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General Information: The Sacraments

Return to Sacraments Section

The Last Supper

The Sacraments 

Important Notice: By using this site you indicate agreement to all terms. For more terms information, see below and click here.


Click link below or scroll down to view all:

What is a 'Sacrament'?

How Many Sacraments Are There & What Is Each Called?

Who Instituted the Sacraments?

Why Were the Sacraments Instituted?

Are All Sacraments Equal?

Can the Church Add / Change / Eliminate Sacraments?

Are the Sacraments Necessary for Salvation?

Can the Sacraments be Repeated?

Can a Person Receive all the Sacraments? 

How Do the Sacraments Support Us Throughout Life?

What is the Purpose of Each Sacrament?

What Are 'Sacraments of the Living' and 'Sacraments of the Dead'?

Which Sacraments Impart a Seal (or Character)?

What Are Some Effects of the Sacraments?

What is Grace? / Do the Sacraments Always Impart Grace?

When Are the Sacraments Given?

How Are the Sacraments Given?

Who Administers the Sacraments?

What is Necessary for a Valid Sacrament?

Are There Some Occurrences Which Might Invalidate a Sacrament?

Does an Unworthy Minister Invalidate the Sacrament?

What Can Be Done if a Sacrament is Abused?

Can Sacraments be Given Conditionally?

Are There Sacraments Outside the Church?

What is the Difference Between Sacraments & Sacramentals?

Additional Information

Where Can I Find Out More Regarding the Sacraments?

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What is a 'Sacrament'?

Sacraments are outward signs, given to the Church by Christ, which convey grace. They are not mere symbols, but they are actually used by Christ to confer grace on those who receive them worthily. They are truly 'gifts from God'. As defined & explained by various sources...

"A Sacrament is an outward sign instituted by Christ to give grace." (Baltimore Catechism)

"A Sacrament is a visible sign of an invisible grace, instituted for our justification." (Catechism of the Council of Trent)

"[A] sacrament is a sign of the effect it produces." (St. Thomas Aquinas, Doctor of the Church and "greatest theologian in the history of the Church")

"[A Sacrament] is a visible sign, instituted by Jesus Christ, by which we receive grace and interior sanctification." (Catechism of St. John Neumann)

"By the word sacrament is meant a sensible and efficacious sign of grace, instituted by Christ to sanctify our souls." (Catechism of St. Pius X) 

"[T]he sacraments...are the means ordained by God for obtaining forgiveness of sin and for leading a holy life." (Pope Leo XIII, "Rerum Novarum", 1891 A.D.)

"[A Sacrament] is a sensible object which possesses, by divine institution, the power not only of signifying, but also of accomplishing holiness and righteousness." (Catechism of the Council of Trent)

"[T]he Sacraments of the New Law...are signs instituted not by man but by God, which we firmly believe have in themselves the power of producing the sacred effects of which they are the signs." (Catechism of the Council of Trent)

"Gregory says (Isidore, Etymologiarum vi,19), 'a sacrament consists in a solemn act, whereby something is so done that we understand it to signify the holiness which it confers.'" (St. Thomas Aquinas, Doctor of the Church and "greatest theologian in the history of the Church")

"Can. 840 The sacraments of the New Testament were instituted by Christ the Lord and entrusted to the Church. As actions of Christ and of the Church, they are signs and means by which faith is expressed and strengthened, worship is offered to God and our sanctification is brought about. Thus they contribute in the most effective manner to establishing, strengthening and manifesting ecclesiastical communion. Accordingly, in the celebration of the sacraments both the sacred ministers and all the other members of Christ's faithful must show great reverence and due care." (1983 Code of Canon Law)

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How Many Sacraments Are There & What Is Each Called?

There are seven Sacraments, namely: Baptism, Confirmation, the Holy Eucharist, Penance, Extreme Unction/Anointing of the Sick, Holy Orders, and Matrimony. Note that the various Sacraments are also called by other names and are also sometimes referred to by number (e.g. Baptism - first Sacrament, Marriage - seventh Sacrament). For additional names for each sacrament, click here and then click applicable link for each Sacrament.

"The Sacraments of the Catholic Church are seven in number, as is proved from Scripture, from the tradition handed down to us from the Fathers, and from the authority of Councils." (Catechism of the Council of Trent)

"Our Risen Jesus would have the sacraments be seven. As at the beginning he stamped the creation of the visible world with this sacred number, giving six days to work and one to rest, so, too, would he mark the great spiritual creation. He tells us, in the Old Testament that Wisdom (that is, himself, for he is the Eternal Wisdom of the Father) will build to himself a house, which is the Church; and he adds that he will make it rest on seven pillars (Prov. ix I). He gives us a type of this same Church in the tabernacle built by Moses, and he orders a superb candlestick to be provided for giving light, by day and night, to the holy place; but there were to be seven branches to the candlestick, and on each branch were to be graven flowers and fruits (Exod. xxv 37). When he raises his beloved disciple to heaven, he shows himself to him surrounded by seven candlesticks, and holding seven stars in his right hand (Apoc. i 12,16). He appears to him as a Lamb, bearing seven horns, which are the symbol of strength, and having seven eyes, which signify his infinite wisdom (Apoc. v 6). Near him lies a Book, in which is written the future of the world; the Book is sealed with seven seals and none but the Lamb is able to loose them (Apoc. v 1, 5). The disciple sees seven spirits, burning like lamps, before the throne of God (Apoc. iv 5), ready to do his biddings, and carry his word to the extremities of the earth." (Dom Gueranger)

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Who Instituted the Sacraments?

God is the author of the Sacraments, which were instituted by Our Lord Jesus Christ.

"[Jesus Christ] instituted seven Sacraments." (Catechism of St. John Neumann)

"Can. 731 § 1 As all the Sacraments of the New Law, instituted by Christ our Lord, are the principal means of sanctification and salvation, the greatest diligence and reverence is to be observed in opportunely and correctly administering them and receiving them." (1917 Code of Canon Law)

"The institutor of anything is he who gives it strength and power: as in the case of those who institute laws. But the power of a sacrament is from God alone... Therefore God alone can institute a sacrament." (St. Thomas Aquinas, Doctor of the Church and "greatest theologian in the history of the Church")

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Why Were the Sacraments Instituted?

The Sacraments were instituted by Christ to give grace and lead us to salvation. As explained by various sources...

"[T]he sacraments of the Church were instituted for a twofold purpose: namely, in order to perfect man in things pertaining to the worship of God according to the religion of Christian life, and to be a remedy against the defects caused by sin." (St. Thomas Aquinas, Doctor of the Church and "greatest theologian in the history of the Church")

"The Sacraments have been instituted as a special means through which we are to receive the grace merited for us by Christ. As Christ is the giver of the grace, He has the right to determine the manner in which it shall be given, and one who refused to make use of the Sacraments will not receive God's grace." (Baltimore Catechism)

"God's grace is a sufficient cause of man's salvation. But God gives grace to man in a way which is suitable to him. Hence it is that man needs the sacraments that he may obtain grace." (St. Thomas Aquinas, Doctor of the Church and "greatest theologian in the history of the Church")

Reasons for the institution of the Sacraments, according to the Catechism of the Council of Trent, include:

"The first of these reasons is the feebleness of the human mind. We are so constituted by nature that no one can aspire to mental and intellectual knowledge unless through the medium of sensible objects. In order, therefore, that we might more easily understand what is accomplished by the hidden power of God, the same sovereign Creator of the universe has most wisely, and out of His tender kindness towards us, ordained that His power should be manifested to us through the intervention of certain sensible signs. As St. Chrysostom happily expresses it: If man were not clothed with a material body, these good things would have been presented to him naked and without any covering; but as the soul is joined to the body, it was absolutely necessary to employ sensible things in order to assist in making them understood.

Another reason is because the mind yields a reluctant assent to promises. Hence, from the beginning of the world, God was accustomed to indicate, and usually in words, that which He had resolved to do; but sometimes, when designing to execute something, the magnitude of which might weaken a belief in its accomplishment, He added to words other signs, which sometimes appeared miraculous. When, for instance, God sent Moses to deliver the people of Israel, and Moses, distrusting the help even of God who had commissioned him, feared that the burden imposed was heavier than he could bear, or that the people would not heed his message, the Lord confirmed His promise by a great variety of signs. As, then, in the Old Law, God ordained that every important promise should be confirmed by certain signs, so in the New Law, Christ our Savior, when He promised pardon of sin, divine grace, the communication of the Holy Spirit, instituted certain visible and sensible signs by which He might oblige Himself, as it were, by pledges, and make it impossible to doubt that He would be true to His promises.

