What Are Sacraments?
The sacraments are Christ’s own gift that provide us with his grace.
They are the divine helps which God gives us to enable us to:
- Believe the truths of his faith
- Live according to his moral code
- Grow in his gift of divine life
The seven sacrements are a fundamental part of the Catholic faith.
The sacraments are chosen instruments of divine power.
The exact definition of a sacrament is that it is “an outward sign instituted by Christ to give grace.” We readily can see that there are three distinct ideas contained in that short definition:
- Outward sign
- Instituted by Christ
- To give grace
Let’s examine exactly what each of these three ideas means:
The outward signs are God’s way of treating us like the human beings we are. He conveys His unseen grace into our spiritual souls through material symbols which our physical bodies can perceive—things and words and gestures.
The outward signs of the sacraments have two parts: the “thing” itself which is used (water, oil, etc.), and the words or gestures which give significance to what is being done.
…Instituted by Christ…
We know that no human power could attach an inward grace to an outward sign—not even the divinely guided but humanly applied power of the Church.
Only God can do that.
Which brings us to the second element in the definition of a sacrament: “instituted by Christ.”
Between the time He began His public life and the time He ascended into heaven, Jesus fashioned the seven sacraments. When He ascended into heaven, that put an end to the making of sacraments.
The Church cannot institute new sacraments. There never can be more or less than seven, the seven Jesus has given us: Baptism, Confirmation, Holy Eucharist, Reconciliation (Confession or Penance), Anointing of the Sick, Holy Orders, and Matrimony.
Jesus did completely specify the matter and form of some of the sacraments—notably Baptism and the Holy Eucharist. But this does not mean that He necessarily fixed the matter and form of all the sacraments down to the last detail.
Concerning some of the sacraments (Confirmation, for example) He probably left it to His Church, the keeper and the giver of His sacraments, to specify in detail the broad matter and form assigned by Christ.
…To give grace
Coming now to the third element in the definition of a sacrament, we have its essential purpose: “to give grace.”
What kind of grace do the sacraments give?
First and most important of all, they give sanctifying grace. Sanctifying grace is that marvelous supernatural life, that sharing-in-God’s-own-life that is the result of God’s Love, the Holy Spirit, indwelling in the soul.
- To the soul cut off from God by original sin, Baptism brings sanctifying grace for the first time. Baptism opens the soul to the flow of God’s love, and establishes union between the soul and God.
- To the soul cut off from God by its own sin, by mortal sin, the sacrament of Reconciliation restores the sanctifying grace that has been lost. Reconciliation removes the barrier that has kept the Holy Spirit outside and once again gives entrance to God’s life-giving love.
The other five sacraments—Confirmation, Holy Eucharist, Anointing of the Sick, Holy Orders, and Matrimony—give an increase in sanctifying grace.
They deepen and intensify the spiritual life of sanctifying grace which already pulsates through the soul. As each additional sacrament is received (and repeated, when it can be) the level of spiritual vitality rises in the soul—somewhat as the brightness of a fire increases as you add more fuel.
(God’s love does not increase—it is infinite to begin with. But the soul’s capacity to absorb His love increases as a child’s capacity for life increases with each meal that he eats.)
-Catholic Sacraments: A primer Retrieved from http://www.beginningcatholic.com/sacraments.html