The Sacraments are the salvation of those who use them rightly, and the damnation of those who misuse them.
– St. Augustine
Introduction to the Seven Sacraments of the Church
As an authentic Catholic Jurisdiction, the Apostolic Western Orthodox Church (AWOC) has pledged to remain faithful to the Historic Deposit of Faith. As St. Vincent of Lerins admonishes us, we are to hold fast to what has been believed since the very beginning.
Though we are young chronologically speaking, our apostolic legacy reaches back to Christ and His Apostles. In that, we fully embrace the fullness of the historic Catholic faith, especially the seven sacraments of the church.
There are several things that separate or distinguish Catholics from other forms of Christianity. Three of the most prominent are: Antiquity, Liturgy, and the Sacraments.
Since the Protestant reformation, most Christian denominations have done pretty much all they can to differentiate themselves from the Catholic practice of faith. Reformation theology has its roots in the 16th century, Catholicism was in effect born on Pentecost in 33ad. Though there has been a certain amount of development in sacramental theology over the years, the same seven sacraments that we utilize today have been practiced since the first century.
In the sacraments, we encounter Christ in both a real and mysterious manner. We receive particular graces for our lives and ministry among the body of Christ, the Church. “For there is one God, and there is one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus, who gave himself as a ransom for all.” First Letter of Paul to Timothy 2:5
According to Saint Augustine, a sacrament is an “outward sign of an inward grace” instituted by Christ to give grace. Jesus Christ himself is the sacrament, as he gave his life to save mankind. His humanity is the outward sign or the instrument of his Divinity. It is through his humanity that the life of the Trinity comes to us as grace through the sacraments. It is Jesus Christ alone who mediates the sacraments to allow grace to flow to mankind — not the priest or bishop.
Christ sent the Holy Spirit at Pentecost to inspire his Apostles and his Church to shepherd his flock after his Ascension into heaven. “As the Father has sent me, even so, I send you” (John 17:18, 20:21). Jesus is the Head of his Body the Church (Colossians 1:18). The Church itself is a sacrament instituted by Christ to give grace. Jesus gave us his Body the Church to continue the works he performed during his earthly life. Grace given to us through the sacraments will help us lead a good life in this world and help save us for the Kingdom of Heaven.
According to St. Augustine (De Civ. Dei x): “The visible sacrifice is the sacrament. This is the sacred sign of the invisible sacrifice. A thing is called a sacrament, either by having a certain hidden sanctity and in this sense a sacrament is a sacred secret; or from having some relationship to this sanctity. A sacrament is a sign. Moreover, it is a sacred sign.”
The main effect of the sacraments is grace, in particular, those involving virtues and gifts. Grace perfects the soul and allows participation in the Divine Nature. Furthermore, the effects of the sacraments are justification. This is an interior effect. Romans 8,33: “God justifies.” Therefore, the effects of the sacraments are justification. This is an interior effect. The power of the sacraments is from God, alone.
The sacraments were instituted by Christ and were part of the Tradition of the early Christian Church. The Church celebrates in her liturgy the Paschal mystery of Christ, his Passion, Sacrifice on the Cross, Resurrection, and Glorious Ascension. The Greek word μυστήριον or mystery in the Greek New Testament is translated into sacramentum in the Latin Vulgate Bible, from which we derive our English word sacrament (examples: Ephesians 1:9, Ephesians 3:9, Colossians 1:27). The saving effects of Christ’s Redemption on the Cross are communicated through the sacraments, especially in the liturgical celebration of the Eucharist. The sacraments to this day are called mysteries in the Eastern Churches.
The article below is intended to be an introduction or an overview, not an in-depth theological treatis:
Catholic, as well as Eastern Orthodox Churches all, recognizes the seven sacraments of:
- Holy Eucharist,
- the Anointing of the Sick,
- Holy Orders, and
The three sacraments of Christian Initiation are:
- Confirmation, and
The two sacraments of healing are:
- Penance and the
- Anointing of the Sick,
The two sacraments of Vocation are:
- Holy Orders and
Three sacraments, Baptism, Confirmation, and Holy Orders are given once, as they render a permanent seal or character upon one’s soul (2 Corinthians 1:21-22, Ephesians 4:30, Revelations 7:3).
