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Understanding the 7 Sacraments of the Catholic Church

The Roman Catholic Church is rich in tradition and spiritual practices. And at the core of this are the seven sacraments of the church.

The sacraments represent the foundation of Christ’s teachings in word and action and are guided by the Holy Spirit, according to the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB). They are divided into three categories – Christian initiation, healing and service.

The USCCB describes the sacraments as “a visible and invisible reality, a reality open to all the human senses but grasped in its God-given depths with the eyes of faith.” The example used to describe this is a hug. While you can see and experience a hug, what you cannot “see” is the love that is shared in the action.

Read on to learn about the seven sacraments of the Catholic Church and how they are important to the faith.

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Baptism

Baptism is the first sacrament in the Catholic Church and is a sacrament of Christian Initiation. It is in baptism that people are initiated into the Christian faith and establish a lifelong relationship with God.

Through pouring or immersion of water and the invocation of the Holy Trinity, one is cleansed of their original sin. This fundamental sacrament is represented by Christ when he was baptized by John the Baptist.

“Cradle Catholics” are usually baptized within the first year of their birth. Adults who become Catholic are baptized during the Easter Vigil each year after completing RCIA classes. School-aged children who need to be baptized follow a separate preparation and are baptized during the Easter Vigil.

Eucharist

The Eucharist is the most central and holiest sacrament in the Catholic Church. A sacrament of Christian initiation, it includes bread and wine that is consecrated by the priest – making it the body and blood of Jesus Christ.

This is one of the most common sacraments of the Catholic Church because the faithful share in the Eucharist (or Holy Communion) at every Mass, no matter the time or day of the week. In this sacred meal. Catholics receive Christ and are nourished to continue his good works out in the world.

Catholics usually prepare to receive their First Communion around age seven. You must be baptized and have had your first confession prior to receiving the Eucharist. Adults who become Catholic will receive the sacrament during the Easter Vigil.

Reconciliation

Reconciliation, also known as Confession, is a sacrament of healing where Catholics seek forgiveness for their sins and reconcile with God and the Church.

By confessing sins to a priest, who acts as a mediator, Catholics receive absolution and experience God’s mercy. The priest may encourage the confessor to recite certain prayers or do acts to help absolve sins. Catholics are obliged to go to confession at least once per year.

This video by Busted Halo helps explain why Catholics go to confession versus simply praying to God and asking for forgiveness.

Confirmation

In the Sacrament of Confirmation, Catholics receive the seven Gifts of the Holy Spirit. These gifts equip Catholics to be witnesses of their faith among the many challenges of life. It is the final sacrament of Christian initiation.

As part of this process, candidates choose a saint based on who they want to emulate and a sponsor to help guide them throughout their lives. This Confirmation Guided Prayer Journal is helpful for candidates preparing to receive the sacrament.

Confirmation is received after Baptism, Reconciliation and the Eucharist. Catholics receive this sacrament around high school age, but it varies by dioceses. Adults who become Catholic will receive the sacrament at the Easter Vigil or during Mass at another time of the year if it’s the only Christian initiation sacrament they need.

Matrimony

Matrimony, also known as marriage, is a sacred covenant between a man and a woman in unity with God and the Catholic Church. The couple enters a lifelong commitment to love and support one another while being open to children who will be raised in the faith.

Marriage is one of the sacraments of the Catholic Church that has vows specifically for the faith, which is why the ceremony doesn’t allow personalized vows or to be held outside of a church.

Couples must meet with a priest or deacon for a minimum of six months prior to being married, which is called Pre-Cana. In this process, couples discuss various marital issues and important topics the couple may face during the marriage.

Holy Orders

Holy Orders, a sacrament of service, is where men are ordained as bishops, priests, or deacons to serve the Catholic Church. Ordained men are called to continue the work of Jesus – as they are considered to be successors to the apostles.

Bishops are the head of the local church and leaders of a diocese. They are also members of the episcopal college, who join the pope in leading the Catholic Church.

Priests can serve in the diocese where they are ordained or can be members of a religious order, where they carry out the order’s mission throughout the world. Priests celebrate Masses, preach, administer sacraments, teach and counsel people.

Deacons are ordained to serve the church. Some are transitional deacons, which are men preparing for priesthood. There are also permanent deacons – men who are married and want to serve the church in this role for life. Deacons serve priests and bishops by proclaiming the Gospel, preaching, teaching, baptizing, witnessing marriages and assisting during Masses.

Men receive this sacrament through ordination, which is done by a bishop. Through the laying on of hands, these men are consecrated to preach God’s word, administer sacraments and shepherd the faithful.

Anointing of the Sick

The Anointing of the Sick is a sacrament of healing for those facing physical, mental, or spiritual illness. The oil used during this sacrament is blessed by the bishop at the Chrism Mass during Holy Week.

During this sacrament, the priest anoints the person with holy oil and prayer, which helps the sick person receive God’s grace, strength and forgiveness. It is a reminder of the presence of Christ in times of illness and death.

This sacrament is administered by a priest and is given to people who are seriously ill, injured or elderly. It can be received more than once, such as if a person’s condition worsens. While it can be administered in a church or community setting, it is usually given in homes, hospitals and nursing homes. For someone who is dying, communion may be offered in preparation for eternal life.

Through the anointing with holy oil and prayer by a priest, the sick person receives God’s grace, strength, and forgiveness. This sacrament offers spiritual and physical healing, peace, and courage in times of suffering. It reminds the faithful of the compassionate presence of Christ in times of illness or near death.

The seven sacraments of the Catholic Church remind us of God’s grace in the good and challenging times throughout life. Some bring comfort to those who are suffering and others are a cause for celebrating how the church is growing and serving its mission in the community.

Which sacrament makes you feel closer to Christ? Share your thoughts in the comments.

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