How many sacraments are there, and what are their names?
The Church has seven sacraments: Baptism, Confirmation, Eucharist, Penance, Anointing of the Sick, Holy Orders, and Matrimony.
Why do we need sacraments in the first place?
We need sacraments in order to outgrow our petty human life and to become like Jesus through Jesus: children of God in freedom and glory.
In Baptism the fallen children of men become cherished children of God; through Confirmation the weak become strong, committed Christians; through Penance the guilty are reconciled; through the Eucharist the hungry become bread for others; through Matrimony and Holy Orders individualists become servants of love; through the Anointing of the Sick the despairing become people of confidence. The sacrament in all the sacraments is Christ himself. In him we men, lost in selfishness, grow and mature into the true life that has no end.
Why is faith in Jesus Christ not enough? Why does God give us the sacraments, too?
We can and should come to God with all our senses, not just with the intellect. That is why God gives himself to us in earthly signs especially in bread and wine, the Body and Blood of Christ.
People saw Jesus, heard him, could touch him and thereby experience salvation and healing in body and soul. The sensible signs of the sacraments show this same signature of God, who desires to address the whole man, not just his head.
Is there some inner logic that unites the sacraments with each other?
All sacraments are an encounter with Christ, who is him self the original sacrament.
There are sacraments of initiation, which introduce the recipient into the faith: Baptism, Confirmation, and Eucharist. There are sacraments of healing: Reconciliation and the Anointing of the Sick. And there are sacraments of communion and mission: Matrimony and Holy Orders.
Baptism joins us with Christ. Confirmation gives us his Spirit. The Eucharist unites us with him. Confession reconciles us with Christ. Through the Anointing of the Sick, Christ heals, strengthens, and consoles. In the sacrament of Matrimony, Christ promises his love in our love and his fidelity in our fidelity. Through the sacrament of Holy Orders, priests have the privilege of forgiving sins and celebrating the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass.
Why do the sacraments belong to the Church? Why cannot anyone use them however he wants?
Sacraments are Christ’s gift to his Church. It is her duty to administer them and to protect them from misuse.
Jesus entrusted his words and signs to specific men, namely, the apostles, who were to hand them on; he did not hand them over to an anonymous crowd. Today we would say: He did not post his inheritance on the Internet for free access but rather registered it under a domain name. Sacraments exist for the Church and through the Church. They are for her, because the Body of Christ, which is the Church, is established, nourished, and perfected through the sacraments. They exist through her, because the sacraments are the power of Christ’s Body, for example in confession, where Christ forgives our sins through the priest.
Which sacraments can be received only once in a lifetime?
Baptism, Confirmation, and Holy Orders. These sacraments imprint an indelible mark on the soul of the Christian. Baptism and Confirmation make him once and for all a child of God and Christlike. Holy Orders similarly leaves an imprint on a Christian man.
Just as someone always is and remains a child of his parents (and not just “sometimes” or “a little bit”), so also through Baptism and Confirmation one becomes forever a child of God, Christlike, and a member of his Church. Similarly, Holy Orders is not a “job” that a man does until retirement; rather, it is an irrevocable charism (gift of grace). Because God is faithful, the effect of these sacraments is maintained forever for the Christian – as receptivity to God’s call, as a vocation, and as protection. Consequently these sacraments cannot be repeated.
Why is faith a prerequisite for the sacraments?
Sacraments are not magic. A sacrament can be effective only if one understands and accepts it in faith. Sacraments not only presuppose faith, they also strengthen it and give expression to it.
Jesus commissioned the apostles first to make people disciples through their preaching, in other words, to awaken their faith and only then to baptize them. There are two things, therefore, that we receive from the Church: faith and the sacraments. Even today someone becomes a Christian, not through a mere ritual or by being listed in a register, but rather through acceptance of the true faith. We receive the true faith from the Church. She vouches for it. Because the Church’s faith is expressed in the liturgy, no sacramental ritual can be changed or manipulated at the discretion of an individual minister or a congregation.
If a sacrament is administered by someone who is unworthy, does it fail to have its effect?
No. The sacraments are effective on the basis of the sacramental action that is carried out (ex opereoperato), in other words, independently of the moral conduct or spiritual outlook of the minister. It is enough for him to intend to do what the Church does. By all means, ministers of the sacraments ought to live an exemplary life. But the sacraments take effect, not because of the holiness of their ministers, but rather because Christ himself is at work in them. In any case, he respects our freedom when we receive the sacraments. That is why they have a positive effect only if we rely on Christ.
What is Baptism?
Baptism is the way out of the kingdom of death into life, the gateway to the Church, and the beginning of a lasting communion with God.
Baptism is the foundational sacrament and the prerequisite for all other sacraments. It unites us with Jesus Christ, incorporates us into his redemptive death on the Cross, thereby freeing us from the power of Original Sin and all personal sins, and causes us to rise with him to a life without end. Since Baptism is a covenant with God, the individual must say Yes to it. In the baptism of children, the parents confess the Faith on behalf of the children.
How is Baptism administered?
The classical form of administering Baptism is the threefold immersion of the candidate in the water. Usually, however, water is poured three times over the head of the candidate, while the minister of the sacrament speaks the words, “N., I baptize you in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.”
Water symbolizes cleansing and new life, which was already expressed in the baptism of repentance performed by John the Baptist. The Baptism that is administered with water “in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit” is more than a sign of conversion and repentance; it is new life in Christ. That is why the ceremony also includes the signs of anointing, the white garment, and the baptismal candle.
Who can be baptized, and what is required of a candidate?
