A visible sign of a hidden mystery
A sacrament is a sign and instrument of God’s grace, that enables Christians to grow in holiness in preparation for the kingdom of heaven. Jesus Christ instituted them as channels of salvation.
The Catholic Church recognises seven sacraments: baptism, confirmation,
Eucharist, reconciliation, matrimony, holy orders and anointing of the sick.
The term “sacrament” means “oath”, referring to its character as a sign that dispenses the grace of God. Eastern Christians call sacraments “mysteries”, which highlights the interior and hidden action taking place whenever a sacrament is administered.
In the Old Testament, two parties would seal covenants between themselves as a pledge of mutual loyalty. Those covenants would be ratified by an oath. Very often those oaths called upon the name of the Lord, thereby involving God’s help in their efforts to remain faithful to one another.
When Jesus Christ instituted the Last Supper, he sealed a covenant – the New Covenant – with a ratification of his own: he poured out his own blood, “of the new and everlasting covenant”, which was to be “shed for the forgiveness of sins”. The New Covenant is therefore a pledge of God’s fidelity to us – Christ himself is the Covenant. And by sealing the New Covenant in his own blood, he shows us just how close he is to his people.
The mandate at the Last Supper was to “do this in memory of me”. Every time, therefore, that the Eucharistic liturgy (the Mass) is celebrated, the shedding of the blood of the New Covenant is renewed and God keeps his pledge of salvation to his people, in return for our own trusting loyalty.
All the sacraments serve as channels for God’s help to be poured on the people of the New Covenant – the Church. By receiving them, Christians in turn pledge their lives and fidelity to the Lord.