I was rolling quite a few ideas around in my head while the calendar days were being scratched off much more quickly than I cared to see and my deadline loomed larger and larger. I bounced a few of these ideas off on my 18 yr old and he suggested that since I needed seven quick takes – why not review the seven sacraments… As he so wisely pointed out; we are coming up fast on Lent and what could be better to ponder at this time than the seven sacraments instituted by Christ and maintained by our catholic church? How do you argue with such wisdom?
So subdue the drum rolls, please, as I roll out this month’s Seven Quick Takes (and we’re linking up to This Ain’t The Lyceum).
Quick Take one: Baptism
According to our Catechism (CCC 1211) these seven sacraments are divided into three groups. The first group is comprised of the sacraments of Christian initiation. And the first of these is Baptism and is the first step that we take as we embark on our Christian journey; regardless whether we are baptized as an infant or as an adult. Jesus himself was baptized by his cousin St. John the Baptist before being led “by the spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil. After fasting for forty day and forty nights, he was hungry.” (Mathew 4:1-2)
According to St Gregory of Nazianzus; “Baptism is God’s most beautiful and magnificent gift…. We call it gift, grace, anointing, enlightenment, garment of immortality, bath of rebirth, seal, and most precious gift. It is called gift because it is conferred on those who bring nothing of their own; grace since it is given even to the guilty; Baptism because sin is buried in the water: anointing for it is priestly and royal as are those who are anointed: enlightenment because it radiates light; clothing since it veils our shame; bath because it washes; and seal as it is our guard and the sign of God’s Lordship. (Oratio 40 preached at Constantinople Jan 6,381)
Quick Take two: Confirmation (or Chrismation)
The second of the initiation sacraments is Confirmation during which we receive the seven gifts of the Holy Spirit. According to the Catechism (CCC 1831) these are: wisdom, understanding, counsel, fortitude, knowledge, piety, and fear of the Lord.
Quick Take three: Eucharist
Within the Roman rite – one’s first Holy Communion is typically received around the seventh year of life which is determined by the church as the beginning of the age of reason and marks the beginning of, hopefully, a lifetime of receiving this life giving sacrament. Within the Eastern rites the infant receiving baptism immediately following also receives Chrismation and the ‘admission to Eucharistic Communion’. (CCC 1233) These three sacraments complete the initiation sacraments.
Quick Take Four: Penance and Reconciliation
Penance is one of the two Sacraments of healing that Christ instituted for his Church to offer His people. “The Lord Jesus Christ, physician of our souls and bodies, who forgave the sins of the paralytic and restored him to bodily health,3 has willed that his Church continue, in the power of the Holy Spirit, his work of healing and salvation, even among her own members. This is the purpose of the two sacraments of healing: the sacrament of Penance and the sacrament of Anointing of the Sick.” (CCC 1421)
Some may ask why, once we are washed clean through the act of baptism, is there a need for the Sacrament of Penance or Confession? The Council of Trent (1549) answers this perfectly as quoted in the Catechism: “Nevertheless the new life received in Christian initiation has not abolished the frailty and weakness of human nature, nor the inclination to sin that tradition calls concupiscence, which remains in the baptized such that with the help of the grace of Christ they may prove themselves in the struggle of Christian life.”
It is through the sacrament of penance, as instituted by Christ through St Peter, (Mathew 16:13-20 that we are able to be washed clean and be healed of our sins.
The Catholic Catechism answers the question of what is this sacrament called with the following:
It is called the sacrament of conversion because it makes sacramentally present Jesus’ call to conversion, the first step in returning to the Father from whom one has strayed by sin.
It is called the sacrament of Penance, since it consecrates the Christian sinner’s personal and ecclesial steps of conversion, penance, and satisfaction.
It is called the sacrament of confession, since the disclosure or confession of sins to a priest is an essential element of this sacrament. In a profound sense it is also a “confession” – acknowledgment and praise – of the holiness of God and of his mercy toward sinful man.
It is called the sacrament of forgiveness, since by the priest’s sacramental absolution God grants the penitent “pardon and peace.”
It is called the sacrament of Reconciliation, because it imparts to the sinner the life of God who reconciles: “Be reconciled to God.” He who lives by God’s merciful love is ready to respond to the Lord’s call: “Go; first be reconciled to your brother.”
Lent is a wonderful time to take advantage of this sacrament – especially if it is a sacrament that has fallen by the wayside. When I read the explanation of this sacrament in the catechism it filled me with resolve not to miss this wonderful opportunity to be filled with Christ’s grace.
Quick Take Five: Anointing of the Sick
There are some misunderstandings surrounding this sacrament. At one time it was known as the ‘receiving of last rites” because it was, and still is, a sacrament used to fortify “the end of our earthly life like a solid rampart for the final struggles before entering the Father’s house.” (Council of Trent 1551) However, it is also a sacrament through which Jesus can unify our suffering with his and thus support the Church and, if it is for the good of our soul, also bring us physical healing from a grave illness. Contrary to the misbelief that one can only receive the Anointing of the Sick once in a lifetime; if one recovers from a grave illness for which they have been anointed and later faces death again, or is suffering intensely and is in need of fortification, they can once again receive this sacrament. (CCC 1515)
This sacrament is based in Jesus’ command to heal the sick (Mathew 10:1-8) as well as through tradition.
