Maybe you have heard Catholics speaking about the sacraments, but you do not know much about the Catholic faith, or what the sacraments are. What are the sacraments and why are they so important to Catholics?
In the Catholic faith, there are seven sacraments by which believers receive sanctifying grace from God. In the Catechism of the Catholic Church, sanctifying grace is defined as, “a habitual gift, a stable and supernatural disposition that perfects the soul itself to enable it to live with God, to act by his love” (2000). Not all of the following sacraments apply to everyone, specifically holy orders or matrimony. They are however, means by which sanctifying grace can be received.
Catholic Sacrament # 1: Baptism
Baptism is the gateway to all the other six sacraments. Like all Christian denominations, Catholics perform baptism in the remembrance of St. John the Baptist, who baptized Jesus, and in following Jesus’ commandment to the apostles to “go and baptize all nations in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit” (Matthew 28:19). Baptism is necessary to remove original sin, thereby making us members of the Church.
Catholic Sacrament # 2: Confirmation
Confirmation is when a baptized person is anointed with holy (blessed) chrism, which is blessed oil and balm. Confirmation is usually performed by a bishop of the Catholic Church, unless other circumstances deem it necessary for a priest to perform the sacrament. This anointing calls upon the Holy Spirit to enter the soul of the recipient. If a person is baptized as an infant, the confirmation will usually take place around the age of eight, or so- before the child is to be administered Holy Communion, the Eucharist, which is the next sacrament.
Catholic Sacrament # 3: Eucharist
The Eucharist, the blessed sacrament, is the partaking of the body and blood of Christ. Catholics believe in transubstantiation, which is the actual presence of Jesus Christ present in the Eucharist. Catholics do not believe that they canibalistically eating the flesh of Jesus Christ, but they acknowledge that spiritually, he is present in communion. The holy Eucharist can only be administered by a consecrated priest or bishop, and can only be received by an individual if they are not guilty of being in the state of a mortal sin. If the individual has committed a mortal sin, but has not performed penance, or confession, for the mortal sin, they cannot partake of the holy Eucharist until they go to confession, and are absolved of the sin.
Catholic Sacrament # 4: Penance
Penance, or “confession,” as it is frequently called, is when the penitent (individual confessing) expresses sincere remorse for past sins, and physically confesses them to a priest, or bishop. The penitent must feel sincere remorse, confess wholly the sins they have committed, and perform an act of contrition, which is a prayer stating that you will avoid sin in the future. After this, the priest or bishop administering penance will absolve the person of their sins. Catholics do this in obedience to the the verse from the Bible when Jesus told his apostles, “Whosoever sins you forgive, are forgiven and whosoever sins you retain, are retained” (John 20:23).
Catholic Sacrament # 5: Anointing of the Sick
The sacrament of anointing of the sick, or the “last rites,” as they are usually called, is when a priest blesses a sick person with holy anointing oil. If the person is close to death, the priest will hear the dying person’s confession and bless them. Even if a person has already passed away, they can still receive the sacrament of last rites from a priest.
Catholic Sacrament # 6: Holy Orders
Holy orders is the sacrament in the Catholic Church when a person is ordained a priest, bishop or deacon. In order to become a priest, the man has to attend seminary school to learn about theology and religious philosophy, and to attain a graduate degree. A vow of celibacy is also required of the sacrament of holy orders, meaning the individual makes a lifetime vow to abstain from sex.
Catholic Sacrament # 7: Marriage
The sacrament of marriage is the holy matrimonial union of a man and woman in the Catholic church. This ceremony is performed by a priest, and once a couple completes their marriage vows, and are declared married by the priest, they cannot end their marriage in dissolution, meaning the marriage is fully dissolved. To catholics, even though a couple can achieve a legal separation, or divorce, their marriage is still valid in the eyes of God and does not end until the death of one partner. In this regard, remarriage is forbidden in the Catholic Church unless an annulment is granted by the Church. The marriage state is a holy state and grace is bestowed upon the married couple. Married couples are encouraged to have as many children as God wills.
The seven sacraments of the Catholic Church are considered ex opere operato, which means that the sacraments administer grace to the individual on their own through the power of Jesus Christ, who works through them. The sacraments dispense grace to the individual, a grace necessary to conquer mortal sin, and the emptiness sin causes to the soul.
Catechism of the Catholic Church, 1994, United States Catholic Conference- Libreria Editrice Vaticana,