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The seven sacraments are drawn from the love that Jesus has for all of us as shown in his life, passion, death, and resurrection. This love is shared with us by the Holy Spirit through human ceremonies instituted by Christ. These ceremonies offer union with God during seven significant life stages. As our liturgy tells us, our God “always walk[s] with us on the journey of life” (cf. Eucharistic Prayer for Use in Masses for Various Needs).
Each sacrament is formed by words and gestures that explain what God is doing for us. The materials that we use (water, bread, wine, oil) point to the divine love of our God, who freely chooses to share his grace with us through them. Just as Christ is fully human and divine, so the sacraments have a human and a divine aspect. The sacraments are about God’s loving involvement in our lives.
The Sacraments of Initiation
In baptism, a person is born into and shares in the life of God and the Church. Through baptism, a person is adopted by the Father as a beloved son or daughter, incorporated into Christ and his body, the Church, and becomes a temple of the Holy Spirit. Baptism, the first sacrament, forgives all sins and opens the way for a person to live and grow with God and the Church through the other sacraments.
As we need assistance growing and maturing in our physical and social lives, so the Sacrament of Confirmation assists a person as he or she matures in the faith. God supports his son or daughter through the gifts of the Holy Spirit. These gifts are strengths which make it possible for the person to witness faithfully and courageously to the faith through word and example. Confirmation also makes a person a partner with God in the spreading of the Word.
No life flourishes without food and drink. Thus, the Eucharist offers the Body and Blood of Jesus as food and drink for the spirit. As a ceremony, the Eucharist is both a meal that nourishes, as well as a sacrifice in which the death of Jesus is offered to the Father. The Eucharist is also the object of adoration among the faithful. Since the graces of all the other sacraments flow from the death and resurrection of Jesus, the Eucharist is considered the central sacrament of the Church.
The Sacraments of Healing
Because of human weakness, the baptized often do not live up to their dignity as sons and daughters of God. The Sacrament of Reconciliation celebrates the forgiveness and mercy of God as the sinner humbly acknowledges and confesses his or her sins. The Sacrament also repairs or reestablishes a person’s unity with and membership in the Church. The priest represents both God and the Church, and speaks the consoling words of absolution in the name of both.
In the course of life, humans suffer from illnesses of body, mind, and spirit. The Sacrament of Anointing (previously called the Last Rites or Extreme Unction) confers the healing touch of God on the sick and forgives sin. Sometimes the sacrament restores a person to full health. Sometimes it prepares a person to accept the reality of death, which is a necessary part of human life. In the case of immanent death, the Eucharist is offered as Viaticum, food for the journey to the Father.
The Sacraments of Service
The Sacrament of Marriage celebrates the human capacity for love and total dedication, and serves as a witness to Christ’s love for the Church. It involves all aspects of life: mental, physical and spiritual. While beginning with a wedding service in the presence of God and the faith community, a husband and wife continue to confer the sacrament on one another whenever they offer themselves in the service of the other and the larger community. Thus, marriage is an ongoing sacrament. Should the marriage be blessed with children, the grace of the sacrament is there to strengthen the couple as parents as well.
Christ did not leave the Church without a sacrament of leadership and service. Through the various degrees of the Sacrament of Holy Orders, God raises up deacons, priests, and bishops to serve, lead, and govern the Church as a community of faith. As an ongoing sacrament, Holy Orders is God’s gift of assistance and strength for the preaching of the Word, the administration of the sacraments, and the ministry of service leading to the holiness of all.