Blessed Pope John Paul II has said that “sacraments … create in man the seed of eternal life.” This article examines the fundamental reasons why we, as Catholics, treasure the sacramental life of the Church.
Throughout his life on earth, Jesus not only proclaimed the Good News of salvation but also demonstrated it through many outward signs of grace – healing the sick, forgiving the paralytic’s sins, raising the dead, giving sight to the blind, comforting the weary. This he did by touching them with easily seen gestures and by words. Jesus touched his followers with his love.
We saw this love as it radiated through John Paul II during his visit to the World Youth Day in Manila last 1995. Even while watching TV, we could see the Jesus-like way the Pope reached out to people, especially to the youth, the way he embraced them, listened to them and spoke to them with such visible love.
Jesus’ words and actions during his lifetime were already salvific but Jesus had in mind something even more precious to leave to the Church of the faithful. He laid the foundations for and left us the sacraments, outward signs instituted by Him to give grace. He wanted us to be able to feel his healing touch and salvific grace even after He had returned to His Father in heaven. Plus, He sent us the Holy Spirit to activate his grace in our lives.
Sacraments are “powers that come forth” from the Body of Christ. They are ever-living and life-giving. They are actions of the Holy Spirit at work in the Church yesterday, today and tomorrow. They are Christ’s gifts to us, “the master-works of God” in the new and everlasting covenant. (Catechism of the Catholic Church, #1116)
Sacraments of Faith. The purpose of the sacraments is to sanctify men, to build up the Body of Christ, and finally, to give worship to God. Because they are signs, they also instruct. They not only pre-suppose faith, but by words and objects they also nourish, strengthen, and express it. That is why they are called ‘sacraments of faith’. (CCC #1123)
Sacraments of Salvation. The fact that Christianity is a religion of salvation is expressed in the sacramental life of the Church. Christ, who came “so that they might have life and have it more abundantly” (Jn 10:10), discloses for us the sources of this life … in the sacraments, states Pope John Paul II in his book “Crossing the Threshold of Hope”. He continues by saying that when the Church celebrates any of the sacraments, it is actually Christ who celebrates them.
The sacraments, by reason of Christ’s presence in and through them, are acts of transformation as well as salvation. As fire transforms into itself everything it touches, so does the Holy Spirit through the sacramental graces inherent in the Sacrament infuse the breath of divine life into the recipient, transforming the faithful partaker into a living union with the only Son, the Savior.
Sacraments of Eternal Life. In the sacraments of Christ, the Church receives the seal of the promise of its final destiny – eternal life – which will be fulfilled in the Kingdom of God. Through these same sacraments we receive the seeds of eternal life which we must nourish until harvest time.
Embraces of Love. In my readings sometime ago, I remember coming across a statement by Bishop Bacani (I copied it in my notebook but forgot to note the reference). He said, “Think of the sacraments as embraces or hugs from Christ manifesting and conveying to us his love and the love of the Father.”
And this expression of love is what, I believe, makes the sacraments necessary in our lives. It is okay to talk about, discuss and teach about God’s love for mankind, but as humans, we need to experience the touch of this divine love.
A Firm and Sure Anchor. To me, the sacraments are Christ-instituted signs and gestures that signify God’s love for us in a very special and intimate way. They tell us that God is love. That Jesus cares for us personally. That the Holy Spirit is ready, waiting and wanting to guide us in our journey of faith. They give us strength, courage, hope, and the grace of His forgiveness and mercy.
The sacraments – Baptism, Confirmation, Reconciliation, the Eucharist, Holy Orders, Marriage, and Anointing of the Sick – are a firm and sure anchor of Divine Love on which to moor our lives in the churning seas of today’s uncertainties. –Nancy R. Catan