The liturgical life of the Catholic Church revolves around the Eucharistic sacrifice and the sacraments. Christ instituted the sacraments of the new law. There are seven sacraments in the Church: Baptism, Confirmation (Chrismation), Eucharist, Penance, Anointing of the Sick, Matrimony, and Holy Orders.
The seven sacraments touch all the stages and all the important moments of Christian life: they give birth and increase, healing and mission to the Christian’s life of faith. There is thus a certain resemblance between the stages of natural life and the stages of spiritual life (CCC1210).
The word "sacrament" has a long and rich history in the Catholic Church. It refers principally to the seven official sacred encounters in the liturgy of the Church (Baptism, Confirmation, Eucharist, Penance and Reconciliation, Anointing, Orders and Marriage), but has a wider meaning as well.
The word derives from the Latin "sacramentum," originally a pledge or oath taken by Roman soldiers, which often included a "brand" on the skin. The 3rd-Century church theologian Tertullian appears to be the first to employ the term in church usage in the case of baptism and its sacred "seal" of the individual to Christ. In coining this usage, he prepared the way for many centuries of development in sacramental theology.
The purpose of the sacraments is to make people holy, to build up the body of Christ, and finally, to give worship to God; but being signs, they also have a teaching function. They not only presuppose faith, but by words and object, they also nourish, strengthen, and express it; that is why they are called "sacraments of faith." The sacraments impart grace, but, in addition, the very act of celebrating them disposes the faithful most effectively to receive this grace in a fruitful manner, to worship God rightly, and to practice charity. Worship is integral to our lives as Christians. When we engage in the prayer and ritual of the Church, we are formed as Church. Our sacramental rites are of primary importance while we are gathered. Therefore, most sacraments take place when the church is gathered at the Sunday liturgy. Although it is not a sacrament, Christian Burial will be addressed in this section.
The Sacraments of Christian Initiation
Baptism, Confirmation, and the Eucharist lay the foundations of every Christian life. “The sharing in the divine nature given to men [and women] through the grace of Christ bears a certain likeness to the origin, development, and nourishing of natural life. The faithful are born anew by Baptism, strengthened by the sacrament of Confirmation, and receive in the Eucharist the food of eternal life. By means of these sacraments of Christian initiation, they thus receive in increasing measure the treasures of the divine life and advance toward the perfection of charity.” (CCC, 1212)
Being baptized, we are illuminated; illuminated, we become sons and daughters; being made sons and daughters, we are made perfect; being made perfect, we are made immortal... This work is variously called grace, and illumination, and perfection, and washing. Washing, by which we cleanse away our sins; grace, by which the penalties accruing to transgressions are remitted; and illumination, by which that holy light of salvation is beheld, that is, by which we see God clearly. + Clement of Alexandria
Baptism, the first and fundamental sacrament and the gate to the other sacraments, is the purifying and sanctifying sacrament of rebirth. It is the means by which its recipients are incorporated into the church in a sacramental bond of unity. Learn about the Rite of Christian Initaiton of Adults.
By a signing with the gift of the Spirit, confirmation enriches the baptized with the Holy Spirit, binding them more perfectly to the Church, and strengthening them in their witness to Christ by word and deed and in their work to bring to its fullness the Body of Christ. Confirmation is conferred through anointing with chrism and the laying on of hands.
The Eucharist is the most august sacrament, in which Christ himself is contained, offered and received, and by which the Church constantly lives and grows. The Eucharistic Sacrifice, the memorial of the death and resurrection of the Lord, in which the sacrifice of the cross is perpetuated over the centuries, is the summit and source of all Christian life and worship; it signifies and effects the unity of the people of God and achieves the building up of the Body of Christ.
As children reach the age of reason, generally around age seven, the Church extends to them an invitation to celebrate the sacrament of Eucharist. The initiation into the Christian community that took place at baptism is further extended by inviting children to enter fully into the heart of Christian faith through participation in the Eucharist.
Through penance, the faithful receive pardon through God's mercy for the sins they have committed. At the same time, they are reconciled with the Church community. The confession, or disclosure, of sins frees us and facilitates our reconciliation with others.
Anointing of the Sick
Through the sacrament of anointing, Christ strengthens the faithful who are afflicted by illness, providing them with the strongest means of support. Jesus showed great concern for the bodily and spiritual welfare of the sick and commanded his followers to do the same. The celebration of this sacrament is an opportunity for the deepening of the faith of the community who are able to witness the faith and devotion of those being anointed.
The Church has a rich tradition in its teaching on sacramental marriage and covenantal union. The Old Testament authors write of God making a covenant with the chosen people and promising them that they will never be forsaken. The New Testament authors write of Jesus as the new covenant and compare the relationship of Jesus with the Church to the relationship of a husband and wife. The matrimonial covenant, by which a man and a woman establish between themselves a partnership for the whole of life, is by its nature ordered toward the good of the spouses and the procreation and education of offspring. Learn about family life resources. Learn about annulments.
Holy Orders is the sacrament by which bishops, priests and deacons are ordained and receive the power and grace to perform their sacred duties. The sacred rite by which orders are conferred is called ordination. The apostles were ordained by Jesus at the Last Supper so that others could share in his priesthood. Learn about becoming a priest or deacon.
The Church asks spiritual assistance for the departed, honors their bodies, and at the same time brings solace of hope to the living. The celebration of the Christian funeral brings hope and consolation to the living. While proclaiming the Gospel of Jesus Christ and witnessing to the Christian hope in the resurrection, the funeral rites also recall to all who take part in them God's mercy and judgment and meet the human need to turn always to God in times of crisis.
Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults
The Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults includes the celebration of the sacraments of baptism, confirmation and Eucharist, but also all of the rites of the catechumenate. The initiation of adults is a gradual process that takes place within the community of the faithful. Together with the catechumens, the faithful reflect upon the value of the paschal mystery, renew their own conversion, and by their example lead the catechumens to obey the Holy Spirit more generously.