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What are the sacraments?

We have been taught that there are seven sacraments: Baptism, Confirmation, Eucharist, Reconciliation, Anointing of the Sick, Marriage and Holy Orders. When people today hear that Jesus is a sacrament and the Church is a sacrament they sometimes wonder, Does that makes nine sacraments? The question "How many sacraments are there?" has received different answers at various periods of our history depending on what the question meant and how the questioner understood the word sacrament.

In our industrial America assigning qualities to numbers as symbols (for instance, thinking "13" is unlucky) usually sounds strange or superstitious. But this use is quite common in other societies and other historical periods. Numbers as qualities have often been used in religion. Seven, for example, symbolizes totality. This is an important factor in the Church's speaking of seven sacraments.

Four is the number for earth and three is the number for heaven. (There are four elements: earth, air, fire and water. There are three Persons in God.) When we join earth and heaven, the material and the spiritual, the created and the divine, four and three, we have "all that is." And so, seven means universal, completeness, totality. When we say that there are seven sacraments we are suggesting in this religious sense that the material universe is a sacrament; all created things are windows to the divine; we have all the sacraments we will ever need! (Seven is frequently used in this sense of "completeness": There are "seven gifts" of the Holy Spirit and there are "seven Churches" in the Book of Revelation, symbolizing the universal Church.)

For the first 11 centuries of Christian history the word sacrament was frequently used to refer to the mysterious plan of God. Little by little specific aspects of this mysterious plan-for example, eucharist, baptism, anointing of the sick-began to be singled out and called sacraments. In the 12th century, we began to see the list of the seven actions which we now call sacraments. In 1547, responding to specific questions being asked at the time, the Council of Trent stated: "The sacraments of the new law are seven, no more and no less" (Session VII, Canon 1).

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Friday, September 6, 2013
Daily Catholic Question for 9/5/2013 Daily Catholic Question for 9/7/2013

Charles de Foucauld: Born into an aristocratic family in Strasbourg, France, Charles was orphaned at the age of six, raised by his devout grandfather, rejected the Catholic faith as a teenager and joined the French army. Inheriting a great deal of money from his grandfather, Charles went to Algeria with his regiment, but not without his mistress, Mimi. <br /><br />When he declined to give her up, he was dismissed from the army. Still in Algeria when he left Mimi, Charles reenlisted in the army. Refused permission to make a scientific exploration of nearby Morocco, he resigned from the service. With the help of a Jewish rabbi, Charles disguised himself as a Jew and in 1883 began a one-year exploration that he recorded in a book that was well received. <br /><br />Inspired by the Jews and Muslims whom he met, Charles resumed the practice of his Catholic faith when he returned to France in 1886. He joined a Trappist monastery in Ardeche, France, and later transferred to one in Akbes, Syria. Leaving the monastery in 1897, Charles worked as gardener and sacristan for the Poor Clare nuns in Nazareth and later in Jerusalem. In 1901 he returned to France and was ordained a priest. <br /><br />Later that year Charles journeyed to Beni-Abbes, Morocco, intending to found a monastic religious community in North Africa that offered hospitality to Christians, Muslims, Jews, or people with no religion. He lived a peaceful, hidden life but attracted no companions. <br /><br />A former army comrade invited him to live among the Tuareg people in Algeria. Charles learned their language enough to write a Tuareg-French and French-Tuareg dictionary, and to translate the Gospels into Tuareg. In 1905 he came to Tamanrasset, where he lived the rest of his life. A two-volume collection of Charles' Tuareg poetry was published after his death. <br /><br />In early 1909 he visited France and established an association of laypeople who pledged to live by the Gospels. His return to Tamanrasset was welcomed by the Tuareg. In 1915 Charles wrote to Louis Massignon: “The love of God, the love for one’s neighbor…All religion is found there…How to get to that point? Not in a day since it is perfection itself: it is the goal we must always aim for, which we must unceasingly try to reach and that we will only attain in heaven.”   <br /><br />The outbreak of World War I led to attacks on the French in Algeria. Seized in a raid by another tribe, Charles and two French soldiers coming to visit him were shot to death on December 1, 1916. <br />Five religious congregations, associations, and spiritual institutes (Little Brothers of Jesus, Little Sisters of the Sacred Heart, Little Sisters of Jesus, Little Brothers of the Gospel and Little Sisters of the Gospel) draw inspiration from the peaceful, largely hidden, yet hospitable life that characterized Charles. He was beatified on November 13, 2005. American Catholic Blog You know, O my God, I have never desired anything but to love you, and I am ambitious for no other glory.

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