The Division and Ordering of the Seven Sacraments
This entry was posted on January 7, 2015.
Sacraments are the outwards signs that were instituted by Jesus Christ to give grace, that is, they give the capability to respond to God’s general and specific call for our lives. Our general call is to know, to love, and to serve God, our Creator. Our specific call is the particular way that we are to do this using our unique talents.
“The fruit of the sacramental life is that the Spirit of adoption makes the faithful partakers in divine nature by uniting them in a living union with the only Son, the Savior.” (CCC 1129)
In total, the Catholic Church offers her members seven direct means of grace: Baptism, Confirmation, Reconciliation (Penance/Confession), Eucharist, Matrimony, Holy Orders, and Anointing of the Sick (Extreme Unction). The are efficacious only because, “in them Christ himself is at work: it is He who baptizes, he who acts in his sacraments in order to communicate the grace each sacrament signifies.” (CCC 1127)
The sacraments presuppose faith and are thus called by the Church: the “Sacraments of Faith”. The sacraments build on the grace conferred by the others, and the Church is conscious of the ordering and tracking of them for each member especially since some sacraments are conferred only once, while others may be received repeatedly.
The sacraments that occur only once are the ones that participate in Jesus’ priesthood: Baptism, Confirmation, and Holy Orders. These imprint on the soul a certain seal (or character) which remains eternally, and thus, they can never be repeated. The sacraments that are repeatable are the ones that relate to personal growth in the life of the Church, and are processes that enable individual healing and union with God. The Eucharist, in particular, is considered the “Sacrament of Sacraments” because “all the other sacraments are ordered to it as their end” (Summa Theologicae III, 65, 3).
The sacraments of initiation are: Baptism, Confirmation and reception of the Eucharist. “The faithful are born anew by Baptism, strengthened by Confirmation, and receive in the Eucharist the food of eternal life.” (CCC 1212)
Baptism cleanses the soul from original sin and its consequences from the soul.
Confirmation is necessary for the completion of Baptism because it safeguards the effects of Baptism and unites the soul more deeply to Christ.
The Eucharist is a repeatable and renewing healing power, which unites one to God in the most intimate way: it is a spousal union to Christ and is the sacrament of love. Most people make their First Communion as children.
The sacraments of healing are: Reconciliation and the Anointing of the Sick.
Reconciliation is also a repeatable sacrament because it restores us to union with God after we have fallen away from Him due to our sins. It is where we can entreat God for mercy and consciously work through our failings and strive towards the perfection of our charity. Through Reconciliation we are confident of God’s forgiveness.
Anointing of the Sick can also be received multiple times because the human condition, in of itself, is susceptible to illness and suffering; every time a member is in danger of death, it may be conferred for strengthening and healing.
The sacraments of service are: Holy Orders and Matrimony. These are particular “consecrations” that fortify one to fulfill one’s duty.
“Those who receive the sacrament of Holy Orders are consecrated in Christ’s name to ‘feed the Church by the word and grace of God.’” (CCC 1535)
Married spouses likewise are consecrated so that they may be able to feed each other and build each other up in love.
All seven sacraments preserve the dignity of each member and are efficacious to uplifting the Church and bringing about personal fulfillment and happiness.