A third reason is that the Sacraments, to use the words of St. Ambrose, may be at hand, as the remedies and medicines of the Samaritan in the Gospel, to preserve or recover the health of the soul. For, through the Sacraments, as through a channel, must flow into the soul the efficacy of the Passion of Christ, that is, the grace which He merited for us on the altar of the cross, and without which we cannot hope for salvation. Hence, our most merciful Lord has bequeathed to His Church, Sacraments stamped with the sanction of His word and promise, through which, provided we make pious and devout use of these remedies, we firmly believe that the fruit of His Passion is really communicated to us.

A fourth reason why the institution of the Sacraments seems necessary is that there may be certain marks and symbols to distinguish the faithful; particularly since, as St. Augustine observes, no society of men, professing a true or a false religion, can be, so to speak, consolidated into one body, unless united and held together by some bond of sensible signs. Both these objects the Sacraments of the New Law accomplish, distinguishing the Christian from the infidel, and uniting the faithful by a sort of sacred bond.

Another very just cause for the institution of the Sacraments may be shown from the words of the Apostle: With the heart we believe unto justice; but with the mouth confession is made unto salvation. By approaching them we make a public profession of our faith in the sight of men. Thus, when we approach Baptism, we openly profess our belief that, by virtue of its salutary waters in which we are washed, the soul is spiritually cleansed.

The Sacraments have also great influence, not only in exciting and exercising our faith, but also in inflaming that charity with which we should love one another, when we recollect that, by partaking of these mysteries in common, we are knit together in the closest bonds and are made members of one body.

A final consideration, which is of greatest importance for the life of a Christian, is that the Sacraments repress and subdue the pride of the human heart, and exercise us in the practice of humility; for they oblige us to subject ourselves to sensible elements in obedience to God, from whom we had before impiously revolted in order to serve the elements of the world."

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Are All Sacraments Equal?

The Sacraments are not all equal. As stated by the Council of Trent: "If anyone says that [the] Sacraments are equal to one another and that one is not in any way of greater worth than another: let him be anathema." As the Catechism of St. Pius X points out, "The greatest of all the Sacraments is the Eucharist, because it contains not only grace, but also Jesus Christ the Author of Grace and of the Sacraments." 

"Though all the Sacraments possess a divine and admirable efficacy, it is well worthy of special remark that all are not of equal necessity or of equal dignity, nor is the signification of all the same. Among them three are said to be necessary beyond the rest, although in all three this necessity is not of the same kind. The universal and absolute necessity of Baptism our Savior has declared in these words: Unless a man be born again of water and the Holy Ghost, he cannot enter into the kingdom of God. Penance, on the other hand, is necessary for those only who have stained themselves after Baptism by any mortal guilt. Without sincere repentance, their eternal ruin is inevitable. Orders, too, although not necessary to each of the faithful, are of absolute necessity to the Church as a whole. But if we consider the dignity of the Sacraments, the Eucharist, for holiness and for the number and greatness of its mysteries, is far superior to all the rest." (Catechism of the Council of Trent)

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Can the Church Add / Change / Eliminate Sacraments?

The Church does hot nave the power to add, change, or eliminate Sacraments. The Church may, however, add, change, or eliminate certain ceremonies or actions which are not essential to the Sacraments. Although such ceremonies and actions are not essential for validity, they do serve an important function. As stated in the Baltimore Catechism: "The Church uses numerous ceremonies or actions in applying the outward signs of the Sacraments to increase our reverence and devotion for the Sacraments, and to explain their meaning and effects." 

"The Church can never increase nor diminish the number of Sacraments, for as Christ Himself instituted them, He alone has power to change their number." (Baltimore Catechism)

"All the Sacraments were instituted by Our Lord, for God alone has power to attach the gift of grace to the use of an outward or visible sign. The Church, however can institute the ceremonies to be used in administering or giving the Sacraments." (Baltimore Catechism)

"In the Church there has always existed this power, that in the administration of the sacraments, provided that their substance remains unaltered, she can lay down or modify what she considers more fitting either for the benefit of those who receive them or for respect towards those same sacraments, according to varying circumstances, times or places." (Council of Trent)

Note that the rites of the Church may not be changed arbitrarily by pastors:

"If any one saith, that the received and approved rites of the Catholic Church, wont to be used in the solemn administration of the sacraments, may be contemned, or without sin be omitted at pleasure by the ministers, or be changed, by every pastor of the churches, into other new ones; let him be anathema." (Council of Trent)

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Are the Sacraments Necessary for Salvation?

Some, but not all, of the Sacraments are necessary for salvation. As stated in the Catechism of St. Pius X: "The sacraments most necessary to salvation are two: Baptism and Penance. Baptism is necessary to all, and Penance is necessary to all who have sinned mortally after Baptism." Christ has also stated the necessity of the Holy Eucharist for salvation (for those who have reached the age of reason).

For more information regarding Baptism and the necessity for Baptism, click here. For more information regarding the Sacrament of Penance and the necessity for this Sacrament, click here. For more information regarding the Holy Eucharist and the necessity of receiving this Sacrament, click here.

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Can the Sacraments be Repeated?

Some sacraments may be received only once in a lifetime:

"The sacraments that can be received only once are three: Baptism, Confirmation, and Holy Orders." (Catechism of St. Pius X) 

"We cannot receive Baptism, Confirmation, and Holy Orders more than once, because they imprint a character in the soul." (Baltimore Catechism)

The Sacrament of Holy Matrimony may be received only once while both persons are alive.

The Sacrament of Extreme Unction / Anointing of the Sick should be received as often as it is fitting.

The remaining sacraments (Penance, the Holy Eucharist) should be received often by the faithful.

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Can a Person Receive all the Sacraments? 

Women can never receive all the Sacraments. Men generally cannot receive all the Sacraments.

"A person cannot, as a rule, receive all the Sacraments; for a woman cannot receive Holy Orders, and a man who receives priesthood is forbidden to receive the Sacrament of Matrimony." (Baltimore Catechism)

For additional information regarding appropriate recipients for particular sacraments, click here and then click applicable link for each Sacrament. 

Top Reasons Why Women Can't be Priests

Why Priestly Celibacy?

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How Do the Sacraments Support Us Throughout Life?

The Sacraments support us from the beginning of our lives through to the end. As the Catechism of the Council of Trent states, "For as we are ushered into spiritual life by means of the Sacraments, so by the same means are we nourished and preserved, and grow to spiritual increase."

The Baltimore Catechism makes a comparison between the needs of the body and the needs of the soul: 

"The needs of the soul do resemble the needs of the body; for the body must be born, strengthened, nourished, healed in affliction, helped at the hour of death, guided by authority, and given a place in which to dwell. The soul is brought into spiritual life by Baptism, it is strengthened by Confirmation; nourished by the Holy Eucharist; healed by Penance; helped at the hour of our death by Extreme Unction; guided by God's ministers thorough the Sacrament of Holy Orders, and is given a body in which to dwell by the Sacrament of Matrimony." (Baltimore Catechism)

It is comforting to reflect on the fact that we Catholics are supported and sustained by the Sacraments from birth to death:

"First comes Baptism, which is the gate, as it were, to all the other Sacraments, and by which we are born again unto Christ. The next is Confirmation, by which we grow up and are strengthened in the grace of God; for, as St. Augustine observes, to the Apostles who had already received Baptism, the Redeemer said: 'Stay you in the city till you be endued with power from on high.' The third is the Eucharist, that true bread from heaven which nourishes and sustains our souls to eternal life, according to these words of the Savior: My flesh is [food] indeed, and my blood is drink indeed. The fourth is Penance, through which lost health is recovered after we have been wounded by sin. Next is Extreme Unction, which obliterates the remains of sin and invigorates the powers of the soul; for speaking of this Sacrament St. James says: If he be in sins, they shall be forgiven him. Then follows Holy Orders, by which power is given to exercise perpetually in the Church the public administration of the Sacraments and to perform all the sacred functions. The last is Matrimony, instituted to the end that, by means of the legitimate and holy union of man and woman, children may be procreated and religiously educated for the service of God, and for the preservation of the human race." (Catechism of the Council of Trent)

