One very important aspect of Catholic life is the belief in, and reception of, the Sacraments. For Catholics, sacraments are gifts from Jesus to strengthen us and deepen our relationship with Him. Through each one, Christ bestows a particular grace, such as incorporation into Christ and the Church, forgiveness of sins, or consecration for a particular service. They are an ongoing part of our journey, bringing us His blessings and great peace.
Sacraments are grouped into 3 areas:
- Sacraments of Christian initiation: Baptism, Confirmation, and Eucharist (communion)
- Sacraments of healing: Reconciliation (confession) and Anointing of the Sick (a “last rite”)
- Sacraments of vocation: Holy Orders (clergy) and Matrimony (marriage)
The Sacrament of Baptism is often referred to as the gateway to the other sacraments. In it we became Christian, received God’s sanctifying grace, were freed from original sin and (when baptized as an adult) absolved of all personal sins. Catholics recognize the validity of all Christian baptisms as long as the “trinitarian formula” was followed (“I baptize you in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit”).
The Sacrament of Confirmation strengthens and deepens baptismal grace. Through this sacrament the baptized are more perfectly bound to the Church. Like baptism, it may be received only once.
The Eucharist is the sacrament in which Catholics partake of the Body and Blood of Jesus and participate directly in his sacrifice. Christ’s sacrifice is represented at each Mass and Catholics with the proper disposition (generally a state of grace) receive Him. This Communion is not as a memorial but is the literal consumption of the Holy Body and Precious Blood of Jesus in order to join ourselves literally as well as spiritually with Him. The bread and wine are so converted (via transubstantiation) at the moment of consecration, exactly as Jesus first did on Holy Thursday. As at the last supper, the Body and Blood continue only in the appearance of bread and wine.
The Sacrament of Reconciliation offers us absolution for our sins, particularly our mortal sins. As with most Protestant faiths, Catholics may be forgiven outside of this sacrament if their private confession to God is an act of perfect contrition. While us sinners may or may not achieve that on our own, the absolution received in Reconciliation is certain. (My earlier posts What harm is a little sin? and Confession, getting out of deep trouble go into more detail.)
Anointing of the Sick is a sacrament of healing of both the soul and the body. It is one of the sacraments given to those in immediate danger of death (often called “last rites” — the others being Reconciliation and Eucharist). However, it is also used to help those with serious illnesses or about to undergo major surgery. Through this sacrament the Holy Spirit renews and strengthens us.
Holy Orders is a sacrament in which Bishops, Priests and Deacons are ordained by a Bishop into their order. This sacrament is licit only when administered by a Bishop in good standing and in the direct line of succession from the Apostles (known as Apostolic Succession).
In the Sacrament of Matrimony God creates a permanent and exclusive bond between a man and a woman. Like holy orders, marriage is a vocation – one in which the couple is called to continually sanctify each other and to raise children by the teachings of the Church. The couple themselves are considered the ministers of this sacrament with their Priest serving as witness. Marriage, like Holy Orders, is joyous but also a very, very serious vocation.
Many things are routine in our daily lives. The Sacraments are extraordinarily exceptional, providing us the opportunity to encounter Christ and receive His blessings. He gives us so much grace…