Previous posts in my series of posts for the Year of Faith:
God the Creator
Jesus, The Incarnation
Jesus, The Savior
Mary, The Mother of God
The Holy Spirit
The Church & the Pope
The Roman Catholic Church celebrates 7 sacraments: Baptism, Reconciliation, Eucharist, Confirmation, Holy Orders, Matrimony and Anointing of the Sick. Sacraments are outward signs of inward grace instituted by Christ for our salvation. They help us and there are three different kinds.
Sacraments of Initiation are those that draw us deeper into the life of the Church and our life with Christ. They consist of Baptism, Holy Communion and Confirmation.
Sacraments of Healing are those that bring healing to our wounded souls and comfort us in our journey. They are Reconciliation (also called Penance or Confession) and Anointing of the Sick.
Sacraments of Vocation are those that help us live the life to which God has called us. They are Holy Matrimony or Holy Orders.
This post will focus on the Sacraments of Initiation: Baptism, Confirmation and the Eucharist. (Yes, I know my original outline for the year divided the sacraments differently but I will still get to them all.)
Baptism is the first sacrament anyone receives. Since the early Church, baptism has been administered to children since it is a grace from God not presupposing any human merit and is necessary for salvation. For anyone who dies without having been baptized we trust in God's mercy and pray for their salvation. Due to the importance of baptism for salvation, while a priest or deacon should be the one to baptize anyone, if it is necessary, any person may baptize provided they pour water over the one to be baptized and say, "I baptize you in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit."Through baptism, we are reborn into a new life in Christ Jesus.
The fruit of Baptism, or baptismal grace, is a rich reality that includes forgiveness of original sin and all personal sins, birth into the new life by which man becomes an adoptive son of the Father, a member of Christ and a temple of the Holy Spirit. By this very fact the person baptized is incorporated into the Church, the Body of Christ, and made a sharer in the priesthood of Christ. Baptism imprints on the soul an indelible spiritual sign, the character, which consecrates the baptized person for Christian worship. (CCC 1279-80)Baptism is the most necessary sacrament. It is the foundation upon which all the others are built. Through it, Christ lays claim us to. We become His brothers and sisters, his disciples, his friends. We become adopted children of the Father and co-heirs to the Kingdom of Heaven. We were orphans condemned to death but through adoption in baptism, we have a family, we have a future, we have life after death. Baptism was instituted by Jesus, who was himself baptized but because of His holiness the waters did not cleanse Him but rather He cleansed the waters. That is, by His submitting to be purified though He did not need it, He made it possible for sinners to be purified through the same submission.
Through baptism, since original sin and all personal sins are removed, nothing remains to prevent a soul's entry into God's Kingdom but an effect of Original Sin remains, namely concupiscence or the inclination to sin. That is why, even after baptism, we can still sin and lose Heaven.
Confirmation is the completion of baptismal grace. In the East, confirmation is given immediately after baptism which is then followed by the Eucharist thus highlighting the trinitarian unity of initiation sacraments. In the Latin Rite it is reserved for the age of reason and usually done by the bishop to emphasize the increased union with the church. The confirmed are "more perfectly bound" to the Church and receive special strength of the Holy Spirit. Like baptism, Confirmation likewise imprints on the soul an indelible mark and increases in us the gifts of the Holy Spirit and we are more equipped and hence more obliged to witness to Christ. Confirmation is a continuation of the outpouring of the Holy Spirit as first experienced by the Apostles on pentecost.
The confirmed are called even more strongly to share in the mission of Christ, that is, to be his missionary witnesses to our families, communities and world. Confirmation makes possible courageous witness. We are brought into an even deeper relationship with Christ and armed with the seven gifts of the Holy Spirit: wisdom, understanding, knowledge, fortitude, counsel, piety, and fear of the Lord. In simplest terms:
Wisdom helps us see things as God sees them.When we are responsive to the grace of Confirmation and the seven gifts of the Holy Spirit, we begin to bear the fruits of the Spirit: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, generosity, gentleness, faithfulness, modesty, self-control and chastity.
Understanding helps us to know the Catholic faith.
Counsel helps us to hear the Holy Spirit.
Fortitude gives us strength to overcome all dangers.
Knowledge helps us to know how we should live as Christians.
Piety helps us to love God our Father.
Fear of the Lord helps us to know our relationship to God.
The Eucharist is the "source and summit" of the Christian life. It is the memorial of Christ's Passover as instituted at the Last Supper.
In order to leave them a pledge of this love, in order never to depart from his own and to make them sharers in his Passover, he instituted the Eucharist as the memorial of his death and Resurrection, and commanded his apostles to celebrate it until his return; “thereby he constituted them priests of the New Testament.” (CCC 1337)We do not believe this is a re-enactment or symbol of His Passion but rather a making present His one and final sacrifice.
[Christ], our Lord and God, was once and for all to offer himself to God the Father by his death on the altar of the cross, to accomplish there an everlasting redemption. But because his priesthood was not to end with his death, at the Last Supper “on the night when he was betrayed,” [he wanted] to leave to his beloved spouse the Church a visible sacrifice (as the nature of man demands) by which the bloody sacrifice which he was to accomplish once for all on the cross would be re-presented, its memory perpetuated until the end of the world, and its salutary power be applied to the forgiveness of the sins we daily commit. (Counsel of Trent; CCC 1366)
In this sacrament, the bread and wine undergo transubstantiation, that is, as the sacrifice is re-presented they change in their very substance from mere bread and wine into the Body, Blood, Soul and Divinity of Christ, also called the Real Presence. Christ himself acts through His priests to offer Himself in the Eucharistic sacrifice. This is why only validly ordained priests may consecrate the bread and wine.
Because Jesus Himself is present in the sacrament of the altar, He is to be honored with the worship of adoration. By receiving the Eucharist, the communicant's venial, or minor, sins are forgiven and he or she is brought into greater union with Christ. By receiving Christ within ourselves, we become one with Him. He enters our bodies so that we may share in His. In this way, all believers become one in His one body. He draws us all to Himself and so all together. We are further given grace and strength for our continued journey through this life. As Pope Benedict XVI said at the Twentieth World Youth Day,"the Body and Blood of Christ are given to us so that we ourselves will be transformed in our turn."The Eucharist is Christ's self-gift to His church so that, in turn, His church can give herself back to Him.
While each of these three sacraments are distinct in form, meaning and purpose, they all work together, each building on the other. With each step we are given grace and drawn more deeply into Christ.