"The Christian, at almost every important stage of his mortal career, finds at his side the priest with power received from God, in the act of communicating or increasing that grace which is the supernatural life of his soul. Scarcely is he born before the priest baptizing him, brings him by a new birth to a more noble and precious life, a supernatural life, and makes him a son of God and of the Church of Jesus Christ. To strengthen him to fight bravely in spiritual combats, a priest invested with special dignity makes him a soldier of Christ by holy chrism. Then, as soon as he is able to recognize and value the Bread of Angels, the priest gives It to him, the living and life-giving Food come down from Heaven. If he fall, the priest raises him up again in the name of God, and reconciles him to God with the Sacrament of Penance. Again, if he is called by God to found a family and to collaborate with Him in the transmission of human life throughout the world, thus increasing the number of the faithful on earth and, thereafter, the ranks of the elect in Heaven, the priest is there to bless his espousals and unblemished love; and when, finally, arrived at the portals of eternity, the Christian feels the need of strength and courage before presenting himself at the tribunal of the Divine Judge, the priest with the holy oils anoints the failing members of the sick or dying Christian, and reconsecrates and comforts him. Thus the priest accompanies the Christian throughout the pilgrimage of this life to the gates of Heaven. He accompanies the body to its resting place in the grave with rites and prayers of immortal hope. And even beyond the threshold of eternity he follows the soul to aid it with Christian suffrages, if need there be of further purification and alleviation. Thus, from the cradle to the grave the priest is ever beside the faithful, a guide, a solace, a minister of salvation and dispenser of grace and blessing." (Pope Pius XI, "Ad Catholici Sacerdotii", 1935 A.D.)

"Like her divine Head, the Church is forever present in the midst of her children. She aids and exhorts them to holiness, so that they may one day return to the Father in heaven clothed in that beauteous raiment of the supernatural. To all who are born to life on earth she gives a second, supernatural kind of birth. She arms them with the Holy Spirit for the struggle against the implacable enemy. She gathers all Christians about her altars, inviting and urging them repeatedly to take part in the celebration of the Mass, feeding them with the Bread of angels to make them ever stronger. She purifies and consoles the hearts that sin has wounded and soiled. Solemnly she consecrates those whom God has called to the priestly ministry. She fortifies with new gifts of grace the chaste nupitals of those who are destined to found and bring up a Christian family. When at last she has soothed and refreshed the closing hours of this earthly life by holy Viaticum and extreme unction, with the utmost affection she accompanies the mortal remains of her children to the grave, lays them reverently to rest, and confides them to the protection of the cross, against the day when they will triumph over death and rise again. She has a further solemn blessing and invocation for those of her children who dedicate themselves to the service of God in the life of religious perfection. Finally, she extends to the souls in purgatory, who implore her intercession and her prayers, the helping hand which may lead them happily at last to eternal blessedness in heaven." (Pope Pius XII, "Mediator Dei", 1947 A.D.)

"Now we see that the human body is given the proper means to provide for its own life, health and growth, and for that of all its members. Similarly, the Savior of mankind out of His infinite goodness has provided in a wonderful way for His Mystical Body, endowing it with the Sacraments, so that, as though by an uninterrupted series of graces, its members should be sustained from birth to death, and that generous provision might be made for the social needs of the Church. Through the waters of Baptism those who are born into this world dead in sin are not only born again and made members of the Church, but being stamped with a spiritual seal they become able and fit to receive the other Sacraments. By the chrism of Confirmation, the faithful are given added strength to protect and defend the Church, their Mother, and the faith she has given them. In the Sacrament of Penance a saving medicine is offered for the members of the Church who have fallen into sin, not only to provide for their own health, but to remove from other members of the Mystical Body all danger of contagion, or rather to afford them an incentive to virtue, and the example of a virtuous act. Nor is that all; for in the Holy Eucharist the faithful are nourished and strengthened at the same banquet and by a divine, ineffable bond are united with each other and with the Divine Head of the whole Body. Finally, like a devoted mother, the Church is at the bedside of those who are sick unto death; and if it be not always God's will that by the holy anointing she restore health to the mortal body, nevertheless she administers spiritual medicine to the wounded soul and sends new citizens to heaven - to be her new advocates - who will enjoy forever the happiness of God. For the social needs of the Church Christ has provided in a particular way by the institution of two other Sacraments. Through Matrimony, in which the contracting parties are ministers of grace to each other, provision is made for the external and duly regulated increase of Christian society, and, what is of greater importance, for the correct religious education of the children, without which this Mystical Body would be in grave danger. Through Holy Orders men are set aside and consecrated to God, to offer the Sacrifice of the Eucharistic Victim, to nourish the flock of the faithful with the Bread of Angels and the food of doctrine, to guide them in the way of God's commandments and counsels and to strengthen them with all other supernatural helps." (Pope Pius XII, "Mystici Corporis Christi", 1943 A.D.)

For additional information regarding the effects of particular sacraments, click here and then click applicable link for each Sacrament. 

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What is the Purpose of Each Sacrament?

Each Sacrament has a purpose (or purposes) peculiar to it. For example,

* Baptism cleanses from original & actual sin and marks us as Christians

* Confirmation strengthens us and seals us as 'Soldiers of Christ'

* Penance / Confession frees us from the guilt of mortal (and venial) sin

* The Holy Eucharist heals, nourishes and strengthens us

* Matrimony permanently unites a man and woman in lawful marriage

* Holy Orders confers the power of the priesthood and seals the man as a Minister of God

* Extreme Unction / Anointing of the gives health and strength to the soul, and sometimes to the body

For more detailed information regarding the effects of / requirements for particular sacraments, click here and then click applicable link for each Sacrament. 

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What Are 'Sacraments of the Living' and 'Sacraments of the Dead'?

Confirmation, Holy Eucharist, Extreme Unction, Holy Orders, and Matrimony are called Sacraments of the living. As stated in the Baltimore Catechism: "Confirmation, Holy Eucharist, Extreme Unction, Holy Orders, and Matrimony are called Sacraments of the living because those who receive them worthily are already living the life of grace." These 'Sacraments of the living' increase sanctifying grace in the soul.

Note that Sacraments of the living are not to be received by those in a state of mortal sin. As the Catechism of St. Pius X states, "These five sacraments - Confirmation, Eucharist, Extreme Unction, Holy Orders and Matrimony - are on that account called sacraments of the living, because those who receive them must be free from mortal sin, that is, already alive through sanctifying grace." It is, in fact, sinful to receive the Sacraments of the living while living in mortal sin:

"He who receives the Sacraments of the living in mortal sin commits a sacrilege, which is great sin, because it is an abuse of a sacred thing." (Baltimore Catechism)

"He who, conscious that he is not in a state of grace, receives one of the sacraments of the living, commits a serious sacrilege." (Catechism of St. Pius X) 

On the other hand, the 'Sacraments of the dead' (Baptism & Penance) may be received by those in a state of sin. As explained by the Baltimore Catechism: "By the Sacraments of the dead we man those Sacraments that may be lawfully received while the soul is in a state of mortal sin. By the Sacraments of the living we mean those Sacraments that can be lawfully received only while the soul is in a state of grace - i.e. free from mortal sin. Living and dead do not refer here to the persons but to the condition of the souls; for none of the Sacraments can be given to a dead person." Note: Sometimes Penance is referred to as a "Sacrament of Healing" (as is Anointing of the Sick/Extreme Unction).

As further explained...

"The Sacraments that give sanctifying grace are Baptism and Penance; and they are called Sacraments of the dead." (Baltimore Catechism)

"Baptism and Penance are called Sacraments of the dead, because they take away sin, which is the death of the soul, and give grace, which is its life." (Baltimore Catechism)

"These two sacraments, Baptism and Penance, are...called sacraments of the dead, because they are instituted chiefly to restore to the life of grace the soul dead by sin." (Catechism of St. Pius X) 

Note that the Sacrament of Penance may be received while one is in a state of grace. When this occurs, one receives an increase of grace. 

"The Sacrament of Penance may and very often is received by one who is in a state of grace, and when thus received it increases - as the Sacraments of the living do - the grace already in the soul." (Baltimore Catechism)

For additional information regarding particular sacraments, click here and then click applicable link for each Sacrament. 

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Which Sacraments Impart a Seal (or Character)?

The Sacraments of Baptism, Confirmation, and Holy Orders imprint an indelible seal (or character) on the soul which may never be effaced..

"The character which these Sacraments imprint in the soul is a spiritual mark which remains forever." (Baltimore Catechism)

"The character that each of the three sacraments, Baptism, Confirmation, and Holy Orders imprints on the soul is a spiritual mark that is never effaced." (Catechism of St. Pius X) 

"This character remains in the soul even after death: for the honor and glory of those who are saved; for the shame and punishment of those who are lost." (Baltimore Catechism)

Therefore, these Sacraments which imprint a character on the soul may not be repeated.

