A sacrament is a special sign that is given by Christ to the Church whereby divine grace is conferred. It is an outward sign of an inward grace instituted by Christ.
The Catholic Church has seven sacraments:
Holy Communion (Eucharist)
Anointing the Sick (Extremunction)
Baptism is the sacrament that rids man of original sin and personal guilt. It takes away all punishment due to sin. It is the entrance to a new and supernatural life as a Catholic. Baptism is necessary for salvation. For this reason, anyone can baptize another person in extreme emergencies, such as the birth of an infant who is not going to live because of a severe birth defect. In this instance, the delivery-room doctor would immediately baptize the sick baby.
- Confession (Penance/Reconciliation)
Confession (or Penance/Reconciliation) are all the same sacrament. When engaging in this sacrament, the penitent confesses his sins directly to the Catholic priest, who stands in the place of God. This can be done face-to-face with the priest or behind a partition anonymously. The priest has the authority – on God’s behalf – to forgive the penitent’s mortal (major) and venial (lesser) sins. This authority was given to the 12 apostles when Christ appeared to them after his resurrection and, breathing on them, said,
“Receive the Holy Spirit. For those whose sins you forgive, they are forgiven; for those whose sins you retain, they are retained” (John 20:22-23).
The priest’s authority has been passed on century after century to all Catholic priests.
- Holy Communion (Eucharist)
The Holy Eucharist is one of the factors that distinguishes the Catholic Church from other Christian denominations because the Catholics believe that the species (or Communion host) is the real body, blood, and divinity of Christ. Before receiving the Sacrament of the Eucharist, a Catholic must be free of all mortal sins (by way of confession and absolution of a Catholic priest).
By receiving the sacrament of Holy Communion, Catholics are sanctified, strengthened and empowered to grow in the life of Christ.
Confirmation is considered the third sacrament of initiation (the first two being Baptism and Confession). Often teenagers who have received Baptism and Communion then go through the Confirmation process. Many adults and new converts to Catholicism go through Confirmation also.
During Confirmation, the priest lays hands on the person being confirmed. The central act of Confirmation, though, is the anointing of oil (or chrism – an oil that has been consecrated by a Bishop) and the priest’s words that go as follows:
“Be sealed with the Gift of the Holy Spirit.”
This seal is significant in that, with it, the Holy Spirit then stands guard over the graces given to the Christian at Baptism.
Marriage in the Catholic Church is a union of opposite sexes – for life – ending only with the death of one spouse. It is a contract that guarantees lifelong exclusiveness. Marriage in the Catholic Church was elevated to the position of a sacrament when Jesus performed the miracle at the Wedding at Cana, where he changed the water into wine. Two baptized Catholics who want to marry must have the wedding performed by a Catholic priest in a Catholic Church for the marriage to be considered a sacramental one.
- Holy Orders
The Sacrament of Holy Orders is apostolic, in that it is a continuation of Jesus’ priesthood. There are three levels of Holy Orders in the Catholic Church: the episcopate, the priest, and the diaconate.
A bishop is an episcopate. He is a priest who is ordained to the episcopate by another or several bishops. He is then a part of an unbroken line from the apostles, which is called apostolic succession.
A priest is considered a co-worker of the bishop. He teaches the church and performs liturgical duties for the parishioners in the mass, through Confession, and the other sacraments. His main duties are preaching the Gospel and the offering of the Eucharist.
The last Holy Order is the Deaconate. A Deacon assists priests and bishops. Beyond preaching the gospel, a deacon is not specifically granted any spiritual gifts, or charisms, in the Catholic Church.
- Anointing the Sick (Extreme Unction)
The sacrament of Anointing the Sick, or Extreme Unction, used to be called the Last Rites and was mainly reserved for the dying. Now the Anointing of the Sick is given to a parishioner before a major operation and also to those who are gravely ill. It is administered for the forgiveness of sins, for spiritual strength and to help a person recover his health. There is no limit to how many times it can be administered.
- Sacraments of the Catholic Church. (2011). Catholic Online. Retrieved on February 23, 2011, fromwww.catholic.org/clife/prayers/sacrament.php
- Richert, S. (n.d.). The Seven Sacraments.About.com. Retrieved on February 23, 2011, fromcatholicism.about.com/od/beliefsteachings/p/Sac_Anointing.htm
- Knight, K. (2009). Sacraments. New Advent Catholic Encyclopedia. Retrieved on February 23, 2011, fromwww.newadvent.org/cathen/13295a.htm