Catholics are a people of sacraments. Sacraments are the rites instituted by Christ, dispensed by the Church through which divine life is granted. Sacraments make visible the mystery of God’s love for His children. All sacraments have their foundation in the scripture of the Holy Bible. Unlike Protestant churches, which generally only have the two sacraments of baptism and communion, the Catholic Church has seven sacraments. Most Catholics will at most participate in six of the seven sacraments
Baptism – Cleansing Grace- The Sacrament of Initiation
“Amen, amen, I say to you that no one can enter the kingdom of God without being born of water and Spirit.” (The New American Bible John 3:5)
The first and most important sacrament is the sacrament of Baptism. While generally instituted shortly after birth, Baptism can take place at any age. Baptism is the sacrament of initiation. It’s always the first sacrament that a person is given. This sacrament marks the person as belonging to Christ and cleanses him of original sin, the sin bestowed upon all through the fall of Adam.
Within the Catholic Church baptism is normally administered by pouring though immersions is seen in some areas. Both are considered acceptable. For those converting to Catholicism a previously administered baptism is considered valid as long as it was done in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Baptism can be properly administered only once.
While Baptism can be celebrated at other times, it is ideally celebrated at the Easter Vigil. This is best understood through the symbolism of the Baptism itself. In Baptism a man symbolically dies to his old self and is reborn in Christ. It is considered appropriate that this be celebrated at the time of year when Christians celebrate the death and resurrection of their Savior.
The scriptural references for Baptism include: (The New American Bible Matthew 28:19 and Romans 6:3-11)
Confirmation – Receiving of the Holy Spirit – The Sacrament of Adulthood
“Then they laid hands on them and they received the Holy Spirit” (The New American Bible Acts 8:17)
The sacrament of Confirmation is considered the second sacrament of initiation as it seals what was begun with Baptism. This is also considered the sacrament of adulthood because after this sacrament the Church considers the person to be spiritually an adult. The age of when this takes place varies slightly and depends on the individual parish. Generally though the sacrament of Confirmation takes place at about the age of 14. It is common for those who convert to Catholicism to be Baptized and Confirmed at the same time.
The sacrament of Confirmation is where the recipient of the sacrament personally answers the call to follow Christ willingly. Because most Catholics were baptized as infants, they had no choice in the matter. With the sacrament of Confirmation they are now accepting their place with Christ willingly. It is at this time that they affirm the vows made on their behalf at baptism and accept the responsibilities as Christians for their own.
As was written in scripture, Acts 8: 14-17: “When the apostles heard that Samaria had accepted the word of God, They sent Peter and John, that they might receive the Holy Spirit, for it had not yet fallen upon any of them; they had only been baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus.”
This very clearly shows that the reception of the Holy Spirit came after baptism and required some intervention of Church authorities. Within the Catholic Church, the Sacrament of Confirmation is generally administered by the Bishop and is considered a time of great importance in a young persons life. It is customary for a person to take the name of a saint and adds it to his or her own. Most people choose a saint with who they share some character trait, perhaps a birthday of even some trait that the person wishes to cultivate.
The Sacraments of Baptism and Confirmation are received only once in a persons lifetime. Ideally, they live those sacraments daily when they choose to live like Christ.
The scriptural references for Confirmation include: (The New American Bible Luke 24:29, Acts 19:1-6, and 1 Corinthians 12:4-11)
Eucharist – The Body and Blood of Christ – The Sacrament of Unity
“This is my body, which will be given up for you; do this in memory of me” (The New American Bible Luke 22:19)
The sacrament of the Eucharist is central to the Catholic identity. It is celebrated every Sunday during the Mass in both remembrance and obedience to Christ.
Catholics believe that through the miracle of transubstantiation the bread and wine become the actual body and blood of Christ, also referred to as “The Real Presence.” This is in a literal interpretation of Scripture and is the central theme of every Mass.
The Eucharist bestows sanctifying grace upon all who partake of it. Ideally, the Eucharist should be received at least weekly though that is not required. The Church requires Catholics to partake only once per year, at Easter. It is possible within most Catholic parishes to attend mass and take communion daily.
In Catholicism, all Catholics that are able must attend Mass on Sunday. This is generally known as the Sunday Obligation. It should more properly be known as the Sunday Privilege. Only Catholics in a state of grace, free from mortal sin, may partake of the Eucharist.
In many Protestant churches, the sacrament of communion is the second and final sacrament. In the majority of these churches this is a symbolic meal instead of the literal transformation of the bread and wine.
Mass itself is structured around the Eucharist. After the opening procession and hymn, prayers are said. There are then 3 Bible readings and a sermon (generally called the homily). Following the homily there are prayers, the consecration of the bread and wine and communion. After communion there is a time of quiet reverence for private prayer. Then the congregation prayers again, any announcements are made and there is a final hymn.
The scriptural references for the Eucharist include: (The New American Bible Luke 22:19-20 and 1 Corinthians 11:17-34 )
Penance – Forgiveness of Sins – The Sacrament of Reconciliation
“Whose sins you forgive are forgiven them, and whose sins you retain are retained.” (The New American Bible John 20:23)
Much is made about Catholics going to confession as though this is strange behavior. It’s not strange at all. The Sacrament of Reconciliation is simply when a sinner goes and apologizes to God. There are numerous scriptural references to this being ordained by God. What is important to remember is that this it not merely an apology to God, it’s the accepting of fault and responsibility in what was done wrong. The penitent has to make amends for that wrongdoing.
