What is a Sacrament?
A sacrament is a saving act of Jesus Christ. In the celebration of every sacrament it is Jesus Christ who makes the first move in coming to lift up the person in need of salvation - just as he came to lift up his friend Lazarus in the village of Bethany.
It is an act celebrated in and through the Church which unites us with Christ's worship of his Father. In the celebration of every sacrament of the Church, Jesus Christ lifts up those who believe in order to unite them with the Father - just as he revealed the glory of God when he raised up Lazarus with the words, "Father, I thank you for hearing my prayer" (John 11:41).
It is an act by which we receive the Spirit of Christ and so are formed in his image, just as Lazarus was formed in the image of Christ when he emerged from the tomb with new life.
"Since the Lord is no longer visible among us," wrote Saint Leo the Great about the year 450, "everything of him that was visible has passed into the sacraments." When we think about it, that really is a startling claim. But startling or not, it is harder to find anywhere a clearer expression of just what the sacraments mean to Catholics.
Our life of faith, of course, revolves around the belief that Jesus Christ, who walked the dusty roads of Palestine all those years ago, is still with us. It is obvious that any faith which rests secure in the belief that Jesus, who died twisted in the agony of torture, is still alive must be a joyous and exuberant affair. But the joy seems to elude us so often; and if our minds turn at all to Christ in the apparent drabness and weariness of the daily round, it is often simply to give way to nostalgia: "Oh, it would be so much easier if I had actually seen Christ.
Saint John wrote of the Jesus he saw with his own eyes and touched with his own hands: The Word was made flesh, he lived among us, and we saw his glory (John 1:14) True, it is only natural to think it must have been so much easier for John. But it is much more to the point to try and discover in his writings the reason for his exuberant and joyful faith. And that can be summed up in one word: love. John saw the love of God revealed in Christ as a love which had no other object than to share its own delight. As St. Athanasius put it, "Christ became man that man might become God." That belief was the mainspring of John's life.
Perhaps it seems obvious and rather silly to say that Jesus Christ was the first to live the Christian life. But it does bring home to us that it meaningless to ask about a Christian life which is not an actual sharing and participation in Christ's life. That is where the sacraments come in. Christ is continually seeking to share his divine life with us, to be born again in each one of us.
And the place of our meeting is in the sacraments. As Saint Ambrose expressed it: "You have shown yourself to me, Christ, face-to-face. I meet you in your sacraments."
"A sacrament," writes Louis Evely, "is a gesture of Christ, a place where he begins to exist again and to act for all those who are gathered around him in faith." And the same writer brings home to us very forcefully that the sacraments are not just ceremonial commemorations of Christ's healing gestures but the way of abolishing time and making Christ alive today. "Do you wish," he asks, "to be present at Christ's birth, at the Passion, at his Resurrection? Go to a Baptism, attend a Mass, enter a confessional to tell your sins."
THE SEVEN SACRAMENTS
SACRAMENTS OF INITIATION
SACRAMENTS OF HEALING
5. Anointing of the Sick
SACRAMENTS OF SERVICE
6. Holy Orders
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The Human Phenomenon
Confirmation --> Acceptance into adulthood
Eucharist --> The human meal
Penance --> Human forgiveness
Anointing of the Sick --> Care for the sick and dying
Marriage --> Human consent to love
Service: The same kind of approach can be applied to an understanding of the Church as a sacrament and to Christ as the original sacrament.
Sacraments: The Human Phenomenon
The Church: All those interpersonal dynamics which bring about a community of men and women.
Jesus Christ: The perception of what it means to be a human person
A. We need to acknowledge God's presence in the Word and the sacraments as one of God's most significant gifts to appreciate the Catholic church truly.
B. Sacraments are an integral part of what it means to be Catholic and are the special gifts that form us into community.
C. The Church teaches that the sacraments are the saving acts of Jesus Christ, designed to assist Church members on their faith journey to eternal life. Each sacramental event gives us an encounter with Jesus.
D. Sacraments are the experiences that both form and express the unity of our church. Once we have this deep and spiritual relationship we nourish it in many ways.
A SACRAMENT OVERVIEW
1. In a broad sense, a sacrament can be any person, event, or thing when we experience God in a way, event or action that reveals God to us. This encounter changes the human experiences and helps to celebrate what has already happened.
2 Understanding of the Sacraments is the experience of God's presence and care daily. It is lived before they are celebrated. We celebrate what has already happened. And the signs become ritualistic liturgically when sacraments are received.
3 Some Old Testament sacramental events that touched the lives of the people were the dove returning to the ark with an olive branch, the flood, the miracles, the parting of the Red Sea and of course, creation itself.
4 The exodus provided many sacramental experiences as the Israelites saw water flow from the rock, bread from the heavens and perceived that God was really concerned about their welfare.
5. So our salvation story was told and retold many times but it was done in the symbols and actions of the Passover ritual and meal.
6. Sacraments were not named or thought up by Jesus but they were instituted by Him. His actions and basic beliefs are reflected in the sacraments. His values and teachings are present. For what we celebrate as Sacraments today, Jesus lived and gave meaning to 2000 years ago. For Jesus is the primary sacrament and it is from Him that all other sacraments come.
7. The apostles and early Christians told and retold the story of Jesus: for they lived that story just as they had seen Jesus do by going into the waters of Baptism, broke and shared bread as a symbol of God's love, laid hands on each other, healed and forgave each other. For them Jesus was the Sacrament of God and they in turn became the sacrament for others.
8. Sacraments were born in the early church and much later they they were defined and named.
9. Grace is a gift of God's love and presence into which we grow and cannot be measured. It is a relationship that develops gradually and is always a response to God's already present love. It is always free, ever present and changes us if we are ready to accept. If we continue to live and celebrate the sacraments this effect will never end.
Jesus is the fullness of God's presence in the world.
"Whoever has seen me, has seen the Father!" (John 14:9) Therefore Jesus makes God present in a way that surpasses all others. Jesus makes God present in the world in the most remarkable way imaginable.
The very day Jesus ascended to his Father, he assured us that he would not leave us orphans: "I am with you always until the end of the age." (Matthew 28:20) This means that Jesus will no longer be present in the world in a flesh-and-blood way, but in a different way.
Jesus would be present in and through his followers, the Church (Mt 16:18). But he also acts through his church. St. Augustine said that, "When the Church baptizes, it is Christ himself who baptizes."
The followers of Jesus recognized that certain actions -- like anointing the sick with oil (Mk 6:13), baptizing with water (Jn 3:5), and eating the Eucharistic bread (I Cor 11:26) -- were the actions of Jesus himself. A special name was given these actions that had come from Christ himself (although a name that is not found in the New Testament); they are called sacraments.
The name sacrament may come from Tertullian in the 3rd C. who compared baptism, confirmation and Eucharist to the "sacramentum" by which Roman recruits were initiated into the Roman army. These sacraments initiate Christians into the mystical body of Christ, the Church.
2. How are the sacraments encounters with Christ?