The Seven Sacraments

Image of the Seven Sacraments of the Church

A sacrament is a ‘sensible and efficacious sign of grace instituted by Christ to sanctify our souls.’ Catechism of St Pius X

The Seven Sacraments were instituted by Jesus Christ Himself and are necessary for salvation. Only the Catholic Church can confer these as they were entrusted to the Apostles.

The sacraments are ‘sensible’ because they can be observed with the senses and ‘efficacious’ because they bring about an actual spiritual change or grace. They are not symbols of something interior but actually confer grace on the soul. This Sanctifying Grace is a free gift from God and cannot be earned, it was won for all the faithful by Jesus’ sacrifice of himself on the cross.  It is called ‘Sanctifying’ because us makes us holier, justified before God, adopted children of God and heirs to a share of God’s heavenly glory. Grace strengthens us as we strive to avoid sin and grow in holiness. The efficacy of a sacrament is dependent on the disposition of the person receiving it, as will be explained.

BAPTISM

Why is Baptism necessary?

Due to the ‘Fall’ when Adam and Eve disobeyed God, all of mankind is tainted with Original Sin. Baptism is essential for salvation and is the means by which Original Sin is washed away from the soul. The form of the sacrament is the words of the priest ‘I baptise thee in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Ghost.’ The matter of the sacrament is the water washing over the skin of the person being baptised. Grace enters the soul for the first time and the person becomes and adopted son or daughter of God- the soul finds its ultimate fulfilment in this relationship with its Heavenly Father through the sacrifice of Jesus and the power of the Holy Spirit. The Holy Trinity now dwells within the soul.

When should Baptism take place?

Usually babies are baptised as soon as possible after birth but anyone who wishes to become a Catholic and requires baptism can contact a priest to discuss this further. For an adult, the disposition for Baptism is the repentance and sorrow for past sin and the intention of cooperating with the grace of God and growing in faith and fidelity to Him.

What happens during Baptism?

For a child, the Godparents (usually one man and one woman who are faithful Catholics) declare this intention for the child and their commitment to aiding the child to this end. This is a solemn promise before God. A baptismal name is usually added to the person’s full name. This is chosen by the person being baptised or by the family in the case of an infant. The name is usually that of a saint and will serve as a reminder of the call to holiness of which the saint would provide a good example to follow. The baptised should form a special relationship to this saint, learning about their life and faith and asking for their prayers and protection.

“Jesus answered: Amen, amen I say to thee, unless a man be born again of water and the Holy Ghost, he cannot enter into the kingdom of God.” John 3:5

CONFIRMATION

Why is Confirmation necessary?

Confirmation strengthens the virtues imparted at Baptism and fortifies the faith of the individual.

What happens during Confirmation?

The Holy Spirit is invoked to animate the faith of the individual giving them courage to fight evil and choose to do good. In this sacrament the form is the words spoken by the Bishop (under certain circumstances a priest) ‘I sign thee with the sign of the cross, and I confirm thee with the chrism of salvation, in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Ghost. Amen.’ The matter of the sacrament is the anointing (making the sign of the cross) with Holy Oil (Chrism Oil is blessed on Holy Thursday for the specific purpose of confirmation) on the forehead.

The soul receives the seven gifts of the Holy Ghost:

  • Wisdom
  • Understanding
  • Counsel
  • Fortitude
  • Knowledge
  • Piety
  • Fear of the Lord

THE HOLY EUCHARIST

Why is the Holy Eucharist necessary?

To receive Holy Communion is to receive the true Body, Blood, Soul and Divinity of Jesus Christ and participate in His sacrifice and His victory over death- His resurrection. As the Jews ate the lamb without blemish, we partake of the Lamb of God whole takes away the sins of the world. We receive Sanctifying Grace, are adopted as children of God and are strengthened by this heavenly food for the pilgrim journey through this earthly life toward perfect union with God in heaven. The disposition for receiving Holy Communion is that one must be a Baptised and Confirmed Roman Catholic and must be in a state of grace rather than a state of Mortal Sin. Receiving the Body of Jesus in a State of Mortal Sin is a grave sacrilege.