There is a well-made argument that everyone should take the matter up with God and God alone. That is an interesting theory but not the one given to man by God Himself. As soon as a person realizes that they are in error they should immediately repent. This is certainly a valid act and one God looks upon favorably. If they are not able to make confession then it’s better than nothing. But that is only supposed to be a temporary measure. Once they are able to confess, they should.
There are two types of sin: Mortal and venial. Mortal sins cut man off from God completely until they make confession. Venial sins injure their relationship with God but not permanently. It’s important to note here that Catholics in a state of mortal sin may not partake of any sacraments other than the sacrament of reconciliation. A mortal sin severs their relationship with the Church as well. If someone should die in this state then there can be no redemption of their soul and it is condemned to Hell for all eternity.
For a sin to be a mortal sin, three conditions must be present. It must be a serious matter, it must have given proper reflection, and the person must have committed it willingly. It is impossible to accidentally commit a mortal sin.
Venial sins are sins of a less grave matter or sins committed without proper reflection and consideration of the matter. They are still sins and should still be confessed as soon as possible.
There are two forms of private confession: face-to-face and confessional. The confessional method is the one most popular in movies. In the confessional the priest is behind a screen and can hear but not see the penitent. In the face-to-face confessional the penitent and the priest are seated in chairs across from one another. The penitent gives the nature and number of your transgressions. The priest will ask for any clarification necessary and counsels the penitent on how to avoid such mistakes in the future. Prayers are said and the sacrament is complete. If further prayers would be helpful the priest will suggest them. If there is any other advice that the penitent wishes to seek, he is free to do so. Once the matter is concluded the priest may never reveal what was said.
Everyone sins which means simply to fall short of the perfection of God. God in his infinite mercy gave man a way back to Him. Man simply have to follow the path. The Catholic Church requires the Sacrament of Reconciliation at least one a year during Lent.
The scriptural references for Penance include: (The New American Bible Luke 15, John 20:21-23, and 2 Corinthians 2:5-11)
Extreme Unction – The Healing of the Spirit – The Sacrament of the Sick
“They drove out many demons, they anointed many with oil who were sick and cured them.” (The New American Bible Mark 6:13)
Extreme Unction or the sacrament of the sick is the sacrament given to people gravely ill or in imminent danger of death. It helps to spiritually heal the person. In the past, this sacrament was reserved for those about to die hence the antique term “last rites”. This was generally the last rite that a person received before death.
The sacrament of the sick is not a miracle. It doesn’t heal the person physically. It certainly could if that were the will of God, but this sacrament is designed to prepare a person spiritually to deal with what is coming. It’s a sacrament to be given before a serious operation or after a serious car accident. It is generally not given because a person has a cold.
The scriptural references for Extreme Unction include: (The New American Bible Mark 1:32-34, Mark 6:13, James 5:14-15)
Marriage – The Creation of the Family – The Sacrament of Holy Matrimony
“So they are no longer two, but one flesh.” (The New American Bible Matthew 19:6)
Marriage is serious business in the Catholic Church. It should be everywhere, of course, but Catholicism means it. The Church doesn’t recognize divorce, period. There are only two ways to dissolve a marriage within the Catholic Church and that is through death or annulment.
Further, if a Catholic were to be married outside the Catholic form of Marriage (as by a Justice of the Peace) without a dispensation from their bishop then the marriage would not be considered valid, the Catholic in question would be in a state of mortal sin and not able to partake of the sacraments until the matter was resolved. That’s not to say however that a married couple that converts to Catholicism is suddenly unmarried. The Catholic form of marriage applies only to Catholics.
Within the Catholic Church marriage is between one man and one woman. In most churches the couple must attend pre-marital counseling classes. They both have to agree to raise any children as Catholics. While interfaith marriages are not given a blanket prohibition, they are frowned upon. Nonetheless, both parties, including the non-Catholic party, have to agree to raise the children as Catholic.
Marriage is considered to be a lifetime contract between a man, a woman and God. Even if the man and woman no longer wish to keep the contract, God has the final say on the matter.
The scriptural references for Marriage include: (The New American Bible John 2: 1-12, Matthew 19:6, and Mark 10:11)
Holy Orders – The Call to a Vocation in Christ – The Sacrament of Service
“He saved us and called us to a holy life.” (The New American Bible 2 Timothy 1:9)
The call to the religious life is a difficult but joyous decision. For women, they can become nuns. Men can become priests or monks. Elevation through the ranks of the priesthood can lead to greater responsibility and even to the papacy.
All of those called to the religious life take vows of poverty, chastity and obedience. They own no property. They must be obedient to the Church. They do not marry and therefore are forbidden to engage in sexual activity. All sexual activity outside of a valid marriage is a mortal sin.
However it is possibly for a man or woman to be called to the religious life after the death of a spouse. As long as there are no minor children, there is generally no problem with the person having been married.
The actual occupations within the clergy are varied. There are priests and nuns now that are doctors, lawyers and everything in between. Many teach or work in social service fields. Naturally, their religious life comes before their professional career.
Within the Bible it is mentioned that certain people are called to be clergy. These men and women dedicate their lives to serving Christ first and last. Scripture calls on these people to be the guides and counselors to the laity on their journey to Christ. It is not a mission that they take lightly. Their lives are ones of service to God and community.
The scriptural references for Holy Orders include: (The New American Bible 2 Timothy 1:6 and Titus 1:5-9)
- Bouley, Allan, ed. Catholic Rites Today. Collegeville, MN: Liturgical Press, 1992
- Catechism of the Catholic Church. Libreria Editrice Vaticana. Boston: Pauline, 1994
- Cross, F. J. and E. A. Livingstone, eds. The Oxford Dictionary of the Christian
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- The New American Bible. Catholic World Press. World Publishing, 1987