The Gospel of Mark 5:25-34 describes a woman afflicted with a hemorrhage that touched the cloak of Jesus and was immediately healed. There is a fourth-century fresco painting in the catacomb of Sts. Marcellinus and Peter depicting this event, which serves as an apt symbol of Sacrament – the power that flows out from the body of Jesus, in order to effect both remission of sin and new life in Christ.
Each sacrament consists of a visible external rite, which is composed of matter and form, the matter being the action, such as the pouring of water in baptism, and the form being the words spoken by the minister. Each sacramental rite confers a special ecclesial effect and sacramental grace appropriate for each sacrament. The sacraments occur at pivotal events and give meaning to a person’s life.
The sacraments act ex opere operato, by the very fact of the action being performed, independent of the minister. The effect on the person receiving the sacrament is called ex opere operantis, and depends on the interior disposition of the receiver.
Grace is a favor, the free and undeserved gift from God through Christ Jesus, to help us respond to his call to become children of God, to become partakers of the divine nature and of eternal life. Our justification comes from the grace of God. Grace is a participation in the life of God and is necessary for salvation.
“And the Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us,
and we saw his glory, the glory as of the Father’s only Son,
full of grace and truth.” ~Gospel of John 1:14
They are justified freely by his grace through the redemption in Christ Jesus, whom God set forth as an expiation, through faith, by his blood, to prove his righteousness because of the forgiveness of sins previously committed, through the forbearance of God – to prove his righteousness in the present time, that he might be righteous and justify the one who has faith in Jesus. ~Letter of St. Paul to the Romans 3:24-26
Each of you should use whatever gift you have received to serve others,
as faithful stewards of God’s grace in its various forms.
~First Letter of St. Peter 4:10
The Seven Sacraments
Baptism is the basis of the whole Christian life, as we are born of the water and the Spirit and receive the grace of Christ. Baptism is necessary for salvation (John 3:5), and conveys a permanent sign that the new Christian is a child of God. Jesus himself was baptized in the Jordan River by John the Baptist (Mark 1:9-11). The martyr St. Ignatius of Antioch, in his Letter to the Ephesians written about 100 AD, stated that Jesus “Christ was baptized, that by himself submitting he might purify the water.” Baptism is prefigured in the Old Testament through the saving of Noah and his family during the Flood (Genesis 7:12-23, 1 Peter 3:20-21), and Moses crossing of the Red Sea during the Exodus, leaving captivity for the Promised Land (Exodus 14:1-22).
The Greek word baptizein means to “immerse, plunge, or dip.” The infant or candidate is anointed with the oil of catechumens, followed by the parents, godparents, or candidate making the profession of faith. The essential rite of Baptism consists of the minister immersing the baby or person in water or pouring water on his head while pronouncing “I baptize you in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.” The infant or candidate is then anointed with sacred chrism.
What has taken place in Baptism is indicated by the rites that follow it, the clothing in the white garment and giving of the lighted candle: the baptized person has “clothed yourself with Christ” (Galatians 3:27). Here are four Scriptural sources in the New Testament (See also Acts 1:21-22; Ephesians 4:5; Colossians 2:11-13, I Peter 3:21):
“Go, therefore, and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you.” Gospel of Matthew 28:19-20
“In those days Jesus came from Nazareth of Galilee and was baptized by John in the Jordan. And when he came up out of the water, immediately he saw the heavens opened and the Spirit descending upon him like a dove;
and a voice came from heaven, “Thou art my beloved Son; with thee, I am well pleased.” Gospel of Mark 1:9-11
Jesus answered, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God.” Gospel of John 3:5
Or are you unaware that we who were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? We were indeed buried with him through baptism into death, so that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might live in newness of life. St. Paul to the Romans 6:3-4
Confirmation (or Chrismation) is the Sacrament of the Holy Spirit, the Holy Spirit whom Christ Jesus sent (John 7:37-39, 16:7). Jesus instructed his Apostles that “you will receive the power of the Holy Spirit” and called upon the Apostles to be his “witnesses” to the ends of the earth (Acts 1:8). At Pentecost, the Apostles were filled with the Holy Spirit (Acts 2:1-4), and began to spread the Word of God. The Acts of the Apostles is often called the Gospel of the Holy Spirit. St. Cyril of Jerusalem wrote of Baptism, Eucharist, and this sacrament in the mid-fourth century AD.
