The Catholic Church and the Sacraments
First, a Sacrament is a means by which God comes into our lives to deepen our relationship with Him. The Catholic Church recognises seven Sacraments, namely Baptism, Confirmation, Eucharist, Marriage, Ordination, Anointing of the Sick and Reconciliation. The seven sacraments touch all stages and all the important moments of the Christian life.
So let us look at what the Catechism of the Catholic Church has to say about the sacraments:
"Christ now acts through the Sacraments he instituted to communicate his grace. The Sacraments are perceptible signs (words and actions) accessible to our human nature. By the action of Christ and the power of the Holy Spirit they make present efficaciously the grace that they signify." (1084)
"Celebrated worthily in faith, the sacraments confer the grace that they signify. They are efficacious because in them Christ himself is at work: it is he who baptizes, he who acts in his sacraments in order to communicate the grace that each sacrament signifies." (1127)
We believe Jesus himself gave us each of the sacraments and each one flows from his life and ministry. Through each sacrament we are given the grace of God and drawn closer to him. Each sacrament is a visible sign of God's unconditional love for us. A visible sign where God comes to us, and enters into our life and brings us closer to him through his grace.
The sacraments are arranged into three groups:
- Sacraments of Initiation
- Sacraments of Healing
- Sacraments of service
The sacraments of Initiation
The sacraments of Christian initiation - Baptism, Confirmation, and the Eucharist - lay the foundations of every Christian life. "The sharing in the divine nature given to men through the grace of Christ bears a certain likeness to the origin, development, and nourishing of natural life. The faithful are born anew by Baptism, strengthened by the sacrament of Confirmation, and receive in the Eucharist the food of eternal life. By means of these sacraments of Christian initiation, they thus receive in increasing measure the treasures of the divine life and advance toward the perfection of charity”. (Catechism of the Catholic Church 1212)
Baptism is the gateway to all the other sacraments, it is our new life with God, the beginning of our initiation into the Church. Baptism also frees us from all sin including original sin. During the rite of Baptism, water is poured on the head as the Priest or Deacon Say’s “I baptise you in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.” The water and these words (matter and form) are the signs of the sacrament of Baptism. The newly baptised are also anointed with oil, just as Christ was anointed Priest, Prophet and King. The first anointing is with the oil of Catechumens to strengthen the child with the power of Christ. The second anointing is with the oil of Chrism, the Christian’s consecration. There are two other symbolic actions during the baptism they are clothed with a white garment and also the lighting of a candle. The white garment is the outward sign of the Christian’s dignity; this garment is wrapped around the child as a sign of then being clothed in Christ. The lighted candle, which is light from the Paschal candle is entrusted to the godparents for them to keep it burning brightly as the new Christian has now been enlightened by Christ.
Eucharist (Holy Mass)
Eucharist is the sacrament of Jesus' Body and Blood. Jesus is really present in the Eucharist. Jesus gave us the gift of His own Body and Blood at the Last Supper, and we remember this meal when we gather at Mass and receive Holy Communion. The signs of Eucharist are our gifts of bread and wine, which the priest through the power of the Holy Spirit changes into the Body and Blood of Christ during that part of the Mass that we call the Consecration. Eucharist is intimately related to the other sacraments. Only those who have been baptized and have had their sins forgiven may receive the Blessed Sacrament in Holy Communion.
Confirmation is the sacrament in which we are sealed with the gift of the Holy Spirit and are strengthened to give witness to the Good News of Jesus. In Confirmation we speak for ourselves as we renew the promises our parents and godparents made for us at our Baptism. Confirmation is celebrated during a Mass with a bishop, but sometimes the Bishop may delegate this to a priest. A high point in the rite of Confirmation is the laying on of hands. The bishop extends his hands over those to be confirmed, praying in part, "Send your Holy Spirit upon them to be their Helper and Guide. Give them the spirit of wisdom and understanding, the spirit of right judgment and courage, the spirit of knowledge and reverence. Fill them with the spirit of wonder and awe in your presence."
Then the bishop dips his thumb into blessed oil that is called holy Chrism. He makes the sign of the cross on the foreheads of those being confirmed, anointing them as he says, "Be sealed with the Gift of the Holy Spirit."
This anointing with oil is the most important sign of the sacrament of Confirmation. Those who are being confirmed choose another name in addition to the one given to them at Baptism. They choose a saint whom they have read about and admire. Sponsors for each candidate are present at the rite of Confirmation to give support to those who are making an adult commitment to their faith. The Sacrament of Confirmation at St. Clare’s parish is celebrated for those young people in school year six.
For one reason or another you may not have been Confirmed, if this is the case contact one of the priests at the parish by following this link.
RCIA – Right of Christian initiation of Adults
RCIA – is a course designed for the reception of adults into the Catholic Church, this course is also adapted for young people who wish to be received into the Catholic Church.RCIA is also called the ‘Catechumenate’ and there are a number of stages and ritual steps leading up to the reception of the Sacraments of Baptism, Confirmation and Holy Communion. Some people may already have been Baptised in a Christian church whose Baptism is recognised by the Catholic Church, in which case they would receive Confirmation and Holy Communion.
Becoming a Catholic is a big step; it is literally a life changing experience, and one which shouldn’t be entered into lightly, nor should anyone ever feel pushed or coerced into becoming a Catholic because their future husband or wife is one, or because it may be easier to enrol children into a Catholic school. Becoming a Catholic should be something that you feel God is calling you to and something that you desire yourself.
