An Introduction to the Sacraments and the Sacraments of Initiation

An Introduction to the Sacraments and the Sacraments of Initiation This triptych, by painter Rogier van der Weyden, shows the Seven Sacraments being ...
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An Introduction to the Sacraments and the Sacraments of Initiation

This triptych, by painter Rogier van der Weyden, shows the Seven Sacraments being celebrated


[Jesus Christ] is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation. For in him were created all things in heaven and on earth, the visible and the invisible, whether thrones or dominions or principalities or powers; all things were created through him and for him. He is before all things, and in him all things hold together. He is the head of the body, the church. -Colossians 1:15-18a

During this class, we will look at— 1.  The language and theology of “Sacrament.” 2.  Sacraments and Sacramentals 3.  The Sacrament of Baptism •  The theology of Baptism •  The historical developments of Baptism 4.  The Sacrament of Confirmation •  The theology of Confirmation •  The historical developments of Confirmation


What is a Sacrament? Ø It is an outward sign of an invisible reality.

Jesus is THE Sacrament: Ø Colossians 1:15 “He is the image of the invisible God.” Ø 2 Corinthians 4:4 “The god of this age has blinded the minds of the unbelievers, so that they many not see the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God.” Ø John 14:8-9 “Philip said to [Jesus], ‘Master, show us the Father, and that will be enough for us.’ Jesus said to him, ‘Have I been with you for so long and you still do not know me, Philip? Whoever has seen me has seen the Father.’”

The Church Herself—individual Christians, as well as the Body of Christ—can rightly be called a Sacrament: Ø 2 Corinthians 4:11 “For we who live are constantly being given up to death for the sake of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may be manifested in our mortal flesh.” Ø 1 Corinthians 12:27 individually parts of it.”

“Now you are Christ’s body and

Understanding the Sacramentality of life and faith is essential to understanding Catholic celebration and worship!


Understanding Sacraments is easier if we understand the role of symbols and rituals in our lives. Ø  Symbols are different than signs. o Signs are straightforward and physical (ex. a street sign). o Symbols have multiple meanings and dimensions •  They cannot be precisely defined. •  They are often formed by our experiences. •  They are often expressed by using metaphors.


For example: what does this symbol mean to you?

Ø Symbols are necessary for creating community. o  We communicate and “connect” through symbols. o  Often when people gather together, they utilize symbols in a ritualistic way. •  Example: celebrate an anniversary, birthday, Thanksgiving, wedding, funeral.

Ø Ritual translates symbols into a ceremonial act or action as a way of expressing meaning. o  Ritual is how we define our communities. o  Celebrations help us to pass on our identity. o  Ritual also helps us to interpret our experience.


Liturgy is a form of ritual celebration Ø Because these rituals celebrate the deepest of all human experiences (our relationship with God), they are highly symbolic. o We must participate if they are to retain their true meaning. Otherwise they will become “magic.” Ø All religions and Christian denominations make use of rituals and symbolism, but many do not use the word “sacrament” to describe them.

Catholic Sacraments are formal ritual celebrations of our relationship with God. There are seven Catholic Sacraments: 1.  2.  3.  4.  5.  6.  7. 

Bap&sm   Confirma&on   Reconcilia&on   Eucharist   Marriage   Holy  Orders   Anoin&ng  of  the  Sick  


Jesus did not explicitly establish seven Sacraments. Ø It was the work of the Church to define these seven concrete ways for God’s people to ritually celebrate His love for them and His call for them to participate in His love and creation. Ø There are Biblical grounds, however, for all seven Sacraments.* Ø Each of these seven Sacraments have matter and form. The “matter” refers to the substance involved in the celebration (“visible sign”) and the “form” refers to the prayer that is spoken.

The matter and form of the Sacraments helps maintain continuity and ensures the integrity of the theology of each Sacrament.* Here is a simple list of the matter and form for the seven Sacraments— Sacrament






Laying hands on the person “Be sealed with the gift of and anointing with blessed the Holy Spirit.” oil


Bread and wine (in the Western Church, unleavened bread)

“I baptize you in the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.”

“This is my body… This is my blood.”






Verbal confession of sins by “I absolve you from your the penitent sins in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.”