 “It would be easier for the world to survive without the sun than to do without Holy Mass.” – St. Padre Pio

What is the history of the Eucharist?

Throughout history, the people of God, originally in the Jewish temples, would sacrifice animals to demonstrate sorrow for sin and their desire for communion or relationship with God. God worked through many prophets and holy men to make covenants (solemn promises marked by sacrifice and conditions for relationship) with His people. Covenants with Moses, Noah, David and others were broken by mankind who sought their own way and forgetting God’s Fatherly goodness towards them, worshipped idols and turned away from Him.

We see this throughout the Old Testament but we also see prefigurement of God’s ultimate plan for the salvation of mankind. One such example is the Jewish Passover. God delivered His people from death on the conditions that they accepted His protection and love by enacting a sign of the covenant between them. Through Moses, he instructed each family to sacrifice a lamb without blemish and to eat the lamb between them. By spreading the blood of the lamb on the door post of their homes, they were untouched by the angel of death.

It was a commemoration of this sacrificial meal that the apostles were celebrating in the upper room the night before Jesus was to be crucified. Jesus had taught in John 6 that eternal life would come to mankind through the eating of the bread of life, the bread that would be His flesh. At the table he gave thanks to God for the bread and wine. He broke the bread and gave it to them saying, ‘take ye all of this FOR THIS IS MY BODY.’He lifted the chalice saying ‘take and drink ye all of this, FOR THIS IS THE CHALICE OF MY BLOOD OF THE NEW AND ETERNAL TESTAMENT, THE MYSTERY OF FAITH; WHICH SHALL BE SHED FOR YOU AND FOR MANY UNTO THE REMISSION OF SINS. AS OFTEN AS YOU DO THESE THINGS, YE SHALL DO THEM IN REMEMBRANCE OF ME.’

Jesus who in Himself was the meeting of God and Man was called by St John the Baptist the ‘Lamb of God’the ultimate lamb without blemish who would take away the sins of the world and bring about reconciliation between God and man. The usual pattern of the Jewish meal was interrupted when Jesus took the disciples to the garden of Gethsemane where he would later be arrested. The sacrificial meal was completed when Jesus took the final drink on the cross and cried ‘It is finished!’ It is in the Mass that this once and for all sacrifice is re-presented afresh throughout all time.

What happens during the Holy Eucharist?

The priest, who is a successor of the apostles, stands in ‘persona Christi’ in the place of Christ and uses the exact same words and gestures that Jesus used to renew that sacrifice within time. The bread becomes the real Body, Blood, Soul and Divinity of the resurrected Jesus as does the wine, the real Blood of Christ by the power of the Holy Ghost. Just as Christ offered Himself as a sacrifice for the atonement of mankind, the priest offers the newly consecrated Body and Blood of Jesus present on the altar at Mass back to the Father as an act of adoration, atonement, thanksgiving and petition.

PENANCE

Why is the sacrament of Penance necessary?

Also called ‘confession’, the sacrament of Penance was instituted by Our Lord in the Bible:

“He said therefore to them again: Peace be to you. As the Father hath sent me, I also send you.When he had said this, he breathed on them; and he said to them: Receive ye the Holy Ghost. Whose sins you shall forgive, they are forgiven them; and whose sins you shall retain, they are retained.” John 20:21-13

Here we see Jesus ordaining the Apostles to forgive or not forgive sins in His name.

Along with Baptism, Penance is an essential sacrament as it is the way in which God has chosen to forgive sins. Without it, our sins are not forgiven, we do not grow in holiness, we cannot receive any of the other sacraments and cannot enter heaven.

What happens during the sacrament of Penance?

In the sacrament of Penance, a Baptised Catholic, having made an examination of conscience and spent time in prayer confesses the sins that they have committed to the priest. As in the Mass the priest is acting in the person of Christ. He will listen to what you tell him, he may give you some advice on how to avoid sin in the future and provided that you are truly sorry, he will give you a penance and absolution. The penance could be a prayer or several prayers that help use to make reparation, show our sorrow and turn away from sin. Absolution is when the priest, in the power given to him by Jesus and by the authority given to him by the Church pronounces God’s forgiveness of our sins.

