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The Sacraments Instituted By Christ… The Basic Elements Of The Sacraments

November 12, 2017 Our Catholic Faith No Comments

By RAYMOND DE SOUZA, KM

Part 2

We have started to study the seven sacraments instituted by our Lord Jesus Christ for our salvation. In every sacrament, we receive divine grace, sanctifying grace. And each sacrament confers also a specific grace of its own, called the sacramental grace. So, when the priest says, “I absolve you” to us, we are receiving the specific grace of the Sacrament of Confession, that is, the forgiveness of our sins.
When the priest, who ordinarily baptizes people, says, “I baptize you,” we receive the specific grace of the Sacrament of Baptism — that is, cleansing of original sin. And so forth. So, a sacrament signifies, or indicates, the grace it gives. The very words used by the minister indicate which grace is being received by the person.
Also, the ceremony used in the sacrament enforces the meaning of the grace received. In Baptism, the washing away of original sin is indicated by the pouring of water over the person being baptized. In Confirmation, the anointing signifies strength, confirming the person in the faith; in Extreme Unction, the anointing signifies healing. In Holy Orders, the imposition of hands signifies the giving of the Holy Spirit.
In the Blessed Eucharist, the bread and wine, over which the priest utters the words of consecration, indicate the spiritual food into which they are changed. In Penance, the whole ceremony has the appearance of an act of reconciliation; the sorrowful confession of guilt at the tribunal of mercy presaging and pointing to the absolution that is to follow.
Every sacrament has three basic elements: matter, form, and minister. The matter is the action which signifies the effect produced; for instance, in Baptism, the pouring of water; in Confirmation, the anointing with oil; etc. The form is the words used to confer the sacrament, for instance, “I baptize you”; or, “I absolve you from your sins”; or, “This is my Body,” etc. The minister is the person who confers the sacrament.
In more detail, let us begin with the minister. The minister is the one who performs the sacramental rite. The minister must be qualified for his office. Thus, for all the sacraments except Baptism and Matrimony, he must be in Holy Orders. A lay man or woman cannot celebrate Mass, hear Confessions, or administer Extreme Unction to the dying. Only a properly ordained priest can do it.
But Baptism, in case of necessity, may be administered by a lay man or woman, and even an unbaptized person, as long as he does what the Church prescribes him to do. Matrimony is not conferred by the priest present at the altar facing the couple: Matrimony is conferred by the bride and bridegroom themselves, in front of a minister of the Church who witnesses to their sacrament. The priest never “marries” any couple: The couple “marry each other,” so to speak; they confer the sacrament on one another.
In simple terms, the form of the sacrament is the words used by the minister when the sacrament is being conferred. The minister must employ the proper form of words and perform the prescribed action; he must use the prescribed thing (e.g., water in the case of Baptism; oil in the case of Extreme Unction; bread and wine in the Eucharist, etc.).
Another most important aspect of the minister’s work is that he must intend to do what the Church does. This is so because the real minister of all sacraments is our Lord Jesus Christ, who instituted them. Christ is the principal minister of all the sacraments — that is, He works through the voice and hands of the earthly minister.
Such a doctrine is a consolation to us lay folks who can, therefore, have perfect confidence in the rites of the Church without the need to know the personal state of the minister.
Apart from the matter, form, and minister, there is also a fourth element in every sacrament: the subject, that is, the person who receives the sacrament. The subject of a sacrament is the one who receives it. One can receive a sacrament validly or invalidly. To receive a sacrament validly is to receive it really or truly. To receive a sacrament invalidly is to receive it merely in appearance, but not in reality.
Let us get into some detail here, because it is important to know: to receive a sacrament validly, the subject must be capable of receiving it. Thus, an infant is incapable of receiving the Sacrament of Matrimony or Penance; a woman is incapable of receiving Holy Orders. Those who have not received Baptism are incapable of receiving the other sacraments. Even the Blessed Eucharist produces no effect whatever on the souls of the unbaptized. One must be baptized to receive Holy Communion. Also, people in mortal sin cannot receive any sacrament; one must go to Confession first.
For adults to receive any sacrament validly, they must have the intention or the will to receive it. The only ones for whom no intention to receive the sacrament is required are infants and those who do not have the use of reason. For them, no intention is required for the valid reception of Baptism, Confirmation, and the Blessed Eucharist.
There is a division among the sacraments, according to the people who can receive them: five of them are called the Sacraments of the Living, that is, that are given to those who are in the state of grace, in whom God’s grace lives. They get their name from their presupposing the presence of sanctifying grace in the soul, which they augment or intensify. And then there are the Sacraments of the Dead, that is, for those who are not in the state of grace. They are so called, because they raise the soul from spiritual death (absence of sanctifying grace) to spiritual life (presence of sanctifying grace).
The Sacraments of the Living are: Confirmation, Holy Eucharist, Holy Orders, Matrimony, and Extreme Unction, also known today as the Anointing of the Sick. The Sacraments of the Dead are Baptism and Confession.
For the worthy reception of the Sacraments of the Dead, adults require faith, hope, and at least contrition for grave sin committed. For the worthy reception of the Sacraments of the Living, they must be in the state of grace.
St. Paul (1 Cor. 11:27-30) is adamant about the danger of receiving the Holy Eucharist in state of sin:
“So then, whoever eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner will be guilty of sinning against the Body and Blood of the Lord. Everyone ought to examine themselves before they eat of the bread and drink from the cup. For those who eat and drink without discerning the Body of Christ eat and drink judgment on themselves. That is why many among you are weak and sick, and a number of you have died.”
May God have mercy on the bishops of Malta for allowing people in adultery to receive the Eucharist!

+ + +

(Raymond de Souza, KM, is a Knight of the Sovereign and Military Order of Malta; a delegate for International Missions for Human Life International [HLI]; and an EWTN program host. He is a militant pro-life writer and apologist, addressing live audiences and delivering talks on television, radio, and online. To date he has given over 2,500 presentations in 38 countries of the six continents. He is available to speak at Catholic events, both large and small, anywhere in the Free World, in four languages — English, Spanish, French, and Portuguese. Website: www.RaymonddeSouza.com.)

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