By Connie Cissell/ SUN editor
Catholics Enjoy the Gift of Seven Sacraments to Help Unite Them
Time and history have affected the church’s view and celebration of the sacraments. The Catholic Church teaches that sacraments are, by definition, acts that unite Catholics to God and to the church. Yet some sacraments are not celebrated exclusively by Catholics, but recognized worldwide in other traditions. The Catholic Church recognizes the sacrament of baptism in all major Christian traditions and the other sacraments in the Eastern Orthodox churches. Every faith has places, practices, objects or rituals that are symbolic. The seven sacraments of the Catholic Church occur almost in an age-progression order as if each brings one a step closer in relationship to God and to the church.
The seven sacraments of the Catholic Church are Baptism, Confirmation, the Eucharist, Penance or reconciliation, Holy Orders, Matrimony and the Anointing of the Sick. Baptism, Confirmation and the Eucharist are the sacraments of Christian initiation. The reception of these three make a Catholic a full member of the church. Father Joseph Scardella is director of the Office of Ministerial Formation and Liturgy and teaching about the sacraments falls under his title. He described how the initiation of Christians takes place.
“In baptism our parents bring us into the family of Christ,” Father Scardella explained. “In Confirmation we receive the seven gifts of the Holy Spirit. In the Eucharist when we receive the Body and Blood of Jesus, we are welcomed to the table of the Lord which is the table of the Apostles and the witnesses of the faith.” There are practices and objects within the Catholic faith that are referred to as sacramentals, such as the rosary, blessings, religious medals, crucifixes, prayer cards, holy water and others. These are not among the seven sacraments and yet they enrich the spiritual lives of those who use them. Visiting churches and monasteries as well as the act of making a spiritual retreat also add to one’s spiritual growth. The seven sacraments, however, are what solidify a Catholic’s relationship to Mother Church and to the Catholic community. BAPTISM
There is no doubt regarding the significance of water throughout Scripture. Water is considered a source of life. By its springing up from the earth and also by the mightiness of the oceans, water is a powerful symbol. The crossing of the Red Sea which liberated Israel from slavery is the central story of faith and a reminder of the powerful prospects of water. Jesus told his Apostles after his resurrection to go forth and make disciples of nations, baptizing them “in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.” Baptism cleanses all from original sin and opens the door to life within the church. This particular sacrament was instituted by Christ because Jesus begins his public life after being baptized by John in the Jordan River.
“Baptism is first and foremost a welcoming of an infant or adult into the family of the church,” said Father Scardella. “We become members of the Body of Christ.” Father Scardella said baptism of infants should take place within a few weeks after birth. “The primary ministers of the rite are the priest or deacon and the parents. Today godparents serve as role models of the faith. Parents affirm their own faith at the renewal of their baptism vows as well as the godparents.” Some Catholics may not be clear regarding the way the sacrament is celebrated today. Father Scardella said that it is best to celebrate baptism within Sunday Mass because it gives a fuller sign of welcoming the child into the family of the church when its baptism takes place with the parish community.
The Constitution of the Sacred Liturgy calls the Eucharist “the source and summit of the whole Christian life.” “What the church is saying,” Father Scardella explained, “is that everything we do — all of our ministries — all we do as a church flows from the celebration of the Eucharist. And, all the ministry that we do should lead us back to the celebration of the Eucharist. We are Eucharist-centered.”
The bread and wine are the heart of the Eucharistic celebration. Christ in his own words instituted the Last Supper and, according to His command, the church continues to celebrate the Eucharist until his return. The Eucharist is made up of the act of thanksgiving, memorial of Jesus’ sacrifice and the real presence of Jesus in the Eucharist.
The Catechism of the Catholic Church says, “The Eucharistic presence of Christ begins at the moment of the consecration and endures as long as the Eucharistic species subsist. Christ is present whole and entire in each of the species and whole and entire in each of their parts, in such a way that the breaking of the bread does not divide Christ.” (1377). Father Scardella addressed why Catholics do not receive communion within other faith traditions. “I don’t receive communion with other denominations because I don’t profess what they profess,” he said. “It’s really a question of ecclesiology. If we believe everybody can come to the table then why have RCIA? The only people who can receive communion in our church are those who profess what we profess. It’s not a matter of just participating in the Lord’s Supper, but a matter of faith and being a member of the community of faith.”
Anyone who desires to receive Christ in Eucharistic communion must be in the state of grace, the Catechism states. Anyone aware of having committed a grave sin must not receive communion without having received absolution in the sacrament of penance.
The sacrament of Confirmation is necessary for the completion of the grace received at baptism. It is the affirmation of one’s commitment to the church. “When you were an infant your parents answered for you, that you would be a Catholic,” Father Scardella said. “At Confirmation it is the young adult’s chance to affirm this.”
