RCIA CLASS 11 – THE SACRAMENTS OF SALVATION
THE POWER OF
HEAVEN BROUGHT TO EARTH
I. Christ gave the Church, and therefore the world, the seven sacraments to give guaranteed means of gaining certain types of grace.
A. God does guide us invisibly through prayer and grace, through such things as the Scriptures and learning, sacred or other inspiring art and music, our prayers and the prayers and assistance of other people, and the intercession of angels and saints. But there are also special times when we need certainty about different aspects of life, for example, when we become Christian, how one is forgiven of sin, Christ's presence in ministry, marriage, or illness.
1. By analogy in the secular realms, particularly important things are signified in a clear, definite ceremony (e.g., marriage, taking an office, one joining the military.)
2. Because we learn
not only by hearing and reading, but also by signs and symbols, Jesus
created certain signs and symbols to give different types of grace.
As the Catechism says, being at once body and spirit, man expresses
and perceives spiritual realities through physical signs. As a
social being, man needs signs and symbols to communicate with others."
Catechism 1146; see also St. Thomas Aquinas, Summa Theologica
part III, question 61 art. 1 (also explaining that, by giving certain
symbols that are guaranteed to have certain effects, God is guarding
against belief in superstitious practices that falsely promise certain
effects.) That is one reason why Jesus used parables so much in
3. Thus, Christ,
in His public ministry, used definite signs to show the grace that He
was conferring. Thus, for example, He would lay hands on people
(and instruct His disciples to do the same); He used bread and fish
to feed the multitude; and people who touched the tassels of His cloak
were cured. See, e.g., Matt. 8:1-4, 14-15, 14:13-21, 20:29-34;
Mark 1:40-44, 5:25-34, 6:56, 7:31-37, 8:22-26; Luke 4:40, 8:54.
Even when the Gospels do not record Him using a symbol to cure people,
He almost always was physically in the person's presence and spoke
words, signifying the effect He was bringing about.
B. The seven sacraments are those signs instituted by Christ to confer different types of grace through visible words, sings and symbols. "The sacraments are perceptible signs (words and actions) accessible to human nature. By the action of Christ, and the power of the Holy Spirit, they make present efficaciously the grace they signify." Catechism 1084.
1. Through the
sacraments, God meets us spiritually, intellectually, and physically,
providing us the grace we need for the perfection of our souls.
"In human life, signs and symbols occupy an important place. . . .
God speaks to man through visible creation. . .[The Lord Jesus] performs
healings and illustrates His preaching with physical signs or symbolic
gestures. . . It is through the sacramental signs of his Church that
the Holy Spirit carries on the work of salvation." Catechism
may also be other symbols (e.g., the baptismal candle or the wedding
rings) that, while not essential to the sacrament, bring out in visible
form the invisible realities of the sacraments.
D. In other walks of life, visible signs to represent and bring about invisible realities.
1. Thus, for
example, a national flag represents and often brings about patriotism
and a national spirit. Likewise, a uniform symbolizes and (hopefully)
brings out the unity and common calling of some group, such as students,
police, or medical professionals.
2. In the faith,
we have such symbols as icons, rosaries, and sacred architecture, which
represent and bring about a sense of invisible realities.
3. However, these
other symbols, because they are created by mere humans can be temporary
and may or may not bring about the effect they signify.
4. The sacraments,
by contrast, always offer the grace they signify as long as the recipient
does not block it. It is true that the effect of that grace
may vary according to the person. For example, Confirmation has
different effects depending on how one is willing to use the gifts given.
However, the grace is always made available.
II. The sacraments are often divided up into the Sacraments of Initiation, the Sacraments of Healing and the Sacraments of Calling.
A. The Sacraments of Initiation are: Baptism, Confirmation, and the Eucharist.
1. . Baptism
removes original sin, joins the new Christian to Christ, and, for Catholics,
makes him a member of the Church. "Through baptism we are freed
from sin and reborn as sons of God: we become members of Christ, are
incorporated into the Church and made sharers in her mission."
Catechism 1213. At Pentecost, Peter said. "Repent,
and be baptized, every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the
forgiveness of your sins, and you shall receive the gift of the Holy
Spirit." Acts 2:38.
2. Confirmation deepens the grace one receives at Baptism and especially makes one a greater witness to the faith. "The effect of the sacrament of Confirmation is the special outpouring of the Holy Spirit as once granted to the apostles on the day of Pentecost." Catechism 1302.
