“For there is one God, and there is one mediator between God and men,
the man Christ Jesus, who gave himself as a ransom for all”First Letter of Paul to Timothy 2:5
A sacrament is an outward sign instituted by Christ to give grace. Jesus Christ himself is the sacrament, as he gave his life to save mankind. His humanity is the outward sign or the instrument of his Divinity. It is through his humanity that the life of the Father and the Holy Spirit come to us as grace through the sacraments. It is Jesus Christ alone who mediates the sacraments to allow grace to flow to mankind.
Jesus gave us his Apostles and his Church to shepherd his flock after his Ascension into heaven. “As the Father has sent me, even so I send you [John 17:18, 20:21].” Jesus is the Head of his Body the Church [Colossians 1:18]. The Church itself is a sacrament instituted by Christ to give grace. Jesus gave us his Apostles and his Church to minister the seven sacraments to help us lead a good life in this world, and to help us reach him in the afterlife.
As they evolved from the earliest traditions of the Church, the Eastern and Roman Catholic as well as the Eastern Orthodox Churches all recognize the seven sacraments of Baptism, Confirmation, Holy Eucharist, Penance, the Anointing of the Sick, Holy Orders, and Matrimony. The three sacraments of Christian initiation are Baptism, Confirmation, and the Eucharist. Three sacraments, Baptism, Confirmation, and Holy Orders, are given once, as they render a permanent seal or character upon one’s soul [2 Corinthians 1:21-22, Ephesians 4:30, Revelations 7:3].
The two sacraments of healing are Penance and the Anointing of the Sick.
Each sacrament consists of a visible external rite, which is composed of matter and form, the matter being the action, such as the pouring of water, and the form being the words spoken by the minister. Each sacramental rite confers a special ecclesial effect and sacramental grace appropriate for each sacrament. The sacraments occur at pivotal events and give meaning to a person’s life.
This page will include a brief introduction and some Scriptural sources for each Sacrament. References at the end are included for the reader interested in a more complete discussion.
Baptism is the basis of the whole Christian life, as we are born of the water and the Spirit. Jesus himself was baptized in the Jordan River by John the Baptist [Mark 1:9-11]. The Greek word “baptizein” means to “immerse, plunge, or dip.” The essential rite of Baptism consists of the minister immersing the baby or person in water or pouring water on his head, while pronouncing “I baptize you in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.” Baptism is necessary for salvation [John 3:5], and conveys a permanent sign that the new Christian is a child of God.
Baptism is prefigured in the Old Testament through the saving of Noah and his family during the Flood [Genesis 7:12-23, 1 Peter 3:20-21], and Moses crossing of the Red Sea during the Exodus, leaving captivity for the Promised Land [Exodus 14:1-22]. Here are three Scriptural sources in the New Testament [See also Matthew 3:13-17, Luke 3:21-22; Acts 1:21-22; Romans 6:3-4; Ephesians 4:5; Colossians 2:11-13, I Peter 3:21]:
“Go, therefore, and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you.”Gospel of Matthew 28:19-20
“In those days Jesus came from Nazareth of Galilee
and was baptized by John in the Jordan.
And when he came up out of the water, immediately he saw the heavens opened
and the Spirit descending upon him like a dove;
and a voice came from heaven,
“Thou art my beloved Son; with thee I am well pleased.”Gospel of Mark 1:9-11
Jesus answered, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit,
he cannot enter the kingdom of God.”Gospel of John 3:5
Confirmation (or Chrismation) is the sacrament which gives the Holy Spirit. The rite of Confirmation is anointing the forehead with chrism, together with the laying on of the minister’s hands and the words, “Be sealed with the Gift of the Holy Spirit.” The recipient receives the seven gifts of the Holy Spirit [Isaiah 11:2-3] and on occasion may receive one or more of the charismatic gifts of the Spirit [1 Corinthians 12:7-11]. The ecclesial effect and sacramental grace of the sacrament give the recipient the strength and character to witness for Jesus. In the East the priest administers the sacrament immediately after Baptism. Confirmation in the West is administered by the Bishop to children from age 7 to 18, but generally to adolescents, for example, to a graduating class of grade school children.
The Acts of the Apostles is often called the Gospel of the Holy Spirit. In Chapter One Jesus promises the Holy Spirit, and Chapter Two begins with the Pentecost. Other key Scriptural sources for Confirmation are the following [See also Acts 1:4-5, 2:1-4, 2:38, 10:44-48]:
“Now when the apostles at Jerusalem heard that Samaria had received the word of God, they sent to them Peter and John, who came down and prayed for them that they might receive the Holy Spirit; for it had not yet fallen on any of them, but they had only been baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus. Then they laid their hands on them and they received the Holy Spirit.”Acts of the Apostles 8:14-17
“While Apollos was at Corinth, Paul passed through the upper country and came to Ephesus. There he found some disciples. And he said to them, “Did you receive the Holy Spirit when you believed?” And they said, “No, we have never even heard that there is a Holy Spirit.” And he said, “Into what then were you baptized?” They said, “Into John’s baptism.” And Paul said, “John baptized with the baptism of repentance, telling the people to believe in the one who was to come after him, that is, Jesus.” On hearing this, they were baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus.
