Explanation of the Sacraments
In the celebration of her worship the Catholic Church makes use: 1, of speech; 2, of those visible acts and symbols known as ceremonies. These ceremonies have been ordained in order that we may more easily lift up our heart to God and the contemplation of heavenly things.
How do the ceremonies help us to raise our minds to God and heavenly things?
They help us: 1. By making the worship of the Church impressive and solemn, thereby fixing our attention, and directing it from things of this earth to God. 2. By placing before us visible symbols of invisible mysteries, thus enabling us more easily to reflect and meditate upon them.
Have all the ceremonies of the Church a peculiar sense and meaning?
Certainly; every ceremony which the Church, inspired by the Holy Ghost, uses in the celebration of her worship has a mysterious significance, and should awaken holy thoughts in our breasts.
Are not these ceremonies idle observances?
By no means, since: 1. God Himself in the Old Law prescribed for the Jews many ceremonies, with heavy penalties for their non-observance. 2. Christ our Lord made use of various ceremonies, as, for instance, when He fell flat on the ground, and prayed (Mark 14:35); when He spat on the ground, and making clay of the spittle, spread the clay upon the eyes of the blind man, who thereupon recovered his sight (John 9:6,7.); when He touched the ear of the servant of the high priest and healed him (Luke 22:50, 51).
A sacrament is a visible sign instituted by Jesus Christ through which invisible grace and sanctification are communicated to us. Christ instituted seven sacraments: Baptism, Confirmation, Holy Eucharist, Penance, Extreme Unction, Holy Orders, Matrimony.
Whence do we derive the ceremonies which, with the signs instituted by Christ, are used in administering the sacraments?
From the Church which, with the assistance of the Holy Ghost, has ordained these ceremonies to increase our reverence and respect.
BAPTISM is a sacrament in which by water and the word of God we are cleansed from all sin, and regenerated and sanctified in Christ to life everlasting.
What are the different ceremonies of Baptism?
1. The preparatory ceremony. 2. The Baptism proper. 3. The concluding ceremonies.
The preparatory ceremonies at the church door during the first period of instruction, namely the period of hearing, are as follows: 1. The candidate remains outside the church, since he can enter the Church only by Baptism. 2. He is given a saint's name so that he may have an advocate before God, and an example after whom to model his own life. 3. He is asked if he desires Baptism, and through it eternal life. 4. The priest breathes upon him three times, saying: "Depart from him, thou unclean spirit, and make way for the Holy Ghost, the Comforter" (John 20:22). 5. He makes the sign of the cross upon his forehead and breast as a sign that he belongs to the crucified Saviour, Whose teachings he must cherish in his heart and openly proclaim. 6. He places blessed salt in his mouth, with the words: "Receive the salt of wisdom; it will be a propitiation for thee unto eternal life." Salt is a symbol of Christian wisdom) and protection from the foulness of sin. 7. Through repeated exorcisms the power of Satan, who "has the power of death" (neb. ii. 14), is ~ broken in the name of the Triune God. 8. For the second time, the priest makes the sign of the cross on the forehead of the person to be baptized, saying: "Defile not, accursed spirit, this sign of the cross which we place upon his brow." 9. The priest by the imposition of hands symbolizes the protection of God, and the stole placed upon the candidate as he is led into the church is a sign of the Church's power by virtue of which the priest receives him into its fold.
The ceremonies at the second period, namely, for the supplicants, are performed within the church. They are: 1. Since Baptism is the sacrament of faith, the Apostles' Creed and the Lord's Prayer are recited while entering the church. 2. The priest, after the example of Jesus (Mark 7:33), touches the ears and nose of the person to be baptized with spittle, saying, "Ephpheta," which means, "Be thou opened." This signifies that man's spiritual sense through the grace of Baptism is opened for the reception of instruction in heavenly truths. 3. The person being baptized must renounce Satan with all his works and pomps; for without this renunciation no man can follow Christ. By the words Satan and his works we mean sin, and by his pomps the spirit and vanities of this world by which Satan dazzles the eyes of men and leads them into sin. (Matthew 4:8,9) Here follows the profession of faith, in the recital of the Apostles' Creed. 4. Next comes the anointing of the shoulders and breast with holy oil, since from now on the newly-baptized person must be a soldier of Christ in the battle against the world and the devil.