The rite of Confirmation is anointing the forehead with chrism, together with the laying on of the minister’s hands and the words, “Be sealed with the Gift of the Holy Spirit.” The recipient receives the seven gifts of the Holy Spirit: wisdom, understanding, counsel, fortitude, knowledge, piety, and fear of the Lord (Isaiah 11:2-3). On occasion, one may receive one or more of the charismatic gifts of the Spirit (1 Corinthians 12:7-11).
The ecclesial effect and sacramental grace of the sacrament give the recipient the strength and character to witness for Jesus Christ. The East continues the tradition of the early Christian Church by administering the sacrament with Baptism. Confirmation in the West is administered by the Bishop to children from age 7 to 18, but generally to adolescents, for example, to a graduating class of grade school children. Key Scriptural sources for Confirmation are the following (See also John 16:7, Acts 1:4-5, 2:1-4, 2:38, 10:44-48):
When the time for Pentecost was fulfilled, they were all in one place together And suddenly there came from the sky a noise like a strong driving wind, and it filled the entire house in which they were. Then there appeared to them tongues as of fire, which parted and came to rest on each one of them. And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in different tongues, as the Spirit enabled them to proclaim.
Acts of the Apostles 2:1-4
“Now when the apostles at Jerusalem heard that Samaria had received the word of God, they sent to them Peter and John, who came down and prayed for them that they might receive the Holy Spirit; for it had not yet fallen on any of them, but they had only been baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus.
Then they laid their hands on them and they received the Holy Spirit.”
Acts of the Apostles 8:14-17
“While Apollos was at Corinth, Paul passed through the upper country and came to Ephesus. There he found some disciples. And he said to them, “Did you receive the Holy Spirit when you believed?” And they said, “No, we have never even heard that there is a Holy Spirit.” And he said, “Into what then were you baptized?” They said, “Into John’s baptism.” And Paul said, “John baptized with the baptism of repentance, telling the people to believe in the one who was to come after him, that is, Jesus.” On hearing this, they were baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus. And when Paul had laid his hands upon them, the Holy Spirit came on them; and they spoke with tongues and prophesied.” Acts of the Apostles 19:1-6
From the very beginning, the Sacrament of the Holy Eucharist has held the primary place of honor in Catholic liturgical celebrations.
Eucharistia in Latin means thanksgiving, and the Eucharist is the “source and summit of the Christian life.” St. Justin Martyr described the Eucharistic Liturgy in 155 AD in his First Apology. The Paschal mystery of Christ is celebrated in the liturgy of the Mass (or Divine Liturgy in the East), which consists of the Liturgy of the Word and the Liturgy of the Eucharist. The Eucharist is the principal sacramental celebration of the Church, established by Jesus at the Last Supper, in which the mystery of our salvation through participation in the sacrificial death, Resurrection, and Glorious Ascension of Christ is renewed and accomplished. The word “Mass” comes from the Latin missa, as it refers to the mission or sending forth of the faithful following the celebration, so that they may fulfill God’s will in their daily lives.
The essential signs of the sacrament are wheat bread and grape wine, on which the blessing of the Holy Spirit is invoked during the Sacrifice of the Mass, and the priest pronounces the words of consecration spoken by Jesus at the Last Supper: “This is my body…This is the cup of my blood…” (Matthew 26:26-28, Mark 14:22-24, Luke 22:19-20, First Corinthians 11:23-26).
Jesus died once on the cross in sacrifice for our sins (Hebrews 9:25-28). But Jesus is present for all time, as he is the eternal Son of God. What he did once in history also then exists for all eternity. What happened in time goes beyond time. In the heart of Jesus, he is always giving himself to the Father for us, as he did on the Cross. When we celebrate the Mass, the sacrifice of the cross, that happened once in history but is present for all eternity, that same reality is made present in th Eucharistic mystery.
The bread and wine through Transubstantiation become the Body and Blood, Soul and Divinity of Jesus Christ, and we receive the Real Presence of Jesus when we receive Holy Communion. Our soul is nourished, helping us to become like Christ. The Eucharist is the heart and source of community within the Church. Receiving Holy Communion with others during the Mass brings unity of the Church, the Body of Christ (I Corinthians 10:16-17).