And when Paul had laid his hands upon them, the Holy Spirit came on them; and they spoke with tongues and prophesied.”Acts of the Apostles 19:1-6
Jesus gave his Apostles the power to forgive sins. The sacrament of Penance is also known as the Sacrament of Confession or Reconciliation. In this sacrament the penitent confesses his sins to the priest in the confessional, and the priest then gives absolution to the repentant soul, making the Sign of the Cross, and saying the words ” I absolve you from your sins, in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.” It is Jesus through the priest who forgives your sins. Jesus describes the process of conversion and penance in the Parable of the Prodigal Son [Luke 15:11-24]. As the penitent must make restitution or satisfaction for his sins, the priest gives a penance to the forgiven one, usually prayer, fasting, or almsgiving.
Confession gives one a wonderful sense of freedom and peace from the burden of sin. Sorrow, affliction, and a desire for conversion follow the remorse of sin in those with a contrite heart. Some believe we can confess our sins privately to God. But man is a social being. The humbling experience of unburdening your soul to someone, of exposing your weak nature, and then being accepted for who you are and what you have done by having your sins forgiven brings one an incredible sense of relief! The experience brings a sense of gratitude to our generous Lord for his love, compassion and mercy.
As one is to be in the state of grace before receiving Holy Communion, the child makes his first Confession before his first Communion, generally at the age of reason. Here are two Scriptural references on Penance [See also Matthew 16:18-19, Mark 2:5-11, Luke 24:46-47, Acts 2:38]:
“Jesus said to them again, “Peace be with you. As the Father who sent me, even so I send you. And when he had said this, he breathed on them, and said to them,
“Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven.
If you retain the sins of any, they are retained.”Gospel of John 20:21-23
“And all this is from God, who has reconciled us to himself through Christ and given us the ministry of reconciliation.”The Second Letter of Paul to the Corinthians 5:18
The Eucharist is the heart and summit of the Church’s life. The Eucharist is the source of community within the Church. The essential signs of the sacrament are wheat bread and grape wine, on which the blessing of the Holy Spirit is invoked during the Sacrifice of the Mass, and the priest pronounces the words of consecration spoken by Jesus at the Last Supper: “This is my body which will be given up for you…This is the cup of my blood…” [Matthew 26:26-28, Mark 14:22-24, 1 Corinthians 11:23-25].
Jesus died once on the cross in sacrifice for our sins [Hebrews 9:25-28]. But Jesus is present for all time, as he is the eternal Son of God. What he did once in history also then exists in all eternity. What happened in time goes beyond time. In the heart of Jesus he is always giving himself to the Father for us, as he did on the Cross. When we celebrate the Mass, the sacrifice of the cross, that happened once in history but is present for all eternity, that same reality is made present in mystery(1).
The bread and wine through Transubstantiation become the Body and Blood, Soul and Divinity of Jesus Christ, and we receive the Real Presence of Jesus when we receive Holy Communion. Our soul is nourished, helping us to become like Christ. Receiving Holy Communion with others during the Sacrifice of the Mass brings unity of the Church, the Body of Christ.
Then he took the bread, said the blessing,
broke it, and gave it to them, saying,
“This is my body, which will be given for you;
do this in memory of me.”
And likewise the cup after they had eaten, saying,
“This cup is the new covenant in my blood,
which will be shed for you.”Gospel of Luke 22:19-20
“I am the living bread which came down from heaven;
if anyone eats of this bread, he will live forever;
and the bread which I shall give for the life of the world is my flesh.”Gospel of John 6:51
THE ANOINTING OF THE SICK
The Anointing of the Sick is the Sacrament given to seriously ill Christians, and the special graces received unite the sick person to the passion of Christ. The Sacrament consists of the anointing of the forehand and hands of the patient with blessed oil, with the minister saying, “Through this holy anointing may the Lord in his love and mercy help you with the grace of the Holy Spirit. May the Lord who frees you from sin save you and raise you up.”
The ecclesial effect of this sacrament, once called Extreme Unction, is incorporation into the healing Body of Christ, with a spiritual healing of the soul, and at times healing of the body. The sacramental grace helps us to accept sickness as a purifying cross sent by God, and the grace even to accept death if that is God’s will.
There are several Scriptural references of Jesus healing the blind and the sick. The following are the primary sources.