“… the apostolic Church has its own rite for the sick, attested to by St. James: “Is any among you sick? Let him call for the elders [presbyters] of the Church and let them pray over him, anointing him with oil in the name of the Lord; and the prayer of faith will save the sick man, and the Lord will raise him up; and if he has committed sins, he will be forgiven.” Tradition has recognized in this rite one of the seven sacraments” (CCC 1510)
As I mentioned at the beginning of this quick takes post the Catholic Church has the three sacraments of initiation through which the Christian begins his journey to heaven. In addition, the church uses three sacraments to assist a Christian on the last leg of this journey. These are the sacraments: of penance, (when possible) the anointing of the sick and the Eucharist. The administering of the Eucharist when in danger of death is referred to as Viaticum.
The anointing of the sick can only be administered by a priest whereas the Viaticum can be administered by a priest, a deacon or an extraordinary minister, using the reserved Blessed Sacrament.
Quick Take Six: Holy Orders
“Holy Orders is the sacrament through which the mission entrusted by Christ to his apostles continues to be exercised in the Church until the end of time: thus it is the sacrament of apostolic ministry. It includes three degrees: episcopate, presbyterate, and diaconate.” (CCC 1536)
Holy orders is one of the two sacraments that the Church refers to as sacraments of salvation. (CCC 1534) The sacrament of Holy orders is conferred through the Bishop laying his hands on the head of the ordinand while asking God for the outpouring of the Holy Spirit and his gifts proper to the ministry to which the candidate is being ordained. It is only a bishop that can confer this sacrament which imprints an indelible sacramental character upon the recipient who must be a baptized member of the church. Only the Church authority has the responsibility and right to call someone to Holy Orders.
While I have links to the three degrees of the priesthood above I will give a brief description of them. The episcopate refers to the Bishops and their duties, the presbyterate refers to the priests and the diaconate is the most obvious as it refers to our deacons.
What some may not know is that there are two forms of the diaconate. There is the permanent diaconate and the transitional. The transitional deaconate belongs to the seminarian who is preparing to become a priest. While the spiritual mark on his soul is permanent when he is ordained a deacon, he does eventually transition into the priesthood when he is ordained. On the other hand, the permanent deacon belongs to the man who is not, at that time in his life, feeling the call to the priesthood. He may or may not be married when ordained. If single the acceptance of ordination requires a commitment of celibacy and if married at the time of his ordination, should his wife pass away after ordination he may not re-marry. He may though, if called, become a priest.
We have all, at one time or another been inspired, by various members of the religious in our lives. Sometimes, though, we have felt let down by one priest or another. However, regardless of our feelings, or the personality of any particular priest, the sacraments celebrated by him are never invalid or impure. This is emphasized quite powerfully by St. Augustine and, as such he is quoted in the Catechism: Since it is ultimately Christ who acts and effects salvation through the ordained minister, the unworthiness of the latter does not prevent Christ from acting.76 St. Augustine states this forcefully: As for the proud minister, he is to be ranked with the devil. Christ’s gift is not thereby profaned: what flows through him keeps its purity, and what passes through him remains dear and reaches the fertile earth. . . . The spiritual power of the sacrament is indeed comparable to light: those to be enlightened receive it in its purity, and if it should pass through defiled beings, it is not itself defiled.” (CCC 1584)
That is so reassuring and perhaps one of the most important things we can remember about the sacrament of the Holy Orders – that our priests are acting “in persona Christi”.
Quick Take Seven: Sacrament of Matrimony
“The matrimonial covenant, by which a man and a woman establish between themselves a partnership of the whole of life, is by its nature ordered toward the good of the spouses and the procreation and education of offspring; this covenant between baptized persons has been raised by Christ the Lord to the dignity of a sacrament” (CCC 1601) This understanding of this sacrament is the same in both the Eastern and Western (Latin) rite. In the Latin rite the spouses mutually confer upon each other the sacrament of Matrimony by expressing their consent before the Church and this is the same within the Eastern Rites except that in order for the sacrament to be held valid the priest must also extol his blessing on the couple. (CCC 1623)
The sacrament of marriage is the other sacrament that is for the salvation of others. In fact, the Second Vatican Council refers to the family as the Ecclesia domestica or the Domestic Church. This is very apt as it is within the family that we exercise the ”priesthood of the baptized in a privileged way ‘by the reception of the sacraments, prayer and thanksgiving, the witness of a holy life, and self-denial and active charity.’ Thus the home is the first school of Christian life and “a school for human enrichment.” Here one learns endurance and the joy of work, fraternal love, generous – even repeated – forgiveness, and above all divine worship in prayer and the offering of one’s life.” (CCC 1656)
It is the duty of the wife and husband to aid each other in getting into heaven and as well the duty of the parents to raise their children in such a way that they are well prepared to continue their personal journey to heaven so it is very fitting that this is called a sacrament of salvation.
This concludes our Seven Quick Takes of the seven sacraments. A much heavier quick takes than usual, I admit. My topic for next month promises to be a little lighter but not much. I know that by the first Friday of March I will be a tad lost in my efforts to follow the resolutions I will set for myself on Ash Wednesday. I will be flagging quite a bit – if Lent follows its norm for me. I plan to take March’s quick takes as an opportunity to reset myself with seven suggestions that not only I can follow, but anyone who is also lagging a little in the middle of the race. My hopes is that we can apply one or more of them to our Lenten sacrifice and find ourselves ready to head for the finish line and the celebration that follows. Until then, a bientot!