There are seven Sacraments: Baptism, Confirmation, the Eucharist, Reconciliation (or Confession or Penance), the Anointing of the Sick, Holy Orders and Matrimony.
If you are not familiar with the meaning of “Sacrament” please read this section on our website.
The Sacraments are divided into the Sacraments of Christian initiation (Baptism, Confirmation, and Eucharist); the Sacraments of healing (Reconciliation and Anointing of the Sick); and the Sacraments at the service of communion and mission (Holy Orders and Matrimony). The Sacraments touch all the important moments of Christian life.
The following is a very brief description of each Sacrament. To read a more detailed description of the Sacraments, use the Catechism of the Catholic Church as your guide. It is available online here. There are also a number of frequently asked questions about each Sacrament in the table of contents.
Christian initiation is accomplished by means of the Sacraments which establish the foundations of Christian life. The faithful born anew by Baptism are strengthened by Confirmation and nourished by the Eucharist.
Catholics are usually baptised as infants and then receive Eucharist and Confirmation between the approximate ages of 7 and 12.
Adults who wish to become Catholic can, after a period of preparation, receive the three Sacraments at the same time. If they have been previously baptised in another Christian denomination, they are not to be baptised again.
In some Eastern Catholic Churches, such as the Maronite Church, infants are fully initiated at the time of their Baptism. That is, they are baptised, receive their first Eucharist and are confirmed.
This Sacrament is primarily called Baptism because of the central rite with which it is celebrated. To baptise means to “immerse” in water. The one who is baptised is immersed into the death of Christ and rises with him as a “new creature” (2 Corinthians 5:17). This Sacrament is also called the “bath of regeneration and renewal in the Holy Spirit” (Titus 3:5); and it is called “enlightenment” because the baptised become “children of light” (Ephesians 5:8).
Confirmation confirms and strengthens baptismal grace. It is called Chrismation in the Eastern Churches because the essential rite of the Sacrament is anointing with the holy oil of chrism.
The Eucharist is the very sacrifice of the Body and Blood of the Lord Jesus which he instituted at the Last Supper:
While they were eating, he took a loaf of bread, and after blessing it he broke it, gave it to them, and said, “Take; this is my body.” Then he took a cup, and after giving thanks he gave it to them, and all of them drank from it. He said to them, “This is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many.” (Mark 14:22-24)
From the age of reason, about 7 years of age, baptised Catholics who have received suitable formation can receive Communion at Mass. This means consuming the Body of Christ (the bread) and the Blood of Christ (the wine). It is not uncommon for only the Body of Christ to be offered.
Christ, the physician of our soul and body, instituted these Sacraments because the new life that He gives us in the Sacraments of Christian initiation can be weakened and even lost because of sin. Therefore, Christ willed that His Church should continue His work of healing and salvation by means of these two Sacraments.
Reconciliation (Penance or Confession)
The Sacrament of Reconciliation (Confession, Penance) is the means and the sign that Christ gave us to show His willingness to heal us when, through our own human frailty, we turn in on ourselves and away from Him and our neighbour. This is the sign God has given us that through the words of His priest ("I now absolve you from your sins") whatever harm we have done to our relationship with our God is healed and we are restored to a state of friendship with our Father in heaven.
Anointing of the Sick
This Sacrament confers a special grace which unites the sick person more intimately to the Passion of Christ for his good and for the good of all the Church. It gives comfort, peace, courage, and even the forgiveness of sins if the sick person is not able to make a confession. Sometimes, if it is the will of God, this Sacrament even brings about the restoration of physical health. In any case this anointing prepares the sick person for the journey to the Father’s House.
Two Sacraments, Holy Orders and Matrimony, confer a special grace for a particular mission in the Church to serve and build up the People of God. These Sacraments contribute in a special way to ecclesial communion and to the salvation of others.
The Sacrament of Holy Orders is conferred, in each of its three degrees (Bishop, Priest, Deacon), by means of the imposition of hands on the head of the ordinand by the Bishop who pronounces the solemn prayer of consecration. With this prayer he asks God on behalf of the ordinand for the special outpouring of the Holy Spirit and for the gifts of the Spirit proper to the ministry to which he is being ordained.
The Sacrament of Matrimony establishes a perpetual and exclusive bond between the spouses. God himself seals the consent of the spouses. Therefore, a marriage which is ratified and consummated between baptised persons can never be dissolved. Furthermore, this Sacrament bestows upon the spouses the grace necessary to attain holiness in their married life and to accept responsibly the gift of children and provide for their education.
Photo of Lectionary by Grant Whitty on Unsplash
1 August 2021