In order for this sacrament to be valid, the penitent (the one confessing sins) must have contrition, be truly sorry and wish to change, must not miss out any sins no matter how embarrassing and must say the penance given by the priest.

What do I have to confess?

There are two kinds of sins described in the Bible and in Holy Tradition.

Mortal sinsare those which have

  1. Grave Matter,
  2. Full knowledge of the wrong committed and
  3. Full consent of the will.

Sin that meets these three conditions is a deliberate turning away from God in which one forfeits the indwelling of the Trinity in the should and all the grace received since baptism. It is called mortal because it kills the life of the soul. These sins can only be forgiven in the sacrament of Penance. To die in the state of mortal sin would result in having chosen to go to Hell.

Venial sins are any sins which do not meet the conditions for mortal sin. They do not kill the life of the soul but they damage the relationship with God and weaken us in our fight against evil. While mortal sins must be confessed in the sacrament of penance, venial sins are remitted by the reception of Holy Communion, the use of Holy Water, by the absolution given by the priest at Mass and by good works- either spiritual or temporal. The confession of all sin is still encouraged as we are not only forgiven in this sacrament but we also receive many graces that strengthen us.

EXTREME UNCTION

Sometimes known as the ‘anointing of the sick’ this sacrament is for those who are ill or are close to death. The person is anointed with holy oil. This increases sanctifying grace, remits venial sins and in the case of unconscious people, can also remit mortal sins which they are unable to confess. If the person is conscious they may also receive the sacraments of Penance and Holy Communion.  The sacrament can improve the health of the person or help them to offer their suffering to God and use it to grow closer to Him.

HOLY ORDERS

Holy orders is the sacrament in which men are ordained to apostolic ministries. The degrees of ordination are as follows:

  • Porter
  • Lector; his office is to read aloud the lessons of the Old and New Testament, which belong to the divine office, and to instruct the ignorant in the rudiments of the Christian religion
  • Exorcist; to him is given power to exorcise possessed persons
  • Acolyte; his office is to assist the deacon and subdeacon at the altar; to carry the lights, to prepare the wine and water for consecration, and attend to the divine mysteries
  • Subdeacon; he serves the deacon; prepares the altar, the chalice, the bread, and the wine; he reads the epistle aloud at high Mass
  • Deacon; his office is immediately to assist the bishop or priest at high Mass; and the administration of the sacraments. He reads the Gospel aloud at [Solemn] High Mass; he may administer baptism, and preach the Gospel, by commission.
  • Priesthood, which has two degrees of power and dignity: that of bishops, and that of priests. The office of a priest is to consecrate and offer the sacrifice of the Body and Blood of Christ, under the forms of bread and wine; to administer all the sacraments, except confirmation and holy orders; to preach the Gospel, to bless the people, and to conduct them in the way to life eternal; as also to bless such things as are not reserved to the benediction of the bishop. The bishop, when he ordains a priest, anoints his hands with oil; he gives him the paten with bread upon it, and a chalice with wine, with power to offer sacrifice for the living and the dead; then he lays his hands upon him and says: “Receive the Holy Ghost, whose sins, etc.,” and performs several other ceremonies.

HOLY MATRIMONY

Matrimony is the sacrament instituted by Christ in which an indissoluble covenant is made between one man and one woman before God. The sacrament confers special graces on the man and wife that they may live their vocation with fidelity to God and one another. Marriage is the foundation of the family which is in turn the fundamental cell of society.

Married couples must be open to life so as to raise their children in the true catholic religion. They are responsible for the spiritual development of their children and must model Christian virtues to them. The family is itself an Icon of the Holy Trinity and the only natural and holy model of family, this is written into every aspect of creation. Every Catholic household should be an Ecclesia Domestica – a “domestic Church” in which God is worshiped and the family learn and practice the faith.