What are the sacraments?
Sacraments are visible signs of grace, instituted by Christ and provided to the Church for giving divine life to the people of God. When people receive them with a clean and pure heart, they receive graces (or gifts from God) that are unique to each sacrament. There are 7 sacraments of the Catholic Church, instituted by Christ in scripture.
In baptism, we are cleansed of original sin and brought into a new life in Christ. As the first sacrament of initiation, we are also brought into the family of God - the Church - and sealed with holy chrism oil. The graces present in this sacrament result in the removal of original sin; It facilitates a new birth into the life of the Holy Trinity where we become adopted children of God the Father, members of the body of Christ and temples of the Holy Spirit; and, It brings us into the priestly, prophetic and kingly roles of Christ as members of his mystical body. Lastly, it imprints on the soul an eternal spiritual calling or mark that cannot be repeated. As Christians, we profess one baptism for the forgiveness of sins.
Confirmation completes baptism as the final sacrament of initiation into the Church. In confirmation we are more perfectly united to the Church and given special strength and graces in the Holy Spirit. Confirmation brings about a deepening of baptismal grace, a greater entrance into the divine relationship with God the Father, a greater unity with Christ and growth in the gifts of the Holy Spirit and a greater imprinting of the unique mark or calling received at baptism.
The Holy Eucharist
The Holy Eucharist is the living presence of Christ in the world, instituted as the sign of the New Covenant at the Last Supper and consummated on Calvary. The Eucharist is Christ, the sacrificial victim, at Mass who invites us to unite our hearts and worries in our time to the living heart of God on the cross. With each Eucharist, we increase our union to Christ in love, we receive forgiveness of venial sins, we are preserved from mortal sins, and we are strengthened in our union to the Church.
When we sin after baptism (we all do), we confess our sins to a priest who stands in the place of Christ and reconciles us to the community of believers. Confession is a sacred act that is always kept in total confidence between the priest and the penitent. Christ is present in the confessional as the one who forgives sins and provides the grace to improve in our lives in conquering each sin. As a fruit of confession, we receive total forgiveness of all mortal sins we confess, partial remission from the temporal effects of our sins, spiritual consolation and strength in battle.
Anointing of the Sick
Jesus the divine physician seeks to heal us of our spiritual, mental and physical infirmities. During grave illness or old age, the sacrament of anointing of the sick is administered to bring the healing necessary toward the good of a person’s soul. Healing is always available from God and miracles do happen, but getting anointed doesn’t always bring physical healing. Facing death with trust is a necessary part of our salvation, and sometimes physical illness is the medicine we need to heal a more critical spiritual illness. Most importantly, anointing of the sick unites the person with the passion of Christ providing strength, peace and courage to endure suffering. It facilitates forgiveness of sins through the sacrament of reconciliation and prepares the recipient to enter eternal life.
Holy Orders are the sacrament by which a person is conformed to the total service of Christ through the diaconate, priesthood or as a bishop. This is done through the ordination of the person which changes their soul and marks it for service in the office to which they are ordained forever. Holy Orders provide the sacred power to act in persona Christi (or as Christ) in key moments - when forgiving sins and consecrating the sacrament. Holy Orders unites the person to Christ as priest, teacher and pastor.
Holy Matrimony is the sacrament that bonds and enables a man and woman to enter into an intimate communion of life and love. As such it most closely resembles the union of Christ and his Church and is the symbol Christ most frequently uses to describe the joy of heaven - a wedding feast between God and his people. The couple are both the ministers of the sacrament of matrimony as well as a living sacramental sign. The priest and Church stand as witness to the marriage. Holy Matrimony provides couples with the grace to love each other with the love Christ has for his Church, it perfects and completes human love, it strengthens an unbreakable bond between husband and wife, it imparts grace upon children and the family home, it orients man and woman toward God’s covenant of divine love.
Do the sacraments work for nonbelievers?
In order for the grace of the sacrament to be efficacious, the person must first believe. This is why the Church makes sure a person is ready before admitting them to the sacraments. In the case of infant baptism, the parents and godparents stand in place of the child and agree to raise them in the Christian community and to teach them faith until they are able to choose on their own. This is in accordance with the natural rights given by God to parents over children who have not yet reached the age of reason and are incapable of making such a decision. The grace of baptism is powerful and it enters the child through the permission of their parents and the Church.
That said, sacramental grace can be dispensed to nonbelievers through the hearts and prayers of the faithful. In the same way that the friends of the paralyzed man helped to place him before Jesus in scripture, Catholics can offer up the graces they receive for the benefit of others. Many Catholics will include their friends without faith as an offering when they receive Holy Communion, which transcends time and petitions Christ on the Cross at Calvary to gaze upon their friends and send grace.
How do I receive the sacraments?
For reception of each sacrament, the Church wants to make sure those seeking are ready in mind, heart and will. If you wish to enter the Catholic Church, find a parish to begin the process of the sacraments of initiation. If you have been away for a while and are seeking reconciliation or wish to be forgiven of any sins, we have a list of confession times close to you. If you wish to be married in the Catholic Church, contact a local parish and work with your priest for marriage preparation. For those who believe they hear a call to the priesthood or religious life, please find a parish and inquire of your priest where you should start. Lastly, if someone you know is in immediate assistance of anointing, you can use our parish finder tool to find a parish near them and contact them immediately.