"A character is imprinted in every sacrament that is not repeated." (St. Thomas Aquinas, Doctor of the Church and "greatest theologian in the history of the Church") 

The character imprinted on the soul marks it as Christ's and distinguishes it from others. 

"The character that these three sacraments imprint on the soul, serves to mark us as members of Jesus Christ at Baptism, as His soldiers at Confirmation, and as His ministers at Holy Orders." (Catechism of St. Pius X) 

"This character [impressed on the soul by the sacraments of Baptism, Confirmation, and Holy Orders] has a twofold effect: it qualifies us to receive or perform something sacred, and distinguishes us by some mark from one another." (Catechism of the Council of Trent)

"[A sacramental] character is properly a kind of seal, whereby something is marked, as being ordained to some particular end: thus a coin is marked for use in exchange of goods, and soldiers are marked with a character as being deputed to military service. Now the faithful are deputed to a twofold end. First and principally to the enjoyment of glory. And for this purpose they are marked with the seal of grace according to Ezekiel 9:4 'Mark Thou upon the foreheads of the men that sigh and mourn' [and also Apoc. 7:3] ... [E]ach of the faithful is deputed to receive, or to bestow on others, things pertaining to the worship of God. And this, properly speaking, is the purpose of the sacramental character. Now the whole rite of the Christian religion is derived from Christ's priesthood. Consequently, it is clear that the sacramental character is specially the character of Christ, to Whose character the faithful are likened by reason of the sacramental characters, which are nothing else than certain participations of Christ's Priesthood, flowing from Christ Himself." (St. Thomas Aquinas, Doctor of the Church and "greatest theologian in the history of the Church")

For additional information regarding Baptism, click here. For additional information regarding Confirmation, click here. For additional information regarding Holy Orders, click here.

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What Are Some Effects of the Sacraments?

Although each Sacrament has its own particular effects, all the sacraments provide grace. For additional information on the effects of the sacraments in general, see below. For additional information on the effects of particular sacraments, click here and then click applicable link for each Sacrament. 

"... the most holy sacraments of the Church, through which all true justice either begins, or being begun is increased or being lost is restored." (Council of Trent)

"The principal effects of the Sacraments are two. The first place is rightly held by that grace which we, following the usage of the holy Doctors, call sanctifying. For so the Apostle most clearly taught when he said: Christ loved the Church, and delivered himself up for it; that he might sanctify it, cleansing it by the laver of water in the word of life. But how so great and so admirable an effect is produced by the Sacrament that, to use the well-known saying of St. Augustine, water cleanses the body and reaches the heart, - this, indeed, cannot be comprehended by human reason and intelligence. It may be taken for granted that no sensible thing is of its own nature able to reach the soul; but we know by the light of faith that in the Sacraments there exists the power of almighty God by which they effect that which the natural elements cannot of themselves accomplish. Lest on this subject any doubt should exist in the minds of the faithful, God, in the abundance of His mercy, was pleased, from the moment when the Sacraments began to be administered, to manifest by the evidence of miracles the effects which they operate interiorly in the soul. (This He did) in order that we may most firmly believe that the same effects, although far removed from the senses, are always inwardly produced.... The second effect of the Sacraments - which, however, is not common to all, but peculiar to three, Baptism, Confirmation, and Holy Orders - is the character which they impress on the soul. When the Apostle says: God hath anointed us, who also hath sealed us, and given the pledge of the Spirit in our hearts, he not obscurely describes by the word sealed a character, the property of which is to impress a seal and mark. This character is, as it were, a distinctive impression stamped on the soul which perpetually inheres and cannot be blotted out. Of this St. Augustine says: Shall the Christian Sacraments accomplish less than the bodily mark impressed on the soldier? That mark is not stamped on his person anew as often as he resumes the military service which he had relinquished, but the old is recognized and approved. This character has a twofold effect: it qualifies us to receive or perform something sacred, and distinguishes us by some mark one from another. In the character impressed by Baptism, both effects are exemplified. By it we are qualified to receive the other Sacraments, and the Christian is distinguished from those who do not profess the faith. The same illustration is afforded by the characters impressed by Confirmation and Holy Orders. By Confirmation we are armed and arrayed as soldiers of Christ, publicly to profess and defend His name, to fight against our internal enemy and against the spiritual powers of wickedness in the high places; and at the same time we are distinguished from those who, being recently baptized, are, as it were, new-born infants. Holy Orders confers the power of consecrating and administering the Sacraments, and also distinguishes those who are invested with this power from the rest of the faithful. The rule of the Catholic Church is, therefore, to be observed, which teaches that these three Sacraments impress a character and are never to be repeated." (Catechism of the Council of Trent)

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What is Grace? / Do the Sacraments Always Impart Grace?

As explained by the Catechism of St. Pius X: "Grace is an inward and supernatural gift given to us without any merit of our own, but through the merits of Jesus Christ in order to gain eternal life." As explained by various sources...

 "Grace is divided into sanctifying grace, which is also called habitual grace, and actual grace." (Catechism of St. Pius X) 

"Besides sanctifying grace the Sacraments give another grace, called sacramental." (Baltimore Catechism)

"Besides sanctifying grace the sacraments also confer sacramental grace." (Catechism of St. Pius X) 

"Sanctifying grace is a supernatural gift inherent in our soul, and rendering us just, adopted children of God and heirs to Paradise." (Catechism of St. Pius X) 

"Sanctifying grace is of two kinds: first grace and second grace." (Catechism of St. Pius X)

"First grace is that by means of which one passes from the state of mortal sin to the state of justice." (Catechism of St. Pius X) 

"Second grace is an increase of first grace." (Catechism of St. Pius X) 

"Sacramental grace is a special help which God gives, to attain the end for which He instituted each Sacrament." (Baltimore Catechism)

"The sacramental grace...aids us in attaining the end for which each Sacrament was instituted and for which we receive it." (Baltimore Catechism)

"Sacramental grace consists in the right acquired in the reception of a sacrament, to have at the proper time the actual graces necessary to fulfill the obligations arising from the sacrament received. Thus when we were baptized we received the right to have the grace to live a Christian life." (Catechism of St. Pius X) 

"Actual grace is a supernatural gift which enlightens the mind, moves and strengthens the will in order to enable us to do good and avoid evil." (Catechism of St. Pius X) 

The primary means of gaining grace is through the sacraments. As the Catechism of St. Pius X states, "Grace is given us by God chiefly through the sacraments." And, in fact, unless prevented from doing so, all Sacraments give grace. 

"The Sacraments always give grace, if we receive them with the right dispositions." (Baltimore Catechism)

"The sacraments always confer grace provided they are received with the necessary dispositions." (Catechism of St. Pius X) 

"Some of the Sacraments give sanctifying grace, and others increase it in our souls." (Baltimore Catechism)

"If any one saith, that grace, as far as God's part is concerned, is not given through the said sacraments, always, and to all men, even though they receive them rightly, but (only) sometimes, and to some persons; let him be anathema." (Council of Trent)

"The sacraments which confer first sanctifying grace, and render us friends of God, are two: Baptism and Penance." (Catechism of St. Pius X) 

"The sacraments which increase grace in those who already possess it are the other five: Confirmation, Eucharist, Extreme Unction, Holy Orders and Matrimony, all of which confer second grace." (Catechism of St. Pius X) 

"[The sacraments are called] sensible and efficacious signs of grace because all the sacraments signify by means of sensible things, the divine grace which they produce in our souls." (Catechism of St. Pius X) 

"The outward sign is not used merely indicate that grace has been given, for the use of the outward sign with the proper intention also gives the grace of the Sacrament. Hence the right application of the outward sign is always followed by the gift of internal grace if the Sacrament be administered with the right intention and received with the right disposition." (Baltimore Catechism)

The grace conferred on us through the Sacraments is due to Christ's merits:

"Jesus Christ by His passion and death gave to the sacraments the power of conferring grace." (Catechism of St. Pius X) 

In the conferral of grace, however, God respects our free will. Therefore, to receive grace from the Sacraments, one must cooperate.

"[I]t is a law of divine Providence in the supernatural order that men do not reap the full fruit of the Sacraments which they receive after acquiring the use of reason unless they cooperate with grace" (Pope Pius XI, "Casti Connubii", 1930 A.D.)

"[W]e can resist the grace of God because it does not destroy our free will." (Catechism of St. Pius X)

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When Are the Sacraments Given?