Anointing of the Sick

Anointing with blessed oil



“Through this holy anointing may the Lord in his love and mercy help you with the grace of the Holy Spirit. May the Lord, who frees you from sin, save you and raise you up.”



A man and woman who consent to marital union.

The exchange of wedding vows.

Holy Orders

Laying on of hands

The prayer of consecration that follows the laying on of hands.

In addition to the “Big 7,” there are lots of informal rituals that celebrate our relationship with God. We often refer to these as “sacramentals.” Such as— Ø Holy Water Ø Blessed Candles Ø Ashes


Sacraments of Initiation The “Sacraments of Initiation” refer to three of the seven Sacraments that invite us deeper into the life of Christ and the Church— Ø Baptism – the beginning of spiritual life Ø Confirmation – the strengthening of spiritual life Ø Eucharist – the nourishment of spiritual life

Now, let’s look at the theology and history of the SACRAMENT OF BAPTISM


The Theology of Baptism “Jesus approached the [disciples] and said to them, ‘All power in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go, therefore, and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son, and of the holy Spirit’” (Matthew 28:18-19). Ø  The Catholic Church teaches that “Baptism is necessary for salvation for those to whom the Gospel has been proclaimed and who have had the possibility of asking for the sacrament. The Church does not know of any means other than Baptism that assures entry into eternal beatitude; this is why she takes care not to neglect the mission she has received from the Lord to see that all who can be baptized are ‘reborn of water and the Spirit’” (Catechism of the Catholic Church ¶1257).

The Sacrament of Baptism, which was prefigured in the Old Testament in many ways (ex. the Great Flood, the Red Sea, and the Jordan River), brings about numerous graces. It— Ø  Is our initiation into the Christian community. Ø  Washes away all sin. Ø  Negates the effect of Original Sin* Ø  Imparts an “indelible seal,” a “mark” upon our soul that can never be removed. The Sacraments of Confirmation and Holy Orders also impart indelible seals. This is one important reason the Church does not repeat these Sacraments (i.e. one cannot be “rebaptized” or “re-ordained”).


The three valid methods of Baptizing someone include: Ø Sprinkling (only in exceptional circumstances)* Ø Pouring o  The historical precedence for pouring comes from the “Didache” (“The Teaching of the Apostles”) a first century Church document that states: “Baptize thus: having first recited all these things, baptize ‘in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost’, in running water. If you have no running water, baptize in other water; if you cannot baptize in cold water, use warm. If you have neither, pour water on the head thrice.”

Ø Immersion o  This method requires a large Baptismal pool or font, which is not available in many churches.

Regardless of the method of Baptism, they each require the use of water, which is a powerful natural symbol— v It cleanses v It refreshes v It gives life v It brings death*


The History of Baptism Baptism in the New Testament Church Ø  The accounts of Baptism in the New Testament Church take places in a variety of settings, but share one commonality— o  They involved adults o  Who had expressed faith in Jesus Christ (Acts 8-10) Ø  Adult Baptism was the norm in the Early Church. o  It marked a transition between one’s previous life of sin and a new life centered on Christ. o  It marked a transition between living in a community of law and living in a community of love. Ø  Baptism meant a REAL change in a person’s life.

Ø  Baptism was not something someone earned (1 Cor. 5:16-6:2; Ephesians 4:17-5:20). Ø  Baptism did not automatically mean a person was saved, but rather, it had to be accompanied by faith in Christ and good works toward others (Mark 16:15-16; James 2:14-26).

Baptism in the 2nd Century Ø  The ritual of Baptism focused on washing away sin and being reborn in Christ. Ø  T h o s e d e s i r i n g B a p t i s m w e r e r e q u i r e d t o g o t h r o u g h t h e “catechumenate,” (Greek for “instruction”), which was a lengthy period of preparation for Baptism. This instruction was focused less on learning knowledge and more on conforming one’s life to the life of Christ. Ø  Due to the many persecutions of Christians during the first few centuries of the Church, being Baptized meant the possibility of being martyred, therefore, it was taken very seriously.


