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Sacraments and what they mean

By Sean Martin
John Paul II Generation

What are Sacraments?
There are seven Sacraments and only seven: Baptism, Confirmation, the Eucharist, Penance, Anointing of the Sick, Holy Orders, and Matrimony (Catechism of the Catholic Church 1210). “The sacraments are efficacious signs of grace, instituted by Christ and entrusted to the Church, by which divine life is dispensed to us” (CCC 1131). Each Sacrament has been established by Jesus Christ to be able to participate in the life of God in a very real way. The Apostles and their successors from generation to generation, through Holy Orders, have been given the power and authority of Jesus to administer the Sacraments. In Latin the word sacrament, sacramentum, means an oath or sacred rite. The Sacraments are sacred oaths or covenants, with promised blessings (or curses), which persons enter into with our Blessed Lord Jesus. Each Sacrament bestows on us the grace of God. “Grace is a participation in the life of God” (CCC 1997). “Grace is favor, the free and undeserved help that God gives us to respond to his call to become children of God, adoptive sons, partakers of the divine nature and of eternal life” (CCC 1996).

Are the words we say just words without meaning?
While speaking about the Sacraments, the Church uses a Latin phrase Lex Orandi, Lex Credendi, which means “the Church believes as she prays” (CCC 1124). The Faith of the Church is being put into action in the Sacraments. What we pray in the Sacraments really happens, for example, when the priest states in the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass “Almighty God, we pray that your angel may take this sacrifice to your altar in Heaven” (Eucharistic Prayer I of the Roman Canon). We actually believe that the Eucharist is a sacrifice, the priest makes present this sacrifice, and an angel presents it to God. This is a reality that takes place at every Mass!

If a priest commits a serious sin does the Sacrament he performs still happen?
Another Latin phrase the Church uses while teaching on the Sacraments is Ex Opere Operato, which means “by the very fact of the action’s being performed” (CCC 1128). The Sacraments do not depend on the holiness of the minister. We all desire good and holy priests; and we should all pray and sacrifice for them. But, regardless of whether or not a priest is holy, the Sacraments still takes place as long as the essential elements are present.

What is need for a Sacrament to be valid?
The essential elements of every Sacrament are the proper form (the words said), proper matter (the material and action performed), proper recipient (the person receiving the Sacrament), proper minister (the person conferring the Sacrament), and the proper intention of the minister (the minister must intend to do what the Church intends for the Sacrament.)

Do I need the Sacraments in order to get to Heaven?
All of the Sacraments sanctify the recipients, they build up the Body of Christ, through them we worship and glorify God, they instruct the faithful by words and actions, they nourish and strengthen the faithful, and they expresses our Faith in God and what we believe. All of the Sacraments have saving power. “The Church affirms that for believers the sacraments of the New Covenant are necessary for salvation” (CCC 1129).

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