- All of
the faithful are a people especially consecrated to God and witnesses
to the world of the glory He gives. Scripture says, "You are
a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people of His own,
so that you may announce the praises of him who called you out of darkness
into His wonderful light." 1 Peter 2:9. Confirmation gives
us a special power to fulfill this office and dignity.
- Thus, for
example, after St. Philip baptized many in Samaria, "Peter and John
. . . came down and prayed for them that they might receive the Holy
Spirit; for it had not yet fallen on any of them, but they had only
been baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus. Then they laid their
hand on them and they received the Holy Spirit." Acts 8:14 -17.
3. At the Mass, Christ through His Church overcomes the barriers of space and time to re-present His suffering, death and resurrection and becomes truly present. "When the church celebrates the Eucharist, she commemorates Christ's Passover and it is made present. The sacrifice of Christ offered once for all on the cross remains ever present." Catechism 1364.
- At the
Eucharist Jesus Christ is truly and fully present, body and soul, in
His full human and divine natures. For at the Last Supper Jesus
"took the bread, said the blessing, broke it and gave it to them,
saying, 'This is my body, which will be given for you: do this in
memory of Me.' And likewise the cup after they had eaten, saying,
'This cup is the new covenant in my blood, which will be shed for
you.'" Luke 22:19-20; see also Matt. 26:26-29; Mark 14:22-25; 1
1. Through the Sacrament of Penance, God confers forgiveness of sins committed after Baptism. On the first Easter night, Jesus "said to them [the apostles] 'Receive the Holy Spirit. Whose sins you forgive are forgiven them. Whose sins you retain are retained.'" John 20:22-23. "Those who approach the sacrament of Penance obtain pardon from God's mercy for the offences committed against Him and are, at the same time, reconciled with the Church." Vatican II Council, Lumen Gentium (1964) 11.
- There is
an absolute guarantee of God's forgiveness if the penitent is honest
and has any level of real contrition. The penitent does not need
to worry whether he is sorry enough for his sins or resolved enough
to amend his life; any real contrition (real sorrow for sins and a desire
to do better with the future) along with the sacrament will lead to
forgiveness of any sin. There is still, of course, the need to
struggle for the cause of overcoming the effects of the sin. And
the sacrament also gives strength for that goal and avoiding it in the
- The sacrament
also makes people for forgiving of each other, having experienced God's
forgiveness. One can give more easily what he has received.
of the Sick gives us that guarantee of Christ's special presence in
times of great illness that seriously impair one's health, particularly
illnesses that may result in death. Jesus was especially present
to the ill, and had a special solace for them and sent forth His Apostles
to cure the sick. See Mark 6:12; Luke 10:8-9. At end of
life, He included among the signs of the Gospel the cure of the sick
through the laying on of hands. Mark 16:17-18. And so James
said that those who are sick should have the priests lay hands upon
them for curing, for strength and for the forgiveness of sins.
See James 5:14-15.
1. Through Holy Orders, men are consecrated as bishops, priests, or deacons. "The divinely instituted ecclesiastical ministry is exercised in different degrees by those who even from ancient times have been called bishops, priests, and deacons." Vatican II Council, Lumen Gentium 28.
- In addition
to the priesthood of all believers, see 1 Peter 2:9, there is also a
special office of those who are set aside to sanctify, teach, and guide
the Church and thus continue the role of the Apostles in making Christ
present throughout the ages. "The divine mission, which was
committed by Christ to the Apostles, is destined to last until the end
of the world (see Matt 28:20), since the Gospel which they were obligated
to hand on is the principle of all the church's life for all time.
. . . The bishops, therefore, with priests and deacons as helpers, took
on themselves roles of service to the community, presiding in God's
place over the flock of which they are the pastors, as teachers of doctrine,
priests for sacred worship and ministers of government." Vatican
II Council, Lumen Gentium 20.
2. Marriage consecrates a Christian couple to help each other on the road to sanctity, to raise their children in the ways of the faith, to establish their homes as domestic churches, and to be witnesses to the world.
- The Vatican
II Council said, "In virtue of the sacrament of matrimony, by which
they signify and share in the mystery of the unity and fruitful love
between Christ and the Church, see Eph. 5:32, Christian married couples
help one another attain holiness in their married life and in accepting
and educating their children. . . . In what might be regarded as the
domestic church, the parents are to be the first preachers of the faith
for their children by word and example." Lumen Gentium