“Is any among you sick? Let him call for the presbyters of the Church, and let them pray over him, anointing him with oil in the name of the Lord; and the prayer of faith will save the sick man, and the Lord will raise him up; and if he has committed sins, he will be forgiven.”James 5:14
“So they [the Twelve Apostles] went off and preached repentance. They drove out many demons, and they anointed with oil many who were sick and cured them.”Gospel of Mark 6:12-13
“They will lay hands on the sick, and they will recover.”Gospel of Mark 16:18
Holy Orders is the sacrament through which the mission entrusted by Jesus to his Apostles continues to be exercised in the Church to the end of time. Thomas Aquinas makes the important point that only Christ is the true priest, the others serving as his ministers [Hebrews 8:4]. Men are ordained to the priesthood in the Catholic and Orthodox Churches, as the sacrament confers upon the priest the character to act in the person of Christ [in persona Christi].
Holy Orders is the sacrament of Apostolic ministry. and the rite consists of the Bishop’s imposition of hands on the head of the priest-candidate with the consecrating prayer asking God for the outpouring of the Holy Spirit for the gifts of the ministry. There are three dimensions to ministry, that of Bishop, Priesthood, and the Diaconate.
“Do this in memory of me”Gospel of Luke 22:19 and 1 Corinthians 11:25
“Now be solicitous for yourselves and for the whole flock in which
the Holy Spirit has appointed you as bishops to pasture the Church of God,
which He purchased with his own blood.”Acts of the Apostles 20:28
“I remind you to rekindle the gift of God that is within you through the laying on of my hands.”The Second Letter of St. Paul to Timothy 1:6
“For every high priest chosen from among men is appointed to act on behalf of men in relation to God, to offer gifts and sacrifices for sins. He can deal gently with the ignorant and wayward, since he himself is beset with weakness. Because of this he is bound to offer sacrifice for his own sins as well as for those of the people. And one does not take the honor upon himself, but he is called by God, just as Aaron was. So also Christ did not exalt himself to be made a high priest, but was appointed by him who said to him, “Thou art my Son, today I have begotten thee”; as he says also in another place,
“Thou art a priest for ever, after the order of Melchizedek.”Hebrews 5:1-6
“Come to him, to that living stone, rejected by men but in God’s sight chosen and precious; and like living stones be yourselves built into a spiritual house, to be a holy priesthood, to offer spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ.”1 Peter 2:4-5
The union of a man and a woman is natural. The natural language of the human body is such that the man gives to the woman and the woman receives the man. The love and friendship between a man and a woman grow into a desire for marriage. The sacrament of marriage gives the couple the grace to grow into a union of heart and soul, to provide stability for themselves and their children. Children are the fruit and bond of a marriage.
The bond of marriage between a man and a woman lasts all the days of their lives, and the form of the rite consists of the mutual exchange of vows by a couple, both of whom have been baptized. The minister serves as a witness to the couple in the West, but serves as the actual minister of the rite in the East. The matter follows later through consummation of the marriage act.
Sacred Scripture begins with the creation of man and woman in the image and likeness of God, and conscludes with a vision of the “wedding-feast of the Lamb [Revelations 19:7, 9]”. The bond of marriage is compared to God’s undying love for Israel in the Old Testament, and Christ’s love for his Church in the New Testament.
Jesus stresses the importance of the marriage bond in his Ministry [Matthew 19:6, 8]. The importance of marriage is substantiated by the presence of Christ at the wedding feast of Cana, where he began his public ministry at the request of his mother Mary by performing his first miracle. It is the Apostle Paul who identifies the marriage of man and woman with the unity of Christ and his Church.
“For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife,
and the two shall become one flesh.”Genesis 2:24
“Husbands, love your wives, even as Christ loved the Church.”St. Paul to the Ephesians 5:25
“This is a great mystery, but I speak in reference to Christ and the church.
In any case, each one of you should love his wife as himself,
and the wife should respect her husband.”St. Paul to the Ephesians 5:32-33
References and Further Reading
1 Fr. Giles Dimock. The Sacraments. Lectures and Notes, Franciscan University, Steubenville, Ohio, 2001.
2 The Catechism of the Catholic Church. Second Edition. Libreria Editrice Vaticana, 2000. Catholic Book Publishing Company, New York, 1994.
3 The Navarre Bible – New Testament. Four Courts Press, Dublin, Ireland, 2001.
4 Vatican II. Lumen Gentium. Dominican Publications, Dublin, Ireland, 1975.
5 The Revised Standard Version of the Holy Bible. Ignatius Press, San Francisco, 1966.
6 St. Thomas Aquinas. The Third Part of the Summa Theologica, on the Sacraments, Translated by the Fathers of the English Dominican Province, St. Thomas More Press, 1920; Online Edition, 2000.
7 Pope Paul VI. Mysterium Fidei. Encyclical on the Holy Eucharist, 1965. From the Vatican internet site, 2000
8 Regis Martin. The Theology of the Church. Lectures and Notes, Franciscan University, Steubenville, Ohio, 2001.
9 Henri De Lubac. The Splendor of the Church. Editions Montaigne, Paris, 1953. Published by Ignatius Press, San Francisco, 1986, 1999.
10 Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger. Called to Communion – Understanding the Church Today. Ignatius Press, San Francisco, 1996.