How is the actual Baptism performed?
The person baptizing pours water upon the head of the person to be baptized, at the same time saying these words: "I baptize thee in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost."
What ceremonies follow Baptism?
1. Anointing the head with chrism, because the person baptized is now a Christian, one of God's anointed. 2. The presentation of a white cloth, and 3, a lighted candle. 4. Dismissal, with a blessing.
Of what are we admonished by the white cloth which we receive at Baptism?
That we should preserve our innocence, throughout our whole life, pure and unspotted. At its presentation, therefore, the priest says: "Take hence the white garment and bear it unstained before the judgment-seat of Jesus Christ our Lord, that thou mayest reach everlasting life."
What is the meaning of the lighted candle which the person just baptized must hold in his hand?
That the Christian by his virtuous life should be a guide to all the world. "So let your light shine before men that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father Who is in heaven." (Matthew 5:16) On presenting the candle the priest says: "Receive this burning light; keep thy Baptism without stain; obey the commandments of God, that when the Lord shall come to the nuptial feast thou mayest go forth to meet Him with all the saints of heaven, and mayest have life everlasting and live forever and ever. Amen."
Why has the Church ordained the presence of sponsors?
1. That they may make the vows and promises in the name of the child to be baptized. 2. In the event of the death of the parents to see that it is brought up a Christian. The sponsors, who should be good Catholics, are the spiritual parents of the child baptized. They become spiritually related both to child and parents, and cannot marry with either. In order that this relationship and consequent impediment to marriage might not extend too far, the Church has ordained that there shall be at most two sponsors, one of each sex.
Besides Baptism by water, there is also a Baptism of desire and a Baptism of blood, which may take the place of the Baptism of water when that cannot be obtained.
Baptism of desire is an earnest wish to obtain Baptism, joined to perfect contrition and love for God. In such a case those conditions are present that are necessary to a valid reception; for if the possibility do not exist God regards the good will, and takes the will for the deed.
Baptism of blood is a voluntary martyr's death for the sake of Christ. The constancy which gives up life itself includes faith, charity, desire, and contrition.
CONFIRMATION is a sacrament in which, through the laying on of the bishop's hands, prayer, and anointing, those who have been baptized are strengthened by the Holy Ghost so that they may firmly profess their faith and sincerely live up to it.
How does the bishop administer Confirmation?
1. He extends his hands over those to be confirmed, and prays the Holy Ghost to descend upon them with His sevenfold gifts. 2. He then lays his hand upon each one, and anoints him with holy chrism. 3. He gives him a slight blow on the cheek, saying, "Peace be with you." 4. He concludes by giving them all the episcopal benediction.
What does the imposition of hands signify?
It signifies the descent of the Holy Spirit, and particularly the protection of God under which the Christian is henceforth to remain.
How does the bishop anoint those to be confirmed?
He makes the sign of the cross with chrism on the forehead of each one, saying at the same time: "I sign thee with the sign of the cross, and I confirm thee with the chrism of salvation, in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost. Amen."
Of what does the chrism consist?
The chrism, which every year on Holy Thursday is blessed by the bishop with great solemnity, consists of the oil of olives and balsam.
What does the oil signify?
The oil signifies inward strength for the struggle against the enemies of our salvation. Oil was formerly used by soldiers and athletes to make their limbs supple and strong. As oil strengthens the limbs of the body, so does the Holy Spirit strengthen our souls for combat with sin.
Why is fragrant balsam mixed with the oil?
To signify that he who is confirmed receives grace to keep himself pure from the corruption of the world, and by a pious life give forth the sweet odor of virtue. Balsam serves to preserve wounds from corruption, and gives forth a pleasing and fragrant odor.
Why does the bishop make the sign of the cross upon the forehead of the one to be confirmed?
To signify that a Christian should never be ashamed of the cross, but confess without fear his faith in Christ crucified. "For I am not ashamed of the Gospel. For it is the power of God unto salvation for everyone that believeth" (Romans 1:16).
Why does the bishop after anointing him give him a slight blow on the cheek?
To remind him that, as he is now strong and accountable, he should be ready to suffer patiently any humiliation for Jesus' sake.
Why does he at the same time say, "Peace be with you"?