Baptism in the 3rd thru 4th Centuries Ø  Baptism continued to be seen as a beginning of one’s spiritual union with Christ. Ø  The theological focus shifted more and more to the “death and resurrection” inherent in the Sacrament of Baptism. Ø  The role of sponsors changed. o  In the New Testament Church, the sponsors (or godparents) witnessed to the faith of the candidates for Baptism. o  As more infant Baptisms* took place, the sponsors were asked to be responsible for the child’s future religious instruction.

Baptism in the Middle Ages (5th to 15th Centuries) Ø  The theologians during the Middle Ages grappled with a number of questions about Baptism, such as— o  “Where does a baby go if he or she dies before being Baptized?” •  Saint Anselm suggested that such babies go to the “border” of heaven (Latin: limbo). •  This never became a teaching of the Church.*

o  “What grace or character does the Baptized person receive?” •  The Church teaches that Baptism leaves a mark (or character) on our souls •  Baptism gives us the grace (help of God) to resist sin and grow in virtue.


Baptism in the Modern Times Ø  The theology of Baptism in the last five hundred years was greatly influence by the Protestant Reformation. The Church’s response to the Reformation reaffirmed several beliefs about Baptism, including— 1.  Baptism is necessary for salvation. 2.  Anyone can validly administer Baptism. 3.  The grace of Baptism can be lost through sin and doubt. 4.  Serious sins committed after Baptism must be brought to the Sacrament of Reconciliation. 5.  There is no need for being re-Baptized. 6.  Infant Baptism is legitimate.

Now, let’s look at the theology and history of the SACRAMENT OF CONFIRMATION


The Theology of Confirmation Some contemporary writers have called the Sacrament of Confirmation “a sacrament in search of a theology.” Why? •  Because the history of the Sacrament of Confirmation reveals a pervasive struggle in the Church to understand the role of this Sacrament in our lives and to explain what it spiritually accomplishes. •  Today, the Sacrament of Confirmation is usually celebrated in a way that— Ø Confirms a person’s mature acceptance of faith. Ø Seals the gifts of the Holy Spirit in the person (Isaiah 11:2-3). Ø And involves blessed oil (Sacred Chrism), the laying on of hands, and prayer.

During the Sacrament of Confirmation, the priest or bishop either extends a hand over the candidates for Confirmation, or lays his hands on their heads, and prays over them, calling down the Holy Spirit upon them. He then smears blessed oil (Sacred Chrism) on their forehead in the shape of a cross and prays, “Be sealed with the Gift of the Holy Spirit.” The sign of peace is then exchanged.


The History of Confirmation Confirmation in the New Testament Church Ø  In the Early Church, the Sacraments that we now call Baptism and Confirmation took place in one, unified celebration. For example in the Acts of the Apostles 19:1-7, we read— While Apollos was in Corinth, Paul traveled through the interior of the country and came down to Ephesus where he found some disciples. He said to them, “Did you receive the holy Spirit when you became believers?” They answered him, “We have never even heard that there is a holy Spirit.” He said, “How were you baptized?” They replied, “With the baptism of John.” Paul then said, “John baptized with a baptism of repentance, telling the people to believe in the one who was to come after him, that is, in Jesus.” When they heard this, they were baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus. And when Paul laid his hands on them, the holy Spirit came upon them, and they spoke in tongues and prophesied.

Ø  As a unified celebration, converts were Baptized and then the Apostles would lay hands on their heads and pray over them, calling down the Holy Spirit upon them. Ø  While Baptism was a sign that someone had received the gift of the Holy Spirit, there were other signs as well, including what are referred to as the “charismatic gifts” (1 Corinthians 12-14)— o  Prophesying o  Speaking in tongues o  Having spiritual visions o  Healing the sick Ø  Such things helped reveal that a person had received the “seal of the spirit” and been transformed through Christ into a new creation.


Confirmation in the 3rd Century Ø  By the 3rd century, the charismatic gifts, or visible signs of the Spirit, had completely disappeared from the life of the Church. Therefore, Christians looked for other things that could be considered “signs” of the “seal of the Spirit.” Ø  They primarily focused on the Sacrament of Baptism for this sign, which was performed by the bishops and included laying hands on the newly Baptized person and anointing him or her with blessed oil or holding out one hand over a large group of catechumens and praying over them and then anointing them with oil, in the form of a cross, on the forehead, and then offered the ritual “kiss of peace.” Ø  The oil that was used was perfumed with balsam and was called, “chrism.” The meaning of the perfume was to remind Christians that they were called to be a pleasant fragrance for the world.

