October 14, 2004

Catechism Quiz
What Are the Seven Sacraments?

by Jim Van Vurst, O.F. M.

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What are the sacraments?
What is the meaning of “the grace of the sacrament”?
Would the Church be the same without the sacraments?
Why do we need externals as part of our worship?

Friar Jack’s Inbox:

Readers reflect on Friar Jack’s musings

What are the sacraments?

Many of you learned years ago that very basic definition of a sacrament: “A sacrament is a visible sign, instituted by Christ to give grace.” A briefer description of a sacrament is “an encounter with Christ, within the Church of Christ.” Sacraments are not just teachings or doctrines of the Church that we believe. These visible signs—sacraments—make real what we believe about Jesus. If there is anything that fits beautifully with that familiar saying, “reach out and touch someone,” it is surely the sacraments of the Church. It is through those sacred actions that Jesus reaches out and touches us. The sacraments are actually a fulfillment of Jesus’ promise to his apostles when he assured them, “I will not leave you orphans; I will come to you” (Jn 14:18). The “touch” of Jesus is uniquely experienced in the Eucharist when we hold Jesus in our hands and on our tongues and receive him into our very person.

See “Sacraments: It All Starts With Jesus” for more on this.

What is the meaning of “the grace of the sacrament”?

First of all, the word grace is not really a piece of something holy that God spoons out for us. Grace is really Jesus himself and our relationship with him. Jesus does not give us something. Rather in the sacraments, he gives us himself in the way that best fits the needs of the person receiving that particular sacrament. In the example above, Jesus confers on the married couple the graces (himself) they need to be faithful spouses and parents. When a priest is ordained, Jesus gives himself so the priest can meet the needs of his ministry to others. Jesus, the healer, comes to the person receiving the Anointing of the Sick. In Confession, it is the merciful Jesus we receive.

See our feature on the sacraments for more on this.

Would the Church be the same without the sacraments?

There is no question that the seven sacraments are essential to our faith, but not because the Church thought them up. They are the gifts of Jesus himself which come to us through the Church. Some Christian denominations have one or several sacraments, e.g., Baptism and Communion. It is only the Catholic faith that has the seven given to us by Jesus. The Church would not be the same if even one sacrament was discontinued.

The sacraments are divided in several ways: (a) The sacraments of Baptism, Confirmation and Holy Orders can be received only once and leave a special mark upon the soul, like an identity mark; (b) The Eucharist, Anointing of the Sick, Marriage and Reconciliation we can receive multiple times. Also, Baptism, Eucharist and Confirmation are titled the Sacraments of Initiation because they are the first sacraments a person receives upon entering the Church.

See our feature on the sacraments for more on this.

Why do we need externals as part of our worship?

Each sacrament entails an external ritual containing words and matter. These are symbols of some hidden effect that takes place within us. After all, we are created with bodies and souls and our nature calls for feeling and touching, seeing and hearing. At a wedding, for example, the bride and groom place the rings on each other’s finger—a deeply moving and powerful symbol. It says in effect: “My beloved, I give you my lifelong fidelity. Whenever you look at that ring, know that I love you with all my heart.” At Baptism, the pouring of the water and the Trinitarian (Father, Son and Holy Spirit) formula make up the sacrament. There is nothing magical about what Jesus does in each sacrament though it is filled with religious mystery.

See our feature on the sacraments for more on this.

During the year, I’ll be talking about each individual sacrament. Next month’s topic is Saints: All Our Brothers and Sisters in the Lord.

Friar Jack’s Inbox

Readers respond to Friar Jack’s musings on “The Feast of St. Francis and the Year of the Eucharist.”

Dear Friar Jack: In your article, “The Eucharist: Food for Mission,” you commented that “when the celebrant takes leave of the assembly with the words, ‘Ite, Missa Est’ [“Go, the Mass is ended”] all should feel they are sent as ‘missionaries of the Eucharist’ to carry to every environment the great gift received.”

I was once told by a deacon that the Mass never ends, go out and celebrate it with all you meet. Also, I am a lector at our church, and we used to carry the Book of the Gospels out at the end of the Mass. Now we leave it on the ambo until most everyone has left. The deacon told me that the reason was that we (everyone at the Mass) are to carry the word of the Gospel until we meet again.

What are your thoughts on this? Marty

Dear Marty: I agree wholeheartedly to all you have said. In one sense, when the priest says, “Ite, Missa est,” he is also saying in effect, “Go, the Mass is just beginning!” Yes, we should go out and celebrate this thanksgiving meal with all we meet. We go out from the table of God’s bounty and Christ’s generous self-offering well fed for mission in order to help build up the body of Christ. The pope put it so well: “The Eucharist builds Church and the Church makes the Eucharist.”

On October 17, the International Eucharistic Congress being held in Guadalajara, Mexico, ends. And this great eucharistic gathering of the universal Church disbands in order to do mission: to take the Good News of Christ’s bounty and saving love to the whole world. In the same Spirit, let all of us gathered around the world in this Internet community give thanks to God and pledge ourselves to the task of building up one human family around the table of God’s blessing. Friar Jack


Send your feedback to friarjack@franciscanmedia.org.

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