Since the beginning of Christianity, the Church as community has recognized and celebrated in a public way those important moments throughout our lives when God is present to us, individually and communally. In the liturgical reforms of Vatican II, we are called to renew our understanding and participation in these defining or peak moments of our faith journey that are called the sacraments, the public rituals used to mark these occasions in which God graces us. A noted sacramental theologian has titled these seven public rituals as “doors to the sacred.”
The Church has singled out seven (7) important occasions to celebrate when God and his people interact in a special way through not only words but also symbolic action. The symbols, referred to often as “outward signs,” and their related actions help us to express those deep divine and human realities of life, love, death and joy in our life. These symbolic actions we know and celebrate publicly as: Baptism, Confirmation and Eucharist (the sacraments of initiation); Penance/Reconciliation and Anointing (the sacraments of healing); Marriage and Orders/Ordination (the sacraments of commitment).
Anointing of the Sick
Throughout the gospels, the sick were a primary concern of Jesus, a basis for this sacrament. In this sacrament, we ask for and experience God’s compassion for those who suffer some form of serious illness and those who are at the point of death. In the anointing and laying on of hands, God’s healing power is called upon those whose body and spirit are broken. Healing may come physically, but God will always provide spiritual strength and consolation to endure even to the point of death.
Baptism (from the Greek word meaning to drown or immerse) marks the beginning of our life in Christ, a complete transformation of ourselves as faithful followers of Jesus, the Son of God. This sacrament recognizes our creation as images of God and welcomes infants and adults into the community of the faithful who profess that Jesus is Lord. In its public celebration, the community recalls its own initiation and sees again the vitality of the living and growing body of Christ in the world.
Baptism of Infants
The baptism of infants is a treasured practice dating from the earliest tradition of the Church. Preparation for the baptism of infants is a teachable moment for both parents and the faith community. It can encourage them to re-examine the meaning of faith in their own lives. Baptismal preparation centers on God’s love, on the life, death and resurrection of Jesus, on the gift of the Holy Spirit to the Church and on the cleansing of original and personal sin. It should reflect on all life as a gift from God, on our being created to the image and likeness of God and on the blessing we have in sharing life with God and with one another.
To complete our baptism into the Lord, we call upon the Holy Spirit to strengthen our Christian commitment. It is this Spirit of Christ that nourishes us, the presence of the Trinity within each of us as we walk the journey of faith. This second step in the process of initiation reminds us of the many gifts that God has given us and talents that we are called to use as witnesses of the Gospel given to us by Jesus for the salvation of all humanity. It is the sign that truly “confirms” us as committed Christians.
This step in our initiation as followers of Christ enables those who receive the sacrament to participate fully as members in the Body of Christ, whether as a child or an adult. By sharing in the bread and wine, the sacred Body and Blood of Christ, this unifying food of life nourishes us as we walk the daily path of life. For those baptized as infants, this sacrament is received before Confirmation; for newly baptized adults, the ancient practice of receiving the sacrament of Eucharist after that of Confirmation is followed.
This union of man and woman is seen not only as a celebration of love, but also as a vocation and in the eyes of the Church also as a sacrament of service, in somewhat the same manner as the sacrament of ordination. No longer seen as a social contract, the union is seen as a special sign of God’s presence in humanity in the creative expression of the love in the union of the couple, in times of happiness and difficulty. In this communal love, Christ’s boundless love becomes manifest in the Christian community and in society at large.
Ordination & Vocations
Ordination (or orders) is the public celebration of those who have been called to a special ministry of service to the community. In a special way, the Church, the ecclesial body of Christ, asks for God’s blessing on those who will be a special sign of Christ’s presence to all the people of God. The “orders” of those who have been called to serve are deacon, priest and bishop. Each has a distinct and different ministry to God’s people for which different rites are celebrated in this sacrament. It is a sacrament that symbolizes in a special way one’s baptismal call to serve.
Our frail human nature suffers many different types of breakdowns; some are physical in nature, but many more are breakdowns in our relationships with God and others. These breakdowns in our relationships, all of which involve a turning away from God, are called sin and require recognition of the fault and some process of restoring the relationship with whomever was wronged.