The Sacraments: An Overview

There are 7 Sacraments in the Catholic Church, namely: Baptism, Confirmation, Eucharist, Penance, Anointing of the Sick, Marriage and Holy Orders. Instituted by Christ himself, the purpose of the Sacraments “is to sanctify men, to build up the Body of Christ and, finally, to give worship to God. Because they are signs they also instruct. They not only presuppose faith, but by words and objects they also nourish, strengthen, and express it. That is why they are called 'sacraments of faith” (CCC 1123).

WHAT ARE THE SACRAMENTS?

Well the Church defines the Sacraments as: “efficacious signs of grace, instituted by Christ and entrusted to the Church, by which divine life is dispensed to us. The visible rites by which the sacraments are celebrated signify and make present the graces proper to each sacrament. They bear fruit in those who receive them with the required dispositions.” (CCC 1131)

In essence, the Sacraments are not mere signs; they actively signify and make present divine grace in the lives of people who are properly disposed, e.g. place no obstacles in the way.  Each Sacrament gives a particular sacramental grace from the Holy Spirit, which help us to cooperate with God’s plan for our lives.

The 7 Sacraments can be divided into the following 3 categories:

1.    Sacraments of Initiation (Baptism, Confirmation, Eucharist
2.   Sacraments of Healing (Penance and Anointing of the Sick
3.   Sacraments of Service of Communion (Marriage and Holy Orders)  

It should be noted that “the three sacraments of Baptism, Confirmation, and Holy Orders confer, in addition to grace, a sacramental character or ‘seal’ by which the Christian shares in Christ's priesthood and is made a member of the Church according to different states and functions. This configuration to Christ and to the Church, brought about by the Spirit, is indelible, it remains for ever in the Christian as a positive disposition for grace, a promise and guarantee of divine protection, and as a vocation to divine worship and to the service of the Church. Therefore these sacraments can never be repeated” (CCC 1121).

Once someone has been validly Baptized, Confirmed or received Holy Orders, the Sacrament cannot be undone and never needs to be repeated. All Catholics are strongly encouraged to have recourse to the Sacraments, especially the Eucharist and Penance. 

For more information on the Sacraments, please see the Catechism of the Catholic Church, paragraphs 1113 - 1212.