Then he took the bread, said the blessing, broke it, and gave it to them, saying, “This is my body, which will be given for you;
do this in memory of me.” And likewise, the cup after they had eaten, saying, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood, which will be shed for you.” Gospel of Luke 22:19-20
“I am the bread of life. Your ancestors ate the manna in the wilderness, and they died. This is the bread that comes down from heaven, so that one may eat of it and not die. I am the living bread which came down from heaven;
if anyone eats of this bread, he will live forever; and the bread which I shall give for the life of the world is my flesh.” Gospel of John 6:48-51
For I received from the Lord that which I also delivered to you, that the Lord Jesus in the night in which He was betrayed took bread; and when He had given thanks, He broke it and said, “This is My body, which is for you; do this in remembrance of Me.” In the same way, He took the cup also after supper, saying, “This cup is the new covenant in My blood; do this, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of Me.” For as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until He comes. First Letter of St. Paul to the Corinthians 11:23-26
Confession — Reconciliation
Jesus Christ gave his Apostles the power to forgive sins. The Sacrament is also known as the Sacrament of Conversion, Forgiveness, Penance, or Reconciliation.
During the persecution of the Roman Emperor Decius (249-251), many Christians left the Church rather than suffer martyrdom. The martyr St. Cyprian, Bishop of Carthage, allowed apostates the Sacrament of Confession, as recorded in his Letter De Lapsis (The Lapsed) in 251.
The sacrament involves three steps: the penitent’s contrition or sorrow for his sins, the actual confession to a priest and absolution, and then penance or restitution for your sins. The experience leads one to an interior conversion of the heart. Jesus describes the process of conversion and penance in the Parable of the Prodigal Son (Luke 15:11-24).
The penitent confesses his sins to the priest in the confessional, and the priest then gives absolution to the repentant soul, making the Sign of the Cross, and saying the words ” I absolve you from your sins, in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.” It is Christ Jesus through the priest who forgives your sins. As the penitent must make restitution or satisfaction for his sins, the priest gives a penance to the forgiven one, usually prayer, fasting, or almsgiving (I Peter 4:8).
Confession gives one a wonderful sense of freedom and peace from the burden of sin. Sorrow, affliction, and a desire for conversion follow the remorse of sin in those with a contrite heart. Some believe we can confess our sins privately to God. But man is a social being. The humbling experience of unburdening your soul to someone, of exposing your weak nature, and then being accepted for who you are and what you have done by having your sins forgiven brings one an incredible sense of relief! The experience brings a sense of gratitude to our generous Lord for his love, compassion and mercy.
As one is to be in the state of grace before receiving Holy Communion, the child makes his first Confession before his first Communion, generally at the age of reason. Here are three Scriptural references on Penance (See also Matthew 16:18-19, Luke 24:46-47, Acts 2:38):
“When Jesus saw their faith, he said to the paralytic, “Child, your sins are forgiven…
But that you may know that the Son of Man has authority to forgive sins on earth, he said to the paralytic, “I say to you, rise, pick up your mat, and go home.” Gospel of Mark 2:1-10
“Jesus said to them again, “Peace be with you. As the Father who sent me, even so, I send you. And when he had said this, he breathed on them, and said to them, “Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven. If you retain the sins of any, they are retained.” Gospel of John 20:21-23
“And all this is from God, who has reconciled us to himself through Christ and given us the ministry of reconciliation.” The Second Letter of Paul to the Corinthians 5:18
Anointing of the Sick
The Anointing of the Sick is the Sacrament given to seriously ill Christians, and the special graces received unite the sick person to the passion of Christ. The Sacrament consists of the anointing of the forehand and hands of the person with blessed oil, with the minister saying, “Through this holy anointing may the Lord in his love and mercy help you with the grace of the Holy Spirit. May the Lord who frees you from sin save you and raise you up.”
Origen of Egypt in his Homilies on Leviticus described Anointing for healing the sick and forgiveness of sins in the third century. St. Thomas Aquinas stated that Extreme Unction, as the Anointing of the Sick was once called, is “a spiritual remedy, since it avails for the remission of sins, and therefore is a sacrament” (James 5:15). The ecclesial effect of this sacrament is incorporation into the healing Body of Christ, with a spiritual healing of the soul, and at times healing of the body. The sacramental grace helps us to accept sickness by uniting ourselves to the passion and death of Christ (Colossians 1:24) and the grace even to accept death if that is God’s will.
Jesus healed the blind and the sick, as well as commissioned his Apostles to do so, as in the following sources.
“And He summoned the twelve and began to send them out in pairs, and gave them authority over the unclean spirits.
… So they (the Twelve Apostles) went off and preached repentance.
