So what are the sacraments?
The sacraments are chosen instruments of divine power. God chose to bestow grace on people in the same manner in which He made us of body and soul — through a union of the material and the spiritual.. The nature of grace itself is invisible, but it comes to us through visible things that we deal with daily.
God took common things from the world around us—objects we taste and feel, words that we hear and gestures that we understand—and made them carriers of His grace. He matched the sign to the purpose for which the grace was given:
Water for the grace that cleanses;
Bread and wine for the grace that nourishes and gives growth;
Oil for the grace that strengthens.
The exact definition of a sacrament is that it is "an outward sign instituted by Christ to give grace." We can see that there are three distinct parts to that definition:
…Outward signs... God conveys grace into our souls through real symbols that we can perceive—things, words and gestures.
...Instituted by Christ... We believe only God can attach grace to an outward sign. While with us on earth, Jesus gave us seven sacraments: Baptism, Confirmation, Holy Eucharist, Reconciliation , Anointing of the Sick, Holy Orders, and Matrimony.
...To give grace… The sacraments give sanctifying grace. Sanctifying grace is fills us with the Holy Spirit - the in-dwelling in our souls. As additional sacraments are received (and repeated, when it can be) the amount of spiritual vitality grows in the soul—as the brightness of a fire increases as you add more fuel.
In addition to sanctifying grace common to all the sacraments, each sacrament also gives a distinctive sacramental grace that is tied to the spiritual needs for that stage of our lives.
The Church calls the first three sacraments the "Sacraments of Initiation,” as they form an unbroken and powerful movement of welcome, acceptance and inclusion into the family of faith.
In Baptism we are reborn in grace as children of God and initiated into our faith.
In the Sacrament of Reconciliation we are given grace to cure us of the spiritual ills from which we are suffering, to reconcile us with God and our sisters and brothers, and to atone for our sins.
In the Holy Eucharist, we receive grace in the body and blood of Jesus Christ enabling us to grow in our love for God and neighbor.
The many healing stories of Jesus in the Gospels show us how much God wants to bring us to wholeness. When our relationships, our spirits or our bodies are broken; when we're most at need -the Sacraments of Healing take us into the compassionate presence of God.
In Confirmation we receive grace through the Holy Spirit enabling us to be strong, active and productive
members in our Christian community.
The Anointing of the Sick strengthens us to withstand illness, or prepares us to meet death with confidence of God’s presence.
The final two sacraments are living signs of unity and service within our community.
In Holy Orders, deacons, priests and bishops are ordained to serve and receive the grace to handle all the joys and burdens that they will face.
In Matrimony, a couple receives sacramental grace to express their love. To form a relationship that is anchored by love in family, life, happiness, children, and service to others.
God's compassionate presence surrounds us every minute of every day. Yet we often walk through our days unaware of the reality of God. The sacraments help us to open our eyes to really see, to open our ears to really listen, and to open our minds to perceive in a whole new way. It's a way to allow creation to speak to us about the creator.
Once we wake up to God's presence in nature, in people and in our own hearts, then God's forgiving presence in the Sacrament of Reconciliation, or God's redeeming presence in Baptism, or the "real presence" of Christ in the Eucharist become apparent.
We hope that this focus on the Sacraments will help each of us to really "get" the sacraments and deepen our understanding of what it means to be part of our Christian community. To help us truly embrace Jesus the Christ as “the way and the truth and the life" (John 14:6).