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
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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