Because, having now received the fulness of divine grace and heavenly peace, he should carefully guard it as a consolation in every sorrow.
A priest thereupon dries with a piece of cotton the brow of the person being confirmed, in order to prevent the sacred chrism from being desecrated in any way.
What are the words of the benediction given by the bishop after Confirmation?
May the Lord bless you out of Sion, that you may see the goods of Jerusalem all the days of your life, and have life everlasting. Amen.
Why are sponsors also ordained for Confirmation?
That they may first see that the person is confirmed, and then by deed and word aid him in the spiritual combat to which by this sacrament he has been dedicated.
The sponsor binds himself to the fulfilment of this duty by laying his hand. on the right shoulder of the person being confirmed. He thus becomes his spiritual parent and guardian for the preservation of the grace of Confirmation. The same spiritual relationship and impediments of marriage exist as with sponsors in Baptism.
What does the Church require of sponsors in Confirmation?
They must be Catholics; they must be confirmed and old enough to be able to fulfil their duties as sponsore. Parents cannot be sponsors for their children; nor can the same person be sponsor both at Baptism and Confirmation.
The Holy Eucharist.
THE HOLY EUCHARIST is the true body and blood of Our Lord Jesus Christ, Who is really and substantially present under the appearances of bread and wine for the nourishment of our souls.
When do we receive the Holy Eucharist as a nourishment for our souls?
At holy communion, when we actually partake of the body and blood of Jesus Christ.
Communion means "union with". We also speak of receiving the Holy Eucharist, the Lord's supper, and the heavenly banquet.
When and where is communion given?
For those who are well communion is given in the church either during Mass after the priest has received, or it may be given when no Mass is being celebrated. Those who are sick can receive in their homes at any time.
How is communion administered in church?
1. The server or acolyte repeats the Confiteor, or general confession of sin. 2. Turning to the people, the priest. recites two prayers imploring the remission of sin. 3. He exposes the consecrated Host with the words: "Behold the Lamb of God, Who taketh away the sins of the world." He then repeats three times: "Lord, I am not worthy that Thou shouldst enter under my roof; say but the word and my soul shall be healed." 4. He places the consecrated Host upon the tongue of the communicant, saying: "May the body of Our Lord Jesus Christ preserve thy soul unto life everlasting. Amen." 5. Returning to the altar, the priest recites the communion prayer of the Church, and then gives the benediction.
When the attendant recites the Confiteor, he does so in the name of those who are about to receive. The following are the prayers of supplication at the end of the Confiteor: "May the Almighty God have mercy on you, forgive you your sins, and lead you unto life everlasting. Amen." "May the almighty and merciful Lord grant you pardon, absolution, and full remission of all your sins. Amen."
How is holy communion given to the sick?
A bell is first rung, then the Sacred Host is borne in procession to the house of the sick person, placed upon a table prepared for it, a prayer is said, and the place and those present are sprinkled with holy water. The priest then gives communion the same as in the church, except wheu the sick person receives it as viaticum; at such times the priest presents the cousecrated Host, saying: "Brother (or, sister), receive as a holy viaticum the body of Our Lord Jesus Christ; may it protect thee from the evil spirit, and lead thee to eternal life. Amen."
When the communion is not given as viaticum, the priest repeats the same formula as is used in the church. The table on which the consecrated Host is placed must be covered with a clean white cloth, a cross, two lighted wax candles, and a vessel with holy water must also be provided. In this country the Blessed Sacrament is, of necessity, carried privately, with all out-door ceremonies omitted.
Why is the holy communion sometimes called Viaticum?
Because it is given to the sick person as food and sustenance for the last dangerous road to eternity.
For what other purpose besides being given in communion is the Holy Eucharist kept in the tabernacle?
In order that on appointed days and particular occasions it may be exposed to the devotion of the faithful, and bestow blessings upon them. At least six lighted candles must be used at the exposition of the Blessed Sacrament. For this ceremony the ciborium may be used; or when it is desired to give it more solemnity, an elegant receptacle called the monstrance, in which the consecrated Host may be seen. Benediction is given both with the ciborium and monstrance; when the latter is used it is called solemn benediction.
Why does the Church give this benediction of the Blessed Sacrament?
Because in the Blessed Sacrament Jesus Christ is actually present and still blesses His followers, as when on earth He blessed the people and His disciples.