Ø  During this time, theologians struggled to understand exactly what took place spiritually during the Baptismal celebration. Ø Saint Ambrose of Milan, promoted the idea that during Baptism a person received new life in Christ and forgiveness of sins through water and the Holy Spirit, and that through the laying on of hands by the bishop, the person received the seven gifts of the Holy Spirit listed in Isaiah 11:2-3. Ø Saint Augustine, on the other hand, believed that it was the sacred chrism that imparted the gifts of the Holy Spirit upon the newly Baptized.


Confirmation in the 4th and 5th Centuries Ø  By the end of the Patristic Period (100-450 A.D.), becoming a Christian had evolved into a pretty elaborate set of prayers, blessings, anointings, exorcisms, etc. Ø  As Christianity became the official religion of the Roman empire, the massive number of people needing Baptism made it impossible for the bishops to celebrate all of them. Ø  Therefore, in those areas of the world where the bishops could not travel to celebrate all of the Baptisms, priests were given permission to celebrate them and the bishops would bless the oil to be used for Confirmation as a representation of the bishop’s presence at the celebration. Ø  In some places, the priests would Baptize people and then the bishops would travel around laying hands on the people and anointing them with oil every few months or every few years.

Ø  The name “Confirmation” was not used to describe the laying on of hands and the anointing with oil until the middle of the 5th century. Ø  Around that same time, the theology of Confirmation changed a bit and bishops like Faustus preached that Baptism conferred the Holy Spirit in order to give new life, whereas Confirmation conferred the Holy Spirit in order to strengthen the Christian to do spiritual battle.


Confirmation in the Middle Ages (5th to 15th Centuries) Ø  The most significant change to Confirmation during the Middle Ages was the circulation of a large number of fake Church documents produced in France which placed a new emphasis on the importance of Confirmation, even to the point of considering it more significant than Baptism. o  During this time, bishops were instructed to celebrate all of the Confirmations themselves and to try to get to every parish within three years. •  Due to the difficulty of traveling, this often did not happen, and, therefore, the time between the celebration of the Sacrament of Baptism (as infants) and Confirmation grew larger and larger. Some people, then, were not confirmed until they were adolescents.

Ø  In the 13th century, bishop William Durand wrote a comprehensive book on how to celebrate the Sacrament of Confirmation. This helped the celebration to be more uniform throughout Christianity. o  According to Bishop Durand’s book, the bishops were supposed to slap each person lightly across the face after Confirming them as a way of reminding them that living the Christian faith will be difficult and they will need the strength of the Holy Spirit to do battle against the Devil. o  This practice continued in the Church until after Vatican Council II. Ø  At the Second Church Council of Lyons, in 1274 A.D., the Church officially named Confirmation as one of the seven Sacraments in the Roman Catholic Church. Ø  However, there was still a lot of confusion about what the Sacrament meant spiritually and what constituted the “matter” and “form.”


Ø  During that same time, the Church agreed that the Sacrament of Confirmation should only be celebrated once, like Baptism, because it bestows an “indelible mark” upon a person. Ø  As more and more theologians agreed with the idea that the benefit of Confirmation is that it seals the gifts of the Holy Spirit (Isaiah 11:2-3) in a person in order to help them more faithfully live out their faith and witness to Christ, the age of receiving Confirmation also increased. Fewer children received the Sacrament and more adolescents and adults received it. Ø  Also, priests were given permission to celebrate Confirmation in many circumstances, as long as they used oil (chrism) blessed by the bishop, thus maintaining the unity with the larger Church community.

Confirmation in the Modern Times (15th to 20th Centuries) Ø  Very little changed in the celebration of the Sacrament of Confirmation in the last five centuries. o  One notable change, however, was that Pope Pius X in 1910 approved the regular practice of Catholics making their First Communion before receiving the Sacrament of Confirmation.

Confirmation Today Ø  Beginning around the 1940s, theologians in the Church began actively grappling with the theology of the Sacrament of Confirmation, trying to more clearly express what it means. Ø  By and large, the Sacrament today is seen as a celebration of Christian maturity, when a person claims adult responsibility for his or her faith.


