The Sacraments

What is a sacrament?Answer

The sacraments are “efficacious signs of grace, instituted by Christ and entrusted to the Church, by which divine life is dispensed to us” (CCC 1131). In other words, a sacrament is a sacred and visible sign that is instituted by Jesus to give us grace, an undeserved gift from God. (See also CCC 1084).Christ was present at the inception of all of the sacraments, which He instituted 2,000 years ago. Christ is also present every time each sacrament in celebrated.The Catholic Church has all of the seven sacraments instituted by Christ, which include Baptism, Confirmation, Eucharist, Reconciliation, Anointing of the Sick, Holy Orders and Matrimony. The Catechism of the Catholic Church explains that “the seven sacraments touch all the stages and all important moments of the Christian life” (CCC 1210).

Why does the Catholic Church practice infant baptism?Answer

The Church’s practice of infant baptism stems from her teachings regarding original sin (what we have) and baptism (what we do about it).After the sin of Adam and Eve in the garden, all people are now born with original sin due to our fallen human nature. Through the gift of grace in Baptism, God washes away this stain of original sin and makes us a part of His family and offer us eternal life.Children, who are born with the stain of original sin, are also in need of Baptism, in order to free them from the bondage of original sin and make them children of God. Our loving Father does not wish to withhold His love and grace from anyone, including children. Baptism simply requires openness.“The Church and the parents would deny a child the priceless grace of becoming a child of God were they not to confer Baptism shortly after birth.” (CCC 1250).

I have a friend who says Baptism is a symbolic act and that it has nothing to do with salvation…how can I answer them?Answer

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Simple. By showing them what the Bible says. First, nowhere does the Bible say that Baptism is merely a “symbolic” act…that passage simply does not exist. Second, let’s see what the Bible does say about Baptism: Ezek 36:25-27, it says, “I will sprinkle clean water upon you, and you shall be clean from all your uncleannesses…a new heart I will give you and a new spirit I will put within you…and I will put My spirit within you…” Here, in the Old Testament, we have a foreshadowing of New Testament baptism.Now, let’s see if the New Testament corresponds to what we just read in Ezekiel. Acts 2:38, “Repent, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins; and you shall receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.” Note that there is no symbolic language here…this is real! The Book of Acts says, “Be baptized for the forgiveness of your sins.” Ezekiel says, “I will sprinkle clean water upon you and you shall be clean from your uncleanness.” The Book of Acts says, “…and you shall receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.” Ezekiel says: “…and I will put My Spirit within you.” Do you begin to see how God, in the Old Covenant, was preparing us for what He gives us in the New Covenant?

Acts 22:16 – “And now why do you wait? Rise and be baptized, and wash away your sins…”. 1 Cor 12:13 – “For by one Spirit we were all baptized into one body…” What body was that? The Body of Christ. 1 Ptr 3:21: “Baptism, which corresponds to this, now saves you…”

Scripture simply does not support the non-Catholic notion that Baptism is symbolic. Scripture does very directly and very clearly support the Catholic teaching that Baptism saves us; that Baptism makes us members of the Body of Christ; that Baptism washes away sin; and that through Baptism we receive the Holy Spirit…just as the Catholic Church teaches!

Why do Catholics confess their sins to a priest, rather than going directly to God?Answer

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Well, the quick answer is because that’s the way God wants us to do it. In James 5:16, God, through Sacred Scripture, commands us to “confess our sins to one another.” Notice, Scripture does not say confess your sins straight to God and only to God…it says confess your sins to one another.In Matthew, chapter 9, verse 6, Jesus tells us that He was given authority on earth to forgive sins. And then Scripture proceeds to tell us, in verse 8, that this authority was given to “men”…plural.In John 20, verses 21-23, what is the 1st thing Jesus says to the gathered disciples on the night of His resurrection? “Jesus said to them, ‘Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, even so I send you.’” How did the Father send Jesus? Well, we just saw in Mt 9 that the Father sent Jesus with the authority on earth to forgive sins. Now, Jesus sends out His disciples as the Father has sent Him…so, what authority must Jesus be sending His disciples out with? The authority on earth to forgive sins. And, just in case they didn’t get it, verses 22-23 say this, “And when He had said this, He breathed on them, and said to them, ‘Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained.’”Why would Jesus give the Apostles the power to forgive or to retain sins if He wasn’t expecting folks to confess their sins to them? And how could they forgive or retain sins if no one was confessing their sins to them?The Bible tells us to confess our sins to one another. It also tells us that God gave men the authority on Earth to forgive sins. Jesus sends out His disciples with the authority on earth to forgive sins. When Catholics confess our sins to a priest, we are simply following the plan laid down by Jesus Christ. He forgives sins through the priest…it is God’s power, but He exercises that power through the ministry of the priest.

More questions…

  • I have questions about the Sacrament of the Eucharist
  • I have questions about the Sacrament of Confession
  • I have questions about the Sacrament of Matrimony
  • I have questions about the Sacrament of Holy Orders
  • Explore our links and resources for more information about the Anointing of the Sick, Confirmation and the other sacraments.
Aplogetics Links
Sacraments of the Church
Infant Baptism
More on Infant Baptism
Importance of Baptism
Confession
Confessing to a Priest
The True Presence
Christ’s Presence in the Eucharist
Confirmation
Anointing of the Sick
Permanence of Matrimony
For more on the Sacrament of the Eucharist, click here.
For more on the Sacrament of Reconciliation, click here.
For more on the Sacrament of Matrimony, click here.
For more on the Sacrament of Holy Orders, click here.
Suggested Books

A Pocket Guide to Confession
By Michael Dubruiel
A great little guidebook to confession.

Hallowed Be This House
By Thomas Howard

Crossing the Tiber: Evangelical Protestants Discover the Historical Church
By Stephen K. Ray
An exhilarating conversion story of a devout Baptist who relates how he overcame his hostility to the Catholic Church by a combination of serious Bible study and vast research of the writings of the early Church Fathers. In addition to a moving account of their conversion that caused Ray and his wife to “cross the Tiber” to Rome, he offers an in-depth treatment of Baptism and the Eucharist in Scripture and the ancient Church. Thoroughly documented with hundreds of footnotes, this contains perhaps the most complete compilation of biblical and patristic quotations and commentary available on Baptism and the Eucharist, as well as a detailed analysis of Sola Scriptura and Tradition.

Frequent Confession: Its Place in the Spitirual Life
By Benedict Baur
Frequent Confession presents convincing and strong evidence for the benefits of frequent reception of the sacrament of Penance for the health and growth of the spiritual life of all faithful. “To win the battles of the soul, the best strategy often is to bide one’s time and apply the suitable remedy with patience and perseverance.” So wrote Blessed Josemaria Escriva, the founder of Opus Dei who tirelessly urged the practice of frequent confession for spiritual advancement. The book is divided into two parts. The first shows the purpose and practice of confession from the aspect of confessor penitent. The second examines the many area where confession applies. An extensive introduction was written by Rev. Salvador Ferigle, who as a layman in 1949 began the apostolate of Opus Dei in the U.S. and died in 1997 at 72. The book is newly indexed.

Sacraments in Scripture
By Tim Gray
Sacraments in Scripture is an excellent tool for deepening one’s understanding of the mystery of Christ’s abiding presence with us through the sacraments. It is an excellent tool for studying an essential part of the Church’s teaching on the sacraments.

The Seven Sacraments: What They Are, What They Do!
By Francis J. Connell

Go in Peace: Your Guide to the Purpose and Power of Confession
By Father Mitch Pacwa, Sean Brown

Chance or the Dance: A Critique of Modern Secularism
By Thomas Howard
Contrasting the Christian and secular worldviews, Howard refreshes our minds with the illuminated view of Christianity as it imbued the world in times past—showing that we cannot live meaningful lives without this Christian understanding of things. An inspiring apology for Christianity, and a stirring critique of secularism.