Each sacrament is given at a particular time, and generally after certain preparations are made. For specific information regarding when each sacrament is given, click here and then click applicable link for each Sacrament. 

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How Are the Sacraments Given?

Each sacrament has its own matter and form. For general information regarding matter / form, see below. For specific information regarding the matter / form of particular Sacraments, click here and then click applicable link for each Sacrament.

"Every Sacrament consists of two things, matter, which is called the element, and form, which is commonly called the word." (Catechism of the Council of Trent)

"By the 'matter' of the Sacraments we mean the visible things, such as water, oil, bread, wine, etc. used for the Sacraments. By the 'form' we mean the words, such as 'I baptize thee', 'I confirm thee', etc. used in giving or administering the Sacraments." (Baltimore Catechism)

"The matter of the sacraments is the sensible thing made use of in effecting the sacrament; such as, for example, natural water in Baptism, oil and balsam in Confirmation." (Catechism of St. Pius X) 

"The form of the sacraments is the words which are pronounced in order to effect the sacrament." (Catechism of St. Pius X) 

"All these sacraments are dispensed in three ways, namely, by things as the matter, by words as the form, and by the person of the minister conferring the sacrament with the intention of doing as the Church does; if any of these is lacking the sacrament is not fulfilled." (Pope Eugenius IV, "Exultate Deo", 1439 A.D.)

"Holy Writ is proposed to all alike: and so, the form of Baptism, which can be conferred by all, should be expressed in Holy Writ, as also the form of the Eucharist, which in regard to that sacrament, expresses faith which is necessary for salvation. Now the forms of the other sacraments are not contained in Holy Writ, but were handed down to the Church by the apostles, who received them from our Lord, as the Apostle declares (1 Corinthians 11:23): 'For I have received of the Lord that which also I delivered to you,' etc." (St. Thomas Aquinas, Doctor of the Church and "greatest theologian in the history of the Church")

"To (the matter and form) are added certain ceremonies. These cannot be omitted without sin, unless in case of necessity; yet, if at any time they be omitted, the Sacrament is not thereby invalidated, since the ceremonies do not pertain to its essence. It is not without good reason that the administration of the Sacraments has been at all times, from the earliest ages of the Church, accompanied with certain solemn rites. There is, in the first place, the greatest propriety in manifesting such a religious reverence to the sacred mysteries as to make it appear that holy things are handled by holy men. Secondly, these ceremonies serve to display more fully the effects of the Sacraments, placing them, as it were, before our eyes, and to impress more deeply on the minds of the faithful the sanctity of these sacred institutions. Thirdly, they elevate to sublime contemplation the minds of those who behold and observe them with attention, and excite within them faith and charity." (Catechism of the Council of Trent) 

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Who Administers the Sacraments?

Each sacrament has its proper minister, which is usually a validly ordained Catholic priest or bishop. Although the sacraments are administered visibly by Church, it is God who produces the effect. For general information regarding the dispensing of Sacraments, see below. For specific information regarding the ordinary minister of particular Sacraments, click here and then click applicable link for each Sacrament.

"The minister of the sacraments is the person who administers or confers the sacrament." (Catechism of St. Pius X) 

"But although God is the author and dispenser of the Sacraments, He nevertheless willed that they should be administered in His Church by men, not by Angels. To constitute a Sacrament, as the unbroken tradition of the Fathers testifies, matter and form are not more necessary than is the ministry of men." (Catechism of the Council of Trent)

"In material things a key is an instrument for opening a door. Now the door of the kingdom is closed to us through sin, both as to the stain and as to the debt of punishment. Wherefore the power of removing this obstacle is called a key. Now this power is in the Divine Trinity by authority; hence some say that God has the key of authority. But Christ...had the power to remove the above obstacle, through the merit of His Passion, which also is said to open the door; hence some say that He has the keys of excellence. And since 'the sacraments of which the Church is built, flowed from the side of Christ while He lay asleep on the cross' (Augustine, Enarrationes in Psalmos 138), the efficacy of the Passion abides in the sacraments of the Church. Wherefore a certain power for the removal of the aforesaid obstacle is bestowed on the ministers of the Church, who are the dispensers of the sacraments, not by their own, but by a Divine power and by the Passion of Christ. This power is called metaphorically the Church's key, and is the key of ministry." (St. Thomas Aquinas, Doctor of the Church and "greatest theologian in the history of the Church")

It may be said that "although the sacraments are administered visibly by Church, it is God produces the effect". Therefore, it makes no difference to the validity of the Sacrament if the ministers be good or wicked: 

"Christ's members are united to their Head by charity, so that they may receive life from Him; for as it is written (1 John 3:14): 'He that loveth not abideth in death.' Now it is possible for a man to work with a lifeless instrument, and separated from him as to bodily union, provided it be united to him by some sort of motion: for a workman works in one way with his hand, in another with his axe. Consequently, it is thus that Christ works in the sacraments, both by wicked men as lifeless instruments, and by good men as living instruments." (St. Thomas Aquinas, Doctor of the Church and "greatest theologian in the history of the Church")

Further, since ministers act 'In Persona Christi' ('In the Person of Christ') according to the power they have received through the reception of Holy Orders, it is clear that lay persons cannot rightly administer the Sacraments.

"[L]aymen are officially incompetent to dispense any sacrament: and that they can baptize in cases of necessity, is due to the Divine dispensation, in order that no one may be deprived of spiritual regeneration." (St. Thomas Aquinas, Doctor of the Church and "greatest theologian in the history of the Church")

Note: The above, of course, excludes the conferral of marriage by a couple upon each other. For more information, click here.

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What is Necessary for a Valid Sacrament?

For a valid Sacrament, it is necessary to have the proper matter, form, minister (usually a validly ordained Catholic priest or bishop), and intent. It is also necessary for the recipient (as applicable) to have the proper disposition. Note: For additional general information regarding what is necessary for a valid Sacrament, see below. For more specific information regarding the requirements for particular Sacraments, click here and then click applicable link for each Sacrament.

"To constitute a sacrament it is necessary to have the matter, the form, and the minister, who must have the intention to do what the Church does." (Catechism of St. Pius X) 

"In our Sacraments...the form is [traditionally] so definite that any, even a casual deviation from it renders the Sacrament null. Hence the form is expressed in the clearest terms, such as exclude the possibility of doubt." (Catechism of the Council of Trent)

For a valid sacrament to occur, three components are required: the correct matter, the correct form (for example, the correct words), and the proper intention of the minister effecting the sacrament (he must have the intention of doing what the Church does). According to the Council of Florence, "If any one of these three is lacking, the sacrament is not effected."

"The Church's seven sacraments have common and proper features. Common to all is the giving of grace, common to all their being made up of words and things. Christ is their author; He is the Word made flesh, and as His flesh was sanctified and given sanctifying virtue because of the words uttered in them... Hence these sanctifying words are called the form of the sacraments, and the sanctified elements the matter... Every sacrament, too, requires a minister who confers it with the intention of bestowing and doing what the Church bestows and does. If any of these three be defective...then no sacrament is celebrated." (St. Thomas Aquinas, Doctor of the Church and "greatest theologian in the history of the Church")

"Can. 841 Since the sacraments are the same throughout the universal Church, and belong to the divine deposit of faith, only the supreme authority in the Church can approve or define what is needed for their validity. It belongs to the same authority, or to another competent authority in accordance with can. 838 §§3 and 4, to determine what is required for their licit celebration, administration and reception and for the order to be observed in their celebration." (1983 Code of Canon Law)

"[C]ertain things are essential to the sacrament, and if they are omitted there is no sacrament, while certain things belong to the solemnization of the sacrament, and if these be omitted the sacrament is nevertheless validly performed, although it is a sin to omit them" (St. Thomas Aquinas, Doctor of the Church and "greatest theologian in the history of the Church")

"Human institutions observed in the sacraments are not essential to the sacrament; but belong to the solemnity which is added to the sacraments in order to arouse devotion and reverence in the recipients. But those things that are essential to the sacrament, are instituted by Christ Himself, Who is God and man. And though they are not all handed down by the Scriptures, yet the Church holds them from the intimate tradition of the apostles, according to the saying of the Apostle (1 Corinthians 11:34): 'The rest I will set in order when I come.'" (St. Thomas Aquinas, Doctor of the Church and "greatest theologian in the history of the Church")

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Are There Some Occurrences Which Might Invalidate a Sacrament?

If a required element is missing, a Sacrament does not occur. As stated by various sources...