Pope Paul VI, around the time of the Second Vatican Council, wrote— “Through the sacrament of confirmation, those who have been born anew in baptism receive the inexpressible Gift, the Holy Spirit himself, by which ‘they are endowed… with special strength.’ Moreover, having received the character of this sacrament, they are ‘bound more intimately to the Church’ and ‘they are more strictly obliged to spread and defend the faith both by word and by deed as true witnesses of Christ.’”* Ø  In the United States today, most Catholics are Confirmed between the ages of 10-12. Ø  If someone receives Baptism after the age of seven, then all three Sacraments of Initiation are received together, to remind us of the unity of these Sacraments.

The Sacraments In Conclusion Ø The challenge for Christians today is to never let the Sacraments become something that is “automatic” (i.e. void of their participation and conversion). o  This would make the Sacraments into something like magic, rather than relationship. o  It could lead to such problems as: faith being just an obligation, “Baptized unbelievers,” and parental obligation to make sure our children “get” their Sacraments.


Ø The emphasis of the Sacraments of Initiation is on building a relationship with God within a community of believers, leading to salvation. o  Adults do this through the RCIA process with the support of the believing community. o  Children also do this through Parish Religious Education (PRE) and the support of the believing community. o  Either way, the emphasis is on our relationship with God and each other (Mt. 22:36-40).

Sacrament Before we take time to answer any questions you might have, let me remind everyone again that the notes for this class contain both a quote from Scripture and from a quote from a Church document that we can use for our prayer time this week, as we reflect on the faith proclaimed through the creeds of the Church. Also, you will find group discussion suggestions and resources for further reading and study.


Let’s end our class by praying together a beautifully “sacramental” prayer by St. Theresa of Avila— Christ has no body now but yours. No hands, no feet on earth but yours. Yours are the eyes through which He looks compassion on this world. Yours are the feet with which he walks to do good. Yours are the hands with which He blesses all the world. Yours are the hands, yours are the feet. Yours are the eyes, you are His body. Christ has no body now but yours.

SCRIPTURE: Romans 6:4-6

“We were indeed buried with [Christ] through baptism into death, so that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might live in newness of life. For if we have grown into union with him through a death like his, we shall also be united with him in the resurrection. We know that our old self was crucified with him, so that our sinful body might be done away with, that we might no longer be in slavery to sin.”


TRADITION: Excerpt about Baptism taken from the treatise by Saint Ambrose, a bishop from the fourth century. Marah was a spring of bitter water. When Moses threw wood into it, its water became sweet. Water, you see, is of no avail for future salvation without the proclamation of the Lord’s cross. But when it has been consecrated through the saving mystery of the cross, it is then ready for use in the laver of the Spirit and in the cup of salvation. Therefore, as Moses in his role of prophet threw wood into the spring of Marah, so also the priest sends out into the fountain of baptism the proclamation of the Lord’s cross, and the water becomes sweet, ready for the giving of grace. Do not then believe only what the eyes of your body tell you. What is not seen is here more truly seen, for what is seen belongs to time but what is not seen belongs to eternity. What is not comprehended by the eyes but is seen by the mind and the soul is seen in a truer and deeper sense.

Group Discussion Suggestions: 1.  Name a particular ritual within your family that is very meaningful for you and then name a ritual within your spiritual life that is important to you. 2.  Pick one or more of the Sacraments and describe how it is an “outward sign of an invisible reality.” In other words, what part of the Sacrament is outward and what “invisible reality” does it reveal? 3.  What do you remember about your Baptism or Confirmation? Or, what do you remember about celebrating someone else’s Baptism or Confirmation? 4.  Name a common “stumbling block” that might cause Christians to become “Baptized unbelievers.”


Sacrament For Further Study: •  •  •  •  •  • 

Catechism of the Catholic Church: paragraphs 1210-1321 Catholicism for Dummies: Chapter 5 “The Seven Sacraments” and Chapter 6 “Sacraments of Initiation” Doors to the Sacred: Joseph Martos Sacraments and Sacramentality: Bernard Cooke Sacraments in Scripture: Tim Gray and Scott Hahn Christ the Sacrament of the Encounter With God: Edward Schillebeeckx


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