How is the benediction of the Blessed Sacrament given?
A hymn in honor of the Blessed Sacrament is sung, aud the priest makes the sign of the cross over the people with the sacred Host, because every blessing comes from Christ's death upon the cross.
During the Benediction proper, as a mark of reverence the priest covers his shoulders and hauds with a white silken cloth called the veil. During the exposition and benediction incense is offered up to the Blessed Sacrament as a sign of adoration.
Why do we have processions of the Blessed Sacrament?
That we may in a solemn manner present our adoration to the Saviour in the sacred Host, and openly profess our belief in His real presence.
On Corpus Christi we have the most solemn and imposing ceremonial for the exposition, benediction, and procession of the Blessed Sacrament.
What is the meaning of the perpetual light that is kept burning before the altar on which the Blessed Sacrament is placed?
The perpetual light which must be kept burning continuously signifies: 1. The continued presence of Jesus Christ in the Blessed Sacrament. 2. The reverence and worship which are constautly due to Him. 3. That Jesus Christ is the light of the world.
The Sacrament of Penance.
PENANCE is a sacrament in which the priest, as the representative of God, forgives sins when the sinner is heartily sorry for them, confesses them sincerely, and is determined to do penance for them.
Where is the Sacrament of Penance administered?
In the church, where confessionals are erected. The sick and those who are deaf may make their confession in some other suitable place.
What vestments does the priest wear when hearing confession?
In addition to the cassock, the usual priestly garment, he wears a violet stole and the surplice.
The priest is seated, as a sign of his judicial power; the penitent, however, kneels, as a sign of reverence and humility.
How is the Sacrament of Penance administered?
1. The priest gives the penitent his blessing, and prays that God may give him grace to confess his sins fully and with contrite heart. 2. The penitent confesses his sins. 3. The priest gives him fatherly advice and warning, imposes the penance, and then, if worthy, gives him absolution.
What are the words of absolution?
"I absolve thee from thy sins, in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost. Amen." As he pronounces these words, the priest makes the sign of the cross over the penitent.
Before and after absolution the priest repeats other short prayers, and finally dismisses the penitent with the words, "Go in peace, and pray for me," or some other suitable formula.
What punishment is remitted in the Sacrament of Penance?
The eternal punishment is remitted in full; the temporal only in part. What remains, however, can be expiated by indulgences.
What is an indulgence?
It is a remission made, outside the Sacrament of Penance, of the temporal punishment still due for our sins already forgiven, and which punishment must be undergone here or in purgatory.
How does the Church remit the punishment due to sin?
The Church satisfies the divine justice out of the inexhaustible treasury of the merits of Christ and His saints.
The virtue and efficacy of indulgences flow from the spiritual treasury of the Church, which consists of the infinite merits of Christ and His saints. This treasury is to be considered the common property of the faithful which the Church administers and from which, by virtue of the communion of saints, making us all members of one body, the abundance of one supplies the want of the other (2nd Corinthians 8:14).
How many kinds of indulgences are there?
Two: plenary indulgences, which remit all the temporal punishment due to sin, and partial indulgences by which a portion of the punishment is remitted.
What do you understand by an indulgence of forty days, seven years, etc.?
A remission of so much temporal punishment as would have been remitted to him who under the ancient law of the Church did penance for forty days or for seven years. An indulgence of forty days is also called a quarantine.
What is the indulgence for the dying?
A plenary indulgence which the Church gives to the dying at the hour of death, after receiving the Viaticum. This is likewise called a general absolution. There is no fixed formula for bestowing indulgences; they may be gained by fulfilling the conditions prescribed at the time. The Church has a fixed formula only for the indulgence given to the dying. The assertion that the Church by indulgences pardons past or future sins, or that she dispenses indulgences for money, is a slander. True, the Church in bestowing indulgences sometimes prescribes, in addition to sincere repentance, that alms be given for worthy objects, as for example to build a church or found a hospital. This custom, praiseworthy in the beginning, in time became subject to abuse. All abuses were discontinued by order of the Council of Trent; the same council declared, however, that "the custom of granting indulgences to Christian people is exceedingly beneficial, and is confirmed by the authority of the holy council."
The Sacrament of Extreme Unction.
