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A sensible (detectable by the human senses) sign, instituted by Jesus Christ during His visit with us in earthly life, through which invisible grace and interior sanctification are communicated from Jesus to an individual human soul.
God reaches out to man in the sacraments. Each of the seven sacraments is God reaching out to communicate grace to man. A sacrament is also God’s oath to us. “Sacrament” comes from the Latin sacramentum, oath. Jesus promised, Mt 28:20 “I am with you always, to the close of the age.” In the Vatican, on the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel, is Michelangelo’s celebrated painting of God reaching out to man. The Catholic Church has all of the seven sacraments that Christ left us in the deposit of faith.
In Hebrew, an oath is shevah or nishevah (seven). In Hebrew, when we say, “I swear under oath,” we are saying, “I seven myself.”
There are sacraments of initiation, healing and vocation. The sacraments of initiation are the sources of Christian life: Baptism gives us rebirth in Christ, Confirmation strengthens the Holy Spirit’s presence within us, and Holy Eucharist nourishes our soul. The sacraments of healing restore our soul’s health: Penance forgives our sins, and Anointing of the Sick and Dying prepares us for eternity. The sacraments of vocation aid the salvation of others: in Matrimony we work for salvation for our spouse and the children to come, and in Holy Orders we work for the salvation of all. Each of the seven sacraments gives sanctifying grace as well as actual grace.
There are sacraments of the living and the dead. The sacraments of the living are Confirmation, Holy Eucharist, Matrimony, and Holy Orders. They require the state of grace to be received fruitfully. The sacraments of the dead are Baptism and Penance. They confer or restore sanctifying grace and so can be fruitfully received even when we are in a state of mortal sin. Anointing of the Sick and Dying is generally regarded as a sacrament of the living because it should be received in a state of grace, but in some situations it operates as a sacrament of the dead.
Every sacrament has matter and form. The matter is used to perform the rite, e.g., water in Baptism, chrism in Confirmation, bread and wine in Holy Eucharist, or the penitent’s valid confession in Penance. The form is what the priest does with the matter to invoke the sacrament, e.g., Eucharistic Prayer over the bread and wine or prayer of absolution in Penance.
Sacraments are not the same as sacramentals. The seven sacraments were personally instituted by Christ; they impart grace every time they are properly received. Sacramentals, however, are sacred signs instituted by the Church, such as holy water, scapulars, medals, or rosaries, as well as blessings and exorcisms. The grace they impart depends on the disposition of the recipient and the intercession of the Church.
Vatican documents on Worship and the Sacraments
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