"These three things, namely: An outward or visible sign, the institution of that sign by Christ, and the giving of grace through the use of that sign, are always necessary for the existence of a Sacrament, and if any of these three be wanting there can be no Sacrament." (Baltimore Catechism)

"There is no Sacrament if any of these is missing: the proper matter, the form, including the intention, and the priestly ordination of the celebrant." (Pope St. Pius V, "De Defectibus", 16th Century A.D.)

"If any one saith, that, in ministers, when they effect, and confer the sacraments, there is not required the intention at least of doing what the Church does; let him be anathema." (Council of Trent)

"If anything necessary for a sacrament be omitted in that sacrament, the sacrament must be repeated." (St. Thomas Aquinas, Doctor of the Church and "greatest theologian in the history of the Church")

"With regard to all the variations that may occur in the sacramental forms, two points seem to call for our attention. One is on the part of the person who says the words, and whose intention is essential to the sacrament... Wherefore if he intends by such addition or suppression to perform a rite other from that which is recognized by the Church, it seems that the sacrament is invalid: because he seems not to intend to do what the Church does. The other point to be considered is the meaning of the words. For since in the sacraments, the words produce an effect according to the sense which they convey..., we must see whether the change of words destroys the essential sense of the words: because then the sacrament is clearly rendered invalid. Now it is clear, if any substantial part of the sacramental form be suppressed, that the essential sense of the words is destroyed; and consequently the sacrament is invalid. Wherefore Didymus says (De Spiritu Sancto ii): 'If anyone attempt to baptize in such a way as to omit one of the aforesaid names,' i.e. of the Father, Son, and Holy Ghost, 'his baptism will be invalid.' But if that which is omitted be not a substantial part of the form, such an omission does not destroy the essential sense of the words, nor consequently the validity of the sacrament. Thus in the form of the Eucharist - 'For this is My Body,' the omission of the word 'for' does not destroy the essential sense of the words, nor consequently cause the sacrament to be invalid; although perhaps he who makes the omission may sin from negligence or contempt. Again, it is possible to add something that destroys the essential sense of the words: for instance, if one were to say: 'I baptize thee in the name of the Father Who is greater, and of the Son Who is less,' with which form the Arians baptized: and consequently such an addition makes the sacrament invalid. But if the addition be such as not to destroy the essential sense, the sacrament is not rendered invalid. Nor does it matter whether this addition be made at the beginning, in the middle, or at the end: For instance, if one were to say, 'I baptize thee in the name of the Father Almighty, and of the only Begotten Son, and of the Holy Ghost, the Paraclete,' the baptism would be valid; and in like manner if one were to say, 'I baptize thee in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost'; and may the Blessed Virgin succor thee, the baptism would be valid. Perhaps, however, if one were to say, 'I baptize thee in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost, and of the Blessed Virgin Mary,' the baptism would be void; because it is written (1 Corinthians 1:13): 'Was Paul crucified for you or were you baptized in the name of Paul?' But this is true if the intention be to baptize in the name of the Blessed Virgin as in the name of the Trinity, by which baptism is consecrated: for such a sense would be contrary to faith, and would therefore render the sacrament invalid: whereas if the addition, 'and in the name of the Blessed Virgin' be understood, not as if the name of the Blessed Virgin effected anything in baptism, but as intimating that her intercession may help the person baptized to preserve the baptismal grace, then the sacrament is not rendered void." (St. Thomas Aquinas, Doctor of the Church and "greatest theologian in the history of the Church")

Also, as indicated above, it is necessary for the recipient to cooperate to receive the full fruit of the Sacrament.

"[I]t is a law of divine Providence in the supernatural order that men do not reap the full fruit of the Sacraments which they receive after acquiring the use of reason unless they cooperate with grace" (Pope Pius XI, "Casti Connubii", 1930 A.D.)

"Very truly, the sacraments and the [Eucharistic] Sacrifice of the Altar, being Christ's own actions, must be held to be capable in themselves of conveying and dispensing grace from the divine Head to the members of the Mystical Body. But if they are to produce their proper effect, it is absolutely necessary that our hearts be properly disposed to receive them... Emphatically, therefore, the work of redemption, which in itself is independent of our will, requires a serious interior effort on our part if we are to achieve eternal salvation." (Pope Pius XII, "Mediator Dei", 1947 A.D.) 

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Does an Unworthy Minister Invalidate the Sacrament?

An unworthy minister (providing he has the proper intention) has no effect whatsoever on the validity of the Sacrament. According to various sources...

 "The effect of the Sacraments does not depend on the worthiness or unworthiness of the one who administers them, but on the merits of Jesus Christ, who instituted them, and on the worthy dispositions of those who receive them." (Baltimore Catechism)

"Augustine says against the Donatist Petilian: 'Remember that the evil lives of wicked men are not prejudicial to God's sacraments, by rendering them either invalid or less holy.'" (St. Augustine, Doctor of the Church)

"The evil life of a bishop or a priest does not invalidate either the baptism of an infant, or the consecration of the Eucharist, or other ecclesiastical duties performed for the faithful." (Pope Innocent III)

"[A]ll the Sacraments, while they are injurious to those who administer them unworthily, are beneficial to those who receive them worthily, which is the case, too, with the word of God." (St. Augustine, Doctor of the Church, c. 400 A.D.)

"Whence also, whether they are dispensed in the Church of God by good or by bad ministers, because the Holy Spirit mysteriously works in them, although He once appeared in apostolic times in visible works, these gifts have nothing added to them by the qualities of good ministrants, nor anything taken from them by bad ministrants." (St. Isidore, Doctor of the Church, 7th century A.D.)

"If any one saith, that a minister, being in mortal sin - if so be that he observe all the essentials which belong to the effecting, or conferring of, the sacrament - neither effects, nor confers the sacrament; let him be anathema." (Council of Trent)

"For the unworthiness of the minister does not make void the Sacraments he administers; since the Sacraments derive their efficacy from the Blood of Christ, independently of the sanctity of the instrument, or, as scholastic language expresses it, the Sacraments work their effect ex opere operato ['by the very fact of the action's being performed']." (Pope Pius XI, "Ad Catholici Sacerdotii", 1935 A.D.)

"[T]he ministers of the Church work instrumentally in the sacraments, because, in a way, a minister is of the nature of an instrument. But, as stated above (Q62,AA1,4), an instrument acts not by reason of its own form, but by the power of the one who moves it. Consequently, whatever form or power an instrument has in addition to that which it has as an instrument, is accidental to it: for instance, that a physician's body, which is the instrument of his soul, wherein is his medical art, be healthy or sickly; or that a pipe, through which water passes, be of silver or [copper]. Therefore the ministers of the Church can confer the sacraments, though they be wicked." (St. Thomas Aquinas, Doctor of the Church and "greatest theologian in the history of the Church")

"Since the ministers of the Sacraments represent in the discharge of their sacred functions, not their own, but the person of Christ, be they good or bad, they validly perform and confer the Sacraments, provided they make use of the matter and form always observed in the Catholic Church according to the institution of Christ, and provided they intend to do what the Church does in their administration. Hence, unless the recipients wish to deprive themselves of so great a good and resist the Holy Ghost, nothing can prevent them from receiving (through the Sacraments) the fruit of grace. That this was, at all times, a fixed and well ascertained doctrine of the Church, is established beyond all doubt by St. Augustine, in his disputations against the Donatists. And should we desire Scriptural proof also, let us listen to these words of the Apostle: I have planted; Apollo watered; but God gave the increase Therefore neither he that planteth nor he that watereth is anything, but God who giveth the increase. From these words it is clear that as trees are not injured by the wickedness of those who planted them, so those who were planted in Christ by the ministry of bad men sustain no injury from the guilt of those others. Judas Iscariot, as the holy Fathers infer from the Gospel of St. John, conferred Baptism on many; and yet none of those whom he baptized are recorded to have been baptized again. To use the memorable words of St. Augustine: Judas baptized, and yet after him none were rebaptized; John baptized, and after John they were rebaptized . For the Baptism administered by Judas was the Baptism of Christ, but that administered by John was the baptism of John. Not that we prefer Judas to John, but that we justly prefer the Baptism of Christ, although administered by Judas, to that of John although administered by the hands of John." (Catechism of the Council of Trent)

"The minister of a sacrament produces the effect, not by his own power, as though he were the principal agent, but by the efficacy of the sacrament which he dispenses. This efficacy comes, in the first place, from Christ, and from Him flows down to others in due order, viz. to the people through the medium of the ministers who dispense the sacraments, and to the lower ministers through the medium of the higher ministers who sanctify the matter. Wherefore, in all the sacraments which require a sanctified matter, the first consecration of the matter is performed by a bishop, and the application thereof sometimes by a priest, in order to show that the priest's power is derived from the bishop's, according to Psalm 133:2: 'Like the precious ointment on the head,' i.e. Christ, 'that ran down upon the beard of Aaron' first, and then 'to the skirt of his garment.'" (St. Thomas Aquinas, Doctor of the Church and "greatest theologian in the history of the Church")

Although an unworthy minister doesn't invalidate the Sacrament, such a minister does sin by improper behavior.

