Theologians say that Christ is the fundamental sacrament or sign of God’s love for humankind. This means he preaches it (word), he puts it into practice (actions) and he himself is that love (effect).
Similarly it can be said that the Church is a sacrament – which means that the Church is commissioned to proclaim God’s love for us, to practise it and make it effective. A Sacrament is a sign which brings about the reality which it signifies, and the Church’s sacramental activity is developed in a series of special, symbolic actions which cover the course of human life and its high points. They are:
The Sacraments of Initiation:
Three sacraments which mark the beginning of our life in Christ: Baptism, Confirmation and Eucharist.
at the beginning of our lives, union with Christ and with all others who are baptised is promised to us. We are baptised with water in the name of the Trinity, and become members of the Church, Christ’s body. As this happens, God himself comes to live within us, bringing to an end the old alienation or estrangement from God, which is called ‘Original Sin’. Baptism is known as the Gateway to the Sacraments: without it a person is incapable of receiving any of the others.
This marks the growth of the new life received in Baptism, and the point at which the recipient, no longer dependent on the faith of his /her parents, makes a personal commitment to Christ and to the way of life which is implied by that. Confirmation is conferred when the Bishop, or the Parish Priest, anoints the candidate on the forehead with the holy oil of Chrism saying: N. receive the Holy Spirit, the Gift of the Father.
Christ Himself becomes our food and drink, giving himself to us under the form of bread and wine, which themselves have been changed into the substance of the Body and Blood of Christ which causes the community itself to become the Body of Christ in a mystical way.
Baptism and Confirmation were one celebration in origin, conducted by the Bishop. With the passage of time, and the growth of numbers it was perceived that this celebration consisted of two parts, and that whereas the second part could be postponed until the bishop’s presence made it possible, the first seemed too urgent to await the bishop’s presence. Hence the local priest was authorized to celebrate baptism. Thereafter the Eastern and Western churches diverged: in the East the priest administers Baptism, Confirmation, and Eucharist to infants: in the West only Baptism was conferred on infants and children: for Confirmation the bishop remained the ordinary minister. After Confirmation had been received, the candidate could receive the Eucharist when they reached the use of reason (age about 7 or 8). Thus the traditional order of these sacraments was broken in the West.
When we are cut off from the Eucharist Community, either spiritually (because of sin, which prevents us from partaking of the Eucharist) or physically (by virtue of serious illness which prevents us from being present at the Eucharist celebration), God offers us two sacraments to enable us to return: The Sacrament of Reconciliation and the Sacrament of the Sick.
God offers us a sign of His nearness and forgiveness
Sacrament of the Sick
When we are seriously ill, we given courage, and hope for salvation and gods mercy are promised us. The Church prays not only for physical recovery, but also for the forgiveness of sin.
The celebration of these two sacraments has developed over the years. In earlier centuries the Sacrament of Reconciliation was available once only, and so people delayed Baptism until adult life, so that both Original Sin and personal sins would be absolved on that occasion, and they would still have a further opportunity of forgiveness, should they fall into further sin. Confession of sin was also public in earlier centuries, becoming private only around the 9th century. Later still, in the 16th century, priest and penitent were separated by a physical partition. In the late 20th century, following the Second Vatican Council, this arrangement was abolished. There are three forms of celebration of this sacrament: Private Confession, Communal Celebrations with Individual Absolution, and General Absolution (reserved for emergency use).
There have been similar changes in the Sacrament of the Sick. For many centuries it was reserved for those who were in danger of death by sickness, and celebrated generally only at the very end of that sickness, when death was imminent. So, it became known as Extreme Unction (or Last Anointing, or the Last Rites). After the Second Vatican Council it was decreed that this sacrament could be administered to anyone who was ill, and not only to those in danger of death by reason of their illness. There are three forms of celebration of this sacrament: The normal celebration for the sick in their own homes; an abbreviated from for hospitals and institutions; and a celebration within Mass. Each form can be adapted for more than one person. The standard celebration includes Confession and Absolution, the Anointing of the Sick, and Eucharist. When it is anticipated that a person is close to death, and is probably receiving Holy Communion (Eucharist) for the last time, a special form is used which is called Viaticum, which literally means that they are being given food for the (final) journey.
The Sacraments of Communal Life: God provides two sacraments for community life: one for the community of married life, in the Sacrament of Matrimony; and one for general service of the Christian Community, in the Sacrament of Holy Orders.
Sacrament of Matrimony
The only sacrament in which the ministers are the recipients themselves. In this sacrament the bridal couple are promised that Gods love will be effective in their reciprocal love for one another. Their union in marriage is a sign of their being joined to God. Their love for each other, in its physical and bodily expression, becomes a sign of Gods love for them. Whereas in other sacraments the sign used is usually a simple element such as water, bread, wine, or oil – in marriage the signs used are the bride and groom themselves.
Sacrament of Holy Orders
The sacrament in which someone is commissioned for special, public service in the Church.
There are three Orders: Deaconate, Presbyterate & Episcopate ; for Deacon, Priest and Bishop. (More to follow on Holy Orders.)