What are sacraments?
A sacrament is a Christian rite which is recognized as particular, important and significance. Christians consider sacraments as visible symbols of God’s reality and channels of grace. Several people witness Sacraments being conferred to candidates but hardly know what they mean. We have expounded them through a series of articles but still, some people seem to remain in suspense even after reading them. Sacraments are Christ’s gifts that impart grace on all who believe. Sacraments are visible signs which represent God’s divine power. Sacraments can only be freely received. Though they are necessary for our salvation, one is free to accept or reject them. When Jesus died on the Cross to redeem humanity, he still left us the freedom to welcome or reject salvation. Human freedom is part of the mystery of faith.
Sacraments and grace
Grace is the unmerited loving favour and kindness from our Creator. Being wonderful gifts they motivate and award power to live in ways that please God. Grace is God’s favour given freely to human beings so that they are strengthened to respond to his call. St Paul says: “By grace, you have been saved through faith, not of yourselves” Ephesians 2:8.
God prefers to operate that way
God blesses human beings through his grace expressed through visible things. Graces pass through known things; that we can taste, touch and feel. For example, we believe that water cleanses. We know that Bread and Wine are edible, while Olive Oil fortifies and strengthens. The Church calls these rites and rituals ‘Sacramentum/holy’ because they sanctify.
Sacraments grant qualities for life
There are three distinct qualities present in a sacrament. The sacrament is an ‘outward sign’, it is ‘instituted by Christ’ meant ‘to give graces’. The outward signs represent God’s ways of dealing with human beings. God conveys his unseen grace into our spiritual souls through material symbols which our physical bodies can perceive clearly as things, words and gestures. The outward signs of the Sacraments have two parts; the material thing which is used which could be water, oil and bread. Words and gestures that accompany the rite give significance to what is being done. The second quality is that Sacraments are instituted by Christ. No human power can generate inward grace; not even the Church. Only God can do that. The third part asserts that Sacraments give grace. It is only by the grace of God that we were saved and are still being saved. This salvation is available for all who believe.
The Sacraments provide a rite of passage
Sacraments give sanctifying grace and allow one to share in God’s own life and love. Through Sacraments, we become temples of the Holy Spirit. Previously the human soul had been cut off from God by original sin, but through Baptism, life becomes a celebration. When the soul is cut off from God by mortal sin, the Sacrament of Reconciliation provides a remedy. Reconciliation removes the barrier resisting the Holy Spirit from gaining entrance into one’s life. Once everything is clean; the other five sacraments namely; Confirmation, Holy Eucharist, Anointing of the Sick, Holy Orders and Matrimony provide an increase in sanctifying grace. Since Holy Communion and Reconciliation are received repeatedly, they assist in beatifying spiritual life, making the person fully happy as sanctifying grace pulsates through one’s whole life. With each additional sacrament received from the moment of Baptism, the level of spiritual vitality rises to extent of making one start testing fruits of holiness.
With sacraments, life becomes better
God did not reward us with spiritual gifts and then abandon us to chance. In addition to the sanctifying grace which is common to all the sacraments, each ritual rewards sacramental graces. Through Baptism we receive a continuous chain of graces that enables us to preserve and practice the virtues of faith, hope, and charity. The Sacrament of Confirmation increases our basic vitality by establishing a permanent fund of actual graces upon which we relay to stay strong, active and productive exemplars of Christian living. The Anointing of the Sick strengthens us in sickness and prepares us to meet death with confidence. It is also sacramental grace which comforts us in our sufferings. The Holy Eucharist grants special sacramental grace that assists us to grow in supernatural charity. The Sacrament of Reconciliation is an immunization against sin whose special sacramental grace guards us against falling into the spiritual illness of sin and resisting temptation. The Sacraments of Holy Orders and Matrimony are two great states in life which impose upon us grave responsibility for the souls of others. These two grants to their recipients each it’s essence the sacramental grace which enables priests and spouses to discharge creditably before God, and sometimes heavy burdens of their state in life. They are also categorized as Sacraments of service.
All the Seven Sacraments are quite extraordinary because they provide a path that leads to God. At the same time, they are ordinary signs that build God’s kingdom. God in his wisdom chose to bestow his grace in a visible way to give us the quieting certainty that we had received grace when he did give it. Jesus Christ has given us tremendous gifts and through Sacraments, Jesus continues to provide. “From His fullness, we have all received grace upon grace. For the law was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ” John 1:16. Sacraments are our doorway to heaven.
Fr. Paulino Mondo