What is a sacrament?

Sacraments are celebrations of Christian tradition, of Christian life and of Christian hope. They share the dimensions of past, present and future that give ordinary celebrations meaning. But sacraments are no ordinary celebrations. They are special occasions for experiencing God's saving presence.

Of all the events that sacraments can point to in the past (biblical events, Church traditions, events in one's own faith journey), the most important are events in the life of Christ. Tradition tells us that all of the sacraments were instituted by Christ. Each has a real foundation in the life and ministry of Jesus.

For example, Baptism calls to mind the baptism of Jesus in the Jordan, and the way Jesus gathered a community around himself. It also reminds us of the command of the risen Lord to carry the gospel to others and to baptize them. Eucharist reminds us of the Last Supper. Those familiar with the Gospels are also reminded of other meals to which Jesus invited even those who were rejected by others. Reconciliation reminds us of Jesus' invitation to forgive one another, and of the way he forgave those who put him to death.

Each sacrament dramatizes and points to something that is happening in the lives of people who belong to the celebrating community. For example, Eucharist strengthens the unity of Christians as they receive it. Through the Baptism ceremony, some people are entering the Christian community while others are supporting and welcoming them into community.

The sacraments also point to a future which Jesus referred to as God's kingdom, realm or reign. God already reigns in hearts that are converted to doing God's will and to loving others as Jesus instructed. God's realm is already found wherever justice and compassion are the basis of human relationships between individuals, in a group, in an institution or even in a whole society. But the kingdom is always incomplete, so the sacraments look forward to the coming of God's kingdom in its fullness.

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