Author’s Note: This the second part of a resource talk that I gave on a retreat in 2011; the topic for the talk, which is a combination of my personal testimony and Church teachings, was on “Signs and Sacraments.” The talk will be posted in four consecutive parts. The retreat that I gave the talk at focuses on “Community” and strengthening our community as a Church through our shared love and service of Christ.
Read Part 1 on “Signs of God.”
PART 2: SACRAMENTS (OF INITIATION)
- Holy Orders
- Anointing of the Sick
And a Sacrament, as defined by the Catechism of the Catholic Church (abbreviated CCC) is “an outward sign instituted by Christ to give grace.” Each of the Seven Sacraments has its own symbols that are associated with it. For instance, when I say holy water, you think of Baptism, right? Or when I say vows and rings, you think of matrimony?
The Baltimore Catechism says, “A sacrament symbolizes what it affects and it effects what it symbolizes.” Now, that’s just a fancy way of saying “It walks the walk and talks the talk.”
For example, baptism: The water is a symbol, but it is also a necessary for the actual baptism. When the water is poured over the individual, it isn’t just a symbol of their baptism. It is his or her baptism. No longer is it mere water, but it has become the waters of baptism, by which this person has entered into the Family of the Church.
But, at the same time, you need the words of baptism as well, right? If I just pour some water over your head, am I baptizing you? No. I need to say the words, right? And I also have to have the intention of baptizing you (which I can’t do if you’ve already been baptized). We need, as the Catechism says, both matter—the water, oil, etc.—and the form—the words.
It’s the same thing with all the other sacraments. If the priest just lifts up the host at Mass without saying the words of consecration, he’s not consecrating the sacrament. Or if a couple puts their rings on each others’ fingers without saying their vows, are they validly married? No.
Just so, the sacraments ‘walk the walk’ and ‘talk the talk.’ They are not just symbols. They are realities—gifts given to us by God to confer grace.
I can’t cover all of the sacraments in depth, but I do want to touch on the Sacraments of Initiation: the Catechism says, “Christian initiation is accomplished by three sacraments together: Baptism which is the beginning of new life; Confirmation which is its strengthening; and the Eucharist which nourishes the disciple with Christ’s Body and Blood for his transformation in Christ.” (CCC 1275)
Baptism, as I already said, uses water and two types of oil. There are a lot of signs that are used in baptism. So for those of you who have seen a baptism, you’ve noticed the different symbols they use. There’s the baptismal candle, and the white robe, and the two different oils that they use.
The first is the oil of catechumens, but the other is called Chrism. And chrism… I’ll describe it this way, for those of you who haven’t smelled it before—if the smells of oils were martial artists, Chrism would be Chuck Norris. I mean the smell literally roundhouse kicks you in the face! It’s wonderful. And it’s used in other sacraments.
A few years ago, I went to a baptism service at a Baptist church, and I really appreciated the way that they baptized the adults. They got into this pool of water about waist deep, and then the preacher leaned each person back down into the water, and then he would say the words of baptism, and he would “raise” them back up again.
In the early days of the church, they did full immersion baptism, and I think it really demonstrates this idea of being “raised up” and being “resurrected” into this new life with Christ. Remember, “A sacrament symbolizes what it effects and it effects what it symbolizes.”
It doesn’t just symbolize new life, it actually gives new life!
Check back tomorrow for Part 3!