We call ourselves “Christians” not simply because we follow the teachings of Jesus, but because through the Sacraments of Initiation we believe we are join mystically to Christ himself. The Sacraments fashion us into the Body of Christ by the power of the Holy Spirit. Together with Christ as our Head, in Him, through Him, and with Him we worship God the Father in faith, hope, and love. The communion we have with Jesus Christ and with each member of His Body brings to birth the mystery we know as the Church. This happens whenever we celebrate the Sacraments, especially the Most Holy Eucharist.
What exactly is a sacrament? The Catechism of the Catholic Church defines a sacrament in this way: “an efficacious sign of grace, instituted by Christ and entrusted to the Church, by which divine life is dispensed to us through the work of the Holy Spirit” (CCC 774, 1131). The sacraments use signs and symbols of everyday life, such as water, bread, oil, as an outward way of expressing the power and grace Christ is giving inwardly to the recipient. We believe that the sacraments are true signs of God’s influence on our hearts and in our lives because they are accomplished, not by human power, but by the power of God the Holy Spirit at work in the ritual activity of believers according to the promise of Christ as handed on through the generations by the witness of Scripture and the living Tradition of the Church.
What is considered as sacrament? There are seven sacraments celebrated in the Church: Baptism, Confirmation, Holy Eucharist, Holy Orders, Holy Matrimony, Penance & Reconciliation, and Anointing of the Sick. These sacraments can be grouped together according to their place in the life of the Christian. The Sacraments of Initiation are Baptism, Confirmation, and Holy Eucharist through which a person is brought into the fullness of life in Christ and communion with the Church. The Sacraments at the Service of Communion are Holy Orders and Holy Matrimony, by which a person is conformed sacramentally either to priestly or diaconal ministry or the vocation of marriage. The Sacraments of Healing are Penance & Reconciliation and Anointing of the Sick. In Penance & Reconciliation a person confesses any sins committed after Baptism and is restored to the dignity of a child of God. With Anointing of the Sick a person in serious or chronic illness receives an outpouring of the grace of the Holy Spirit to be strengthened in their trial and to assist them in joining their suffering to that of Christ.
What is the purpose of the Sacraments? The Sacraments have three ends: first, above all else, they seek to glorify God the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Second, the Sacraments are given to us by Christ to make us holy. And, finally, the Sacraments are given to build up the Body of Christ, the Church. All of this is done, not as the work of humanity, but as human beings working under the influence of grace to accomplish God’s work. In this way, the Sacraments continue what Jesus Christ came to do on earth: to consecrate all things in Himself and present them as an offering to His Father. Saint Leo the Great (d. 461) beautifully reminds us that, “Our Redeemer’s visible presence has passed into the sacraments.”
Who can receive the Sacraments? Baptism is the gateway to all of the Sacraments: a person must first be baptized before he or she can receive any other Sacraments. It is our custom that children in second grade receive the Sacrament of Holy Eucharist for the first time and thereafter can receive every time they attend the celebration of Mass. And, in a similar way, children in eighth grade receive the Sacrament of Confirmation completing their initiation into the mystery of the Church. However, for adults entering the Church, these three Sacraments are celebrated together at the Easter Vigil each year. (For more information about adults becoming Catholic Christians, see the section entitled “R.C.I.A.”.) The Sacrament of the Holy Eucharist can be received in Holy Communion by any Catholic who is prepared to receive.
Can you receive the Sacraments over and over again? Not all of the Sacraments are repeated; some are celebrated only once and have a permanent effect on the person and their life. For instance, Baptism and Confirmation are only celebrated one time. However, the Holy Eucharist, Penance and Reconciliation, and Anointing of the Sick can be celebrated repeatedly throughout a Christian’s life.
Where can I learn more about the Sacraments? One resource to examine first in your search about the Sacraments is The Catechism of the Catholic Church. This is the surest and most concise summary of what the Catholic Church believes about the Sacraments. It is available for free online through the Bishops of the United States (www.usccb.org) and through the Vatican website (www.vatican.va).
Find out more about how our Parish Family of Saint Joseph celebrates the Sacraments of the Church by following these links: