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Understanding the Catholic Sacraments

Posted by Rebecca Bernstein on May 23, 2017  /   Posted in Theology News

Sacrament of the Eucharist.

“Ritual is the passage way of the soul into the Infinite.”
-Jane Addams

The sacraments are considered a keystone of Catholic practice. As physical expressions of sacred experiences, these rituals serve as metaphorical doorways for those in the faith to enter and return to the church. The seven Catholic sacraments each mark important moments from birth through death, allowing parishioners to connect to the divine throughout their lives.

The 7 Catholic Sacraments

Catholic sacraments are divided into three groups: Sacraments of Initiation, Sacraments of Healing and Sacraments of Service. Each group addresses a unique spiritual need.

Sacraments of Initiation

Sacraments of Initiation offer entry points into Catholic practice. Originally celebrated together, the three sacraments that make up this group are now performed at various life stages depending on individuals and their particular house of worship.

Baptism

Baptism marks initiation into the Catholic church. During baptism, candidates are immersed in water, or else water is poured on the head. They are then anointed with oil, and the invocation of the Holy Trinity is spoken. Baptisms are usually reserved for infants.

Confirmation

Confirmation expresses growth and learning within the Catholic faith and signifies a “sealing” of an individual’s connection to the church. During a confirmation, the candidate is once again anointed with oil, and liturgy is spoken. In the United States, those receiving confirmation must be between the ages of 7 and 16.

Eucharist

The Eucharist serves as an act of spiritual thanks and is considered the most important sacrament of Catholic life. The ceremony consists of blessing and consuming bread and wine, which embody the blood and body of Christ. The Eucharist is also known as the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass.

Sacraments of Healing

When a Catholic commits a sin, the church considers it an act of separation from God and Jesus Christ. The Sacraments of Healing provide an opportunity to reconnect with the divine, both in their daily lives and during dire times of need.

Reconciliation

Also known as confession, the sacrament of reconciliation helps parishioners reconnect with God. During the rite, individuals confess their sins to a priest, who then offers acts of kindness or penance for them to perform so they may be forgiven. The priest then offers absolution. Parishioners may take part in this rite as often as they like.

Anointing the Sick

Anointing the sick is a sacrament designed to help relieve suffering and to comfort those in substantial need. The rite consists of anointing individuals with holy oil and offering prayers. Once reserved only for the dying, the sacrament of anointing the sick is now also given to the seriously ill, injured and the elderly.

Sacraments of Service

Sacraments of Service provide a path for Catholics to serve others in their community.

Holy Orders

Holy Orders refers to leadership within the church. Those who perform this sacrament become deacons, priests and bishops, and they are responsible for preaching, counseling and otherwise spiritually guiding their communities. Although this sacrament is considered ongoing, a ceremony called the Rite of Ordination signifies its start and is marked by prayer, song and anointment.

Marriage

Also considered an ongoing sacrament, marriage provides an opportunity for two individuals to celebrate their love and commitment to one another. Elements such as their wedding rings and vows are exchanged as a sign of the sacrament. Once united, their home is deemed a domestic church. They may then use their union in the service of loving others.

As rituals, the sacraments provide the opportunity to touch Catholicism in an increasingly meaningful fashion. In doing so, they help individuals of faith deepen their connection to both their own spirituality and the divine connection among all people.

Sources: United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, Fulfilled in Christ: The Sacraments: A Guide to Symbols and Types in the Bible and Tradition, Franciscan Media, Loyola Press

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