Catholic Christianity: A Complete Catechism of Catholic Beliefs Based on the Catechism of the Catholic Church
By Peter Kreeft
For the first time in 400 years the Catholic Church has authorized an official universal catechism which instantly became an international best-seller, the Catechism of the Catholic Church. Using this official Catechism, the highly-regarded author and professor Peter Kreeft presents a complete compendium of all the major beliefs of Catholicism written in his readable and concise style. Since the Catechism of the Catholic Church was written for the express purpose of grounding and fostering catechisms based on it for local needs and ordinary readers, Kreeft does just that, offering a thorough summary of Catholic doctrine, morality, and worship in a popular format with less technical language. He presents a systematic, organic synthesis of the essential and fundamental Catholic teachings in the light of the Second Vatican Council and the whole of the Church’s Tradition. This book is the most thorough, complete and popular catechetical summary of Catholic belief in print that is based on the universal Catechism.

Handbook of Catholic Apologetics: Reasoned Answers to Questions of Faith
By Peter Kreeft, Ronald Tracelli
Unbelievers, doubters and skeptics continue to attack the truths of Christianity. Handbook of Catholic Apologetics is the only book that categorizes and summarizes all the major arguments in support of the main Christian beliefs. Also included is a Protestant-friendly treatment of Catholic- Protestant issues. The Catholic answers to Protestant questions show how Catholicism is the fullness of the Christian faith. Handbook of Catholic Apologetics is full of the wisdom and wit, clarity and insight of philosophers Peter Kreeft and Ronald Tacelli. This is an informative and valuable guidebook for anyone looking for answers to questions of faith and reason. Whether you are asking the questions yourself or want to respond to others who are, here is the resource you have been waiting for. Topics include: faith and reason, the existence of God, God’s nature, creation and evolution, providence and free will, miracles, problem of evil, Bible’s historical reliability, divinity of Chris, Christ’s resurrection, life after death, salvation, the Eucharist, Catholic hierarchy and more.

Back to Virtue: Traditional Moral Wisdom for Modern Moral Confusion
By Peter Kreeft
Kreeft issues a clear call to all Christians to get back to their active pursuit of real virtue in their daily lives. This in-depth analysis of the meaning of the virtues and their connection with the Beatitudes also summarizes a scriptural and theological wisdom on leading a holy life. Includes the accumulated wisdom of St. Paul, C.S. Lewis, and many others.

Moses: Signs, Sacraments, Salvation
Directed by Stephen Ray
Born a slave, raised a prince, and humbled in exile, Moses returned to confront the mighty Pharaoh with only a staff and the promise of God. Join Steve Ray, best-selling author and popular Bible teacher, in this edition of the Footprints of God series as he takes you on an incredible journey of discovery through Egypt, Jordan, and Israel. Together you’ll discover how Moses, the Exodus, and the Hebrew experience in the wilderness point to the coming of Christ and our salvation. Gain a deeper appreciation for our Savior, and for the Church and her Sacraments. A fast-paced, entertaining biography, travel documentary, Bible study, apologetics course, and Church history study, all rolled into one remarkable adventure!

Swear to God: The Promise and Power of the Sacraments
By Scott Hahn
The most solemn, majestic, and beautiful gifts that Jesus Christ gave to the world are His sacraments. He endowed them with unprecedented and unparalleled power—power to change lives, save souls, and share God’s very life. The sacraments are the ordinary means by which God directs the course of each human life and all of world history.

Lord, Have Mercy: The Healing Power of Confession
By Scott Hahn
An illuminating, reassuring explanation of the Catholic Church’s teachings on confession and forgiveness by the bestselling author of The Lamb’s Supper and Hail, Holy Queen.