Sacraments of the Catholic Church

We explain what the sacraments of the Catholic Church are and how they are classified. In addition, the origin and meaning of each one.

The way of carrying out the sacraments has changed over the centuries.

What are the sacraments of the Catholic Church?

In general, a sacrament is a vow or oath that is made in order to manifest belonging to a cult, an institution or a community. This word comes from the Latin sacramentum, made up of the words sacro (“sacred”) and –mentum (prefix meaning “instrument” or “method”), and it was the name given in ancient Rome to the oath of loyalty and obedience from the Romans to the Roman State and the deities that sheltered and guarded it.

The term “sacrament” was used in a religious sense when, centuries later, the letters of the Christian apostles were translated into Latin, in which they referred to their own religious rites with the Greek term mystérion (translatable as “secret”). From then on, Christian rituals also acquired a more militant meaning, that is, an oath of adherence to the Christian faith, and with that same meaning we call them “sacraments” today.

In this way, the sacraments of the Catholic Church are the set of rites of affirmation and confirmation of the Christian faith among its faithful. Through them, the faithful manifest their express and public desire to belong to the community of the faithful and to govern their lives according to what is established in the Catholic creed, that is, according to the Catholic interpretation of the teachings of the ancient prophet Jesus of Nazareth. .

These sacraments are carried out in an official way, with the participation of other faithful and a priest, although a few can be administered in the absence of an official spokesperson for the Church.

The way of carrying out the sacraments is governed by ecclesiastical authority and therefore has changed over the centuries. In the different councils and ecclesiastical assemblies, the rules that govern them have been debated, discussed and agreed upon, and those currently in force date from the Second Vatican Council, convened by Pope John XXIII in 1959, in order to discuss the role of the Catholic Church in the modern world.

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Classification of the sacraments

The sacraments of the Catholic Church are seven, organized into three main categories according to the function they fulfill within the community of the faithful:

  • sacraments of initiation They are those who welcome new members into the Catholic community, or who affirm existing members in their Christian commitment throughout the different stages of their lives. These rites are three: baptism, confirmation and the Eucharist.
  • healing sacraments. They are those that commemorate the healing powers of Jesus of Nazareth through the reconciliation of the troubled or tormented spirit with faith in God. They do not really seek to heal the body or remove ailments, but to “heal” the spirit of the faithful through faith. These rites are two: confession, penance or reconciliation, and the anointing of the sick or extreme unction.
  • Sacraments at the service of communion. They are those whose purpose is to strengthen the community bonds of the parishioners and formally establish, before God and the community of the faithful, certain types of bond between those present. These rites are two: Holy Orders and Marriage.

The baptism

Baptism emulates the rite carried out by John the Baptist, who immersed Jesus in the Jordan River.

Baptism is the initial rite of the Catholic faith, which incorporates the baptized into the community of the faithful. Initially it consisted of the immersion of the future Christian in the waters of a river, emulating the similar rite carried out in the Jordan River by John the Baptist, who immersed Jesus of Nazareth himself. This is currently represented in Catholic churches by the spilling of a little water on the head of the baptized person, generally when they are children.

The symbology of baptism alluded to the rebirth of the baptized person in the Christian faith: the infidel submerged and perished, and the Christian then emerged from the waters, cleansed of his previous sins (including Original Sin) and ready to join the ranks of the parishioners, waiting for salvation and eternal life. In fact, those baptized in ancient times could take on a new name, a Christian name, to reflect this change.

Baptism, according to the Christian faith, is forever and cannot be undone, even if the baptized Christian later assumes a different religion. Both children and adults can be baptized, at any time or condition, but in the Catholic congregation it is customary to baptize children shortly after birth, as a rite to “give” them their name.

The confirmation

The chrism or confirmation of baptism is the next rite in the life of a practicing Catholic, whose purpose is to reaffirm the acceptance of the Christian faith as a model of religious guidance. Through this rite, the Christian is fully integrated into the congregation, carrying out a renewal of the baptismal promises, which is done only once in a lifetime.

Confirmation consists of the imposition of hands by the priest and the subsequent anointing with sacred oils, carried out in the church in front of the community of the faithful, usually at an age close to adolescence. Those confirmed are accompanied by a sponsor from the same community, who plays the role of support in faith and life. Therefore, during the act of confirmation, the sponsor must place his right hand on the shoulder of the confirmand.