The Sacraments of Healing
Sacrament of the Sick / Anointing of the sick
Sacrament of the Sick / Anointing of the sick - "By the sacred anointing of the sick and the prayer of the priests the whole Church commends those who are ill to the suffering and glorified Lord, that he may raise them up and save them. And indeed she exhorts them to contribute to the good of the People of God by freely uniting themselves to the Passion and death of Christ." (Catechism of the Catholic Church 1499)
A sign of life some people have the idea that this sacrament is like the sign of death or approaching death or only offered when all hope is lost. In fact the reverse is true, it is a sign of life, the eternal life promised by Jesus Christ, here and now as well as in the future. Christ came to show us how we can have life to the full in whatever situation we find ourselves. His Spirit, active and dynamic in our sickness and frailty as well as in our health and strength, is a real presence. The sacrament of the sick confirms this in a tangible way.
Advanced Years The frailty of old age is recognised too. An older person may not be seriously ill but the years do impose burdens upon the elderly which can be difficult to adjust to and which can make the older person feel isolated and at times lonely. Again this sacrament helps and strengthens the Christians in this stage of life so that they can continue to be an active part of the family of God, for older people have so much to offer younger Christians.
Reconciliation - "Those who approach the sacrament of Penance obtain pardon from God's mercy for the offence committed against him, and are, at the same time, reconciled with the Church which they have wounded by their sins and which by charity, by example, and by prayer labours for their conversion."(Catechism of the Catholic Church 1430)
Our Lord Jesus came into our world to win for us the forgiveness of our sins, to show us God’s love and to lead us home to the Father. He achieved this by his death on the Cross of Calvary and by his Resurrection. We gain that forgiveness, first of all, through the Sacrament of Baptism and then it is renewed as often as necessary through the Sacrament of Reconciliation. In that Sacrament Jesus waits to reconcile us to friendship with the Father.
To receive God’s forgiveness in this Sacrament a contrite heart is necessary; we have to be sorry for our sins. Those sins must then be confessed to the priest who sits in the person of Christ and also represents our brothers and sisters who have been hurt by our sins. The priest will then confer Absolution, the Holy Spirit coming to live within us displacing our sins and filling us with his life. And, finally, as an outward sign of sorrow, we perform the penance given to us by the priest. This does not make up for the sins committed but rather helps us to begin a new life.
The sacraments of Service are Matrimony and Holy Orders
Matrimony / Marriage - The matrimonial covenant, by which a man and a woman establish between themselves a partnership of the whole of life, is by its nature ordered toward the good of the spouses and the procreation and education of offspring; this covenant between baptized persons has been raised by Christ the Lord to the dignity of a sacrament. (Catechism of the Catholic Church 1601)
In the Scriptures the relationship between God and God’s people is often described in terms of a marriage. This joining and sacramental sign, which the husband and wife give each other, they also give to the entire faithful community of witness. The fidelity of Catholic husbands and wives is a reflection of a commitment to God and to each other; our human lives are interconnected, like a fabric, woven together by many commitments.
Holy Orders - Holy Orders is the sacrament through which the mission entrusted by Christ to his apostles continues to be exercised in the Church until the end of time: thus it is the sacrament of apostolic ministry. It includes three degrees: episcopate, presbyterate, and diaconate. (Catechism of the Catholic Church 1636)
Episcopate is the order of Bishops, Presbyterate is the order of Priest and Diaconate is the order of Deacons.
The first Deacons where chosen in the Acts of the Apostles. The most famous of these was Stephen who was martyred. Today in the Catholic Church there are two types of Deacons, permanent and transitional.
The first of the Holy Orders is that of Deacon
Permanent Deacons - Permanent Deacons are men who feel called by God to serve the Church. He can be single or married. If the latter, he must be married before being ordained a Deacon. Permanent deacons, especially those who are married, have secular jobs to support their families and also help the Priest of the parish to which they are assigned.
Transitional Deacons - Transitional deacons are seminarians, students in the last phase of training for the Catholic priesthood. After being a deacon for a year, they’re ordained a priest by the bishop.
Deacons help and serve bishops by serving the needs of the Church, proclaiming the gospel, teaching and preaching, baptising, witnessing marriages, and assisting the priest celebrant at liturgies.
The second of the Holy Orders is that of Priest
Jesus chose 12 men to be apostles. After Jesus' ascension, the apostles had the important mission of spreading the news about Jesus, but they were lacking one member. At a gathering of Jesus' disciples, Peter told the group that a replacement for Judas was needed. The man to be chosen needed to have been a witness to Jesus' life, death, resurrection, and ascension. Two men were proposed, Justus and Matthias. Peter and the apostles prayed for the Lord to show them whom to choose. Matthias was chosen and became the new apostle (Acts 1:15-26).
All members of the Church participate in the priesthood of Jesus Christ through Baptism. However, some men are called to serve Jesus and the Church today through the ministerial priesthood through the celebration of the Sacrament of Holy Orders. Through their leadership in the Church, they help continue Jesus' presence on earth in the tradition of the apostles.
Priests serve the community in various ways. They may be called to serve in their dioceses or as religious order priests, carrying out the mission of a particular religious community. They preside at liturgies, preach, administer the sacraments, counsel people, serve as pastors, and teach.
Priests receive the Sacrament of Holy Orders in the Rite of Ordination. The bishop lays his hands on the head of the candidate and says a prayer asking for the outpouring of the Holy Spirit. In one part of the rite, the candidate lies in front of the altar while the Litany of the Saints is sung or recited. In another part of the rite, a priest's hands are anointed with chrism.
The third of the Holy Orders is that of Bishop
A Bishop receives the fullness of the Sacrament of Holy Orders. He is the head or Ordinary of the local church. The local area entrusted to him is called a diocese. A bishop is also a member of the episcopal college this is all the Bishops who, with the Pope, guide the Church.