Article 92 – Catechism of the Catholic Church Series
Paragraphs 1113-1130 The Seven Sacraments
I recall a story told in high school to help us understand the seven sacraments, “all instituted by Jesus Christ our Lord” (ccc 1114), as this section of the Catechism reminds us. The story involves a young man in his early 20s named Jonah who was preparing to graduate from college. Jonah’s dad promised him that when he graduated he would become the new owner and manager of a large company that he owned in the Philippines, provided that Jonah saved the initial funds necessary for the business. Upon graduating, however, Jonah discovered that he did not have enough money to even journey to the Philippines, much less equip and staff the facility given him by his father. He asked his older brother, Jerome, for a loan. Jerome told Jonah that he would pay for anything Jonah needed to get his company started. Jonah eventually became successful and was able to pay his brother back all he had borrowed. The point of the story is to remind us that we are in a similar position as Jonah with regard to our Heavenly Father. God our Father has promised us a kingdom that will be ours if we manage and run it properly. But, like Jonah, we need help from our older brother, Jesus, who has a bank account of merits and graces that are infinite. We can draw upon that spiritual account as often and as much as we want. Jesus even arranged several ways to help us, including the seven sacraments, to help secure the means of caring for our spiritual kingdom. The word sacrament comes from the Latin word “sacrare,” which means to make sacred, to make holy, to set apart for the service of another. A sacrament is something which helps make us holy and pleasing to God.
In the early Church, almost everything was called a sacrament, something sacred. In the 12th century, however, the Church gave a special and limited meaning to the word, which continues today – an outward sign of inward grace given to us by Christ.
An outward sign is something which we can see, feel, or hear. When God gave us these helps for our souls, the sacraments,
he gave to each of those sacraments something we could see or feel or hear, some outward sign which would show that the soul was receiving God’s help. In other words, whenever our souls would receive God’s help or grace through the sacraments, God saw to it that our senses, our bodies, should know about it!
For example, in baptism we see the priest (or deacon) pouring water over the head of the one being baptized, and we hear the words, “I baptize you in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.” If the person being baptized is old enough, he or she can also hear those words and feel the water. No one, however, can see the soul being washed of its sins. The pouring of water and speaking of words are the outward signs. Inwardly, what we cannot see is the washing from sin and the giving of God’s grace.
“There are seven sacraments in the C h u r c h : B a p t i s m , C o n firmation or Chrismation, Eucharist, Penance, Anointing of the Sick, Holy Orders, and Matrimony” (ccc 1113). The Catechism (paragraph 1116) teaches that the sacraments are: powers that come forth from the Body of Christ, which is ever-living and life-giving.
actions of the Holy Spirit at work in his Body, the Church.
“the masterworks of God” in the new and everlasting covenant. Just as the Church has done for the canon of Sacred Scripture and for the doctrine of the faith, the Church, with the guidance of the Holy Spirit, “has (also) gradually recognized this treasure (of the sacraments)… and the “seven that are, in the strict sense of the term, sacraments instituted by the Lord” (ccc 1117). The Catechism further explains that the sacraments are “of the Church” in the double sense that they are “by her” and “for her” (ccc 1118). Through baptism and confirmation, the priestly people are enabled to celebrate the liturgy, while those of the faithful “who have received [the additional Sacrament of] Holy Orders, are appointed to nourish the Church with the word and grace of God in the name of Christ” as ministerial priests (ccc 1119). In fact, “the ordained ministry or ministerial priesthood is at the service of the baptismal priesthood” (ccc 1120).
A few additional points: 1. The three sacraments of bapt i s m , c o n firmation, and holy orders confer, in addition to grace, a sacramental character or “indelible seal” by which the Christian is set apart to share in Christ’s eternal priesthood. These sacraments can never be repeated (ccc 1121).
2. The sacraments of Eucharist, penance, anointing of the sick, and matrimony may be repeated. Matrimony may be received more than once. The anointing of the sick may be received more frequently. Penance may be received often. The Eucharist may even be received daily.
3. In the sacraments of Christ “the Church already receives the guarantee of her inheritance and even now shares in everlasting life” as we await in joy and hope the coming of our Savior Jesus Christ” (ccc 1130).
4. The sacraments are a demonstration of “the power of God”. When celebrated in accordance with the intention of the Church, sacraments work “independently of the personal holiness of the minister. Nevertheless, the fruits of the sacraments also depend on the disposition of the one who receives them” (ccc 1128).
How blessed we are to have such an abundance of God’s grace available to us through the sacraments given to us through his Church by our Savior and High Priest, Jesus Christ.
Father Hillier serves as Director of the Offi ce of the Pontifical Mission Societies, Censor Librorum and oversees the Office for Persons with Disabilities