Any person who is not yet baptized can be baptized. The only prerequisite for Baptism is faith, which must be professed publicly at the Baptism. A person who turns to Christianity is not just changing a worldview. He travels a path of learning (the catechumenate), in which he becomes a new man through personal conversion, but especially through the gift of Baptism. He is now a living member of the Body of Christ.
Why does the Church adhere to the practice of infant Baptism?
From antiquity the Church has practiced infant Baptism. There is one reason for this: before we decide on God, God has decided on us. Baptism is therefore a grace, an undeserved gift of God, who accepts us unconditionally. Believing parents who want what is best for their child want Baptism also, in which the child is freed from the influence of original sin and the power of death.
Infant Baptism presupposes that Christian parents will raise the baptized child in the faith. It is an injustice to deprive the child of Baptism out of a mistaken liberality. One cannot deprive a child of love so that he can later decide on love for himself; so too it would be an injustice if believing parents were to deprive their child of God’s grace in Baptism. Just as every person is born with the ability to speak yet must learn a language, so too every person is born with the capacity to believe but must become acquainted with the faith. At any rate, Baptism can never be imposed on anyone.
If someone has received Baptism as a little child, he must “ratify” it later in life – this means he must say Yes to it, so that it becomes fruitful.
Who can administer Baptism?
Normally a bishop, a priest, or a deacon administers the sacrament of Baptism. In an emergency, any Christian, indeed anyone, can baptize by pouring water over the head of the recipient and pronouncing the baptismal formula, “I baptize you in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.”
Baptism is so important that even a non-Christian can administer it. In doing so, however, he must have the intention of doing what the Church does when she baptizes.
Is Baptism in fact the only way to salvation?
For all those who have received the Gospel and have heard that Christ is “the way, and the truth, and the life,” (Jn 14:6) Baptism is the only way to God and salvation. At the same time, however, it is true that Christ died for all mankind. Therefore all men who have had no opportunity to learn about Christ and the faith but seek God sincerely and live according to their conscience also find salvation (the so-called Baptism of desire).
God has made salvation dependent on the sacraments. Therefore the Church must tirelessly offer them to mankind. To give up her missionary work would be a betrayal of God’s commission. God himself, however, is not dependent on his sacraments. In places where the Church does not exist or has had no success – whether by her own fault or for other reasons – God himself paves for the people other ways to salvation in Christ.
What is Confirmation?
Confirmation is the sacrament that completes Baptism; in it the gift of the Holy Spirit is bestowed upon us. Anyone who freely decides to live a life as God’s child and asks for God’s Spirit under the signs of the imposition of hands and anointing with chrism receives the strength to witness to God’s love and might in word and deed. He is now a full-fledged, responsible member of the Catholic Church.
When a coach sends a soccer player onto the playing field, he puts his hand on his shoulder and gives him final instructions. We can understand Confirmation in a similar way. A hand is placed upon us. We step out onto the field of life. Through the Holy Spirit we know what we have to do and we have been given the power to do it. He has motivated us. His mission resounds in our ears. We sense his help. We will not betray his trust or disappoint him; we will win the game for him. We just have to want to do it and listen to him.
What does Sacred Scripture say about the sacrament of Confirmation?
In the Old Testament, the People of God expected the outpouring of the Holy Spirit upon the Messiah. Jesus lived his life in a special Spirit of love and of perfect unity with his Father in heaven. This Spirit of Jesus was the “Holy Spirit” for whom the people of Israel longed; this was the same Spirit whom Jesus promised to his disciples, the same Spirit who descended upon the disciples fifty days after Easter, on the feast of Pentecost. And it is again this same Holy Spirit of Jesus who descends upon everyone who receives the sacrament of Confirmation.
In the Acts of the Apostles, which were written a few decades after the death of Jesus, we see Peter and John traveling about to confirm new Christians by imposing hands on those who previously “had only been baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus,” so that their hearts might be filled with the Holy Spirit.
What happens in Confirmation?
In Confirmation the soul of a baptized Christian is imprinted with a permanent seal that can be received only once and marks this individual forever as a Christian. The gift of the Holy Spirit is the strength from above in which this individual puts the grace of his Baptism into practice through his life and acts as a “witness” for Christ.
To be confirmed means to make a “covenant” with God. The confirmand says, “Yes, I believe in you, my God; give me your Holy Spirit, so that I might belong entirely to you and never be separated from you and may witness to you throughout my whole life, body and soul, in my words and deeds, on good days and bad.” And God says, “Yes, I believe in you, too, my child and I will give you my Spirit, my very self. I will belong entirely to you. I will never separate myself from you, in this life or eternally in the next. I will be in your body and your soul, in your words and deeds. Even if you forget me, I will still be there on good days and bad.”
Who can be confirmed, and what is required of a candidate for Confirmation?
Any Catholic Christian who has received the sacrament of Baptism and is in the “state of grace” can be admitted to Confirmation.
To be “in the state of grace” means not to have committed any serious sin (mortal sin). By a serious sin a person separates himself from God and can be reconciled with God only by making a good confession. A (young) Christian who is preparing for Confirmation finds himself in one of the most important phases of his life. He will do everything possible to grasp the faith with his heart and his understanding; he will pray alone and with others for the Holy Spirit; he will reconcile himself in every way with himself, with the people around him, and with God. Confession is part of this, since it brings one closer to God even if one has not committed a mortal sin.
Who may confirm?
The Sacrament of Confirmation is normally administered by the bishop. For weighty reasons when necessary, the bishop can also delegate a priest to do it. In danger of death, any priest can administer Confirmation.