What is a Sacrament?
The Latin word Sacramentum means “a sacred sign.” Sacraments are signs of sacred things. According to the teaching of the Catholic Church, the Sacraments, understood as coming from Jesus the Saviour, are not just signs or signify Divine grace, they also engender that grace in our souls. The widely held definition of a sacrament was the one given by Peter Lombard in the Twelfth century: A sacrament is in such a manner an outward sign of inward grace. When one receives any sacrament, it is a special occasion for experiencing divine presence because that sacrament causes grace in one’s soul.
There are seven Sacraments in the Catholic Church, namely:
Baptism, Confirmation, Eucharist, Penance, Anointing of the Sick, Holy Orders and Marriage.
The first three – Baptism, Confirmation and the Eucharist, are known as the Sacraments of Christian Initiation. They are the foundation of the Christian life.
Two sacraments are sacraments of healing: the Sacrament of Penance and the Sacrament of Anointing of the Sick. Two other sacraments – Holy Orders and Marriage, are directed towards the salvation of others. They can lead, at the same time, to personal salvation.
The Sacraments of Holy Orders and Marriage are referred to as Sacraments of Vocation. They are special calls to a particular mission in the Church, which aims to build up the people of God. Baptism, Confirmation, and Holy Orders cannot be repeated. These sacraments imprint an indelible mark on the soul of the Christian.
The seven sacraments are drawn from the love that Jesus has for all of us as shown in his life, passion, death, and resurrection. This love is shared with us by the Holy Spirit through human ceremonies each instituted by Christ. These ceremonies offer union with God during seven significant life stages. The work and pattern of our liturgy and through the sacraments is simply the profound reality of our God walking always with us on the journey of life.
Each sacrament is formed by words and gestures that explain what God is doing for us. The materials that we use (water, bread, wine, oil) point to the divine love of our God, who freely chooses to share his grace with us through them. Just as Christ is fully human and divine, so the sacraments have a human and a divine aspect. The sacraments are about God’s loving involvement in our lives.
Within our walls, children are welcomed into the body of Christ and celebrate their first encounters with the Lord. Couples are joined here in the Sacrament of Marriage; priests are consecrated to the Lord in the Sacrament of Holy Orders; the infirm are strengthened by the Sacrament of the Sick and our loved ones are laid to rest on their final journey home to Heaven. To paraphrase the documents of the Second Vatican Council, ‘the joys and the hopes, the grief and the anxieties of our times’ are lived out in this place of worship.
Christ instituted the sacraments of the new law. There are seven: Baptism, Confirmation (or Chrismation), the Eucharist, Penance, the Anointing of the Sick, Holy Orders and Matrimony. The seven sacraments touch all the stages and all the important moments of Christian life:1 they give birth and increase, healing and mission to the Christian’s life of faith. There is thus a certain resemblance between the stages of natural life and the stages of the spiritual life.
Catechism of the Catholic Church 1210