"It should never be forgotten that the Sacraments, although they cannot lose the divine efficacy inherent in them, bring eternal death and perdition to him who dares administer them unworthily. Holy things, it cannot be too often repeated, should be treated holily and with due reverence. To the sinner, says the Prophet, God has said: Why dost thou declare my justices, and take my covenant in thy mouth, seeing that thou hast hated discipline? If then, for him who is defiled by sin it is unlawful to speak on divine things, how enormous the guilt of that man, who, conscious of many crimes, dreads not to accomplish with polluted lips the holy mysteries, to take them into his befouled hands, to touch them, and to present and administer them to others? All the more since St. Denis says that the wicked may not even touch the symbols, as he calls the Sacraments. It therefore becomes the first duty of the minister of holy things to follow holiness of life, to approach with purity the administration of the Sacraments, and so to exercise himself in piety, that, from their frequent administration and use, he may every day receive, with the divine assistance, more abundant grace." (Catechism of the Council of Trent)

"Now it has been said (A5,r 3) that it is fitting for the ministers of sacraments to be righteous; because ministers should be like unto their Lord, according to Leviticus 19:2: 'Be ye holy, because I ... am holy'; and Ecclesiasticus 10:2: 'As the judge of the people is himself, so also are his ministers.' Consequently, there can be no doubt that the wicked sin by exercising the ministry of God and the Church, by conferring the sacraments. And since this sin pertains to irreverence towards God and the contamination of holy things, as far as the man who sins is concerned, although holy things in themselves cannot be contaminated; it follows that such a sin is mortal in its genus...[T]he sacraments are holy in themselves owing to their mystical consecration." (St. Thomas Aquinas, Doctor of the Church and "greatest theologian in the history of the Church")

"The power of administering the sacraments belongs to the spiritual character which is indelible, as explained above (Q63,A3). Consequently, if a man be suspended by the Church, or excommunicated or degraded, he does not lose the power of conferring sacraments, but the permission to use this power. Wherefore he does indeed confer the sacrament, but he sins in so doing. He also sins that receives a sacrament from such a man: so that he does not receive the reality of the sacrament, unless ignorance excuses him." (St. Thomas Aquinas, Doctor of the Church and "greatest theologian in the history of the Church")

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What Can Be Done if a Sacrament is Abused?

Unfortunately, since the Second Vatican Council, there has been much abuse with regards to the Sacraments. In some cases, abuses are relatively 'minor' (if one can call them such), in other cases they may be blasphemous. In some cases, they may altogether invalidate the Sacrament. If one is aware of abuse, there are a number of actions that may be considered. For example, one may consider:

* Discussing the matter with the individual(s) involved

* Discussing the matter with the involved individual's superior(s) (including the Bishop & Pope as warranted)

* Contacting a canon lawyer / taking advantage of the Church's court system 

* Submitting a petition to the proper Church authorities

* Notifying/educating other parishioners regarding the abuse and what they may be able to do to stop it. Remember that there is strength in numbers.

* Making reparation to God

* Redirecting financial support to appropriate Catholic recipients, if appropriate (possibly to traditional Catholic religious orders, orthodox Catholic parishes, directly to Rome, etc.)

* Switching parishes [although this option may protect yourself and your loved ones (a worthy goal to be sure), it unfortunately doesn't change the situation at the offending parish]

* Etc.

Unfortunately, some bishops may be unresponsive regarding abuses or may not consider an abuse to be problematic. If this is the case, you may have no choice but to pursue the matter directly with Rome. If so, be sure to have appropriate documentation (as applicable) and follow all appropriate procedures. Once again, remember that there is strength in numbers. 

One should also note that, in some cases, what seems to be an abuse may actually be tolerated (this has been the case in the past where certain abuses were eventually tolerated by the Vatican). Although certain incidents / practices may not technically be abuses (e.g. due to a 'surrender' by the Vatican in the face of widespread disobedience), such incidents / practices may tend to cause confusion / scandal, harm one's faith, endanger souls, etc. If such is the case, one should notify those with authority in the Church that these practices are problematic and consider ways to educate others regarding the situation. If what was considered an abuse for hundreds of years by popes, saints, and councils is now reluctantly tolerated by the Vatican, one may be allowed to hope that eventually the toleration will be discontinued and such practices will again be formally condemned.

With regard to publicizing abuse of Sacraments outside the limits of the Church in order to build support, one should keep in mind that enemies may love nothing more than to see the Church's "dirty laundry" aired in public. One must be very careful about using such means as they may be inappropriate and harmful.

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Can Sacraments be Given Conditionally?

Yes, in certain cases, Sacraments may be given conditionally.

"The Sacraments can be given conditionally as often as we doubt whether they were properly given before, or whether they can be validly given now." (Baltimore Catechism)

"The use of giving the Sacraments conditionally is that there may be no irreverence to the Sacraments in giving them to person incapable or unworthy of receiving them; and yet that no one who is capable or worthy may be deprived of them. The effect is to supply the Sacrament where it is needed or can be given, and to withhold it where it is not needed or cannot be given." (Baltimore Catechism)

"The Sacraments most frequently given conditionally are Baptism, Penance, and Extreme Unction; because in some cases it is difficult to ascertain whether these Sacraments have been given before or whether they have been validly given, or whether the person about to receive them has the right dispositions for them." (Baltimore Catechism)

"Some of the more common circumstances in which a priest is obliged to administer the Sacraments conditionally are: (1) When he receives converts into the Church and is not certain of their previous baptism, he must baptize them conditionally. (2) When he is called - as in cases of accident or sudden illness - and doubts whether the person be alive or dead, or whether he should be given the Sacraments, he must give absolution and administer Extreme Unction conditionally." (Baltimore Catechism)

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Are There Sacraments Outside the Church?

Although some Sacraments may be given outside the Church, they are, in reality, Catholic Sacraments. For example, all valid baptisms, even if given outside the Church, are actually Catholic Sacraments "being used unlawfully" (St. Augustine, Doctor of the Church) by heretics and schismatics. Furthermore, prominent Doctors of the Church (including the illustrious St. Augustine & St. Thomas Aquinas, "the greatest theologian in the history of the Church") have taught that Sacraments which are received outside the Church - even if they are truly Sacraments - are not profitable for salvation unless the recipient returns to the one true Church of Christ, the Catholic Church ["(A Sacrament) does not profit the receivers while they receive it in heresy (or schism), consenting with the heretics (or schismatics)" and "And therefore, whatever men have that belongs to the Church, it profits them nothing towards salvation outside the Church." (St. Augustine, Doctor of the Church)]. [For more information on the Church's traditional teaching regarding heretics / schismatics, click here (Coming Home Reflections). For more information on the dogma 'No Salvation Outside the Church', click here]

And of course, for those Sacraments which require priestly powers, they are much less likely to be found outside the Church since they may only be conferred by validly ordained priests. And even if a man who remains outside the Catholic Church does somehow have valid orders (e.g. a priest that 'left the priesthood' for a heretical sect), his inappropriate administration of the Sacraments would be illicit. 

Finally, it should be noted that Catholics should not receive Sacraments outside the Church. As St. Thomas Aquinas states: 

"Some heretics in conferring sacraments do not observe the form prescribed by the Church: and these confer neither the sacrament nor the reality of the sacrament. But some do observe the form prescribed by the Church: and these confer indeed the sacrament but not the reality. I say this in the supposition that they are outwardly cut off from the Church; because from the very fact that anyone receives the sacraments from them, he sins; and consequently is hindered from receiving the effect of the sacrament. Wherefore Augustine (Fulgentius, De Fide ad Petrum) says: 'Be well assured and have no doubt whatever that those who are baptized outside the Church, unless they come back to the Church, will reap disaster from their Baptism.' In this sense Pope Leo says that 'the light of the sacraments was extinguished in the Church of Alexandria'; viz. in regard to the reality of the sacrament, not as to the sacrament itself." (St. Thomas Aquinas, Doctor of the Church and "greatest theologian in the history of the Church")

"Consequently, since the Church deprives heretics, schismatics and the like, by withdrawing their subjects from them either altogether or in some respect, in so far as they are thus deprived, they cannot have the use of the keys [priestly powers]... Wherefore, just as, were a heretic to be without wheaten bread, he could not consecrate, so neither can a prelate absolve if he be deprived of his authority, yet he can baptize and consecrate, albeit to his own damnation." (St. Thomas Aquinas, Doctor of the Church and "greatest theologian in the history of the Church")

Note that parents who have their children baptized outside the Church may be subject to penal actions. As the 1983 Code of Canon Law states: "Can. 1366 Parents, or those who take the place of parents, who hand over their children to be baptized or educated in a non-Catholic religion are to be punished with a censure or other just penalty."

