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Sacraments and Sacramental Theology

We hear a lot about the sacraments and we can probably name them without too much effort or thinking. But, how much do we really know about these sacred rituals of the Church? Over the next few weeks, we will look at some of the basics of the sacraments and sacramental theology. First, what exactly is a sacrament?

The Catechism of the Catholic Church defines sacraments as “efficacious signs of grace, instituted by Christ and entrusted to the Church, by which divine life is dispensed to us” (1131). The purpose of the sacraments is to help us to get to heaven. The Catechism continues in the same paragraph: “The visible rites by which the sacraments are celebrated signify and make present the graces proper to each sacrament. They bear fruit with those who receive them with the required dispositions.” As we are body-soul beings, God uses things which we can see, hear, touch, smell, and taste to help us experience him and his divine life. For the person who is properly disposed, the sacrament bears fruit for the him or her. When Christ instituted the sacraments, he formed them in ways which build up the recipient and also the entire Church. In this way, the sacraments are both personal and communal. The Catechism explains it in this way: “The fruit of the sacramental life is both personal and ecclesial. For every one of the faithful on the one hand, this fruit is life for God in Christ Jesus; for the Church, on the other, it is an increase in charity and in her mission of witness” (1134). Thus, no sacrament is “private.” Every sacrament celebrated is meant to affect the entire Church in some way.

Some Sacrament Basics

The Sacraments generally fall into three categories:

Initiation: Baptism, Confirmation, Eucharist

Healing: Reconciliation, Anointing of the Sick

Service/Commitment: Matrimony, Holy Orders

Three of the seven sacraments impart an indelible mark upon the soul of the person receiving it. An indelible mark changes the character of that soul forever and it can never be removed. For this reason, the sacrament can never be repeated. The three sacraments which impart this indelible mark are Baptism, Confirmation, and Holy Orders.

Form, Matter, and Minister

For a sacrament to be validly performed, there must be proper form, matter, and minister. What are these?

Form: the words which are spoken (i.e. in Baptism: “I baptize you in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.”

Matter: a material substance (i.e. in Baptism: water) or spiritual substance (i.e. in Reconciliation: sins)

Minister: the person who performs the prescribed rites. It is important to note that the disposition of the minister does not affect validity. When the correct form and matter is present, even if the minister is in a state of mortal sin, the sacrament is valid and the graces are poured forth because it is Christ working through the minister for the sanctification of his people. We will start exploring more about each of the sacraments next week!



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