EXTREME UNCTION is a sacrament in which, through the anointing with holy oil and the prayer of the priest, the grace of God is imparted to the sick in danger of death, for the welfare of the soul, and often also for that of the body. This sacrament is called Extreme Unction, because it is usually the last sacred anointing administered by the Church.
How is Extreme Unction administered?
1. The priest, having presented to the sick person a crucifix to kiss, sprinkles him, others who are present, and the place itself with holy water, and then recites a series of prayers. 2. The Confiteor, or general confession, is then said in the usual manner. 3. The priest, making the sign of the cross three times, prays that through the imposition of his hands, and the intercession of the angels and saints, all power of the evil spirit may be extinguished in the sick person. 4. He anoints the five senses with holy oil in the form of the cross, repeating this prayer at each anointing: "Through this holy unction and His most tender mercy, may the Lord forgive thee whatever sins thou hast committed by thy sight, by thy hearing," etc. 5. The priest then prays for the spiritual and temporal welfare of the sick man, and gives him his blessing.
Why is oil used in this sacrament?
Because oil softens, strengthens, and helps, and is strikingly significant of the effects of the sacrament.
Why are the five senses anointed?
The five senses are anointed because, being the instruments of sin, their anointing signifies that our soul is cleansed from guilt. Extreme Unction is usually given immediately after the Viaticum. Penance, the Holy Viaticum, and Extreme Unction are sometimes called "the sacraments of the dying", or "the last sacraments".
How does the Church show her loving solicitude for the dying?
By ordaining special prayers and litanies to be offered up for them by the priest to obtain the grace of a happy death. These prayers are sometimes called the recommendation of a soul departing.
What are Holy Orders?
A sacrament in which the priestly power is conferred on the candidate, together with a special grace to discharge its sacred functions.
What is the outward sign of this sacrament?
The laying on of hands and the prayer of the bishop, and the presentation of the chalice with bread and wine, together with the verbal communication of authority to change the bread and wine into the body and blood of Christ, and to remit and retain sins.
When did Christ institute this sacrament?
At the Last Supper, when, after changing the bread into His true body, and the wine into His true blood, He said to His apostles, "Do this for a commemoration of Me" (Luke xxii. 19).
Are Holy Orders reckoned a sacrament by the apostles?
Yes; for St. Paul admonishes His disciple Timothy to stir up the grace of God received by the imposition of his hands. Hereby St. Paul teaches expressly that by the imposition of the hands of the apostles, or of the bishops, who are their successors, the grace of God is imparted to priests, in which consists the substance of the sacrament. Pray, then, for the priests; asking fervently of God, particularly on ember-days, to give His Church faithful pastors. Jesus Himself commands it, saying, "The harvest indeed is great, but the laborers are few: pray ye therefore the Lord of the harvest that He send laborers into His harvest" (Luke x. 2).
The Sacrament of Matrimony.
MATRIMONY is a sacrament in which a single man and a single woman are united in marriage, and receive grace from God to fulfil the duties of their state faithfully until death. This sacrament imposes on the married couple the duty to live together in peace and love and conjugal fidelity, to bring up as Christians the children God may send them, and cheerfully share one another's joys and sorrows. The free consent of both parties to the sacrament is absolutely essential.
How is the Sacrament of Matrimony received?
The bridal pair declare before their pastor and two witnesses that they take one another as husband and wife, whereupon the priest blesses their union. A priest other than the pastor can officiate at this sacrament only when he has the permission of the pastor or bishop.
What is the ceremonial of this sacrament?
1. The bridal pair emphasize their consent by giving each other their right hand. 2. The priest with a blessing confirms their union in these words: "I join you in matrimony in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost. Amen." In some places the priest winds the stole about the hands of the newly-married couple as a sign that this confirmation and ratification is done in God's name. 3. He blesses the wedding ring, which is a symbol of their indissoluble union, and the love and fidelity of the married pair. 4. The bridal pair then receive the special and solemn matrimonial blessing. This is given during the bridal Mass, immediately after the Pater Noster 4. . When the bride is a widow, or when the marriage takes place at a prohibited time, this special blessing is not given, since a second marriage does not truly represent the union of Christ with the Church.
Goffine's Devout Instructions, 1896, Part Third, pp. 466-478