The word Sacrament comes from the Latin word “Sacramentum”, meaning, ‘making military oath of allegiance’. Sacraments are defined as ‘holy, visible signs instituted by Christ of an invisible reality’ in which Christians can experience the healing, forgiving, nourishing, strengthening presence of God that enables them to love God in return. Sacraments are looked at as “an outward sign of inward grace, and a means whereby we receive the same.”
Therefore, a sacrament is a sign, something we can see, for example, the bread and wine of the Eucharist, oil in the anointing of the sick and laying on of hands at ordination. But like all signs, the sacramental sign points to something beyond itself-it points to an encounter with Christ.
For example, the water of baptism points to the new life of the baptized; the bread and wine point to the body and blood of the risen Christ, healing power of Christ in the Anointing of the sick, sharing of Christ’s priesthood in the laying of the hands in the Ordination, etc.
Sacraments as signs point to an encounter with the risen Christ and with God. Our encounter with God is our salvation. Our salvation is being in communion with God and our communion with God itself is a grace of God.
Christian spirituality suggests that God’s own grace enables us to love God. Hence, we can rightly say that sacraments are reminders of what God has done in the past and what he continues to do. They enable us to enter into the great story of God’s salvation and each time we receive a sacrament, we encounter the risen Lord.
Pope Francis rightly states that “The Sacraments are the manifestation of the Father’s tenderness and love towards each of us.” Therefore, through the sacraments, we participate in the life of Trinitarian God. The Father gives us life, the Son restores our life through his death and resurrection, and the Holy Spirit continues to strengthen us in Godly life through his abundance of Grace. This Trinitarian life is made possible for us through the action of the Church the very instrument of God on earth. Thus in a way, the Church itself is a Sacrament of God.
In the same way, it is also proper to say that Christ is a Sacrament; by Word becoming Flesh, Christ became a visible sign of God’s presence and grace. He continues to be present among us in the Church and he continues to impart God’s grace through the Church.
A sacrament can bear fruit only if one understands and accepts it in faith. Thus, the recipient should be worthy of it and be in a state of grace. Each sacrament therefore helps and leans on other sacraments to make us worthy and be in the state of Grace. For example, the Sacrament of Reconciliation/Penance helps us to receive the Holy Eucharist and Baptism opens the door to other sacraments.
The seven sacraments of the Catholic Church are Baptism, Confirmation, Eucharist, Penance, Anointing of the Sick, Holy Orders, and Matrimony. The first three are grouped as Sacraments of Christian Initiation. The Christian is born anew in Baptism, strengthened by Confirmation and Eucharist, the food of eternal life.
Sacraments of Healing are Sacraments of Reconciliation which renews and the Anointing of the Sick which strengthens in the moment of illness of body and soul.
The Sacraments of Service are Holy Orders which commission the recipient to serve God’s people offering sacraments and sacrifices interceding for God’s people and Matrimony which are directed towards the salvation of the spouses within the dignity of human love made holy by God’s presence.
May we grow in knowledge of the sacraments, receive them with worthiness and become sacraments of God’s grace to others.
Fr. Lazar Arasu SDB
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