They drove out many demons, and they anointed with oil many who were sick and cured them.” Gospel of Mark 6:7, 12-13
“Now I rejoice in my sufferings for your sake, and in my flesh, I complete what is lacking in Christ’s afflictions for the sake of his body, that is, the church.” St. Paul to the Colossians 1:24
“Is any among you sick? Let him call for the presbyters of the Church, and let them pray over him, anointing him with oil in the name of the Lord;
and the prayer of faith will save the sick man, and the Lord will raise him up; and if he has committed sins, he will be forgiven.”
The Sacrament of Holy Orders began with the Last Supper when Christ Jesus commissioned his Apostles to continue the Eucharistic celebration. He also commissioned his Apostles following the Resurrection to be his witnesses to the ends of the earth (Matthew 28:19-20, Acts 1:8). Thomas Aquinas makes the point that only Christ is the true priest, the others serving as his ministers (Hebrews 8:4). St. Ignatius, Bishop of Syria around 100 AD, in his Letter to the Magnesians (6), established the hierarchy of bishop, priest, and deacon for the early Churches, the pattern which still exists today. Bishops are the successors of the Apostles, and priests and deacons are his assistants in rendering service. Men are ordained to the priesthood in the Catholic and Orthodox Churches, as the sacrament confers upon the priest the character to act in the person of Christ – in persona Christi.
Holy Orders is the sacrament of Apostolic ministry. As in the Pastoral Epistles, the rite consists of the Bishop’s laying on of hands on the head of the priest-candidate with the consecrating prayer asking God for the outpouring of the Holy Spirit for the gifts of the ministry. There are three dimensions to ministry, that of Bishop, Priesthood, and the Diaconate. See Matthew 16:18-19, John 21:15-17, Romans 10:14-15, 2 Timothy 1:6, and Titus 1:5 as well as the following:
“Do this in memory of me.”
Luke 22:19 and First Corinthians 11:25
“Now be solicitous for yourselves and for the whole flock in which
the Holy Spirit has appointed you as bishops to pasture the Church of God,
which He purchased with his own blood.”
Acts of the Apostles 20:28
“Do not neglect the spiritual gift within you,
which was bestowed on you through prophetic utterance with the laying on of hands by the presbytery. First Letter of Paul to Timothy 4:14
“Come to him, to that living stone, rejected by men but in God’s sight chosen and precious; and like living stones be yourselves built into a spiritual house, to be a holy priesthood, to offer spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ.” First Peter 2:4-5
Marriage — Holy Matrimony
The union of a man and a woman is natural. The natural language of the human body is such that the man gives to the woman and the woman receives the man. The love and friendship between a man and a woman grow into a desire for marriage. The sacrament of marriage gives the couple the grace to grow into a union of heart and soul, to continue life, and to provide stability for themselves and their children. Children are the fruit and bond of marriage.
The bond of marriage between a man and a woman lasts all the days of their lives, and the form of the rite consists of the mutual exchange of vows by a couple, both of whom have been baptized. The minister serves as a witness to the couple in the West but serves as the actual minister of the rite in the East. The matter follows later through consummation of the marriage act.
Sacred Scripture begins with the creation of man and woman in the image and likeness of God, and concludes with a vision of the “wedding-feast of the Lamb” (Revelation 19:7, 9). The bond of marriage is compared to God’s undying love for Israel in the Old Testament and Christ’s love for his Church in the New Testament of the Bible.
Jesus stresses the significance of the marriage bond in his Ministry (Matthew 19:6, 8). The importance of marriage is substantiated by the presence of Christ at the wedding feast of Cana, where he began his public ministry at the request of his mother Mary by performing his first miracle (John 2). It is the Apostle Paul who calls matrimony a great sacrament or mystery, and who identifies the marriage of man and woman with the unity of Christ and his Church. The theologian Tertullian, the first Latin Father of the Church at the beginning of the third century AD, wrote on the Sacrament of Matrimony.
“For this reason, a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh.” Genesis 2:24
“(Jesus) said in reply: “Have you not read that He who made man from the beginning made them male and female?” Matthew 19:4
“Husbands, love your wives, even as Christ loved the Church.” St. Paul to the Ephesians 5:25
“This is a great mystery, but I speak in reference to Christ and the church.
In any case, each one of you should love his wife as himself, and the wife should respect her husband.” St. Paul to the Ephesians 5:32-33