The Catholic Church has been in the news for all the wrong reasons lately. And, they deserve to be in the news – I firmly believe that shining the light on evil will bring about change, and will bring about truth, goodness, and the light of Christ. However, I would be lying if I said the constant negativity hasn’t left me reeling, and feeling battered for my professed Faith.
Because I have felt anger, disappointment, disgust, betrayed, blindsided, and bruised. My emotions have been raw at times. And, I have a heavy heart.
Yet, I sit with those emotions. I let them come and wash over me like the waves at the beach. I accept the emotions. I process them.
I then remind myself of what makes me Catholic.
Jesus present in the Eucharist brings me back to Mass every single week. The devotions taught and promoted by the Catholic Church, meant to enhance my faith life and deepen my relationship with God, bring me back to the Catholic Church. The Sacraments bring me back to the Catholic Church.
What is a Sacrament?
A sacrament is defined by the Baltimore Catechism (BC) and other resources as, “An outward sign, instituted by Christ, to give grace.” Because of the free will God has bestowed on each of us, a sacrament allows us to accept God’s grace in a manner which will (hopefully) ultimately lead us closer to Him. The hope, when receiving sacraments, is that we will deepen our relationship with God. And, a deepening of a relationship will influence all of our thoughts, actions, and deeds in a positive manner.
How many Sacraments are there?
The Catholic Church celebrates seven sacraments. As explained from the quote above, these touch on all the stages and important moments of Christian life.
Section 1210 of the Catechism of the Catholic Church (CCC) reads,
The seven sacraments touch all the stages and all the important moments of Christian life: they give birth and increase, healing and mission to the Christian’s life of faith. There is thus a certain resemblance between the stages of natural life and the stages of spiritual life.
The Catholic Church celebrates the Sacraments of Initiation: Baptism, Confirmation, and the Eucharist/Holy Communion. Unlike the first two, the third sacrament – reception of the Eucharist – is allowed over and over again, even daily, unto death.
Because it is a Sacrament in which Catholics believe we are truly receiving the Body, Blood, Soul and Divinity of Christ Jesus, the Eucharist is a sacrament in the Catholic Church that only Catholics – and, those in communion with the Holy See – are allowed to partake. We don’t believe we receive a “symbol” of Jesus. And, we believe that, by the power of Christ at the Last Supper, our descendants of the Apostles (our priests) were given Apostolic Authority to make that change from the mere presence of bread and wine, into Christ’s Body, Blood, Soul and Divinity.
There are two sacraments of healing: Reconciliation and Anointing of the Sick.
The Sacrament of Reconciliation (a.k.a Confession) is one difficult for many “cradle Catholics” – those raised Catholic from infancy – to explain, let alone for a non-Catholic to understand. Like Communion, Confession is something Catholics can receive over and over again from the first (typically around first or second grade) until death. As I explained to the second graders in my RE program a couple weeks ago, sometimes, adults fear this particular sacrament because we think that the priest will judge us… or, we have a tendency to forget we aren’t going to see the priest. Rather, Jesus is waiting there in the Confessional, ready to give us all of His love, mercy, and forgiveness! Adults even forget that Jesus is waiting there for us, and it is through the Words of Absolution that our souls know we have been forgiven our sins. Like Protestants, I firmly believe that I can go “straight to God” to confess my sins; however, I also fervently believe my soul is healed – the relationship between my soul and God is repaired – when I frequent Confession and receive the Words of Absolution.
The Baltimore Catechism defines the Sacrament of Anointing of the Sick as,
The sacramental grace of anointing the sick helps us to accept sickness as a purifying cross sent by God and even to accept death willingly from His hands whenever He chooses to send it.BC 308
I honestly don’t know much about the Anointing of the Sick. I know that it is possible to receive this particular sacrament several times in a person’s life. However, unlike Communion and Confession, it isn’t particularly a regular sacrament. I am most familiar with it being a sacrament given when a person is close to death.
Finally, the last two sacraments are no less important, but pretty self-explanatory: Holy Orders and Matrimony.
In both, vows are taken, which are not just promises to be good to others, but rather, a vow to God… and, a vow with God. When Catholics enter a sacramental marriage, they are creating a force which not only brings two individuals together, but creates a fully new force which brings God into that union. There aren’t two people in a sacramental marriage; rather, there are two people and God. And, the mission of a person’s life changes from getting themselves to Heaven, but to also assisting their spouse on a faith journey which will hopefully lead both of them into sainthood together. Holy Orders is the sacrament men receive when they become priests. Like a married couple, priests invite God into their lives, asking Him to guide them in their mission to shepherd His flock.
What does all this mean for me?
The title of this series hosted by Allison at Reconciled to You is not, “What Does the Catholic Church Teach?” Rather, the series is, “What does the Catholic Church Have to Offer Me?” And, I wanted to express what these sacraments mean to me.
In a nutshell, the Catholic Church offers sanctifying grace through the outward signs given to Her (the Church) by Christ Himself. His time on this earth brought about each of these sacraments that are held near and dear to the hearts of faithful Catholics all over the world.
But, that’s a cliche answer, and wouldn’t convince me to delve deeper if I weren’t already in the trenches. So, here is what all the theological underpinnings mean for me – the woman behind the words:
The Sacraments offer me, dear reader, the ability to grow the closest I have ever felt to Christ while I have been alive. It is through the Sacraments that I have been brought deeper into a passionate relationship with Him.
- Receiving Christ’s Body, Blood, Soul, and Divinity in the Eucharist brings me into direct contact with Him at every. single. Mass.
- Sitting with Him in the Confessional allows me to swallow my pride, and to humble myself at His feet, acknowledging I am but a sinner, reliant on His gifts of mercy, grace, and love.
- Receiving both Baptism and Confirmation opened my soul to accepting His guidance when it comes to living a life oriented toward Christ – and, ultimately, focused on uniting my soul with God after death.
- Being married has challenged me to think of someone other than myself – in fact, think of several people outside of myself, as my husband and I strive to help each other attain Heaven, and try to teach and guide our children along the same path.
The sacraments have given me courage to write the words I feel He places on my heart – messages for someone else to read and digest. They have helped me nurture and develop a relationship in which I am not just asking Him for things, second-guessing His love, apologizing for everything I do wrong, and thanking Him, but instead, have helped me develop the another skill of communication… listening to Him.
The sacraments give me the sanctifying grace, yes. But, in practical application, the sacraments give me a window and insight into an amazing, unconditional love of a Father Who only asks that I seek Him first and love Him in return. They offer me the key to a deeper relationship with God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit.
So, I am left to ask you, dear reader:
When you think of the Catholic Church and Her sacraments, what does the Catholic Church have to offer you?
How can the Catholic Church lead you to a deeper love and more intimate union with our Creator?
How will you seek Him in context of the sacraments?