The Importance of Being Catholic: Combating Religious Indifferentism / No Salvation Outside the Church

[top]

What is the Difference Between Sacraments & Sacramentals?

According to the Baltimore Catechism, "The difference between the Sacraments and the sacramentals is: 1st, The Sacraments were instituted by Jesus Christ and the sacramentals were instituted by the Church; 2nd, The Sacraments give grace of themselves when we place no obstacle in the way; the sacramentals excite in us pious dispositions, by means of which we may obtain grace." As St. Thomas Aquinas, states, "Among the visible operations of the Church, some are sacraments, as Baptism, some are sacramentals, as Exorcism. The difference between these is that a sacrament is an action of the Church that reaches to the principal effect intended in the administration of the sacraments, whereas a sacramental is an action which, though it does not reach to that effect, is nevertheless directed towards that principal action."

[top]

Additional Information

Also consider the following points regarding the Sacraments:

* The Sacraments actually cause what they signify: "The sacraments of the New Law cause what they signify." (St. Thomas Aquinas, Doctor of the Church and "greatest theologian in the history of the Church")

* There is a similarity between the items used and the grace given in each sacrament: "There is a great likeness between the thing used in the outward sign and the grace given in each Sacrament; thus water is used for cleansing; Baptism cleans the soul: Oil gives strength and light; Confirmation strengthens and enlightens the soul; Bread and wine nourish; the Holy Eucharist nourishes the soul." (Baltimore Catechism)

* The threefold significance of the Sacraments: "[H]oly Doctors justly hold that each of [the Sacraments] has a threefold significance: they remind us of something past; they indicate and point out something present; they foretell something future." (Catechism of the Council of Trent)

* Only a Bishop can administer all the Sacraments: "The difference between the powers of a bishop and of a priest with regard to the administration of the Sacraments is that a bishop can give all the Sacraments, while a priest cannot give Confirmation [normally] or Holy Orders." (Baltimore Catechism)

* Sacraments should not be administered to heretics and schismatics: "Can. 731 § 2 It is forbidden that the Sacraments of the Church be ministered to heretics and schismatics, even if they ask for them and are in good faith, unless beforehand, rejecting their errors, they are reconciled with the Church." (1917 Code of Canon Law)

* Without the Sacraments, religion disappears: "Those proponents of new ideas who are eager to foster true piety in the people should consider that, with the frequency of the sacraments diminished or entirely eliminated, religion slowly languishes and finally perishes." (Pope Gregory XVI, "Quo Graviora", 1833 A.D.)

* The Sacraments unite the Church: 

"There is no religion, true or false, in whose name men can gather, except they be united under a bond of signs or visible Sacraments. The force of these [Catholic] Sacraments can scarcely be told, and to hold them in contempt is sacrilegious." (St. Augustine, Doctor of the Church, c. 400 A.D.)

"[T]he sacraments, being visible signs, are an additional bond of union between the members of the Church: we say additional, because these members have the two other strong links of union - submission to Peter and to the pastors sent by him and profession of the same faith. The Holy Ghost tells us, in the sacred Volume, that a threefold cord is not easily broken (Eccles. iv 12). Now we have such a one; and it keeps us in the glorious unity of the Church: hierarchy, dogmas, and sacraments, all contribute to make us one Body. Everywhere, from north to south, and from east to west, the sacraments testify to the fraternity that exists amongst us; by them we know each other, no matter in what part of the globe we may be, and by the same we are known by the heretics and infidels. These divine sacraments are the same in every country, how much soever the liturgical formulae of their administration may differ; they are the same in the graces the produce, they are the same in the signs whereby the grace is produced - in a word, they are the same in all the essentials." (Dom Gueranger)

* Sacred Ministers are not to deny the Sacraments to those who seek them properly and are not prohibited from receiving them: "Can. 843 §1 Sacred ministers cannot deny the sacraments to those who seek them at appropriate times, are properly disposed, and are not prohibited by law from receiving them. §2 According to their respective offices in the Church, both pastors of souls and all other members of Christ's faithful have the duty to take care that those who seek the sacraments are prepared to receive them by proper evangelization and catechetical instruction, in accordance with the [appropriate norms]." (1983 Code of Canon Law)

* The Sacraments of the New Law differ greatly from the Sacraments of the Old Law: "There are seven sacraments of the new Law: namely, baptism, confirmation, Eucharist, penance, extreme unction, orders, and matrimony, which differ a great deal from the sacraments of the Old Law. For those of the Old Law did not effect grace, but only pronounced that it should be given through the passion of Christ; these sacraments of ours contain grace, and confer it upon those who receive them worthily." (Pope Eugenius IV, "Exultate Deo", 1439 A.D.)

[top]

Where Can I Find Out More Regarding the Sacraments?

For additional information regarding the Sacraments, click here and then click applicable link corresponding to each Sacrament. Be sure to scroll down the page to view the additional resources available regarding each Sacrament. Finally, consider the "Also Try..." links below.

[top]

Also Try...

Sacraments (Topic Page)

The Catechism of the Council of Trent on the Sacraments

Selections From the Baltimore Catechism - Q & A Format! 

Sacraments Reflections

Sacraments (Topical Scripture)

Catholic Basics Section

Priests & Vocations Section

Vatican View Section

[top]

"[H]idden miracles are contained in the Sacraments of the New Law" (Catechism of the Council of Trent)

"[A]ll true justice either begins, or being begun is increased, or being lost is repaired [through the most holy Sacraments of the Church]." (Council of Trent, Seventh Session, 1548 A.D.)

"Adam sleeps that Eve may be formed; Christ dies that the Church may be formed. Eve is formed from the side of the sleeping Adam; the side of the dead Christ is pierced by the lance, so that the Sacraments may flow out, of which the Church is formed." (St. Augustine, Doctor of the Church, c. 417 A.D.)

"In the Sacraments, it is God himself who comes to annihilate our enemy. The devil, seeing him in our heart, throws himself despairingly into the bottomless pit; which explains why he does all he can to draw us away from them, or to make us receive them badly." (St. John Vianney)

*In explaining them, pastors should keep in view principally two things, which they should zealously strive to accomplish. The first is that the faithful understand the high honor, respect and veneration due to these divine and celestial gifts. The second is that, since the Sacraments have been established by the God of infinite mercy for the common salvation of all, the people should make pious and religious use of them, and be so inflamed with the desire of Christian perfection as to deem it a very great loss to be for any time deprived of the salutary use, particularly of Penance and the Holy Eucharist." (Catechism of the Council of Trent)

"It is not enough that we believe; we must, moreover, be made just - that is, we must bear upon us the likeness of God's holiness; we must receive, we must have incorporated within us that great fruit of the redemption which is called grace; that thus being made living members of our divine Head, we may be made joint heirs with him of the kingdom of heaven. Now it is by means of the sacraments that Jesus is to produce in us this wondrous work of our justification; he applies to us the merits of his Incarnation and Sacrifice, but he applies them by certain means, which he himself, in his power and wisdom, has instituted." (Dom Gueranger)

"We, therefore, who are resolved to make sure our election; who desire to possess the grace of our Risen Jesus in this life, and to enjoy his vision in the next; oh! Let us reverence and love this merciful seven, these admirable sacraments! Under this sacred number he has included all the varied riches of his grace. There is not a want or necessity either of souls individually, or of society at large, for which our Redeemer has not provided by these seven sources of regeneration and life. He calls us from death to life by Baptism and Penance; he strengthens us in that supernatural life by Confirmation, the Eucharist, and Extreme Unction; he secures to his Church both ministry and increase by Holy Orders and Matrimony. The seven sacraments supply everything needed; take one away, and you destroy the harmony." (Dom Gueranger)


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