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What is a Sacrament?
Sacrament comes from the Latin word, Sacramentum, which translates as mystery. A sacrament is a visible sign instituted by Christ to give grace. It is God’s way of communicating his life and salvation to us that he accomplished in the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus.
While all the sacraments give grace to people who receive them, they all have different functions and places in peoples lives. Some sacraments are for inviting people into God’s life. These are called Sacraments of Initiation and they are Baptism, Confirmation and Eucharist. Other sacraments are for offering people healing. These are called Sacraments of Healing and they are Confession/Reconciliation and Anointing of the Sick. There are two more sacraments, called Sacraments of Vocation, which give grace by someone’s sate in life or vocation, either Marriage or Ordination.
The Sacraments of Initiation
Baptism is how a person becomes a Christian and a child of God. In baptism a person receives God’s Spirit and life and becomes a new creation in Christ. They enter into God’s life and into the Church and God enters into their life. Because of their new life, all their sins are wiped away.
Baptism involves the immersion of the person in water or the pouring of water onto the person’s head while the ministers says the baptismal formula, “I baptize you in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.” They will also be anointed with the Oil of Catechumens. (A Catechumen is someone who is preparing for baptism). This is one of the three oils used in the sacraments. Baptism can only be received once because it imparts a character of Jesus onto the person. In other words, they are changed and become a new creation in Christ.
Confirmation comes after baptism. It involves anointing the newly baptized person with oil.
There are three oils used in Catholic rituals. One of them is the oil of catechumens used in baptism. In confirmation a different oil is used, and that is called the Oil of Chrism. Chrism is related to the word “Christ” which literally means “anointed one”. So all those who are confirmed with the oil of chrism are now “anointed ones” or “Christs” and are to be like Jesus in the world by allowing their baptism, that is, God’s life, to be lived in them.
Confirmation also involves the laying on of the hands. This is a significant gesture where the minister lays their hands over the head of the recipient and calls upon the Holy Spirit to come and rest upon them. Confirmation can only be received once because it imparts a character or changes the recipient to be conformed to Jesus.
The third sacrament of initiation is Eucharist.
Eucharist is the sacrament that is probably the most associated with Catholics. It is usually referred to as “the mass”. Eucharist is a celebration whereby the ordinary substances of bread and wine are transformed by God’s grace into Jesus’ Body and Blood. It is a memorial that actually makes us present and available to us the saving grace of Jesus’ death and resurrection. The Eucharist can be received more than once and should be received as often as we attend mass.
The Sacraments of Vocation
Vocation comes from the Latin word Vocatio, which means “calling”. Vocation refers to a state of life. A sacrament of vocation is when a state of life imparts God’s grace.
Marriage is a sacrament whereby a man and a woman reflect God’s loving communion by their own union. The man and the women make a gift of themselves to each other and become an image of God who gives himself to us. Marriage helps the spouses to grow in holiness and perfection.
Holy Orders is the sacrament of the ordained ministry. Deacons, Priests, and Bishops are all ordained. A bishop calls upon the Holy Spirit by the laying on of hands to consecrate the man for service in the Church. Ordained ministers are primarily responsible for the celebration of the sacraments and for leadership in the Church. This sacrament can only be received once because it imparts a special character whereby the recipient is conformed more closely to Jesus the priest.
The Sacraments of Healing
The sacraments of vocation are for a way of life, but other sacraments are for when we need healing in our life. These are the Sacraments of Healing. They are for supporting us in times of need, especially for the forgiveness of our sins.
Reconciliation or more commonly known as Confession, is the sacrament whereby a person confesses their sins to a priest and receives God’s forgiveness through the words of absolution. This is necessary especially for mortal sins (where the soul is in a state of separation from God and thereby cut off from God’s life). This happens when three conditions are met. (1) The sin is grave, (2) the person is aware of its gravity, and (3) the person proceeds to commit the sin anyways. Confessions are available a half hour before mass or by appointment - 1.587.335.2943.
Anointing of the Sick
The Anointing of the Sick is the second sacrament of healing. It is for people who are seriously ill or dying. It involves anointing the sick person with the Oil of the Infirmed, the third oil used in catholic rituals. The priest prays with the sick person (and often with their families), anoints them with the oil, especially their spiritual healing. They will usually confess their sins and receive the eucharist to prepare them for whatever lies ahead and make sure they are living in God’s life, the life of grace. This sacrament gives strength to those who are seriously ill and prepares the dying to meet God in the life to come.