The prime sacrament, by which we are washed clean of the guilt of original sin and introduced into God’s family: the Church. Through the vehicle of water, the Holy Spirit comes to dwell within us, and we are pledged into the very life of Christ Himself. As St. Paul says: “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” (Rom. 6:3-4).
Christ lives forever to reconcile us to God the Father. His Church continues this work and makes it real for us every time we offend God, through the sacrament of confession and reconciliation. Through this sacrament, we are restored to friendship with God and with the Church, and we receive the grace that strengthens us to better resist temptation to those same sins in the future. St. Paul exclaims, “everything has become new! All this is from God, who reconciled us to Himself through Christ, and has given us the ministry of reconciliation” (2. Cor. 5:18). Love does not mean never having to say you’re sorry; it means trusting that you’ll always be forgiven when you do say it.
The source and summit of the Church’s life. At the Last Supper Jesus Himself celebrated the first Mass, giving us the gift of His very self—His body and blood—to strengthen us, to deepen our union with Him, and in turn to deepen our communion with each other. From the very beginning of the Church, the celebration of the Eucharist has been the most sacred and most privileged form of worship. As St. Paul witnesses: “The cup of blessing that we bless, is it not a participation in the blood of Christ? The bread that we break, is it not a participation in the body of Christ?” (1 Cor. 10:16) . . . “For I received from the Lord what I also handed on to you, that the Lord Jesus, on the night He was handed over, took bread, and after He had given thanks, broke it and said ‘This is My body that is for you. Do this in remembrance of Me.’ In the same way also the cup, after supper, saying ‘This cup is the new covenant in My blood. Do this, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of Me’” (1 Cor. 11:23-25). We continue this unbroken tradition in the celebration of the Mass every day, and most significantly on the Lord’s Day.
If by baptism the Holy Spirit brings us into God’s family, in the sacrament of confirmation we are equipped with the graces we need to fulfill our special purpose in the Church. The first sacrament makes us part of the Church; confirmation gives us the spiritual strength to live out our particular mission. In the Gospel of Mark we’re told that Jesus chose twelve men “whom He also named apostles, to be with Him, and to be sent out to proclaim the message” (Mk. 3:14). We continue the work of the apostles in the present day. In baptism, we’re called to be with Christ; in confirmation, we’re sent out to proclaim the Gospel.
Jesus often speaks of the Kingdom of Heaven as a wedding banquet, and the New Testament refers to Jesus Himself as the Bridegroom with the Church as His Bride. In the sacrament of marriage, a Christian couple makes their relationship a living symbol of Christ’s love and fidelity for His Church. This sacrament gives both the groom and the bride the graces they need to make of themselves a gift to each other, to unselfishly give of themselves to their children, and by extension to be a gift for everyone who comes in their life. The prophet Hosea made of his own marriage a lived-out image of Israel’s relationship with God; with the aid of the Holy Spirit, Christian husbands and wives today also make their marriage a testimony to God’s self-giving love and everlasting fidelity for His people, and so in a very real way become prophets themselves.
The Church celebrates the ministry of all her members, each Christian having his or her own gifts to offer and role to fill. But the teaching and sanctifying office of bishop, priest, or deacon flows from a special outpouring of the Holy Spirit that comes in the sacrament of ordination. St. Paul speaks of the three offices of ordained ministry in his first letter to Timothy. Through the laying-on of the bishop’s hands the Holy Spirit seals the one receiving ordination and graces him with the gifts to teach, shepherd, and serve the faithful. The deacon, who possibly can be a married man with his own family, serves the Church by preaching and assisting at the altar of the Mass, and by visiting the sick, the homebound, the lonely, and the marginalized in order to bring Christ to the people of the world. The priest teaches the faithful through preaching, counseling & spiritual direction, and individualized instruction, while also leading the great prayer of the Mass, uniting the offering of the people to Jesus’s own self-offering on the cross and made present on the altar during Mass. The bishop, as successor to the apostles, shares the authority of teaching and leading the Church and bringing his people closer to God.
Anointing of the Sick
Jesus had a special concern for the ailing and suffering people He encountered in His life on earth. Strengthening those who were sick and offering them healing was a powerful sign of God’s power at work in Him and of His mission to heal our wounded souls. The Gospel tells us that He passed that mission on to His apostles (and subsequently, the Church founded on the apostles): “He called the twelve and began to send them out two by two, and gave them authority over the unclean spirits … So they went out and proclaimed that all should repent. They cast out many demons, and anointed with oil many who were sick” (Mk. 6:7, 12-13). Through the balm of oil, this sacrament offers the faithful who are afflicted with serious illness the strength of the Holy Spirit to join their suffering with Jesus’s own Passion, and raises them up to God for spiritual healing if not always a physical cure.