The Latin word sacramentum means “a sign of the sacred.” The Catholic sacraments are ceremonies that point to what is sacred, significant and important for Christians. Members of the Catholic, Orthodox and Anglican/Episcopal traditions call seven of their religious ceremonies sacraments. Most Protestants count only two rituals—Baptism and Communion—as sacraments. Nevertheless, Protestants have ceremonies that are similar to Catholic sacraments, for example, weddings and ordinations.
Sacraments are celebrations of Christian tradition, of Christian life and ofChristian hope. They share the dimensions of past, present and future that give ordinary celebrations meaning. St. Thomas Aquinas wrote a prayer about the Eucharist that illustrates the point: “O sacred banquet, in which Christ is received, the memory of his Passion is renewed [past], the mind is filled with grace [present], and the pledge of future glory is given to us [future].” Today we commemorate this understanding of sacrament when we pray the following version of the Memorial Acclamation at Mass: “Christ has died, Christ is risen, Christ will come again.”
Sacraments, though, are no ordinary celebrations. They are special occasions for experiencing God’s saving presence. It is important for people to be in touch with what the sacraments celebrate if the rituals are to be as meaningful as possible for them. Sometimes people who participate in a sacramental celebration do not fully appreciate one or another of the dimensions of a sacrament’s meaning. In this case, the sacrament speaks its meanings, as it were, to those attending the ceremony and invites them to find out more about them. The sacrament also calls people to get in touch with the sacred realities it celebrates. The more people respond to this call (for example, Reconciliation’s call to forgive and accept forgiveness), the more they will find meaning in the sacrament.
Here are the Seven Sacraments of the Roman Catholic Church:
The Seven Sacraments
6. Anointing of the Sick
7. Holy Orders