ dwells with them, gives them the strength to take up their crosses and so follow him, to rise again after they have fallen, to forgive one another, to bear one another burdens, to “be subject to one another out of reverence for Christ,” and to love one another with supernatural, tender, and fruitful love. In the joys of their love and family life he gives them here on earth a foretaste of the wedding feast of the Lamb:
How can I ever express the happiness of a marriage joined by the Church, strengthened by an oﬀering, sealed by a blessing, announced by angels, and ratiﬁed by the Father?… How wonderful the bond between two believers, now one in hope, one in desire, one in discipline, one in the same service! They are both children of one Father and servants of the same Master, undivided in spirit and ﬂesh, truly two in one ﬂesh. Where the ﬂesh is one, one also is the spirit.
1536 Holy Orders is the sacrament through which the mission entrusted by Christ to his apostles continues to be exercised in the Church until the end of time: thus it is the sacrament of apostolic ministry. It includes three degrees: bishop, priest, and deacon.
The Eﬀects of the Sacrament of Holy Orders
The indelible character
1581 This sacrament conﬁgures the recipient to Christ by a special grace of the Holy Spirit, so that he may serve as Christ’s instrument for his Church. By ordination one is enabled to act as a representative of Christ, Head of the Church, in his triple oﬃce of priest, prophet, and king. 1582 As in the case of baptism and Conﬁrmation this share in Christ’s oﬃce is granted once for all. The sacrament of holy orders, like the other two, confers an indelible spiritual character and cannot be repeated or conferred temporarily.
1584 Since it is ultimately Christ who acts and eﬀects salvation through the ordained minister, the unworthiness of the latter does not prevent Christ from acting. St. Augustine states this forcefully: As for the proud minister, he is to be ranked with the devil. Christ’s gift is not thereby profaned: what ﬂows through him keeps its purity, and what passes through him remains dear and reaches the fertile earth….the spiritual power of the sacrament is indeed comparable to light: those to be enlightened receive it in its purity, and if it should pass through deﬁled beings, it is not itself deﬁled.
The grace of the Holy Spirit
1585 The grace of the Holy Spirit proper to this sacrament is conﬁguration to Christ as Priest, Teacher, and Pastor, of whom the ordained is made a minister.
SACRAMENTS OF HEALING: Reconciliation & Anointing of the Sick
By this beautiful Sacrament, God gives all sinful members of His Church, “a direct, human, and personal encounter with the mercy of God” as found in the Gospel. (CCC:1446) In this encounter “God, the Father of mercies” pardons His faithful for post-baptism sins that they confessed to the bishop or his priests. (CCC: 1448-1449). In the liturgical actions of this sacrament, especially in the formula of absolution, Jesus Christ reaches out to us in the depth of our soul and mind to lift us to our feet and restores us to be more perfectly what we are: His saints, the reconciled children of God. He does so “to set us free from the hands of our enemies, free to worship Him without fear, holy and righteous in His sight all the days of our life” (Luke 1.73).
The essential elements of the sacrament of Reconciliation are two: the acts of the penitent who comes to repentance through the action of the Holy Spirit, and the absolution of the priest who in the name of Christ grants forgiveness and determines the ways of making satisfaction.
Why a Sacrament of Reconciliation after Baptism?
1425 “YOU were washed, you were sanctiﬁed, you were justiﬁed in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and in the Spirit of our God.” One must appreciate the magnitude of the gift God has given us in the sacraments of Christian initiation in order to grasp the degree to which sin is excluded for him who has”put on Christ.” But the apostle John also says: “If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us.” And the Lord himself taught us to pray: “Forgive us our trespasses,” linking our forgiveness of one another’s oﬀences to the forgiveness of our sins that God will grant us.
1426 Conversion to Christ, the new birth of Baptism, the gift of the Holy Spirit and the Body and Blood of Christ received as food has made us “holy and without blemish,” just as the Church herself, the Bride of Christ, is “holy and without blemish.” Nevertheless, the new life received in Christian initiation has not abolished the frailty and weakness of human nature, nor the inclination to sin that tradition calls concupiscence, which remains in the baptized such that with the help of the grace of Christ they may prove themselves in the struggle of the Christian life. This is the struggle of conversion directed toward holiness and eternal life to which the Lord never ceases to call us.
Anointing of the Sick
1499 “By the sacred anointing of the sick and the prayer of the priests the whole Church commends those who are ill to the suﬀering and gloriﬁed Lord, that he may raise them up and save them. And indeed she exhorts them to contribute to the good of the People of God by freely uniting themselves to the Passion and death of Christ.”
In the love of God His Father, Jesus Christ has come to heal the whole human person, soul, and body. He continues to show his faithfulness and compassion and solidarity towards the sick: “He took our inﬁrmities and bore our diseases.” (CCC: 1505)
As St. James says, “Is anyone among you sick? Let him call the presbyters (priest) of the Church and let them pray over him and anoint him with oil in the name of the Lord” (James 5:14-15). The sacrament of anointing of the Sick confers a special grace of the Holy Spirit on Christians who are suﬀering from a serious illness, and not exclusively on the faithful who are at the point of death (CCC: 1514).
The Eﬀects of the Celebration of This Sacrament
1520 A particular gift of the Holy Spirit.
The ﬁrst grace of this sacrament is one of strengthening, peace, and courage to overcome the diﬃculties that go with the condition of serious illness or the frailty of old age. This grace is a gift of the Holy Spirit, who renews trust and faith in God and strengthens against the temptations of the evil one, the temptation to discouragement and anguish in the face of death. This assistance from the Lord by the power of his Spirit is meant to lead the sick person to healing of the soul, but also of the body if such is God’s will. Furthermore, “if he has committed sins, he will be forgiven.”
1521 Union with the passion of Christ.
By the grace of this sacrament, the sick person receives the strength and the gift of uniting himself more closely to Christ’s Passion: in a certain way he is consecrated to bear fruit by conﬁguration to the savior’s redemptive Passion. Suﬀering, a consequence of original sin, acquires a new meaning; it becomes participation in the saving work of Jesus.
1522 An ecclesial grace.
The sick who receive this sacrament, “by freely uniting themselves to the passion and death of Christ,” “contribute to the good of the People of God.” By celebrating this sacrament the Church, in the communion of saints, intercedes for the beneﬁt of the sick person, and he, for his part, though the grace of this sacrament, contributes to the sanctiﬁcation of the Church and to the good of all men for whom the Church suﬀers and oﬀers herself through Christ to God the Father.
1523 A preparation for the ﬁnal journey.
If the sacrament of anointing of the sick is given to all who suﬀer from serious illness and inﬁrmity, even more rightly is it given to those at the point of departing this life; so it is also called sacramentum exeuntium (the sacrament of those departing). The Anointing of the Sick completes our conformity to the death and Resurrection of Christ, just as Baptism began it. It completes the holy anointings that mark the whole Christian life: that of Baptism which sealed the new life in us, and that of Conﬁrmation which strengthened us for the combat of this life. This last anointing fortiﬁes the end of our earthly life like a solid rampart for the ﬁnal struggles before entering the Father’s house.