This sacrament is administered after a religious preparation or education provided by the local Catholic diocese or parish, in which the confirmand is educated in different basic aspects of the Catholic faith.

the eucharist

Jesus gave his apostles the bread of the last supper, proclaiming that it was “the body of his body”.

The Eucharist is the commemoration of the last supper of Jesus Christ, his subsequent passion and his resurrection, which constitutes the central episode in the Christian religious narrative. It is considered the culminating rite of the entrance of the new faithful and a rite of reaffirmation of the old faithful, since in it communion takes place, that is, the delivery of the sacred host to the faithful, and this can be done as many times in life as desired.

The ritual itself involves a cup of wine from which the priest drinks, proclaiming it to be “the blood of Christ” shed for the forgiveness of mankind’s sins, and then hands the faithful in attendance a sacred wafer, such as and as Jesus of Nazareth gave his apostles the bread of the last supper, proclaiming that it was “body of his body”. Once communion is finished, the faithful will have symbolically ingested a portion of the body of Christ and therefore the Messiah will be part of their existence.

The rite of the Eucharist normally takes place as part of the mass, and to receive it the faithful are required to be in a “state of grace”, that is, to have made confession and have received divine forgiveness for their sins. sins.

Confession, penance and reconciliation

The sins committed by the confessor remain strictly private.

The confession of sins, the assignment of penance and reconciliation with the Catholic faith is a healing rite carried out more or less regularly by the faithful throughout their lives. It is a rite that involves three parts, which take place successively but jointly, and whose purpose is to “heal” the soul of the faithful and return them to the “state of grace” necessary to, for example, carry out the communion rites.

This sacrament consists of the admission by the faithful of their sins, which takes place in the privacy of a confessional: a room in which the priest is hidden from the public eye, while the faithful kneels on the side outside and talk through a window. In this way, the sins committed by the confessor remain strictly private and are protected by the secret of confession: no authority can force the priest to reveal what was said.

In response to confession, the priest then offers words of consolation, guidance, and direction, and assigns a penance corresponding to the magnitude of the sin, in the form of a number of specific prayers (usually the act of repentance). In the end, the penitent is blessed and his sins absolved, which is interpreted as his return to the flock of God and his reconciliation with the teachings of Jesus Christ.

extreme unction

The anointing of the sick or extreme unction is a rite performed by the Catholic priest at the bed of a sick or dying faithful, as a way of stimulating healing through faith, praying to God for his recovery or, also, for his acceptance into paradise and the salvation of his soul. Originally it was a preparatory rite for death, given only to those in agony, but today it can be offered to any sick Catholic who wishes to be spiritually comforted.

The rite itself consists of the joint prayer of the priest and the patient, the anointing of the parishioner with sacred oil and sometimes even confession and communion.

Marriage

In Catholic marriage, the spouses themselves are the ones who recite the vows.

As in the rest of the Christian churches, the Catholic marriage is a rite of great importance, celebrated to sanctify and make official before the community of the faithful the loving union of a couple of parishioners. This union can only take place between a man and a woman (that is, a heterosexual couple), who have never been married before and who wish to found a new Christian family.

The couple that gets married is thus united before the eyes of God forever and indissolubly, in health and illness, wealth or poverty, and can only be separated by death, since the Church does not recognize the divorce option.

A peculiarity of Catholic marriage is that the spouses themselves are the ones who recite the vows, in the presence of the priest and their witnesses and companions, so that they are the ones who confer the sacred status to their relationship.

The vows profess fidelity and mutual responsibility, and precede the delivery of the wedding rings and the consummation of the union through a kiss. All this usually takes place inside a Catholic church, but it can also be done in other places, although always with the presence of the priest.

More in: Marriage

The sacred or priestly order

The sacrament of holy orders is the rite of consecration to the service of God of its ministers, that is, of the priests and parish priests of the Catholic Church, who take a public vow of celibacy and full dedication, and receive in return the authority to exercise church functions and conduct formal Catholic rites.

This rite is exclusive to those who receive the call of faith and who pass the selection processes of the ecclesiastical authorities, which implies a long process of religious and theological education.

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