Confirmation and Holy Orders are the only two sacraments normally administered by a bishop. In some cases, a priest can confer Confirmation. The bishop anoints the Confirmation candidate with the Sacred Chrism which is consecrated for the whole diocese at the Chrism Mass celebrated on Holy Thursday. “The bishop prays that the Holy Spirit comes upon these young people in His seven-fold gifts,” Father Scardella said. The seven gifts of the Holy Spirit are knowledge, wisdom, piety, fortitude, understanding, counsel, and reverence and awe. The bishop “seals” these gifts by the anointing with oil. Father Scardella said that before Vatican II, one of the traditions of the Confirmation rite was for the bishop to administer a light slap on the cheek of the confirmation candidate. This was a sign of the strength to resist temptation, he said. “Now instead the bishop and the individual exchange a sign of peace.” When he was in eighth grade, Father Scardella said the associate pastor at his parish was kind enough to allow him to practice the Confirmation rite with his brother’s class. Thus, much to his delight, Father Scardella was able to practice the bishop’s slap on the members of his brother’s class.
This is the sacrament that enables the mission Christ entrusted to the church to continue to be carried out. Those receiving Holy Orders are bishops, priests and deacons. Bishops and priests are to be representatives of Christ to the world. The deacons are ordained for specific service to the diocesan church. Father Scardella explained that priests are to celebrate Mass, preach, teach and hear confessions. “The priest is an extension of the office of the bishop,” he said. “Their role is to govern, preach and sanctify. We must teach what the church teaches and preach what the Gospel professes.”
Like the sacrament of matrimony, those undertaking the sacrament of Holy Orders must fully comprehend what the sacrament means. They must give full consent of will and realize the sacrament’s permanence. And, the individual must be free to be ordained with no prior commitments and promise to be obedient to the bishop.
Father Scardella said that when marriage takes place between a man and woman, the bride and groom are the actual celebrants and the priest is the witness. “The Catholic Church is really one of the last to defend the permanence of the marriage bond,” Father Scardella said.
There are four criteria that make a wedding valid according to the Catholic Church. The parties must be free to marry with no prior bond of marriage, they must be of age, they must be able to give full consent and not enter into matrimony with any reservations, and they must be open to the possibility of children. Since Scripture begins with creation of a man and woman, there can be no doubt as to God’s plan for humanity. One of Jesus’ miracles took place at the wedding in Canna and union is reinforced with the words of Scripture: so they are no longer two, but one flesh, be fruitful and multiply and it is not good that man be alone, among other passages.
The grace received through the bond of matrimony is to strengthen and help the couple in their ability to sustain their vows. “When the bride and groom celebrate this sacrament we believe this is a permanent life commitment and we don’t make those kinds of commitments lightly,” Father Scardella said. “That is why pre-Canna is so important so that couples learn about each other before entering into this relationship.”
One of the sacraments of healing, penance affirms Jesus’ promise to forgive sin. Father Scardella referred to penance as a “personal encounter with the compassion of our God.” In the early days of the church penance was a more public practice with the individual allowed back into the church after performing whatever penance was imposed.
The confession of sins to a priest is an essential element of the sacrament. To prepare for a good confession, Father Scardella said, one should examine one’s conscience. “We should ask, ‘Where am I living outside of God’s grace?’” he said. Two things necessary for a successful confession are contrition or real sorrow for sins committed and a firm commitment of purpose of amendment. In other words Father Scardella said, “I have to promise to do better. It’s not just about wiping the slate clean. It’s about ‘I’m really sorry for getting the slate dirty in the first place and I will try not to get it dirty again.’”
Father Scardella stated that confession is most helpful when one participates monthly or at least every three months. Through admission of sin, the Catechism states, one looks at the sins one is guilty of and takes responsibility for them thereby opening oneself up to God and to the church in order to make a new future possible. Essentially, absolution by the priest brings God’s forgiveness of sin and thus reconciliation with God and the church.
ANOINTING OF THE SICK
Of all the sacraments, Father Scardella said, the sacrament of anointing of the sick was changed most after Vatican II. “Before Vatican II we only anointed those who were at the point of death,” he said. “As it is celebrated today, we can receive the sacrament of anointment as many times as we need to. Any time you are going to have surgery you should be anointed. We have the anointing of the elderly at least once a year to renew them in body and spirit, not to prepare them for death but so the Holy Spirit can heal them and sustain them in good health.”
Since illness can cause great suffering and lead to thoughts of death, it often provokes a search for better understanding of God. And, healing the sick is one of the great manifestations of God in Christ. Often asking the sick to believe and to have faith, Jesus’ connection with healing is paramount.
Those receiving this sacrament are anointed on the forehead and hands with blessed oil. Only priests and bishops are ministers of this sacrament. The anointing of the sick brings courage and peace and leads to the healing of body and soul. It also reminds the one being anointed of their union with Christ’s suffering.
Besides anointing of the sick, the church also offers the sacraments of penance and Eucharist at the point in life when one is about to pass away. The last sacrament, or Viaticum, is very important as it makes up the end of the Christian life in the same way that baptism, Eucharist and Confirmation began one’s Christian life.
For more information about the sacraments in the Catholic Church, call Father Scardella at the Office of Ministerial Formation and Liturgy, (315) 470-1420.